Steuben County village was birthplace of suspected Golden State Killer Joseph J. DeAngelo Jr., but memories, traces of suspect and his family are nearly nonexistent in Bath
BATH — Seventy-two years and 2,626 miles. That’s the expanse — in both time and distance — between what’s believed to be Joseph James DeAngelo Jr.’s first home at 52 E. Morris St., Bath, N.Y. and his arrest at his home in Citrus Heights, Calif., bringing him newfound notoriety as a suspected serial rapist and killer.
When DeAngelo, 72, was taken into custody outside his home by Sacramento County Sheriff’s investigators in April, law enforcement said a 40-plus year manhunt for California’s notorious Golden State Killer had ended. Authorities said DNA linked the former police officer to most of the 12 killings (and dozens of sexual assaults) he is accused of committing between 1976-1986 across California, from the Bay Area to the southern regions of the state.
Investigators say DeAngelo is also the East Area Rapist — a sexual predator who terrorized Sacramento County in the mid 1970s. DeAngelo, authorities say, committed more than 50 sexual assaults, with most taking place in the homes of his victims. The East Area Rapist targeted women in stealth attacks, usually carrying out break-ins and rapes in the early morning hours.
DeAngelo worked as a police officer in Exeter, Calif. from 1973 to 1976. Police in the region believe he also is the Visalia Ransacker responsible for the murder of Claude Snelling, a community college teacher who was fatally shot while stopping someone from kidnapping his 16-year-old daughter, and about 100 burglaries.
The terror moved to Southern California in the late 1970s and early 1980s, where couples and women staying alone were killed in a series of vicious attacks in small communities like Dana Point, Goleta and Northwood. The last murder linked to the Golden State Killer was May 4, 1986, when 18-year-old Janelle Cruz was raped and murdered in Irvine.
Earlier this year, Paul Holes, an investigator with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, uploaded the East Area Rapist's genetic profile into a public genealogy database. The killer’s DNA submission struck gold. Investigators used the resulting associations to create a family tree for the suspect, eventually tracing it back to DeAngelo.
DeAngelo’s arrest on April 26 set off a fury of internet searches, scrambling for background on the obscure suspect. DeAngelo appeared to be living a quiet existence in Citrus Heights: a recently retired truck mechanic, grandfather and grouchy neighbor obsessed with lawn care.
Now that investigators had a suspect, a nationwide scramble began to fill in his background. A search by the Criminology Podcast turned up a 1973 newspaper article on DeAngelo’s appointment to the Exeter (Calif.) Police Department. In the article, DeAngelo, then 27, revealed that he was a native of Bath, N.Y., a graduate of Folsom (Calif.) Senior High School, a Vietnam veteran and, as it turns out, disingenuously said “without law and order there can be no government. (My) job is serving the community.”
And just like that, a Steuben County connection to a serial murder case that is the subject of a bestselling true crime book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” came into focus.
A string of old newspaper articles, obituaries, and social listings sketched out some brief details about DeAngelo’s origin. His parents were Joseph J. DeAngelo Sr. of Watkins Glen and the former Kathleen DeGroat of Bath, according to news sites and the Steuben County Historical Society.
The Steuben County Historical Society and its director, Kirk House, have done extensive research into Joseph DeAngelo Jr. and the family, establishing the local ties, but they have been mostly stymied when it comes to their life in Bath.
Kathleen DeGroat was the daughter of Charles and Helen B. DeGroat, of Elmira, according to the Historical Society. Joseph DeAngelo Sr. was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel DeAngelo of Watkins Glen, a historical society researcher discovered.
An Elmira newspaper reported Kathleen and Joseph Sr. were married on Nov. 20, 1941 in the Elmwood Avenue Baptist Church in Elmira Heights. Rev. Joseph D. McDanel performed the ceremony in the church parsonage.
The Spectator came across an article from the March 30, 1944 Canisteo Times, “Bath Army Airman Wounded in Action.” The airman was Joseph J. DeAngelo Sr., wounded in the air over Australia, according to the article.
The Canisteo Times continued: “His wife, the former Kathleen DeGroat, Bath, and their 17-month-old daughter, Rebecca Louise, reside at 52 East Morris St., in Bath.”
From that East Morris Street address it’s a short walk to the former Bath Memorial Hospital, where Joseph DeAngelo Jr., suspected of being the most deadly serial killer in California history, was born on Nov. 8, 1945.
But memories are fickle, and of course, 72 years is long span of time, at least for mortals. Traces of Joseph DeAngelo Jr. are elusive in Bath. DeAngelo was born here. He may have ridden a bicycle on these streets, attended his first day of school in 1951, made friends, experienced the hundreds of small moments that make up a childhood amid these leafy blocks. Or maybe he didn’t. The passage of decades has stolen memories of DeAngelo in Bath, and, so far, at least, time is not giving them up.
May 8, 2018 was a made-to-order spring day in Bath, with temperatures in the high 60s, only the slightest of breezes, and a blue sky dotted with wispy white clouds incapable of making wet-weather mischief. A perfect day, in other words, to steer a riding lawnmower around the grassy plot adjacent to the Bath Fire Hall. Until about 2006, an apartment house stood at this small piece of land at 52 East Morris St. The two-story apartment house was removed in a controlled burn and the fire department is responsible for keeping up appearances at the plot.
Former Bath Fire Chief Joe Washburn turned off the lawnmower engine, and agreed to chat with a Spectator reporter. Yes, Washburn heard about Bath’s connection with a suspected serial killer, and he remembers the building that once stood where he was now mowing. He pointed out where the front of the house was located, right around where a raised bed of flowers now sits. He said when the new fire hall was built, the fire department purchased the 52 East Morris St. property, and removed the house through a controlled burn.
Inside the fire hall, DeAngelo, the suspected serial killer, has been the topic of recent conversations, Washburn admitted. The old timers have been questioned about their recollections of DeAngelo, or in this case, their lack of recollections.
“No one remembers the guy or the family,” Washburn said.
“There was a permanent Di- or D’Angelo family in Bath, but we haven’t found any connection to that family and the DeAngelos,” House, the Historical Society director, said. “People who would have been contemporaneous in school with him have no memory of him.”
As for school yearbooks, there was “not a lot of information on elementary schools in those days," House added.
Judy Hunter, the Steuben County clerk, grew up in Bath and attended schools here but the startling news brought back no fresh memories of the family. She said there have been DeAngelos in Bath over the years; there was even a DeAngelo’s Restaurant, but that is likely a different family.
“I remember reading (about the Bath connection) at the time (he was arrested), and thinking ‘I have no idea,’” Hunter said.
Those missing memories are what intrigue Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker.
“My knowledge comes from the same TV shows that everybody’s watching. I was watching that (Golden State Killer: It's Not Over) series on the Discovery Channel when they found the guy,” Baker said. “They followed the story back to Bath. (DeAngelo) is about 70, which would put him at the same age as my father and mother who grew up in the Bath area, and my aunts and uncles and cousins. No one in my family remembers him.”
Kathleen and Joseph DeAngelo Sr. had two more children after the birth of Joe Jr. in 1945: Connie and the youngest, John, who was born in 1949, according to at least one published report.
But if John was born in Bath, that’s information that is stored in the Bath Village Clerk’s office, and that office was not willing to provide any help. It is not known when the DeAngelos were divorced, when the family left Steuben County, when they moved to California, or when Kathleen remarried. She wed Percy John Bosanko Jr. and settled in Exeter, in the soil-rich farmlands of Tulare County, California.
Kathleen DeGroat DeAngelo Bosanko died in 2010 in Exeter at age 87. Joseph J. DeAngelo Sr. died in South Korea in 2000.
If a budding serial killer came of age in his county, Baker would be interested in knowing about that fact. Given that the Golden State Killer suspect graduated from a California high school in 1964, it appears all but certain that he was long gone from the area by at least his teenage years. It’s likely he left many years before then. Still, Baker never expected the region to have any connection to this infamous and deadly crime spree.
“He might have done something off-the-wall, or they might have known him as an All-American boy,” Baker said of the young DeAngelo.
Baker said his office has not been contacted by California law enforcement officials about DeAngelo. There’s nothing surprising about that, he pointed out.
“They would reach out to the (New York) State Police or Bath P.D. looking for background information if that was necessary,” Baker said. “Based on how we do things here, that would probably be a law enforcement to law enforcement contact.
“Now whether there has been some contact from the California Highway Patrol, the FBI and those folks to State Police or Bath P.D., I couldn’t tell you.”
Baker said DeAngelo’s arrest is testament to the value of cooperation among law enforcement agencies, not to mention the expanding use of DNA to link offenders to long ago crimes.
Baker said, “People are putting DNA out into the public eye through the internet, and it allows law enforcement to look in a lot more places. It expands our investigations and increases the workload for folks, but it gives us the opportunity to look at a lot more people.
“For them to put together this case across five or six jurisdictions with six or seven law enforcement agencies over a 40 year period, and to come out with a rock solid suspect and then link it back through DNA is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to dogged police work and cooperation. Around here, we’re very lucky that our police agencies cooperate within the county, but try to stretch it statewide, and it’s amazing that law enforcement is able to do that.”
To this point, few if any traces of the suspected Golden State Killer have turned up in Steuben County. If he did anything of note here or left any sort of impression, other than being born and leaving, it’s either well hidden or long faded.
If not for the DNA hit, everything about DeAngelo, his birth in Bath, his alleged long-string of horrific crimes, would have remained obscured in anonymity. Baker sees the miraculousness in the DNA match.
“It does show that technology is making it harder and harder to get away with crimes, and even if somebody gets away with it for a while, the chance of getting away with it forever, particularly as we start stretching the statute of limitations particularly on things like sex crimes, and obviously murder, there becomes an ever-increasing chance that over time, either traditional methodology will catch up with somebody, or they’ll make a misstep ... or the technology will catch up with them,” Baker said. “Who knows what the next leap will be, but it’s pretty amazing.”
If you have information or recollections about Joseph J. DeAngelo Jr. or his family, please email Neal Simon at email@example.com