Without a second thought, true crime blogger Michelle McNamara
dove headfirst into what would become a years-long obsession with the perpetrator she would dub the Golden State Killer, a man responsible for 45 rapes, 12 murders, and possibly more than 100 burglaries. She published a long-form article, “In the Footsteps of a Killer,”
in Los Angeles Magazine
, and was well on her way to finishing her book on the subject when, without warning, she died in her sleep in April of 2016, leaving behind her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, as well as their young daughter, Alice.
The story could have ended there, but, thanks to the efforts of Oswalt, investigative journalist Billy Jensen, and researcher Paul Haynes, McNamara’s book about the Golden State Killer (originally known as the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker) was pieced together, then published earlier this year.
In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
, McNamara’s immense capability for empathy is at the forefront. Her prose encapsulates the humanity of the victims and investigators in stark contrast to the Golden State Killer’s sadism, which brings the terror of the attacks home in a visceral way. McNamara was also a painstaking researcher – she tracked down the tiniest of leads, be it a pair of stolen cufflinks or a water polo player whose appearance matched descriptions of the Golden State Killer, and pored over thousands of pages of old files seeking relevant information. The end result is a vivid portrait of the constellation of the offender’s myriad crimes set against a sharply rendered backdrop of California in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Then: on Tuesday, April 24, almost four decades after the Golden State Killer began his crime spree, two years after McNamara’s death, and less than two months after the publication of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
, Joseph James DeAngelo was quietly arrested at his home in Citrus Heights, California in relation to the case. As predicted by McNamara and others, it has been reported that DeAngelo was initially identified through law enforcement use of ancestral DNA services, and a DNA sample obtained directly from him via surveillance led to a positive match. His identity was unknown to investigators until shortly before his arrest.
While Sacramento officials did not credit McNamara’s work directly in their April 25 press conference, every utterance of the name Golden State Killer lent credence to her dogged pursuit of the perpetrator, which kept his crimes in the limelight.
To use Oswalt’s words
: “I think you got him, Michelle.”
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