I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killerby Published 27 Feb 2018
|I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.pdf|
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
***Update 4/26/2018: the monster has been unmasked
"The truth was, I was jittery from sugar, hunger, and spending too much time alone in the dark absorbing a fifty-chapter horror story narrated in the kind of dead voice used by desk clerks at the DMV."I probably would have been drawn to this book eventually no matter what. Well-written true crime that unfolds like the best of a police procedural with all the markers of a gripping horror suspense novel all rolled into one are a siren song for me. But due to the tragic circumstances surrounding the author -- in April 2016, 46 year old Michelle McNamara died very suddenly in her sleep -- the book had been on my radar for quite some time, a book Michelle dedicated the last years of her life obsessively researching that she would not live to finish.
~Michelle McNamara, I'll Be Gone in the Dark
Though there is a sense of incompleteness at the end, an abrupt cutoff in the road indicating Michelle still had so much more to write, so many more dark avenues to explore, what we are presented with is nevertheless compelling, frightening, heartbreaking stuff. The book is just as strong covering the killer's compulsions as it is covering Michelle's own.
The human propensity to be drawn to and into these stories can often seem unhealthy and aberrant. But for those of us who sometimes find ourselves disappearing down the rabbit hole into a labyrinthine cold case with so many unanswered questions, I don't think it's the darkness we're chasing, but the light. It's a quest for illumination -- the solving of the puzzle (its own deep satisfaction) is a hopeful act of throwing on the lights, a brightness from which the boogeyman can no longer move amongst us in faceless, nameless anonymity.
Before picking up this book I had never heard of the East Area Rapist - Original Night Stalker (EAR/ONS) (renamed the Golden State Killer by Michelle), yet he is one of the most prolific serial offenders in US history (50 known sexual assaults and at least 10 murders) and who remains at large. The Golden State Killer terrorized the state of California from 1976 to 1986, but for all that time lead investigators spanning multiple counties and jurisdictions, wouldn't even know they were hunting the same monster. That shocking revelation would come years later through cold case DNA testing and a new generation of dedicated detectives and forensic scientists.
Having the killer's DNA profile however, did not miraculously lead to his arrest. The hunt was also complicated by the fact the trail had been cold with no new victims or crime scenes since May 1986. So is the Golden State Killer dead? Serving a long prison sentence? Did he get married like Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway, a living arrangement that made it too difficult to continue his double life as a serial murderer?
In her quest to finally unmask the Golden State Killer's true identity once and for all, McNamara shows the heart-wrenching toll on all parties who share in this consuming need to know -- the victims families of course -- but also the retired detectives who carried the burden for decades and those who were forced to take that burden to the grave with them. Another aspect I loved is how McNamara talks about the "confirmation bias" that sneaks up on real and armchair detectives alike. Anyone involved with the hunt will eventually uncover a suspect they become certain is "The One" -- the circumstantial evidence piles up and so much of the suspect's background and personal life fits the FBI profile. He lived in the right area at the right time, is the right height and weight and age. Was a peeping tom as a teenager, or broke into houses to steal. It's GOTTA BE this guy, he's "The One." When DNA testing finally eliminates the suspect it can be a devastating blow, and it may take a while for the mind to let go of what it was so certain to be true.
I'm reminded of Robert Graysmith's obsessive quest to hunt down the identity of the Zodiac Killer -- Graysmith's "The One" was Arthur Leigh Allen, and for very good reasons. Yet in 2002 DNA testing of saliva from the stamps the Zodiac used to send his letters to the San Francisco Chronicle were not a match for Allen. This did not deter Graysmith however, who still believes Allen is the Zodiac (someone else could have licked the stamps or the original DNA sample might have been too small or degraded). It's a dangerous kind of tunnel vision that's resulted in a disturbing amount of innocent people going to jail (or death row) for crimes they didn't commit. Thanks to the rise of DNA testing and organizations like The Innocence Project, many wrongly convicted persons have been freed, though too many still remain incarcerated to this day, or have been killed by the state. It's a chilling reminder that despite what we've been told, just because something walks and talks like a duck, still doesn't mean it's a duck.
The nature of the the Golden State Killer's m.o. -- that he was so brazen to break into homes as people slept -- will leave you unnerved and paranoid. After spending a night reading, I couldn't help take a really hard look at my patio sliding doors and wonder how easy it would be for someone to get through them. But we could all stand to be a little more careful and alert these days anyway, right? Because you just never know who's prowling in the shadows of your backyard, or peering into a back window, waiting for you to turn off the lights and get into bed.
Michelle McNamara and husband Patton Oswalt
I was very wary of reading this book, because it just sounded so, so creepy and when I bought it, the killer had not yet been caught. Yet when he was recently, after so many years, I felt compelled to know the background and read the book. It is a tragic story, made all the more so because it's passionate, dogged author did not live to see this man's arrest, something she so badly wished for. This story is so disturbing, I could not get it out of my head and I could definitely not read it at night. All the same, I found it difficult to put down. The style of writing is so compelling, not dry like much non-fiction is for me. McNamara's voice is unique and she infected my with her deep interest and devotion to solving the case. I also liked how she gave the victims their own story and a considerable amount of attention, highlighting who they were before they were assaulted or killed by this evil man. This was a rough intro to true crime fiction for me, but worth the read. The writing is excellent and the fact that the killer has actually been caught feels like a stunning ending to this horrible story. It will take some time for me to stop thinking about this book and its author, and I think that is probably how it should be. Definitely recommended, but proceed with caution. This book will keep you awake at night.
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**Update 4/26/2018 - When this book was published it was an unsolved mystery. It got a happy ending yesterday.**
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 45 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.
* This is exactly how the police eventually tracked him down.
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.
This one didn’t quite do it for me. I found the story interesting because I knew absolutely nothing about this killer that got away (not a spoiler). The development of the methodologies to apprehend criminals was fascinating and many of the terms are commonplace today. It’s an uneven book and I found myself mentally re-writing sentences for clarity. The messy sentences (in places) may be the result of piecing together a book from the deceased author’s notes and trying to retain her voice. It’s worth reading if you are a fan of true crime.