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I’ll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

September 8, 2018


Between 1976 and 1986, Californians were haunted by a serial rapist known as the East Area Rapist and a serial killer known as the Original Night Stalker. Nobody knew that the two were the same man until they were linked by DNA evidence in 2001. On her blog, True Crime Diary, McNamara dubbed him The Golden State Killer and the name stuck.

The Golden State Killer’s crimes were terrifying in their randomness, shocking in their brazenness. He usually broke into homes and attacked victims in their beds at night. Sometimes he tied them up, usually held them at knife- or gunpoint.

At the height of his crime spree, bars went up on doors and windows around otherwise peaceful, safe neighborhoods throughout Sacramento and the East Bay. Orders for backyard floodlights at one retailer went from ten to 600 a month. It became commonplace for neighborhoods to be patrolled by volunteers on vigilante watch in the night. During one 24-hour period in 1977, the Sacramento sheriff’s department received 6,169 calls, almost all of them concerning him.

This book is about the Golden State Killer, but it’s as much about McNamara’s obsession with him. An amateur investigator and true crime blogger, McNamara traded clues and theories about mostly unsolved crimes and cold cases with other amateur sleuths. She became particularly obsessed with the Golden State Killer. She visited scenes of the crimes, interviewed those involved, poured through evidence. She put herself in the shoes of the victims, in the mind of the killer.

In the most chilling section, she composed a letter to the killer, capturing his elusive, ghost-like nature. It begins…

You were your approach: the thump against the fence, a temperature dip from a jimmied open patio door, the odor of aftershave permeating a bedroom at 3am, a blade at the base of the neck. Don’t move, or I’ll kill you.

In 2016, before she was able to finish this book, McNamara died in her sleep. The book was pulled together, some chapters from notes, others from fragments, leaving a book that is disjointed, incomplete, but no less powerful. The broken flow reads like a dossier. Clues pulled together from different sources, not quite complete, like reflections in a fractured mirror.

In April of this year, based on DNA evidence from ancestry websites, police charged a 72-year-old Navy vet and former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. with the Golden State murders, shedding light on the ghost McNamara had been chasing. It’s a shame she did not live to see it, but it takes nothing away from the book. If nothing else, the arrest brings closure to the story and maybe helps the rest of us to sleep a little easier.

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