Composite sketch of the serial killer known as EAR/ONS/GSK
Referred to as “GSK‘’ in this post. The purpose of this post is a (brief) overview. See additional information section to learn more on the acronyms.
GSK is an unidentified serial killer who committed at least 50 rapes in Northern California from 1976 to 1979 and then escalated and murdered twelve people in Southern California from 1979 to 1986.
Possible Early Crimes
Many have speculated that GSK started his crime spree as the Visalia Ransacker, although this connection has not been officially confirmed by law enforcement. Between 1974 and 1975, the Visalia Ransacker broke into homes in Visalia, California, tearing the homes apart but stealing only small items. In September 1975, he broke into a home. The male in the home awoke to see the Visalia Ransacker attempting to abduct his daughter. After a confrontation, the Visalia Ransacker shot and killed the man. Police started nighttime stakeouts after this. One night a man was seen prowling in the neighbourhoods hit by burglaries. When a policeman tried to question the man, the suspect shot him, though the policeman survived. After this, there were no more Visalia Ransacker crimes, and the GSK started his raping spree shortly after in another California town. Similarities in modus operandi between Visalia Ransacker and GSK include: burglaries on single-family residences in the middle of the night; never took valuable items from the homes; took firearms along when burglarizing residences. There are rumours floating around online that law enforcement know who the Visalia Ransacker is, and he’s not GSK.
GSK started his known criminal career raping women in the Sacramento area, and his first attack was in May 1976. He would prowl around middle class neighbourhoods at night, looking for a suitable victim. He preferred homes located near an open space like a field, which allowed a quick escape after his attacks. It was believed that after most attacks he used a bike to travel to his car before driving away. He was seen by people in the neighbourhood. One young man chased after him and was shot by GSK, however, the young man lived. Most police sketches of GSK are made by people who saw him prowling. In all but one attack he wore a full-face mask. In one attack, he wore an open-face mask.
Days before his attacks, GSK would break in to the home for reconnaissance. He would call victims before and after the attacks, sometimes pretending to have a wrong number, sometimes just breathing into the receiver. In 1978, one victim had a phone tap set up after the attack, since GSK was known to call. GSK called and stated he was going to kill her. This phone message is recorded (below).
GSK first attacked women who were at home or with children. When he grew more confident he started to prefer to attack couples. He would break in carrying a gun and made the female victim tie up her male companion before GSK tied her up very tightly. He would separate the couple and place dishes on the back of the male. GSK said that if he heard dishes rattle he would kill everyone.
After this, GSK would spend hours in the home, taking his time in the terror he inflicted on his victims. He would go through closets and drawers, and eat food from their fridges. He would rape the woman in multiple sessions, doing his ransacking in between. Before leaving the house, GSK would take souvenirs and cash. He was known to take wedding rings from male and female victims, right off of their fingers. He often stole photos or ID cards of the victims as well. Many serial killers are known to take ‘trophies’ so they can later reminisce on their crimes.
In January 1978, a volunteer for Contact Counseling Service answered a call. It is believed that this was GSK (then known as the East Side Rapist), at least the caller claimed to be. And he said: “I am the East Side Rapist and I feel the urge coming on to do this again. I don’t want to do it, but then I do. Is there anyone there that can help me? I don’t want to hurt these women or their husbands anymore”. He hung up because he thought the call was being traced.
In February 1978, a young couple were walking their dog. There was a confrontation in the streets and the couple fled the area, but they were chased down and shot dead. Police are confident this was GSK.
After this instance, the rapes continued, with eighteen more attacks. There were a total of 49 attacks in committed by GSK between 1976 and 1979, back when he was known as the East Area Rapist. In July 1979, he moved down to Southern California (near Santa Barbara County) and started his murder spree.
On his first attack in Southern California, he tied up a couple. The couple tried to escape and the woman started screaming. GSK started running out of the home because his attack was botched. He was pursued by the couple’s neighbour, who happened to be an FBI agent. GSK had been on a bicycle but he abandoned this and started running in earnest from his pursuer. He dropped his knife while he was running, and he was able to get away.
After this close call GSK started killing in earnest. I believe this botched rape attack triggered him to start killing, so he would never fail again. At his next attack, the victims were shot. At the subsequent four attacks, all of the victims were bludgeoned to death, a total of nine murders for this period of GSK’s crime spree. The women were raped.
GSK took a five year break after 1981, and many thought they were free of him at last. Finally, in 1986, he showed up to terrorize the people of California one last time. Why he took a five-year break, or why he stopped after this last attack, no one knows. 18-year-old Janelle Cruz was to be his last victim. She had been raped and bludgeoned to death.
1991 was the last contact with who police believe to be GSK. A previous rape victim received a telephone call from a man that she believed to be GSK. He talked to her for one minute. She heard a woman and children in the background. Police believe this story is credible.
In 2001, several of the Northern California rapes were linked by DNA to murders in Southern California. Because of the lack of DNA evidence, the Sacramento attacks have not been connected by DNA but have the same Modus Operandi (MO) and are considered to have been committed by GSK. DNA from the early rape cases was collected but no longer existed in 2001 because the statute of limitations for rape had run out, therefore police disposed of this evidence.
In 2004, Shelly Cruz, the sister of the last GSK victim Janelle Cruz did a press conference in relation to GSK. For two weeks afterwards she received 5 to 10 hang-up calls a day. Nothing was said on the calls, but Shelly suspected the caller was GSK. Law enforcement have not commented on these phone calls and it is not confirmed that it was GSK placing the calls.
Nomenclature: This serial killer has three common names, which are The East Area Rapist, The Original Night Stalker and The Golden State Killer. His first name was East Area Rapist (EAR) back when police thought his crimes were mostly rape (with burglary thrown in). The name Original Night Stalker (ONS) was given to a serial killer that police at the time thought was a different individual, but we know now that EAR and ONS are one and the same (at the time many suspected EAR and ONS were the same but this was not confirmed until 2001). He is known as the Original Night Stalker, because there was a serial killer named Richard Ramirez whose killing spree lasted from 1984 to 1985, also in California, known as the Night Stalker. Since Original Night Stalker was the first of the two, he is referred to as the Original. The name Golden State Killer (GSK) was created by Michelle McNamara, a crime blogger and author. The name East Area Rapist is inaccurate and the name Original Night Stalker is, well, unoriginal. For example, if you search Original Night Stalker online, you will find information on Richard Ramirez. Michelle McNamara felt Golden State Killer was the most appropriate name for this criminal. Some people online do not like the name because they believe that Michelle McNamara did not have the ‘right’ to give this killer a new name. Michelle McNamara passed away in 2016, but her husband, actor Patton Oswalt, has finished the book she was working on when she died. It will be released in early 2018.
You can pre-order Michelle McNamara’s book by clicking on this image:
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In 2013, Michelle McNamara published this excellent article on GSK: http://www.lamag.com/longform/in-the-footsteps-of-a-killer/
Michelle McNamara’s website: http://www.truecrimediary.com/index.cfm?page=cases&id=197
The FBI has set up a website in hopes of catching GSK: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/help-us-catch-the-east-area-rapist
This website has compiled all of the known composite sketches of GSK: https://earons.wordpress.com/
The website of Debbi Domingo, whose mother was murdered by GSK: www.facebook.com/whoistheoriginalnightstalker
This website has detailed accounts of each of GSK’s crimes: https://coldcase-earons.com/
(above) List of items that GSK stole, by Reddit user EchoMint
(above) Map of GSK attacks by Casefile Podcast team, click here for full resolution. The Casefile podcast also does an excellent five-part series on GSK.