Joseph DeAngelo has not been charged with the Visalia Ransacker’s 1975 murder of Claude Snelling


By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

SACRAMENTO – The former Exeter Police officer arrested as the Golden State Killer (GSK) has been charged with nearly every murder connected to the state’s most notorious serial criminal, all except for one.

On May 10, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office charged Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 72, of Citrus Heights, Calif., with the murders of Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez as well as Debra Manning and Robert Offerman in Goleta, Calif. Domingo, 35, and Sanchez, 27, were killed in the condo they shared on July 27, 1981. Offerman, 44, and Manning, 35, both doctors, were killed at Offerman’s condo on Dec. 30, 1979.

DeAngelo, who had worked as a police officer in both Exeter and Auburn, Calif., had already been charged with eight other GSK murders since being arrested on April 24. On the day he was arrested, DeAngelo was charged with four murders in two counties. The Sacramento County DA charged DeAngelo with the murders of Brian and Katie Maggiore. The newlyweds, ages 21 and 20, were walking their dog in Feb. 2, 1978 near their home of Rancho Cordova, Calif. when they were shot and killed by GSK. The Ventura County DA charged DeAngelo with the murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith. The couple, ages 43 and 33, were killed in their Ventura home on March 13, 1980.

The next day, DeAngelo was charged with four more murders. The Orange County DA charged DeAngelo with the murders of Keith and Patrice Harrington, ages 24 and 27, who were killed in their home in Dana Point, Calif. on Aug. 19, 1980. Additionally, he was charged with the murder of two Irvine women, 28-year-old Manuela Wittman and 18-year-old Janelle Cruz. Witthuhn was raped and killed at her house in Feb. 6, 1981 and Cruz was brutally beaten to death in her home in May 4, 1986.

The only murder connected to the GSK that DeAngelo has not be charged with is believed to be his first. DeAngelo is believed to be the criminal known as the Visalia Ransacker who burglarized 100 homes in Visalia in 1974 and 1975. The Ransacker’s first and only murder victim was Claude Snelling, a College of the Sequoias journalism professor who was shot at his home while saving his daughter from the criminal on Sept. 1, 1975. Just before 2 a.m. that morning, an intruder entered the back door of Snelling’s home in the 500 block of Whitney Lane and crept into the room of Claude’s 16-year-old daughter Beth Snelling. When she awoke, the Ransacker was on top of Beth with his hand over her mouth saying that if she screamed he would stab her. When she began to struggle, the suspect drew a handgun, according to the Visalia Times-Delta. The intruder then forced Beth onto the patio when Claude was awakened from the noise. When he reached the patio door, Claude saw the man dragging his daughter through the back yard. Claude asked the man what he was doing when the suspect threw Beth to the ground, turned and shot Claude twice with a .38-caliber handgun matching one stolen from a ransacking 11 days prior. The suspect then kicked Beth in the head three times and fled the scene. One bullet hit Claude in the side and the other in the chest, fatally wounding him. He was dead on arrival at about 3 a.m. at Kaweah Delta Hospital. 

Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said he would file charges against DeAngelo as soon as a case crosses his desk from the Visalia Police Department. But that has proven more difficult than the murders in Sacramento and Southern California because no DNA was ever collected from any of the Visalia Ransacker crime scenes. Ward told the Sun-Gazette a likely break in the case could come from the contents of DeAngelo’s home in Citrus Heights. The Visalia Ransacker often stole trinkets of little value probably as a trophy or memento of his crimes. There is also the possibility that DeAngelo could admit to the crimes while in custody, as many serial killers enjoy taking credit for their crimes.

Ward will continue meeting with the district attorneys of Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties to discuss the next steps in the prosecution of DeAngelo. Sacramento County DA Anne Marie Schubert, Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas, Santa Barbara DA Joyce Dudley, and Ventura County DA Gregory Totten met on May 11 at the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office with members of their staff and representatives of various law enforcement agencies involved.

“Many important issues were discussed, but no decisions were made regarding where the case may be tried or the composition of the trial team,” stated a press release following the meeting. “All agencies are united in their resolve to ensure DeAngelo is held accountable for the crimes he is accused of committing throughout California.”

The District Attorneys are scheduled to meet again in late June to discuss further details while their staff will continue to prepare this case for trial.

While it is unclear if DeAngelo will ever be tried for Snelling’s murder, it is clear that he won’t be charged with any break-ins in Visalia even though the Visalia Police Department considers him the primary suspect for the Visalia Ransacker cases. In California, the statute of limitations for residential burglaries is just three years. He also won’t be charged with the 51 rapes associated with the East Area Rapist in eastern Sacramento County from 1976-1979. Despite a 2016 law eliminating the statute of limitations on rape crimes in California, Senate Bill 13 only applies to crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2017. Prior to 2017, the statute of limitations for sexual assaults is within 10 years of the crime or prior to the victim’s 40th birthday if they were under the age of 18 when the crimes occurred. 

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