true crime

Pamela was raped and left to die. 44 years later she saw her attacker's face on the news.

Caution: The following deals with sexual assault. If you have experienced sexual violence, 24-hour support is available via 1800 RESPECT: call 1800 737 732.

Pamela Escalante has had 47 surgeries in the past four decades. Operations to rebuild her face, to repair the body left shattered in a random attack by a stranger back in 1974.

Beaten, raped and left for dead in a Californian citrus orchard, the US mother was left physically and emotionally traumatised. But years past without any arrests, any sense of justice for what she’d endured.

Until in 2018, her son showed her a black-and-white photograph. It was a man in a police uniform – bulbous nose, short blonde hair, a clean-shaven face.

“I just got a gut feeling that that’s him,” Pamela told podcast, The Murder Squad, “Because I remembered that face.”

Video by Mamamia

The man staring back at her from that photo was a young Joseph James D’Angelo, better known as the person suspected of being the Golden State Killer – America’s most prolific rapist and murderer.

The Golden State Killer is believed to be responsible for at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes and over 100 burglaries committed in California between 1974 and 1986. The crimes were carried out in three terrifying sprees, though it would be decades before authorities tied them together.

Each had a unique modus operandi, and earned the perpetrator a different nickname in the media. The first, he was dubbed ‘Visalia Ransacker’, for burglaries committed on multiple homes. The second, the ‘East Area Rapist’, for attacks on single women in their beds in the Sacramento area. And finally, the ‘Original Night Stalker’, for a series of horrific murders, in which he’d terrorise couples in their homes in southern California.

After 44 years, it was DNA evidence that ultimately led police to 72-year-old Navy veteran and former police officer, D’Angelo.

He is currently in custody in California, where he’s awaiting trial on 13 counts of kidnapping and eight counts of first-degree murder. Further charges were precluded by the statute of limitations.

“I knew I was in serious trouble”: Could Pamela be another victim?

It was February 5, 1974. Pamela was on her way to an evening class at university. She’d caught the bus from her Ojai home, but still roughly 2.5 kilometres from campus she decided to hitchhike the rest of the way.

A blue or green car – she can’t quite remember which – stopped for her. A young man was driving and agreed to take her the rest of the way. A fellow student, she assumed. He was dressed in a blue work shirt, tan work boots, and was roughly 5ft9in to 6ft tall.

“It was fine for a few minutes and then he started playing games,” Pamela told The Murder Squad hosts, including Paul Holes, a former FBI task force officer who worked on the Golden State Killer case.

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The driver drove her to the wrong car park for her class, then on to another, driving around and around each. “And then all of a sudden I realised I was in serious trouble and literally felt a cold wind blow through the car, and then he grabbed my arm.”

He sped off down the road and crashed into a citrus orchard, where Pamela claims he began to rant to himself about Vietnam, about hating women. She attempted to flee, but he pulled her back into the car.

“The last thing I remembered was him pushing me back,” she said. The seat went automatically back, and he jumped on top of me and strangled me. Then I just went black – blacked out – and went up above my body. Lucky I didn’t experience all the pain he put on me, because I just was not there.”

Speaking to local media at the time, police said Pamela had been beaten and raped, before the attacker ran over her head and torso and fled. If it weren’t for the fact it had rained the previous night, Pamela would likely have died. Instead, her body was forced into and cushioned by the soft soil.

Bloodied, the left side of her face shattered, she somehow managed to crawl to a nearby house – though she has no recollection of how she got there.

“I wasn’t there,” she said. “I was being helped by some supernatural force.”

The details of Pamela’s incredible survival story – what the attacker said, what he looked like, what he was wearing, the location – were echoed in a 2018 HBO documentary her son watched about the attacks committed by the Golden State Killer. It was then that he showed her the photograph of D’Angelo.

Whether or not she has a case remains to be seen. But it will certainly be made more difficult by the fact that the rape kit taken after her attack has long since been discarded by authorities. But Holes seemed cautiously optimistic.

“We can’t do anything about the destroyed evidence, there’s just no way we could resurrect that,” he told the podcast. “But if a circumstantial case could be made, then there’s the potential that you could see somebody – if it’s DeAngelo – being prosecuted for this case.”

The Murder Squad is available to stream on iTunes and Spotify.

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