National News

Someone else went to prison for these murders 40 years ago. Now police wonder if Golden State Killer was behind them

Posted April 30, 2018 3:57 p.m. EDT

— Police in Simi Valley, California are hopeful that the arrest of a suspect in the so-called Golden State Killer case will help authorities solve the murder of a mother and her young son nearly 40 years ago.

Rhonda Wicht, 24, was found strangled with a macramé rope in her apartment on November 11, 1978, and her son, Donald, 4, was suffocated, authorities said. Craig Coley, who was dating Wicht at the time, was found guilty and spent more than 38 years in prison before an investigation last November found he was wrongfully convicted.

Last week, California authorities arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, and alleged that he is the Golden State Killer, who is believed to be behind 12 deaths and at least 50 rapes in at least 10 counties in California from 1974 through 1986. DeAngelo has been charged with murder in the 1978 killings of Katie and Brian Maggiore, and pleaded not guilty.

There appear to be similarities between the Wichts' deaths and the Golden State Killer killings, Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone said, particularly in "the time frame and circumstances."

Police are working with investigators of the Golden State Killer case to compare DNA profiles of DeAngelo to that of an unknown suspect in the Wicht case, he said.

The Golden State Killer "was up and down the state and different communities, he's definitely someone we want to take a look at," Livingstone told CNN Monday.

"It's a long shot because, though there are similarities, there are sufficient differences in the cases. But we will look at anyone, serial killer, rapists, in the time frame even if the M.O. wasn't that similar," Livingstone said.

In 2016, Simi Valley police and the Ventura County District Attorney's Office began investigating Coley's case after a retired Simi Valley detective expressed concerns about Coley's guilt, authorities said last year.

Biological samples that were thought to be lost or destroyed were found in a private lab, authorities said. A new advanced forensic analysis was conducted, and investigators found that a key piece of evidence used to convict Coley contained the DNA of other individuals -- and not Coley's.

Coley was tried twice before he was convicted on two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Coley last December. In February, he was awarded more than $1.9 million for the wrongful conviction.