By Steve Large

AUBURN (CBS13) —Long before his arrest as the East Area Rapist, Joseph DeAngelo was an officer for the Auburn police department.

“When I first met him I was his sergeant,” former Auburn Police Chief Nick Willick said.

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Willick was DeAngelo’s boss at the Auburn Police Department from 1976 to 1979, first as his sergeant, then as the chief. He remembers DeAngelo as an average cop.

“There was nothing really while he was working at the Auburn Police Department that would say he was a mass murderer, serial rapist, burglar,” Willick said.

A picture of DeAngelo printed in a 1979 Auburn Journal newspaper shows him promoting a Babe Ruth baseball fundraiser with the police department. The photo was taken in the same era DeAngelo is alleged to have killed and raped dozens of victims.

It wasn’t long after the photo was taken, Willick fired DeAngelo for shoplifting.

Willick says he was caught stealing a can of dog repellent and a hammer from a convenience store.

“If I remember correctly he didn’t even have a hearing,” Willick said. “I think he waived his hearing. He was prosecuted and we conducted our own investigation. And we terminated him based on the facts of the case.”

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Willick says the shoplifting case did not appear to change DeAngelo’s alleged East Area Rapist crime spree.

“Looking at the history of the crimes, nothing slowed down; if anything it seemed to accelerate,” Willick said.

Auburn wasn’t DeAngelo’s first stop as a cop. Another photo shows DeAngelo from a 1973 Exeter Sun newspaper.

The headline reads “Navy veteran serves Exeter as policeman.”

The story includes the line, “law enforcement is his career he says, and his job is serving the community.”

Authorities now suspect during his time with this Exeter Police Department from 1973-1975, DeAngelo was also operating as the “Visalia Ransacker,” committing a spree of burglaries.

Now decades later, evidence shows this one-time officer didn’t protect and serve the public. He preyed on the public.

“Sometimes it’s just the person next door and apparently, that’s what Joe was,” Willick said.

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Auburn police have started to look for records from DeAngelo’s employment. Any possible evidence of his will be turned over to prosecutors for their case against him.