Book Review: I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamra
Beginning in the late 1970’s a rapist and serial killer preyed on innocent victims around Southern California. He was given many nicknames, but for a while the one that stuck the most was, the Original Night Stalker (Eventually another California serial killer Richard Ramirez would take on the title of simply Night Stalker). The killer practiced an absolutely chilling MO; he would observe his potential victim and learn their habits. From there, he would break into their home and look to familiarize himself with the residence. Finally he would pick a night to perpetrate his crime on someone who has been completely unaware they have been watched by a monster. To this day the identity of this serial killer is unknown, but that was not sit well with author Michelle McNamara. The fan favorite true crime writer embarked on her own cold case investigation to discover once and for all the identity of this killer. She knew in order to get public attention on back on this decades old cold case, she would have to use a bit of rebranding; and that is how the Original Night Stalker became the Golden State Killer. Tragically McNamara passed away in 2016, but her husband, Patton Oswalt, was saw to it that her final book would be released. This act of devotion is why we are able to read I’ll be Gone in the Dark, a beautifully written and detailed look at the serial killer who plagued California and the investigation to catch him.
From 1976 to 1986 numerous cities and towns in Southern California were terrorized by what was believed to be two criminals. They were the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker. Victims claim he broke in in the dead of night decked in a ski mask and wielding a flashlight as well as a gun. He was methodical in how he carried on his crimes to ensure he maintained control of the situation, and when he was done he took a memento from the home as a trophy. In the 2000’s crime labs in California began to pour over evidence from these cases and share their findings with each other. This led to the discovery that these men were one in the same. Michelle McNamara became drawn into the fact that this man was responsible for at least 50 rapes and 10 murders, yet nobody has an idea of who he may be. It is widely believed that this man is still out there lurking in the shadows.
Right away I’ll be Gone in the Dark, has one thing so many other true crimebooks lack, which is heart. McNamara has a true gift of capturing the raw emotions of everyone involved in this case in a way which many others would not be able to do. The writers who completed the book, Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen, put it best when they said McNamara engaged in the usual grisly elements expected of a true crime book, but she did not overindulge in them in order to provide shock value. True she told the story of a sadistic murderer and rapist who remains on the loose. But she also tells her own story as she follows leads and tracks down those involved in the case to find answers and maybe find that crucial piece of evidence needed to bring the Golden State Killer to justice. I’ll be Gone in the Dark is easily the best true crime book that I have read in years, perhaps because more than that this book is a labor of love. McNamara’s drive to see this murderer caught was powerful enough to inspire those around her. It is because of her husband and others that McNamara’s passion project was completed and published. One can only hope that the thorough research and boundless passion she poured into this book sparks something which will lead to the Golden State Killer finally being captured.
Update (4/25/2018): The Ventura County Sheriff Department arrested 72 year old Joseph James DeAngelo and have charged him with being the killer known as the Golden State Killer. Hopefully this now this decades long case has been solved.