From March 1974 until December 1975 an unknown individual prowled the city of Visalia, California, committing a series of over 100 burglaries, and is the prime suspect in the murder of a college professor during an attempted kidnapping. It is strongly believed by investigators to be the same person who would later relocate to Sacramento and began a reign of terror, committing almost 50 rapes and attacks against single females and couples.
The first events linked to the Visalia Ransacker started in May 1973 when a prowler was reported after a young woman complained to police. In June someone broke into a residence South Demaree St., and the police believed it could be the same person who was active over a two month period. Nothing was reported for several months until Monday 3 September 1973 when a prowler was spotted in the flower bed of a house on West Kaweah Avenue. The owner reported to police that at approx 8:15pm she saw the man, whom she described as a white male, 25-years-old, clean shaven with a round face and short cut blonde hair, looking into her bedroom window.
Later that same month on 10 September another prowler was encountered on West Kaweah Avenue. A resident reported seeing a man leaving her backyard as she walked from her residence to her parked car. She said the man was running westbound at a slow pace and was startled when he saw her, and then immediately turned and shouted, "Catch you later, Sandy!". The woman believes he did this as a ruse to fool her into thinking he was visiting a friend in the neighbourhood, but she clearly saw him exiting her property.
Another prowler was reported twice by the same person. A 16-year-old who lived on West Feemster Avenue told police she saw a prowler outside her bedroom window and several days later she saw him again, only this time her boyfriend confronted the man who once again pretended to talk to someone explaining, "Looks like this guys got us here, Ben!". The boyfriend talked with the prowler for awhile, until he saw the man was reaching for a gun and then returned to the house. The man then made his escape. The young girl and her boyfriend provided police with a witness description of the man who they described as a white male, 5'10", about 185lbs and in his mid-twenties. The boyfriend who got a better look at the man said he had light, sandy blonde hair, a large/heavy frame and his face was unusually round and smooth. This would seem to be a similar description to the previous prowler encountered back on South Demaree St.
Nothing else was reported until the following year when the same residence on West Feemster from the September 73 incidents reported a prowler, and were convinced it was the same person. Later that same month the next door neighbour experienced a prowler when the home owner looked outside and saw a man staring into her window. When he spotted her he ran and jumped over her garden fence. She described him as having a round face and small eyes and noticed he had been holding a screwdriver. These reports were filed by the police but without any evidence linking them to a suspect, they could not make an arrest.
The ransackings began on Tuesday, 19 March 1974 when a home on West Walnut Avenue was raided and $50 worth of coins were stolen from a piggy bank. More burglaries followed when on 6 April the Ransacker broke into four homes, beginning with a house on South Linda Vista and then another three on South Whitney, where he stole piggy banks and several other items. Almost a month later on 4 May, someone broke into a South Dollner Street residence and took a coin collection and cash. The following day a piggy bank was taken from a West Feemster house along with more money.
The Ransacker was targeting houses whilst the residents were at work or otherwise away from their homes during the hours he chose to break in and had limited himself to taking money, however this changed on Friday 10 May when he entered a West Tulare Avenue property. He stole the usual, coins and assorted money, but this time he removed the owners .380 Remington automatic pistol and ammunition. The following day cash and wedding cards were taken from a house on South Whitney Street and six days later two more properties were raided. At the first on South Emerald Court the Ransacker stole coins and a man's ring, whilst at the second on West Dartmouth Avenue he took a coin bank, cash and blue chip stamps.
It would be these blue chip stamps that would be a significant link to both other burglaries committed by the Visalia Ransacker and the East Area Rapist, who targeted women in Sacremento also stole them from his rape victims. The next day on West Feemster, he stole from two properties, taking coins, cash, piggybanks, a broken necklace, pantyhose and cologne. From 21-26 May there were seven more burglaries with a variety of items stolen. But something significant happened on Sunday 26 May during one of the raids at a house on West Cambridge Avenue. The Ransacker entered the property and took a piggybank, cash and 8-track tapes but left his fingerprints. Police believe the perpetrator had applied hand lotion during the course of the ransacking.
Blue Chip Stamps
There was only one more incident reported in June, when a house on South Conyer Street was broken into but nothing was taken. The Ransackings then stopped abruptly, however the police were no closer to catching who was responsible. He resumed again on 14 September, targeting a home on West Princeton Avenue where he stole a single earring. This was yet another unique link to the East Area Rapist who would also steal a single earring from his victims. Nothing more occurred during September but October saw seven more burglaries, starting on 4 October, when he struck on South Grant Street where he took coins, a Ruger .22 revolver, three boxes of .22 ammunition, and about one and a half boxes of 12 gauge ammunition. The Ransacker was amassing a significant collection of weaponry by now and added a 32. revolver he stole from South Giddings Street on 23 October.
November would see the ransackers most prolific month with twenty-two burglaries reported to Visalia PD. On Friday 1 November he struck 5 times, hitting West Vassar, West Cambridge, South Guddings and West Paradise, where he stole the usual, piggy banks, coins, cash and blue chip stamps, whilst the following day he ransacked another four properties, taking more blue chip stamps, a single earring, four tubes of epoxy glue and a pack of new men's t-shirts. His next spree was at the end of November when thirteen homes were burglarised over the period of 29 November to 1 December. The usual haul included coins, cash and 20-gauge shotgun shells and .22 ammunition stolen, whilst the homeowners reported the Ransacker ate bread and drank at a burglary on West Cambridge Avenue.
Another victim on South Sowell Street told police the intruder had dumped a bottle of pills into the sink, which was yet another link to the East Area Rapist who did the same during one of his attacks. Frustrated at their inability to catch the Ransacker in the act, the Visalia PD conducted a stakeout during 13 December through until 15 December. However the Ransacker slipped through their net, hitting four properties the other side of town where there was no police presence at West Vassar and West Cambridge.
The Visalia PD conducted another stakeout to catch the VR from 21 December through to 23 December, but he was one step ahead again and hit previous areas he had already ransacked. Four houses were hit on 21 December, where at West Iris Court he masturbated and sprayed hand lotion all over the house, after throwing picture of the family on the ground. Then another seven more the following day when the Police decided to undertake a third stakeout from 22 December to 30 December. Once gain the VR changed his area of operation and relocated to target properties on South Oaks and South Verde Vista Street.
The Visalia police were understandably perplexed at their inability to catch the Ransacker despite their stakeout operations which failed to reassure the public that they were not helpless in the face of such a brazen criminal. They had a definitive MO of the Ransacker, who target houses with walkways, ditches and trails that all provided an easy escape route in the event of imminent capture. He also left multiple points of escape open such as windows and garden exits and setup a warning system of plates and dishes next to doors to warn him in the event of the homeowners returning unexpectedly. The intruder wore gloves during most of the burglaries except for the incident on 26 May 1974 and was mostly unseen by his victims who were not at home during the hours he ransacked.
However, on 5 February 1975, Professor Claude Snelling reported to police that he witnessed a prowler at around 10:00pm peeping through his daughter Beth's window. He described the individual as being 5'10" to 6 feet tall, with collar length hair and wearing a dark plaid long-sleeved shirt. Police later found footprints underneath Beth Snelling's bedroom window and matched them to a variety of tennis shoe.
There were subsequently three more burglaries in February and then they became more sporadic, with one each in March and April, then resuming again with five more in May and four in July. On 24 July the property at 1505 West Kaweah Avenue was broken into and the intruder was interrupted by the residents 19-year-old daughter who was pushed down as he fled the scene. She would later report to police that she was regularly peeped on by the Ransacker and so the police decided on 10 December 1975 to organise a stakeout. The next day three more house were burglarised, with cash, coins, stamps, and a credit card belonging to the victim all stolen.
Nine more ransackings occurred throughout August, with the VR taking a flashlight from a home on South Redwood Avenue on 30 August and a gun the following day at West Royal Oaks Drive. This gun would be significant to the case because it was a rare Japanese made Miroku .38 Special. The owner Pat Monno reported the theft to police and told them the intruder had also taken an Eisenhower coin and had rather unusually lined his underwear up in the hallway from the bedroom to the bathroom.
One night after the burglary, the Ransacker called Monno's home. His wife answered and let out a scream. Monno then picked up the receiver and said "Who is this?". The caller told him, "I'm going to tell you the same thing I told your wife...", he continued in a soft, slow voice, "I'm going to kill her, I'm going to kill you, and I'm going to kill your daughter." Monno replied: "You made one mistake: You left my shotgun. So you can try, but I'll be waiting for you."
Miroku .38 Special
At the beginning of September there were several report of a prowler, on West Myrtle Avenue when he was caught urinating in a yard and talking to himself, South Redwood which was afew houses away from the Snelling residence and South Whitney Street which was only two houses across. On 10 September a prowler was reported on South Cornell Street and later on West Whitney Drive where he was spotted inside a garage where a ladder had been taken from the residence and dumped one house away. Police later theorised the Ransacker had used it to get a birds eye view of the street that night.
In the early morning hours of 11 September 1975, a ski-masked intruder forced his way into the Snelling residence and attempted to kidnap 16-year-old Beth Snelling. The masked man had taken Beth outside through the backdoor and was then confronted by her father, 45 year old Claude Snelling. Upon seeing the intruder Mr Snelling was shot twice and staggered back into the home where his wife rushed to his side. The masked man left Beth on the floor, but not before kicking her in the face several times and then making his escape and was later spotted several hours after the attack on West Campus and South Locust Street.
Claude Snelling was later pronounced dead and the Visalia PD put up a $4000 reward for information, whilst increasing their resources in apprehending the Ransacker. The Police found the bullets used to murder Snelling were from a unique firearm and checked the files of previous burglaries. Detectives then contacted Pat Monno who took them on 15 September to a sand bank where he used to do target practice. The bullets the police recovered there were the same as those removed from the body of Claude Snelling and belonged to the rare Japanese made Miroku .38 Special stolen from Pat two weeks before the homicide. A flashlight stolen from a house on South Redwood Avenue was found several days after the Snelling murder. There was now a clear link between the Visalia Ransacker and the murderer of Claude Snelling.
There were several more burglaries in September, with one on 22 September at West Royal Oaks where the Ransacker stole a single earring, perfume, foundation, a bra and two photos of the teenage girl. More prowling incidents and an attempted break-in were reported at the beginning of the next month when on 16 October the Ransacker called the young girl from West Royal Oaks telling her, "I know you are alone and I am going to come over and fuck you". The rest of October saw more reports of suspicious individuals and prowling as well as harassing phone calls.
The same family on West Royal Oaks were targeted again on 20 October when the wife was home alone. She later reported that someone had attempted to open her front door, which was locked and so she tried get a look them through the peep hole. An hour later the telephone rang and the caller stayed silent and then hung up. Five minutes later the phone rang again and the caller said "How you'd you like to get fucked?" And then he said the wife's name. She told police she believed it was the same man and the police believed it was the ransacker taunting his victims. A young lady living near the Snelling residence also received harassing phone calls around this time period. This was also something the East Area Rapist did frequently, calling previous rape victims to threaten and harass them.
The burglaries continued and on 24 October there were seven reported ransackings where at one the shoe prints matched the Visalia Ransacker and at another he used Vaseline hand lotion and dumped all of their pills down the sink. At this point over ninety burglaries were attributed to the Ransacker and the police were no closer to catching him than when he started over a year earlier. The 2 November saw two ransackings and several prowler reports where the witnesses described the man as having a "pudgy face" and light brown hair.
There were six more incidents in November with three burglaries and three more prowlers reported with a similar description given of the suspect. Several more homes were targeted from 1 December to 8 December, where the Ransacker stole holiday postage stamps, a briefcase, binoculars, and a shaving kit from a home on West College Avenue but was scared off by a dog on West Beverly Drive. The 100th burglary, the homeowners returned to their West Sue Avenue home on 8 December and scared off the Ransacker who fled when he heard them enter. The shoes prints recovered at the scene tied it to other VR ransackings.
The previous July, the property at 1505 West Kaweah Avenue which was targeted continued to be plagued with someone peeping on the families 19 year old daughter. They had previously reported it to police and on 10 December 1975, officers decided to stakeout the property in the event of the Ransacker returning. That Wednesday evening a house was ransacked on West Laurel Avenue and cash, rings and Blue Chip stamps were stolen.
Then at 20:30pm, a man entered the backyard of the property at 1505 West Kaweah Avenue when he was spotted by Detective William McGowan who had been inside the garage conducting the stakeout. McGowan attempted to apprehend the intruder who began to run, then shouted at him to stop, firing a warning shot and then trained his flashlight on the suspect. The masked man removed his ski-mask and screamed, "Oh my God, no!", before pulling his own gun and firing it at McGowan. The bullet hit his flashlight and glass then ricocheted into McGowan's right eye. The suspect then jumped a fence and disappeared.
The Visalia Ransacker
Detective McGowan was able to provide investigators with a description of his attacker and a composite was drawn based on his memory. Except for two incidents in January the following year, this was the last reported incident of the Visalia Ransacker. His identity would remain unknown until a break through in DNA would link these burglaries to the prolific East Area Rapist and a vicious Serial Killer, the Original Night Stalker.
On 24 April 2018, Sacramento PD announced they had made an arrest in the Golden State Killer case. This case comprised all the known crimes of the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker who were previously linked as the same individual via DNA in 2001. Joseph James DeAngelo was charged in the murders associated with the Original Night Stalker, as well as the 50 rapes committed by the EAR.
On 13 August 2018, DeAngelo was formally charged with the murder of Claude Snelling. During the period of the Visalia Ransackers crimes, DeAngelo was a serving member of the Exeter PD of Tulare County which he joined on 13 May 1973, and would have accounted for the Ransackers ability to evade the police stakeouts. In Early 1976, after the McGowan shooting, DeAngelo requested a transfer to Auburn PD, which would coincide with the beginning of reported attacks by the East Area Rapist. Ironically, DeAngelo was promoted on 11 May 1976 to Sergeant in charge of Investigating burglaries and methods to prevent them.
Written by Nucleus
Written by Nucleus