FBI arrests man they believe is the Golden State Killer

Golden State Killer
Other nicknames for the killer include the 'East Area Rapist' and 'the Original Night Stalker'. Photo credit: File

A person has been arrested that US law enforcement officials believe to be the 'Golden State Killer', accused of 12 murders and 45 rapes across California.

The serial killer's spree spanned from 1976 to 1986, earning him other nicknames including the 'East Area Rapist' and 'the Original Night Stalker'.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested on Tuesday (local time), the New York Times reported. He has been charged with two counts of murder so far.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72. Photo credit: Sacramento Country District Attorney's Office

The Golden State Killer's first rape victim was a woman named Jane from Sacramento, who was dozing in bed with her three-year-old son on June 18, 1976. He appeared in her doorway, wearing a mask and armed with a knife, and shined a torch in her face.

She survived the ordeal, but other victims were killed, including Brian and Katie Maggior of Rancho Cordova, who were out walking their dog and spotted the suspect just as he was about to break into a home.

"We thought he would never stop, but then two months after the Maggiore homicides, the East Area Rapist left our jurisdiction. It was like he disappeared in thin air," Carol Daly, a retired detective from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, told CNN.

DeAngelo was employed as a police officer in California from 1973 to 1979.

Then, attacks following a similar pattern began 480km to the south in Santa Barbara County. DNA tests later confirmed they were committed by the same man.

No one was ever arrested, and authorities had few details of his appearance - except that he was a white, about 1.8m tall and had light brown or blond hair.

In 2016, the FBI announced a US$50,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

"The sheriff's department never gave up on this investigation," Det Paul Belli of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said.

"This person ruined a great number of lives, and he should be held accountable."

Journalist and author Michelle McNamara, wife of popular comedian Patton Oswalt, wrote a book about the case called I'll Be Gone in the Dark, which was released earlier this year, after her death.

On his Instagram account, Mr Oswalt said it "looks like they got him".