I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killerby Published 27 Feb 2018
|I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.pdf|
A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.
"You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark."
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.
At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.
"I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer" Reviews
“He loses his power when we know his face.”
And, it seems, we now do.
I can see why everyone speaks so highly of this book. It is a very impressive piece of investigative journalism, whether true crime stories happen to be your cup of tea or not. What makes I'll Be Gone in the Dark stand out - and what you might have seen come up time and again in other people's reviews - is that the writer is perhaps as fascinating as the subject.
It is the late Michelle McNamara at the centre of this piece - an intelligent and particularly astute woman who dedicated everything she had to pursuing the Golden State Killer, a moniker which she herself bestowed upon him. It is her dedication that is truly astounding. The lengths she went to in order to uncover the truth are quite unbelievable.
As the subtitle tells us, this was indeed an obsessive search. That's not just a dramatic buzzword. Behind the scenes of her daily life with her high-profile family, Michelle was hunting. She was scouring the Internet and the past for clues. She was reconstructing crime scenes, talking with witnesses, analyzing the evidence and building her own psychological profile of the killer.
Gillian Flynn writes in the introduction:
“I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane.”
And McNamara is definitely all those things. Her work and writing never seem sensationalist. Her reconstructions of the disgusting crimes are detailed, but not in a gratuitous way. She writes sensitively with a deep sense of empathy for the victims, wishing, it seems, to paint them as more than just a list of victims from decades ago, but as three-dimensional human beings who lived through unspeakable tragedies.
This book is so popular that I know most of this has been said already, but I'm just really glad I finally gave in to the hype and read I'll Be Gone in the Dark. It is especially satisfying to know this man has finally been caught, and my only lingering disappointment stems from the fact that Michelle didn't live long enough to see it.
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**Update 4/26/2018 - When this book was published it was an unsolved mystery. It got a happy ending yesterday.**
I'd heard about Michelle McNamara before I even knew her name or that she was a true crime writer. She was married to comedian/actor Patton Oswalt, who I’m a big fan of, and several of his bits over the years have involved his wife. Per Patton’s descriptions in his routines she was a brilliant woman, far smarter than him, who was always operating at a whole other level.
Now I know what he was talking about after reading this book. It’s about a pure monster that should be one of the best known unsolved crime cases in American history, but many people have probably never heard of the Golden State Killer. It began in 1976 with a serial rapist terrorizing the suburbs of Sacramento. His MO was to break into homes in the middle of the night and surprise sleeping victims who he’d threaten with knives or guns. He often targeted couples or families and would rape a woman while her husband or boyfriend was tied up helpless in the next room. He’s also believed to have shot and killed a couple who had the misfortune to encounter him while out walking their dog.
His attacks spread to communities outside of San Francisco, but seemed to stop in mid-1979. Unfortunately, GSK had just moved south to the LA area where he started up again, but his first known attempt was thwarted when the couple fought back, and he narrowly escaped capture. Instead of scaring him off this triggered an escalation after which GSK would kill those he attacked until stopping in 1986, ten years after he began.
The full extent of the damage he’d done wasn’t known until DNA typing of cold cases was done in 2001. This confirmed what several detectives in various jurisdictions had suspected for years. The man called the East Area Rapist (EAR) during his crime spree in northern California was the same man who’d become known as the Original Night Stalker (ONS) in the southern part of the state. The statistics of his victims alone are staggering with 45 women sexually assaulted and 12 murders, and those are just the ones that are confirmed. He may have also been responsible for a series of break-ins in Visalia a few years earlier, and if so there’s another murder to hang on him there for shooting a man who stopped an intruder from abducting his daughter in the middle of the night from their home.
It was Michelle McNamara who branded him the Golden State Killer after she began writing about the case on her blog and in magazine articles. She had became interested in true crime as a teenager after an unsolved murder of a young girl happened near her home. A big part of this story is about how this case came to obsess her, and she does not make an attempt to gloss over how much it took over her life. She has one story of asking her husband to leave a movie premiere party because of a new lead she was given that she couldn’t wait to get back to her laptop to start working on it. There’s another heartbreaking moment when she describes an anniversary dinner with Patton where she realized that not only had he given her gifts two years in a row based on her on-going work on GSK, but that she had been so consumed that she’d forgotten to get him anything at all.
Unfortunately, Michelle died unexpectedly in 2016 while in the middle of writing this book. Two of her fellow researchers finished it at Patton’s urging, and I’m incredibly glad that happened because it would have been a shame if the work she did on this hadn’t been revealed so fully.
She was an incredibly gifted writer who can provide detail about GSK’s crime in such a way that we feel the full weight of what he did, and how incredibly scary this story is. It’s there as she details the evidence the police found that showed that GSK was a relentless night prowler who crept over fences, through backyards, across rooftops, and peeped windows from the shadows. It’s in the way she tells us the stories from the victims who were very often sound asleep in their beds and were awoken by a man wearing a ski mask shining a light in their eyes, showing them a knife, and telling them that he’d kill them if they didn’t do exactly what he said. While it never feels exploitive she conveys all the ways that the surviving victim’s lives were changed by the attacks on them. When she describes a detective’s years of chasing dead ends you can feel the frustration, and when she tells the story of a new lead you also start tapping into the hope that this might be the one to break the case.
In addition to being a great writer Michelle was a relentless researcher. I sometimes have issues with books or documentaries about true crime cases because I think it too often it shows confirmation bias or prefers wild conspiracy theories to more likely mundane facts and scenarios. She avoids those by imposing clear and logical standards to this which depended on fact checking and interviews rather than indulging in hunches or pet theories.
It’s very clear from what she wrote here that Michelle believed that this case could be solved with technology. The cops have the DNA of the Golden State Killer to use as the ultimate determination of guilt or innocence. Geo-Mapping his crime scenes should give an approximate location of where he lived. Scanning old case files and using key word recognition and data sorting can bring previously hidden connections to life. DNA databases are growing all the time, and all it takes is one hit from a relative to narrow it down to the family.* Michelle was convinced that GSK’s identity was in the existing evidence somewhere, and it’s just a matter of sifting through all the clues to find it.
Because of her death there several parts that rely on her early drafts, notes, old magazine articles, and even a tape she made of the conversation between her and a police detective while showing her some of the GSK’s crime scenes. That gives the book a bit of a disjointed feeling and makes you wish even more that she’d been able to finish it herself, but considering the circumstances it’s unavoidable and doesn’t prevent the full story from being told.
This will be going on my Best-of-True-Crime shelf, right next to In Cold Blood. And if they do ever catch the Golden State Killer I’ll bet it’s going to be due in no small part to the work of Michelle McNamara.
* This is exactly how the police eventually tracked him down.
That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter’s playroom. For the most part I mimicked the bedtime routine of a normal person. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. But after my husband and daughter fell asleep, I’d retreat to my makeshift workspace and boot up my laptop, that fifteen-inch-wide hatch of endless possibilities…I rarely moved but I leaped decades with a few keystrokes. Yearbooks. Marriage certificates. Mug shots. I scoured thousands of pages of 1970s-era police files. I pored over autopsy reports. That I should do this surrounded by a half-dozen stuffed animals and a set of miniature pink bongos didn’t strike me as unusual. I’d found my searching place, as private as a rat’s maze. Every obsession needs a room of its own. Mine was strewn with coloring paper on which I’d scribbled down California penal codes in crayon. - from the prologueI’ll Be Gone in the Dark is not just a tale of a decade-long crime spree, of a maddeningly elusive peeper, burglar, rapist, and murderer. It is not only a tale of obsession, as the author, and others with her particular inclination, bury themselves in the forensic, statistical, genetic, and geographical trail left by this relentless offender. It is a story as well of how some dedicated active and retired police, and private citizens worked hand in hand to try to track down a homicidal monster. It is also a story of the impact that monster had on the communities he terrorized and on how advances in technology over several decades shortened the distance between suspicion and apprehension.
Michelle McNamara hard at work - image from The Times - provided to them by Patton Oswalt
McNamara had always wanted to be a writer, but she gained some focus on what to write as a teen.
[Her] fascination with the grisly began when she was just 14, when a young woman named Kathleen Lombardo, whom McNamara knew from church, was murdered while jogging a block and a half away from McNamara’s home in Oak Park, Illinois. The man who slit Lombardo’s throat was never found. McNamara would be forever haunted by what she’d later describe as “the specter of that question mark where the killer’s face should be.” - From Vulture articleShe takes us along with her, introducing readers to three general groups of people, the victims, the professional investigators, and her small band of amateur sleuths. These are not deep profiles, but we are given enough about each to understand their roles in the ongoing drama, and their motivation.
Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office sketches of a masked man who had fled a crime scene in 1979 and an artist’s impression of the killer – image from The Times
The first crimes took place in the 1970s, the last known GSK crime was committed in 1986. He began with simple burglaries, dozens of them, enough to earn a tabloid name, The Ransacker, then moved on to rape. One of his victims was thirteen. The tabloids called him the East Area Rapist (EAR) and the Original Night Stalker (ONS), often merging the two to EAR-ONS. He was nearly caught after one couple resisted, so, to ensure not only compliance, but that there would be no witnesses, he moved on to homicide. His home invasions were well planned, professionally executed, and particularly cruel. It was not enough to rape women. He made many of the women tie up their husbands or boyfriends, and forced them to watch him commit the rape. He had a signature technique for monitoring whether the male victims moved. Movement, they were told, would get their partner killed. And sometimes he killed them anyway, both of them. During her research, McNamara coined the GSK tag for him, the Golden State Killer.
Attacks attributed to the GSK – image from the Sacramento County DA’s office by way of the NY Times
McNamara takes us through not just the clues that accumulated over the years, but methodologies for looking into them. There is some very surprising information here on what happens to old police files. We follow along as new methods are added to tried and true shoe-leather investigation. There were two major technological breakthroughs over the four decades of the investigation. DNA fingerprinting was the first. And even once it was put into widespread use there were still problems with local police departments coordinating with other PDs. She walks us through how that changed. The other major item is what you are using right now, the internet. All the information in the world is useless without the ability to connect a fact here to a crime there. The internet, McNamara predicted, was what would eventually allow for the apprehension of the GSK. It is quite cheering when McNamara begins to connect with other cold-crime obsessives across the country, and they begin sharing theories, and sometimes actual evidence. It was an incredibly long investigation, and such projects come with some built-in risk.
falling for a suspect is a lot like the first surge of blind love in a relationship. Focus narrows to a single face. The world and its practical sounds are a wan soundtrack to the powerful silent biopic you’re editing in your mind at all times. No amount of information on the object of your obsession is enough. You crave more. Always more. You note his taste in shoes and even drive by his house, courtesy of Google Maps. You engage in wild confirmation bias. You project. A middle-aged white man smiling and cutting a cake decorated with candles in a picture posted on Facebook isn’t celebrating his birthday, but holding a knife.As with the infamous Kitty Genovese incident in 1964, how people react not just to crime but to neighborhood security in general comes in for some scrutiny here.
That’s what we all do. All of us. We make well-intentioned promises of protection we can’t always keep.People did react in some ways. Sacramento saw a spate of residents trimming trees and uprooting bushes to deny cover to the GSK, installing floodlighting, reinforcing doors, sleeping with hammers under pillows, and buying thousands of guns. Victim support groups formed, some of the victimized men joining neighborhood patrols. Community safety meetings were packed. There were some positive impacts from GSK’s dark deeds, though.
I’ll look out for you.
But then you hear a scream and you decide it’s some teenagers playing around. A young man jumping a fence is taking a shortcut. The gunshot at three a.m. is a firecracker or a car backfiring. You sit up in bed for a startled moment. Awaiting you is the cold, hard floor and a conversation that may lead nowhere: you collapse onto your warm pillow, and turn back to sleep.
Sirens wake you later.
The case had a profound impact not just on fear and public safety in California, but also on the way that rapes were investigated and how rape victims were treated, said Carol Daly, a detective in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office at the time…Rape victims were seen and cared for faster, and pubic hair, scratches and other evidence were examined and preserved, she said. Rape kits were standardized. “Every victim went through the process,” she said. - From 4/25/18 – NY TIMES articleWhen my wife was reading this book, some time ago, she became a bit paranoid safety conscious, jumping at small unexpected sounds, then wanting to investigate (in a house with as many cats as we have, unexpected noises are abundant) making extra certain that our windows and doors were locked, watching a tick or two longer than usual at people passing by (living next door to a pizzeria, they are legion), keeping the lights on a bit longer than usual when going to bed. Point being that the book, while hardly a horror novel, can indeed induce a serious case of jitters. And why not? The nutter of which McNamara writes was not caught during the decades investigators private and professional worked the case. He was still on the loose when McNamara passed away,
McNamara’s writing skills are considerable. She keeps the narrative moving, slickly evading the potential peril of death by excessive detail. She reports on some of the gore the GSK generated, but not too much, not nearly as much as she might have. She has an ability to clarify the forensics, while keeping us in touch with the terrors experienced by the victims, and the hopes and frustrations of the diverse posse on the GSK’s trail. Occasionally a particular passage or turn of phrase will make you sit back and sigh in appreciation, but the narrative chugs on and each particular gem is allowed to please, then recede into the rearview. The pair who took on the task of completing the book when McNamara died retrieved some fine samples from her notes. For example,
He was a compulsive prowler and searcher. We, who hunt him, suffer from the same affliction. He peered through windows. I tap “return.” Return. Return. Click Mouse click, mouse click…The hunt is the adrenaline rush, not the catch. He’s the fake shark in Jaws, barely seen so doubly feared.McNamara died in her sleep, in April, 2016, at age 46, from a combination of drugs interacting with an undiagnosed medical condition that caused a blockage in her arteries. She had been stressed out from working on this book, putting in long hours and suffering anxiety and nightmares that kept her from sleeping. Her husband engaged researcher Paul Haynes and investigative journalist Billy Jensen to complete the book McNamara had worked on for so long, and with such dedication.
A week after Michelle’s death, we gained access to her hard drive and began exploring her files on the Golden State Killer. All 3,500 of them. That was on top of dozens of notebooks, the legal pads, the scraps of paper, and thousands of digitized pages of police reports. And the thirty-seven boxes of files she had received from the Orange County prosecutor, which Michelle lovingly dubbed the Mother Lode.The GSK burglarized more than 120 homes, raped dozens of women, killed at least ten people, and at least one dog during the 1970s and 1980s. We do not know how many people he drove mad in their decades-long inability to find him, or how many lives were ruined as a result of his crimes. The good news is that in April 2018, only a few months after the publication of Michelle McNamara’s book, a 72-year-old man, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested, based on DNA evidence. The Golden State Killer is finally in jail. He had not killed anyone in thirty years, as far as we know, but it is in the nature of such sprees to have a strong impact long after the events themselves. Meg Gardiner, who grew up in Santa Barbara, in one of DeAngelos target neighborhoods, tells of the experience of terror during the period of the killer’s mayhem.
Yesterday my brother texted: “I have a different feeling driving around the neighborhood today. It was always in the back of my mind that he could still be living around here. In a weird way it feels safer.”So does Michelle McNamara’s work, her legacy, a major contribution to finally locking up a long-sought monster.
It does. The fear is gone. But the shadows remain.
HBO has bought the rights and plans to develop I’ll Be Gone in the Dark into a documentary mini-series.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 72 – believed to be the Golden State Killer – image from Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office
Review posted – June 15, 2018
Publication date – February 27, 2018
December 2018 - I'll Be Gone in the Dark wins the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award for non-fiction
An excerpt of the book, from The Times
-----How to catch a serial killer from your bedroom: DIY detective Michelle McNamara pursued a notorious murderer without leaving the house
McNamara includes as an epigraph the poem Crime Club, by Weldon Kees, a paean to amateur sleuths
Before she took on this book project, McNamara’s ran a true-crime blog, True Crime Diary
Paul Haynes at Twitter
Articles you will want to read
-----October 26, 2016 – NY Times - Patton Oswalt: ‘I’ll Never Be at 100 Percent Again’ - an interview - on how he is coping with the loss of his wife – by Jason Zinoman
-----February 28, 2018 – Vulture - My Friend Michelle McNamara, the Crime Writer Gone in the Dark - by Kera Bolonik – a beautiful remembrance by a long-time friend
-----April 25, 2018 – NY Times - Michelle McNamara Died Pursuing the Golden State Killer. Her Husband, Patton Oswalt, Has Questions for Him. - by Alexandra Alter – hours after the GSK is arrested Oswalt, the two people he’d hired to complete her book, along with members of Ms. McNamara’s family were together at an event for the book in Chicago
-----April 25, 2018 – NY Times - Search for ‘Golden State Killer’ Leads to Arrest of Ex-Cop
-----April 25, 2018 – Slate - How Did Police Find the Golden State Killer Suspect? Michelle McNamara’s Researcher Has a Hunch. - by Laura Miller
-----April 26, 2018 – Sacramento Bee - Relative's DNA from genealogy websites cracked East Area Rapist case, DA's office says - by Sam Stanton and Ryan Lillis
----- May 3, 2016 - Time Magazine - Patton Oswalt Remembers His Wife, Michelle McNamara: 'She Steered Her Life With Joyous, Wicked Curiosity - By Patton Oswalt
-----May 4, 2018 – Signature Reads – by novelist Meg Gardiner - Growing Up in Santa Barbara While the Golden State Killer Was at Large
-----June 27, 2018 - NY Times - Genealogists Turn to Cousins’ DNA and Family Trees to Crack Five More Cold Cases - by Heather Murphy
-----August 29, 2018 - NY Times - She Helped Crack the Golden State Killer Case. Here’s What She’s Going to Do Next. - by Heather Murphy - on Barbara Rae-Venter, a lawyer with expertise in genetic sleuthing, whose work was crucial to the work that identified the killer
Harper has a series of podcasts for this book on Soundcloud that are very worth checking out
A very enjoyable read!
TW: graphic depictions of rape/assault/murder
Though true crime is a great field of interest to me, I haven't read many books of this variety. I was pleasantly satisfied with my time reading I'll Be Gone In The Dark. The narration was vivid and engaging. I appreciated the feeling of it being almost like a memoir from McNamara's perspective rather than just stating facts about the case.
My only struggle with the book was that it was hard to keep track of EACH victim and EACH detail of their individual cases. The order of them became muddled as I delved deeper into the book, but it's possibly not due to the writing itself but factors of my personal experience, such as choosing to listen to the audiobook version or my lack of knowledge of true crime novels in general. Though, I did see another review claim the events are not revealed chronologically throughout the book, so that's also a potential factor!
Overall, a great read and a great listen! Would definitely recommend to my fellow true crime fans. This books is full of detail and great value towards closing this case.
Incredible. It was a pleasure to listen to this following the capture of Joseph Deangelo, and it's excruciating to think that Michelle was so close to unveiling one of the most notorious serial rapists and murderers in US history. If you haven't managed to snag this one yet, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook if that's your thing; all the narrators were beyond excellent and audible has all the pdf downloads available to view alongside while listening. Highly recommended for fans of true crime and those looking to get a glimpse not only into the EAR, but also Michelle's personal life and struggles as well. All of the stars. <3