The week before DeAngelo’s arrest, I had worked a trade show called RSAC. It’s the biggest cybersecurity show in the US. It happens in San Francisco and I did it while on a crutch (busted up leg) and launching a huge PR campaign. The cover image is from one of our event buttons – it just happens to fit here. It freaking rocked and I worked my fingers to the bone. I needed a little time off to do laundry and recover from the previous week. Rest. That was my goal. Rest. Had no idea an arrest was imminent and they’d lay me off the day after I would see him for the first time.
Queue blissful morning music gently waking me from my deep slumber.
I was sleeping-in on Wednesday, April 25th. Usually up around 6:30am, on this day, I got to sleep-in. Around 8:30 I was awake enough to grab my phone and check messages. There was a text from Lisa.
“Could this really be him?” she asked. It was followed by a link to a news story.
“Hmmm,” I replied with no commitment. I headed to Twitter.
There the story was blowing up. He was in custody and law enforcement was feeling pretty darn confident. I started shaking. My hands could barely hold my phone. I sent a text to my family and then called my mom. She wasn’t really firing on all cylinders yet and if she had heard, it hadn’t registered.
“They caught him,” I told her.
“What? Who? What are you talking about?” mom said. I always talk too fast for my mom. Especially when we first start the conversation.
“The Golden State Killer, or East Area Rapist. Mom. Our guy. They caught him. After all these years, he’s in custody.” It was weird to say it. “I gotta get up. This is nuts. It’s all over the news. I sent a message to the boys.” We talked a bit more and then I hit the shower. I put on decent clothes but nothing fancy. I expected the phone calls to come in and lots of “ohmigods” and “can you believes” but I didn’t expect things to blow-up like they did.
First things first. Trust but verify. Like any true crime lawyer’s daughter would do.
First, I called the Ventura police to see if they would just confirm we had the right guy. I talked with an investigator who assured me it was a good arrest (did he say that or do I just watch way too much Law and Order?). Anyway, it didn’t matter because the Ventura District Attorney, Gregory Totten, called me a few minutes later and told me what I have wanted to hear my whole adult life. Since science had already solved this case through DNA, all we needed was the human.
“We got him and it’s a 100% match,” he said.
“You’re kidding. It’s true? He’s the guy?” I was shaking again. Actually, pretty sure I didn’t stop shaking that day until around 11pm.
“He’s the guy. Watch the press conference at noon. I’ll talk to you soon,” and he was off to do District Attorney things.
After that I did something I hadn’t done since my dad died. I decided to use my real name to shout victory. I merged Jennifer Carol Smith (Jenny) and Jennifer Carole (grown-up) into one person in my online social media and suddenly everyone knew who I was. With the speed that accompanies social media, the journalists figured it out and headed to Santa Cruz. Since I once owned a baby bib company (Big Bellies, it was fun, made no money but suited my entrepreneurial spirit), my address wasn’t all that hard to find. I also got phone calls; so did my mom. I had gotten rid of my landline a few years ago so I was a little harder to find than I used to be, but mom managed to forward calls to me rather easily.
A pause for the cause. A few feelings got in through the craziness.
Before the press conference and after just one interview, the tears finally came. I’m pretty sure it was relief. I’m not sure how the others feel, and I was never called or harassed after-the-fact by DeAngelo, but I did live in fear. Especially when I found out he was a serial killer and I had just had a baby. In fact, after coming back home from an Unsolved Mysteries episode, I got a dog. A hypo-allergenic dog that was going to protect us. Daisy. Unfortunately, I was way more mental than I had thought and the puppy crying flipped me back into a postpartum mess and I had to give my little Daisy to a friend. Daisy was renamed Phoebe and turned out to be a wonder-dog that made my friend Patty’s mom (and everyone else including the neighborhood) amazingly happy.
Instead, I had to deal with the fear pragmatically. I was always vigilant and aware of my surroundings. I went to self-defense classes and took Katie as well. I made sure I knew who was home during the day and which house Katie was could run to if there was ever any danger. But I guess one doesn’t really understand the hold fear has on you until it’s gone. In the moments after Totten told me DeAngelo was a 100% DNA match, I felt relief. Tremendous relief. They got him. He was behind bars.
The press was here that day until pretty late. With so many reporters around, the atmosphere was collegial and collaborative. Folks made time for one another and helped me feel at ease. It was about 11pm when I realized I hadn’t eaten at all – funny thing adrenaline. It really is a great appetite suppressant. As I lay in bed that night I realized the day had been a lot like the day Gary found dad and Charlene. Chaotic, busy and no chance to really know how I felt.
But when I finally got in bed I realized I did know. I felt good. Satisfied. Resolved. He was in jail. And a chapter we never expected was just beginning.
[Note: I’ve started a podcast and you can grab it from Apple iTunes and SoundCloud. Why would you want to listen to what you just read? I am finding there’s stuff I want to chat about that’s hard to capture in writing. And I figured out how to do it so why not? Finally, it drives my mom and kid nuts when I walk around reminding them to listen to my podcast. There are so few opportunities to torment your family members, how could I resist! My goal, if I’m not traveling, is to post a podcast within 24 hours of a blog post.]