I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

Review From User :

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 possibilitiesI 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.
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. 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. 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 timeRape 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 clickThe 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."
It does. The fear is gone. But the shadows remain. So does Michelle McNamara's work, her legacy, a major contribution to finally locking up a long-sought monster.

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

=============================EXTRA STUFF

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
-----Episode 1
-----Episode 2
-----Episode 3

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.

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