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An official displayed a mug shot of Joseph James DeAngelo, suspected of being the “Golden State Killer.”
An official displayed a mug shot of Joseph James DeAngelo, suspected of being the “Golden State Killer.”JOHN G. MABANGLO/EPA/Shutterstock

More than 40 years after the so-called Golden State Killer began to terrorize Californians, raping dozens of women and killing at least 12, authorities announced Wednesday that they had arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in the case.

News of DeAngelo’s arrest marked a sudden development in what had been one of the most notorious unsolved crime sprees in US history, one that stretched over a decade and terrorized scores of people across California.

Police said DNA evidence helped lead them to DeAngelo, a former police officer who had been living in Citrus Heights, Calif., a city outside Sacramento. They did not elaborate on what the DNA evidence was or how it was obtained.

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‘‘The magnitude of this case demanded that it be solved,’’ Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference in the California capital. ‘‘We found the needle in the haystack, and it was right here in Sacramento.’’

Sacramento County court records showed that DeAngelo was booked into jail early Wednesday morning on two counts of murder. No bail was set.

The string of attacks — attributed to someone alternately dubbed the Golden State Killer, Original Night Stalker, and East Area Rapist— was horrifying for both its nature and its grim sweep. Between 1976 and 1986, the FBI said, the attacker killed a dozen people and raped 45 people, attacking people who were as young as 13 and as old as 41.

Authorities had said they suspected the Golden State Killer may have either had a background or interest in law enforcement techniques. On Wednesday, police said DeAngelo fit that bill. He had served as a police officer in California between 1973 and 1979, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said, a period that overlapped with the beginning of the attacks.

Beginning in 1976, the Golden State Killer is believed to have raped dozens of women in their homes — meticulously planning his intrusions, sometimes ambushing entire families, and killing several of his victims toward the end of his spree, before vanishing in 1986. The attacker was also behind numerous residential burglaries in the state, the FBI said.

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Since his disappearance, investigators and amateur detectives have searched for the man across the United States and inquired as far away as Australia.

‘‘He was young — anywhere from 18 to 30 — Caucasian, and athletic, capable of eluding capture by jumping roofs and vaulting tall fences,’’ the crime writer Michelle McNamara wrote in a Los Angeles Magazine profile of the old cases.

McNamara, who passed away in 2016, coined the term ‘‘Golden State Killer’’ in that 2013 profile, and in subsequent years transformed from an amateur crime blogger into a widely cited expert on the case, pursuing the investigation with the help of old police files, friendly investigators, and the trust of many rape survivors.