It’s September 2018, and safety specialist Roy Waller arrives at UC Berkeley ready for a day’s work. But little does he know the twist that fate has in store. Behind the scenes, police officers have been meticulously tracking the DNA of a violent attacker who stalked northern California for 15 years. And now, they think they’ve got the assailant in their sights.
The story began back in 1991 in Sonoma County’s Rohnert Park, which is located some 50 miles outside of San Francisco, CA. That year, a 21-year-old woman was raped in the city, kicking off a reign of terror that would fill entire neighborhoods with a sense of dread.
After that first attack, the man who became known as the NorCal rapist targeted another woman in the nearby city of Sonoma. And in 1992 he moved southeast to Vallejo in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he assaulted a 30-year-old female. Then, for four years, he appeared to go off the authorities’ radar – although it’s possible that he continued to commit unreported crimes.
In 1996 the NorCal Rapist became active once more, attacking a 39-year-old woman across the water in Martinez, Contra Costa County. Then, he moved some 60 miles north to the city of Woodland, where he committed another assault. And one year later, two University of California students in nearby Davis were both attacked by the same man.
In 1998 the rapist reappeared 90 miles north in Chico, Butte County, where he tied up and assaulted a 21-year-old woman. But when he momentarily left the room, the victim managed to break free and arm herself with a pair of scissors. On his return, she attacked him, succeeding in slashing his arm before being overpowered once more.
By now, the assailant’s blood was strewn across the scene of the crime. And although he attempted to remove all traces of it, investigators were still able to retrieve vital samples of his DNA. It would be two decades, however, before any of his victims would see any sort of justice for these horrific attacks.
Two years later, the NorCal Rapist was back in Davis, where he attacked a 22-year-old woman. Then, in 2006 he committed his last known offence, entering a residence in North Natomas and assaulting the two young women inside. But even though she was blindfolded, one of the victims was able to provide a description of her attacker to the police.
Apparently, the assailant was a white man probably in his late 30s, weighing around 225 pounds. But despite the fact that they now had a description, police were still unable to track the rapist down. And for years, the victims were forced to live with their trauma, knowing that the perpetrator was still at large.
“Even now, I can still feel the barrel of the gun pushing against my head to my surprise,” one victim said in 2006, according to The Sacramento Bee. “All I could think about was that I wanted this stranger to just leave my house, the only place where I thought, or we all think, as the safest place on Earth.”
For many of the attacks, the NorCal Rapist carried a firearm and sought out young women who either lived on their own or with a female roommate. Apparently, he gained access to their homes under cover of darkness before assaulting them. On some occasions, he even forced them to visit an ATM machine to obtain money.
Allegedly, one incident began with the attacker pretending to be a trick-or-treater, only to force his way into the victim’s home. He reportedly then reached out almost three weeks afterwards to offer an apology for his actions. But despite all the details available to investigators, the identity of the perpetrator remained a mystery.
As the years passed, it seemed as if the attacker might never be caught. Then, in April 2018 there was a break in another decades-old case, giving new hope to those who longed to see the NorCal Rapist behind bars. By entering crime scene DNA into the genetics site GEDmatch, investigators were finally able to zone in on the notorious Golden State Killer – a murderer who terrorized California back in the 1970s and 1980s.
A few months after Golden State Killer suspect Joseph James DeAngelo was apprehended, investigators used the same technique to make a breakthrough in the NorthCal Rapist case. Apparently, they checked DNA found at the scene of one of the attacks with the GEDmatch database – and stumbled upon a close match.
From there, investigators were able to construct a family tree, which over time led them to a man named Roy Waller. And when they realized that Waller had spent time in the areas where the rapes had occurred – and that his physical appearance tallied with eye-witness accounts of the attacker – they knew that they were on to a lead at last.
More steps were necessary in order to confirm their suspicions, however. Specifically, investigators needed to get hold of a sample of Waller’s DNA. Thankfully, they were able find a straw discarded by Waller – and the resultant tests soon confirmed a match with the crime scene DNA.
After a second test confirmed these findings, police had all the evidence they needed to make a move. And on April 20, 2018, they arrived at UC Berkeley, where 58-year-old Waller had spent the past quarter of a century working as a safety specialist. Some 27 years after the first rape, it seemed that the net was finally closing in.
With Waller behind bars, the national media began scrabbling for any information about the man who had allegedly terrorized Northern California for 15 years. Apparently, he lived with his wife in Benicia, a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nestled behind a traditional picket fence, the property seemed an unlikely place for a monster to be hiding in plain sight.
“I’m just angry that he did this to people,” Waller’s neighbor Marcia Shigamoto told The Sacramento Bee in September 2018. “I hope he rots in hell.” Meanwhile, others commented that the couple kept themselves to themselves, with Waller seeming to occupy his time gardening and fixing up cars.
On September 24, 2018, Waller appeared in court, faced with the prospect of as many as 12 charges of sexual assault. Because the incidents happened across six counties, the legal process promises to be long and complicated. And if convicted, Waller may spend the rest of his days in jail.
“We made our cities safer yesterday and removed a predator from our streets,” said Daniel Hahn, Sacramento’s chief of police. Meanwhile, Waller’s arrest has marked another milestone in the use of DNA databases to tackle cases that have remained unsolved for generations.