I received a book in the mail over the weekend and I opened it to glance inside. What I read lured me in and I began reading “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” by Michelle McNamara.
McNamara died at age 46 in 2016 before she could finish her book. She left behind a husband, actor Patton Oswalt. And a small daughter, Alice.
There is a lovely forward written by author Gillian Flynn. And an afterward by her husband.
For over a decade Michelle hunted a killer who’d eluded authorities for many years in California.
A True Crime Journalist:
McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath dubbed “the Golden State Killer.”
As someone who dabbled in true crime journalism in my younger years, I understand the dogged determination that McNamara felt. To expose this man and show his face. To bring closure to the families.
But back in my day there was no internet to make information easier to find. You physically had to visit the morgue to get autopsy reports. And had to go to the police station to interview detectives.
What is fascinating to me about this book is not so much the story itself, but the writing. I find the writing very emotive in a kind of cerebral way. It is the substance of this woman’s words, the way she weaves her words together, that mesmerizes me.
Excerpt From The Prologue:
That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter’s playroom. For the most part I mimicked the bedtime routine of a normal person. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. But after my husband and daughter fell asleep, I’d retreat to my makeshift workspace and boot up my laptop, that fifteen-inch hatch of endless possibilities.
Our neighborhood northwest of downtown Los Angeles is remarkably quiet at night. Sometimes the only sound was the “click” as I tapped ever closer down the driveways of men I didn’t know using Google Street View. I rarely moved but I leaped decades with a few keystrokes. Yearbooks. Marriage certificates, Mug shots. I scoured thousands of pages of 1970s-era police files. I pored over autopsy reports.
That I should do this surrounded by a half-dozen stuffed animals and a set of miniature pink bongos didn’t strike me as unusual. I’d found my searching place, as private as a rat’s maze. Every obsession needs a room of it’s own. Mine was strewn with coloring paper on which I scribbled down California penal codes in crayon.
The origination of the book’s title came from the utterance of the Golden State Killer to one of his victims. He whispered in her ear a threat if she dared to make a sound.
“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”
McNamara relied on years of research to bring this story to life. And described a monster that forever changed so many lives.
Sadly, the rest of the story was left to her lead researcher and a close colleague to bring the book to completion. Though they did a wonderful job finishing it up I missed McNamara’s exceptional voice.
My Own Journalism Days:
In my late twenties and thirties I drove to various small Texas towns searching used book stores for true crime books. Like Michelle, I felt driven in a way that is hard to explain.
Once you involve yourself as a journalist in the lives of people who have lost those they loved, it’s very hard to just walk away. Especially if the crime is not solved.
If you walk into a child’s bedroom that is stuck in time years after the child went missing, you breathe in something about that room that stays with you. A kinship to someone you never met, but who you desperately would like to find. If only to give the grieving family an end to the questions of a seemingly endless wait.
So that maybe they can move on somewhat. Take her things from her room and perhaps give it to charity or put them in boxes in the attic. Because the odds are she isn’t ever coming home to them.
Even if you don’t like true crime stories, this book surprised me with the lyrical prose of Michelle McNamara’s words. Because, yes, there are facts and the minutia of the investigation by police, but there is so much more.
The Author’s Words Are So Compelling:
Michelle McNamara’s words are so rich with meaning that I find myself reading some sentences over and over again to savor them.
On the morning of April 21, 2016, McNamara’s husband, Patton Oswalt, told People that he woke up early to get their daughter Alice to school. He got back to the house at around 9:40 a.m., he said, and left a coffee on the bedside table for his wife.
A few hours later, he looked in on her again and found that she wasn’t breathing. McNamara was declared dead at the scene by paramedics.
Her Husband’s Words:
“The second worst day of my life was the day that my wife passed away, that was the second worst day of my life. The worst day of my life was the day after when I had to tell our daughter.”
The autopsy was released in February 2017, nearly a year after McNamara’s death. It indicated that she died due to the effects of multiple drugs in her system, including Adderall, Xanax and fentanyl.
A pre-existing heart condition that the couple was unaware of, which caused blocked arteries, was listed as a contributing factor.
They Finally Catch Him:
Michelle died before the Golden State Killer was discovered. Four decades after he began his reign of terror, he was caught on April 24, 2018.
He was caught using investigative genealogy and the use of DNA sites.
He was formally sentenced in August 2020.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 75, pleaded guilty before going to trial. He is serving 26 life sentences in a California prison.