Richard Ramirez earned the title "The Night Stalker" when he terrorized the city of Los Angeles in the 1980s. But what many people don't know is that there was another serial rapist and killer who went by that nickname before Ramirez did. That monster still hasn't been caught, but investigators are hoping some new evidence will finally change that.
"He committed 56 attacks that included 75 victims that he let live, and 12 victims that he killed," said Contra Costa County, Calif. Investigator Paul Holes.
Now more than three decades after his last known killing, detectives uncover a new clue in the case that's left generations of Californians living in fear. It's a strange trophy the sadistic psychopath took from one of his victims.
He's perhaps one of the country's most prolific serial rapists and killers. And he likes to stay in touch, still terrorizing some of his victims years later.
Police believe they have a recording of the actual voice of the man who blazed a trail of terror up and down the state of California beginning in 1976 in and around Sacramento. Sacramento County Sheriff's investigator Carol Daly says that when the fiend was done with it, the state's capital was changed forever.
In Sacramento alone there were more than 30 rapes, all in upper-middle-class neighborhoods, all in the dead of night in the most frightening way imaginable.
"When people are probably in their most deepest of sleep, he makes entry into that home, he is all of a sudden appearing at the foot of their bed. He would very commonly be wearing some sort of mask," said investigator Paul Holes.
Jane Carson Sandler is one of his earliest victims, awakened with her 3-year-old son sleeping next to her in bed. He put a knife to her chest, tied and gagged and blindfolded them both, threatening to kill them. The attacker stays in the house for an hour, rummages through kitchen drawers, then leaves. Over the following months, the attacker makes sure Jane doesn't forget a thing.
"He would call and then there would be no one on the other end of the phone," said Jane. "I just knew it was him."
In time, the rapist -- thought to be between the ages of 18 and 30 -- becomes emboldened. He starts attacking when both men and women are at home asleep, binding the man and raping the woman. And he adds a chilling new technique to maximize the terror.
"At a certain point he separates the female out into the family room, then he comes in with the dishes and puts it on the male's back, and tells the male 'If I hear these move, she's dead. Or I'm going to cut a part of her off and bring it to you,'" said Paul Holes.
Before long the serial rapist hit the road and heads south from Sacramento.
"After he does the second attack in Stockton, that's where he now starts to toggle back and forth between Modesto and Davis," said Holes.
Along the way, grew ever more diabolical.
"He would rape the female victim and then he would bludgeon the victims to death using an unknown object, usually, but he would take the item in most cases from the crime scene," said Orange County D.A. Investigator Erika Hutchcraft.
Over the next two and a half years, he brutally murders all of his victims, 12 in total, leaving a trail of blood from Santa Barbara to Orange County.
Among his victims were Lyman and Charlene Smith. Lyman was a very respected and prominent attorney in Santa Paula. Lyman's 13-year-old son from another marriage discovered the bodies. Charlene had been raped. Both were bludgeoned to death with a piece of firewood. And there was something very peculiar about how they had been bound.
"The knots that were used on their wrists got classified as a 'diamond knot.' It's like an ornate knot used in decorative stuff and often times maybe sailing," said Ventura Police Sgt. Matt Cain.
The unusual clue shows up only that one time in a gruesome crime spree involving 56 separate attacks. Possible sketches of the most wanted man in California come from a few witnesses who may have seen him fleeing one of his many crime scenes or prowling the neighborhood in search of prey.
"What most people don't realize is those are composites that other people said, 'Hey, I saw a strange guy walking in the neighborhood.' None of those composites came from the victims, because he always had a mask on. So we to this day really don't know what his face looks like."
The only physical description surviving victims can provide is one very tiny trait: "Extremely small penis," it says on the police report.
"Yes, it does," said one detective. "They all describe him having an extremely small penis."
"It was very small," Jane Carson Sandler confirms. "Maybe that was part of his psychological hangup."
Ten years after his last known victim was bludgeoned to death inside her family's Orange County home, all of the rapes and murders were linked to one lone monster through DNA.
"He didn't know about DNA, and that's probably what's going to do him in," said Holes. "At some point we are going to find him."
Do you think he's still in California?
"I think he very possibly is," said Holes. "I think he very possibly is still in Sacramento."
The monster most now call the "Golden State Killer" has terrorized people up and down the state of California for decades. His last known attack was in Orange County in 1986. But that wasn't the last time someone heard from him.
"April 5th, 2001 is when the Sacramento Bee publishes their article about the DNA link between the 'Northern California East Area Rapist' attacks and the 'Southern California Original Night Stalker,' saying this is one and the same guy," said cold-case investigator Paul Holes. "The next day after the Sac Bee comes out with that article, he's calling a Sacramento-based victim."
Contra Costa County District Attorney's Investigator Paul Holes doesn't think it's a coincidence.
"I believe that he saw that article and he knew ahead of time that victim's phone number, and called her," said Holes.
She was just one of the many rape victims he called over the years. He even found one of his rape victims at work five years later.
"And he calls her while she's at work," said Holes. "And the only way that he knew that she was at work, in my opinion, is he probably was a customer and saw one of his former victims at that Denny's Restaurant and went outside and called her."
Until a few months ago, only the original detectives on the case knew about the 1982 phone call.
"This is very significant because we had this 1981-to-1986 gap," said Holes. "And so everybody in the current generation of investigators assumed this guy was in custody. We know that he is capable of going silent for long periods of time."
Which is why the search for clues continues even 31 years after his last attack.
Quilted zipper pouches the "Golden State Killer" stole from one of his victim's homes were recently revealed.
"It's not listed on their stolen-item inventory," said Paul Holes.
The serial killer is known for stealing personal items from his victims -- things like class rings and collectible coins.
"One of the most unusual things he stole was 14 place settings of this Noritake china," said Holes.
The china was valued at about $1,200. But Det. Holes doesn't believe he wanted it for the money.
"I think it's very possible he kept that china himself, or gave it to family or friends, and in fact I think he possibly just served his family Thanksgiving dinner on that china," said Paul Holes. "He would be getting a thrill of feeding his family on this china and remembering what he did to those victims."
Photos of the china were recently released to the public with the hopes that someone would recognize it. The pictures got the detective wondering how he was able to carry out such fragile dishware by himself.
"She had kept the china stored in these quilted vinyl china storage sets," said Holes.
Detectives have released photos of the circular storage sets exclusively to Crime Watch Daily.
"This china may still be stored in that storage set today and that's what I'm hoping is somebody's going, 'Oh, I recognize this particular pattern of china, and oh yeah, it's also stored in that type of storage set," said Holes.
In addition to the china, the killer also stole expensive flatware. Detectives believe his taste for the finer things is very telling.
"When you consider that this killer up to this point had done 37 other attacks and then now in the 38th attack, all of a sudden he's stealing this fine china, so it tells me that potentially he has been exposed to seeing nicer china, it might suggest that demographically his upbringing was a little bit more well-bred than somebody like me who never was exposed to fine china growing up," said Holes.
That profile fits with what detectives have suspected all along, given that most of the attacks occurred in middle- to upper-class neighborhoods.
"He blends in to those communities, his vehicle blends in to those communities, he's not going into very low-income neighborhoods and committing these attacks, so that right there is telling about how he appears," said Holes.
Even though his attacks moved into Southern California, Det. Holes doesn't believe the suspect did.
"I think it's entirely possible he never moved his home out of the Sacramento area; he is attacking while he is traveling and I believe he's traveling for his job," said Det. Holes.
Other possible descriptions of the Golden State Killer:
"A white male, 5' 8" to 5' 10", 160 to 180 pounds, intelligent and sophisticated," said Holes. "He's probably somebody that is fantasy-driven, has a normal family life, relatively successful, both financially as well as with their personal lives."
For more than four decades the Golden State Killer has managed to avoid capture but Det. Holes believes they're finally closing in on him.
"Over time I've gotten a much better understanding on who this guy is and who I need to be looking for," said Det. Holes. "He wanted law enforcement to think he was the semi-transient 'troll under the bridge' going around the countryside raping while he's needing food and money from these victims. And I don't think that's him at all."