I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killerby Published 27 Feb 2018
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Introduction by Gillian Flynn
Afterword by Patton Oswalt
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
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 50 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.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara is a 2018 Harper publication.
No butler, no second maid, no blood upon the stair. No eccentric aunt, no gardener, no family friend smiling among the bric-a-brac-and murder. Only a suburban house with the front door open and a dog barking at a squirrel, and the cars passing. The corpse quite dead. The wife in Florida. Consider the clues: the potato masher in a vase, the torn photograph of a Wesleyan basketball team, scattered with the check stubs in the hall; the unsent fan letter to Shirley Temple, the Hoover button on the lapel of the deceased, the note: ‘To be killed this way is quite all right with me.” Small wonder the case remains unsolved, or that the sleuth. Le Roux is now incurably insane, and sits alone in a white room in a white gown, screaming that the world is mad, that clues lead nowhere, or to walls so high their tops cannot be seen; Screaming all day of war, screaming that nothing can be solved- Weldon Kees, “Crime Club”
What a fitting epigraph!
This book sincerely scared the crap out of me. I grew up in the seventies, one of the creepiest decades, filled with terrifying serial killers and rapists, but I was not familiar with this case. This book reminded me of how taut the atmosphere was in those days, as the author details her hunt for a prolific serial rapist, which eventually escalated to murder, who went on a virtually unchecked rape and murder spree in California in the seventies.
The author dubbed the killer ‘The Golden State Killer’, as she slowly pieced together the evidence and the many victims, working tirelessly to put a face and a name to the moniker she’d give him. Michelle was a true crime journalist, who started the website, ‘TrueCrimeDiary.com, as this case became an obsession with her.
The crime wave and the horrifying details sent chills down my spine and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck on more than one occasion. The rapist was smart, and planned his attack down to the smallest detail, having stalked the unsuspecting victims for a good while, knowing them intimately before making his move.
Eventually, the crimes ceased, but no one knows exactly why. The author has her theories, and I would have to agree with her assessment.
The disheartening thing here is the feeling that McNamara was closing in, making progress, despite the roadblocks, setbacks, and dead ends that comes with this type of investigation. As everyone knows, Michelle died before this book was completed, which adds yet another haunting layer to this book.
Her passion seeps through the pages, along with her single- minded determination, that did border on obsession. I can see how that could happen, as this case was never solved and there is a sense of urgency about the book. The clock is ticking, and the feeling is one of being ‘so close, yet so far’, with time is running out for justice.
Michelle's private life musings, added a more personal touch, something that might not always come off so well in the true crime arena, but I think the author was attempting to share with readers how her obsession and desire to see the case solved influenced and bled over into her personal life, taking up her every waking thought. It lends a poignancy, and occasionally a little humor, to the book that does offset the gruesome revelations unearthed about the crimes and the victims.
One quick note about how the book was written, since it was published posthumously, and Michelle had not completed the book before her death. It is my understanding that her lead researchers pieced the book together using what Michelle had already written, along with her extensive notes. Unfortunately, the organization, and presentation, is not great. In true crime, disorganization is a huge pet peeve of mine and I would, under ordinary circumstances, have been more than a little exasperated and disappointed. In this case, I was a lot more forgiving, but I still think someone should have polished it up a little better. I would not let that deter you from reading this book, however, as, despite the bumpy ride, it is still quite an effective read.
Unless you have nerves of steel, I don’t recommend reading this book alone at night, because it will certainly give you the heebie jeebies. But, I do hope the book generates enough attention that someone might come forward with new information or will pick up the torch and continue the search for the elusive ‘Golden State Killer’.
My queen, Gillian Flynn, starts this book with a Midwestern twang and down-to-earth introduction; Patton Oswalt ends with a heart-rending final chapter and I was spellbound the entire time by Michelle McNamara's non-fiction novel.
A mind-blowing mountain of evidence to sift through and present in one novel only slightly frightened Michelle McNamara. What truly frightened her and kept her awake at night was the fact that the Golden State Killer has gotten away with his 10 year reign of terror and is possibly blending into society as someone's husband or dad now.
Yes, McNamara was obsessed with her search for the monster. If you read even a small item about this killer/rapist, I doubt you can remain content to leave it at that. It is impossibly frustrating in this day of DNA instant matching that the creep could still be walking the streets. She rightfully felt until the day she died that she was on the verge of identifying the killer, probably through an Ancestry.com like site.
A true-crime blogger, McNamara knew she was obsessed with GSK and does not hold back the introspective criticism. She knows herself and she understands people on a level that most of us don't. The seasoned and weary criminalists on the case came to appreciate, even rely on her skills. She, in turn, relied heavily on crowd-sourcing and advanced technology to help in the relentless search.
She writes impressively about the victims, the survivors and the detectives involved. She articulates the many (50) cases in bite-sized chunks and does not glorify nor hold back the details. It is a terrifying book, yet full of compassion and understanding for the victims.
My mouth continually fell open and my head was shaking NO as I listened to this moving account from one woman with an enormous investigation to relate to the public. It is simply a magnificent piece of work. The audio narration is AMAZING, but I still ended up buying the Kindle version to look at the maps and other evidence she has pictured.
If you are interested to check out a sample of the book, you can read her magazine article here. http://www.lamag.com/longform/in-the-...
I've been waiting for this book for a long time, having been a fan of McNamara's True Crime Diary blog (http://www.truecrimediary.com). While she hadn't finished it before her death, it is a remarkable book--both in terms of its investigative power and its superb, precise prose (and an excellent intro by Gillian Flynn and a poignant afterword by Patton Oswalt). But what makes it so special is how it becomes this living testament to the drive, strength and power of its author, a portrait of how her ample mind operated, and how her heart interpreted. And for all of us who loved true crime from a similarly young age and for whom the fascination has never left, it feels like a lovesong from a fellow pilgrim.
Don't miss it.
Michelle McNamara was obsessed with the subject of this book. She believed that by using modern technology, a rapist and killer could finally be brought to justice.
She created maps and chased leads. She ran a true crime blog and this was one of her topics.
It haunted her. Then, tragically, Michelle died before this masterwork could be completed.
Her fellow researchers put I'll Be Gone in the Dark together from her notes. It is a chilling but thorough portrait of the perpetrator of a series of unsolved crimes.
It also includes some autobiographical chapters to explain Michelle's obsession with the man she named, "The Golden State Killer," but also why she loves writing.
She writes about why she couldn't stop researching and examines her complicated relationship with her mother: "No one would have taken more joy from this book than my mother. And I probably wouldn't have felt the freedom to write it until she was gone." pg 41
It is an amazing book. And, I believe, it has enough details that, if someone who reads this book knew that guy, he will be brought to justice at last.
He pointed a knife at her and issued a chilling warning: "Make one move and you'll be silent forever and I'll be gone in the dark." pg 61
Gillian Flynn writes a stellar introduction: "I've always thought the least appreciated aspect of a great true crime writer is humanity. Michelle McNamara had an uncanny ability to get into the minds of not just killers but the cops who hunted them, the victims they destroyed, and trail of grieving relatives left behind." Introduction.
This killer, whoever he is, is terrifying not only for the carnage he left, but the meticulous way he planned and carried out the murders.
He was organized and unhinged, as compared to other murderers whose passion and disorganization are their downfall: "It's a tiny minority of criminals, maybe 5 percent, who present the bigger challenge- the ones whose crimes reveal pre-planning and unremorseful rage." pg 14
I read this book in one sitting. It is that compelling.
But I paid for it during the night. Each creak, any small sound in the house and my heart would leap into my throat.
"He's here," my over-active imagination declared. "This is the end."
It made it all too easy to understand the terror the murderer inflicted on his victims and the community he plagued. Multiple states away and decades removed from the crimes and I was petrified as well.
Recommended for brave readers, fans of true crime and anyone who wants to help solve an unsolved mystery.