Former OCSD investigator never stopped searching for Golden State Killer

By Greg Mellen

For 20 years he worked tenaciously on one case more than others. On the books and off. Formally and informally. He worked late into the night. He would find himself working on the case at his kitchen table, and at the office after everyone else had left. In bed and in his dreams.

Even when he was no longer officially on the case after 2013, Larry Pool was always on the case, on the trail, determined to play his part in the capture of the Golden State Killer, a serial killer, rapist, and burglar.

Pool, now a senior investigator with the Riverside District Attorney’s office, said he was actually at his desk working the case when he got word that suspect Joseph DeAngelo had been arrested.

Larry Pool, senior investigator for the Riverside County District Attorney’s office and retired Orange County Sheriff’s investigator, has been looking for the Golden State Killer, now in custody, for years.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Although DeAngelo was not on Pool’s radar or the more than 8,000-person database he had built, the former Orange County detective says that did not diminish his emotion.

“There’s a visceral relief,” Pool said. “This goes to the core. It’s something I’ve not felt before.”

DeAngelo is suspected of at least 12 homicides, 50 rapes, and more than 120 burglaries across the state in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Labeled variously as the East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker, Diamond Knot Killer, and the Visalia Ransacker, the murderer has been one of the most sought criminals in the state for 40 years.

Pool is among a group of investigators who have been obsessed by the Golden State Killer case over the years, the decades.

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has worked tirelessly (on this) as an open case and an open homicide,” Undersheriff Don Barnes said at a press conference. “In fact, we never stopped working on this case.”

In 1998, as an Orange County Sheriff’s investigator, Pool was assigned to sex crimes. His first case would become his most important and most difficult. At that time, he had no idea how the case would wear on him.

“It aged me,” said Pool, now 56. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it takes a toll. You’re driven. It’s where a little (obsessive compulsive disorder) pays off. But with each ‘no’ you’re compelled to find a ‘yes.’”

Despite all the years, the blind alleys, the rock solid leads and theories that crumbled, Pool refuses to say he was ever frustrated.

“I always had faith, that keeps you going,” he said.

The murders of Dana Point newlyweds Keith and Patty Harrington seemed to particularly affect Pool, who would become very close to the family during the investigation. Manuela Witthuhn of Irvine was killed in Orange County six months later and was linked to the crimes.

Over the years, Pool designed a customized database specifically for the case, which he called the Harrington Access Data Bank.

“Excel wasn’t going to cut it,” Pool joked.

Into the data bank Pool fed the profile of the suspected killer: height, weight, age, shoe size, ski mask, ligatures, knots, speaking through clenched teeth, times, tactics. He also added peculiar traits, such as placing dishware on the torsos of male victims and telling them if the dishes fell he would make the fate of the women worse, or drinking and eating while at the crime scenes.

Early on, Pool said he connected the Orange County killings to a murder in Goleta in 1979 by the killer’s modus operandi. In 2001, DNA evidence at the crime scenes linked the Northern and Southern California murders.

Pool also came to believe the serial killer and rapist was also the serial burglar called the Visalia Ransacker.

Not everyone agreed with Pool’s theories, such as the Visalia Ransacker connection. However, it is now known that DeAngelo’s tenure as a cop in Exeter, near Visalia, overlapped with the burglary spree.

Not all of Pool’s theories panned out. Neither did his suspects, which was particularly tough in the early years.

“I had a couple suspects that I thought I really had,” Pool recalls.

When those didn’t come together, it was “like a punch to the gut,” he said. “By about the 12th good suspect I thought, ‘all right, I just have to eliminate suspects.’ It beat me up less.”

For a time, Pool was convinced the suspect was a dog walker and used that to fit into neighborhoods. This would cause Pool to warily eye every dog walker he passed that fit the killer’s physical profile.

Pool said for a time he believed the Golden State Killer was either incarcerated or even dead. But it didn’t slow him.

Joseph James DeAngelo (72).
Photo provided by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department

“Dead or alive we were going to identify him,” Pool said, adding he had a body exhumed five years after death to eliminate someone from the suspect pool.

Pool also went into the prison system, to death row at San Quentin, to interview inmates and collect DNA to eliminate them. It was there he was shocked to learn that inmates were not compelled to supply DNA.

After that, Pool enlisted the help of Bruce Harrington, brother of Keith Harrington, to advocate for laws forcing felons to supply DNA. The controversial push led to Senate Bill 1242 in 2002 and Proposition 69, passed by voters in 2004, that requires the collection of DNA samples from all felons, adults, and juveniles arrested for or charged with certain crimes.

Although those laws did not help catch DeAngelo, Pool believes they played a role in closing many other cases and providing some comfort and relief for grieving families.

“There has been beauty that has come out of these ashes,” Pool said of the laws he credits Bruce Harrington with spurring. “There has been solace along the way knowing that we have made things better.”

Throughout the years, Pool said the investigation waxed and waned.

“There’s energy in an investigation,” Pool said, adding that he lobbied to rev up the investigation with varying degrees of success.

The pace increased in 2013 after an article by true crime writer Michelle McNamara, who coined the term Golden State Killer, and again in 2016.

“That’s when we had full-time officers on the case,” Pool said. “Steady wins the race, as long as you’re striving.”

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Pool would not comment on exactly how DeAngelo was identified, other than to say it was “very innovative outside-the-box investigating.”

While DNA is widely used nowadays, the technology is still evolving. News reports say a DNA profile submitted by a distant relative on an open-source genealogy website matched elements of the DNA retained from the East Area rapist case and allowed cops to narrow the search before matching a sample of DNA allegedly discarded by DeAngelo.

“We always believed this would begin and end with DNA,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said at a Sacramento news conference announcing DeAngelo’s arrest. “Finally, after all these years, the haunting question of who committed these horrible crimes has been put to rest.”

Three days after DeAngelo’s arrest, Pool attended the 30th annual Medal of Valor ceremony as an invitee of Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. She used the occasion to point out Pool from the dais and praise the former Orange County detective as the “foremost expert on the case.”

After the awards ceremony, a number of law enforcement officials took time to seek out Pool and thank him for his work.

“If I was a bad guy, the last guy I’d want hunting me down is this guy.,” said Tom Dominguez, president of the Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, congratulating Pool afterward. “I mean, he is the LAST guy. He’s tenacious.”

Now that a suspect has been identified, Pool says the weight he has felt has “lightened.” But it is far from over.

“In many ways, it’s not starting over,” Pool said, “but a new phase has begun.”