I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: a writer’s obsessive search for the truth surrounding the Golden State Killer

book cover

Michele McNamara’s book I’ll be Gone in the Dark is her only book. This book covers the Golden State Killer, who committed 50 rapes and 10 murders in California in the 1970s and 1980s. This was her only book but she wrote articles for L.A. Magazine and had a blog called http://truecrimediary.com/. Some of the blog entries are about the Golden State Killer. The book’s title comes from something the killer said to one of his victims. “You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark”.

Michele McNamara died in April 2016. Her husband Patton Oswald, former California police officer Paul Holes, and journalist Billy Jenson finished and organized the book for publication after her death. The book was published in 2018 and spent 15 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list. HBO made a six episode documentary series based on the book and the last episode aired August 2, 2020.

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Michelle McNamara coined the name the Golden State Killer. The new name helped to raise awareness of the killer and his crimes. At various times reporters/cops referred to this unknown subject as the Original Nightstalker and Eastside Rapist among other names. Before advances in DNA testing and the establishment of California’s Statewide DNA database for criminals and suspected criminals, the Original Nightstalker and the Eastside Rapist were not known to be the same man. One of the postings on her blog said that some readers accused her of glamorizing the killer by calling him the Golden State Killer.

McNamara’s methods for researching the Golden State Killer were interesting. McNamara taught herself how to investigate crimes. A lot of material (police reports, newspaper archives, telephone directories, yearbooks, and other sources) was digitized since the crimes occurred in the 70s and 80s, so she could do a lot of research without leaving her house. She also communicated with retired police officers, who gave her advice and information.

I truly believe this book is worth a read. It is story of one man’s crimes but it is also the story of one woman’s investigations into those crimes, albeit decades later. I thought that made the book a little different and more interesting than just a recounting of the crimes themselves as they happened.

I like Gillian Flynn’s introduction and Paton Oswalt’s afterword. Flynn, author of the best-selling novel Gone Girl, also has an interest in true crime. Flynn expressed admiration for the craft and attention to detail that McNamara brought to her writing.  “I always thought the least appreciate aspect of a true crime-writer is humanity.  Michele McNamara had an uncanny ability to get into the minds of not just killers but the cops that hunted them, the victims they destroyed, and the trail of grieving relatives left behind.” After reading the afterword by Patton Oswalt, I have a sense, a small one, of what she meant to Patton Oswalt. He said that “she was born with a true cop’s heart. She craved justice, not glory.” He called her a remarkable and honest writer, maybe even honest to a fault at times.

After the book’s publication, police arrested a suspect, and the suspect confessed.  How much credit Michele McNamara and her book deserved for the arrest varies on whom you ask. Some former cops, including some she consulted with, gave her credit.  Some current cops did not give her credit.

I’ll be Gone in the Dark is available to check out as an e-book from the McAllen Public Library.


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