Police in California have caught the ‘Golden State Killer’ who murdered at least 12 people and raped 50 women during the 1970s and 80s.

Failure to catch the sex beast has remained one of America’s most haunting unsolved crimes for decades.

The monster would break into homes and hold victims hostage before brutally raping women, sometimes for hours at a time.

Several couples were murdered together, including Charlene and Lyman Smith who were bludgeoned to death with a log from their fireplace at their home in Ventura in 1980.

An unusual diamond-shaped knot had been used to tie them up which led to the serial killer briefly being given the moniker the Diamond Knot Killer.

When it became clear a large number of horrific crimes were linked, a huge manhunt was launched and a number of suspects arrested and interviewed.

But ultimately, cops never managed to nail him – until now.

The breakthrough

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with four of the murders.

The FBI says a DNA breakthrough led them to DeAngelo, who was still living in the area he committed many of his crimes in a suburb of Sacramento.

He is a former police officer who was sacked for shoplifting.

He faces the death penalty.

The suspect, who was also dubbed by investigators as the “East Area Rapist” and the “Original Night Stalker,” is considered to be one of the state’s most prolific serial killers.

"Joseph James DeAngelo has been called a lot of things by law enforcement… Today it’s our pleasure to call him defendant," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told reporters.

"Finally, after all these years, the haunting question of who committed these terrible crimes has been put to rest."

How a book led to his capture

The case was investigated intensively in “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” a book published earlier this year.

Author Michelle McNamara died in 2016, and the book, which topped the New York Times bestsellers list, was finished by a writer hired by her husband, comedian-actor Patton Oswalt.

Oswalt, best known to television audiences from the hit CBS sitcom “King of Queens,” said in a video posted on social media on Wednesday, “I think you got him, Michelle.”

Efforts to find a suspect were renewed in June 2016, when the FBI offered a $50,000 reward.

The criminal was known for creeping into his victims’ houses while couples slept, shining a flashlight in their eyes before raping the woman while the man was tied up.

Between 1976 and 1978, he committed a wave of burglaries, rapes and killings in the Sacramento area, then centered his attacks in the East Bay before moving on to Ventura and Orange counties in Southern California, according to the FBI.

The killer also was believed to have taken valuables from victims’ homes and possibly accumulated a trove of coins and jewellery from more than 120 burglaries.

This led FBI investigators to ask the public to be on the lookout for a friend, relative or acquaintance with a suspicious collection of hidden items.

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