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

MMac1When I started reading this book, I was not sure if I should continue as I felt that the subject matter was darker than even I am used to. But something inside of me said to keep going and listen to what the author is saying.  Less than ten minutes into the book, I realized that I would not be putting it down anytime soon.  In fact, the book pulled me in so much that I finished it one day.  I simply could not get enough of the story.  Initially, the book came as a recommendation on Amazon.  Like many others, I was aware of other killers in Californian history.  The Zodiac? Check.  Richard Ramirez? Check.  Golden State Killer? I had no clue about this menace who terrorized southern California in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  But as I read through the beginning of the book, I soon realized that author Michelle McNamara (1970-2016) was about to take me deep inside the story of the “Original Night Stalker”.

I feel compelled to point out that this book is not for the faint at heart. Anyone who is sensitive to graphic descriptions of crime scenes or uneasy reading true crime will probably want to avoid the book.  But for those who enjoy true crime and are curious about a killer that has been overshadowed by the Zodiac and Ramirez, this is the book you have been searching for.  To be clear, McNamara was not a police officer. Yet she spent a staggering amount of time and resources putting together a trove of information that impressed even the most skilled detectives.  She was so respected that she had developed rare bi-directional channels of communication with cold case detectives. And when she died in her sleep on April 21, 2016, she left behind several chapters of this book that were not only saved, but compiled into this gritty and gripping account of the mission to catch a killer.

Out of respect for some victims or possibly at their request, some of the names have been changed as we learned at the end of the book. However, the crimes were real and retold as they happened.  And although more than forty years have passed since some of the crimes have taken place, McNamara’s writing makes it feel as if they happened yesterday.  At first, the crimes seem like isolated incidents until similarities creep up and the invention of DNA testing reveals that more than one crime is the work of a single invidual.  He struck at night, using the element of suprise to inflict physical and sexual assault before disappearing in the night.  His crimes come hauntingly back to life as McNamara tells the story. It is true crime at its best.

The book early on does read like a typical true crime novel until DNA testing enters the picture.  It is at that moment that the book picks up pace and suspense settles in through McNamara’s words.  Det. Larry Pool and Criminologist Paul Holes become her unofficial partners in search of the elusive killer whom they believe will be caught through DNA.  And although suspects do come up, they do not hit paydirt. McNamara is not deterred and even obtained thirty-seven boxes of files from Orange County prosecutors.  The Golden State Killer had become her only goal and she freely discusses the effect the case has had on her life, in particular her marriage to actor Patton Oswalt.   The case becomes her obsession, filling her thoughts as the insomia she developed took hold in late night hours.  And in the days before her death, she was moving full steam ahead and prepared to examine the files she had placed upstairs after unloading two SUVs full of boxes. I believe that there was no doubt in her mind that the killer would one day face justice.

At the time of McNamara’s death, the Golden State Killer remained at large. However, two years after her passing that all changed.  In April, 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was taken into custody and charged with multiple murders, kidnappings and other crimes. His arrest would have been just another cold case that had been solved. However there was something different this time around.  DeAngelo had been brought to justice through the very tool that McNamara believed was the key: DNA.   The closure of the case is a final testament to her unwavering committment to solving one of the darkest murder mysteries in American history.  Had she not died so untimely, I believe she might have uncovered DeAngelo’s name at some point.   Her exhaustive efforts and this book based on her unpublished writings, is the definitive account of the race against time to stop a lunatic with a thirst for mayhem.  And while I could describe the power of this account in several ways, I think famous author Stephen King says it best:

“What readers need to know—what makes this book so special—is that it deals with two obsessions, one light and one dark. The Golden State Killer is the dark half; Michelle McNamara’s is the light half. It’s a journey into two minds, one sick and disordered, the other intelligent and determined. I loved this book.” —Stephen King

Good read and highly recommended.


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