At the age of 13, Margaret Wardlow read everything she could about the Golden State Killer. The California teen poured over newspaper reports and magazine articles, captivated by the mystery surrounding the brazen attacker known at the time as the East Area Rapist.
“I remember distinctly reading over one article three times and saying to myself, ‘There aren’t any more words that you haven’t read’,” the now 53-year-old told 20/20. “I had a total obsession.
“I don’t think I was the only person that was curious as to what was making this guy tick.”
The 26 rapes so far committed by this man had left the city of Sacramento on edge. Despite sightings, he continued to slip through law enforcement’s fingers, again and again.
By then, there was a clear pattern to his modus operandi: prowl middle class neighbourhoods at night, looking for women in single-story homes.
His face masked, a torch and gun in his gloved hands, he would break in and force the woman to tie up any other occupants whom he lay face-down in separate rooms. He would then stack crockery on their back so he would hear a rattle if they attempted to break free. The woman would then be hauled into another room in the house and raped – generally over the course of several hours.
These details, these tactics, were stashed in the back of Margaret’s mind. But it was another that gave her an advantage her when she came face-to-face with him:
“He wants fear…”
It was around 2am on November 10, 1977. Thirteen-year-old Margaret woke to find a man standing beside her bed. Beyond the blinding beam of his torch she could make out leather gloves and a masked face. Her mind raced. Her mother had told her she was too young to worry about becoming a victim. It must have been her neighbour playing a cruel prank.
A harsh whisper pierced the silence. “This isn’t a joke.”
“I knew at that moment, this is not my neighbour, Bill,” Margaret told 20/20. “This is the ‘East Area Rapist’ most likely. And he’s in my home.”
As she and her mother were tied up in adjacent rooms, crockery stacked on her mother’s back, “a little voice inside of me said, you know, ‘You get out of a lot of stuff, Margaret. But you’re not going get out of this one. And just you need to understand that this is what’s going happen to you. You’re going get raped. But you’re going to be OK.'”