Inside Michelle McNamara’s Obsessive Hunt for the Golden State Killer squib

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

HBO’s six-part docuseries I’ll Be Gone in the Dark concerns the most prolific fiend you’ve probably never heard of: the Golden State Killer, who from 1974 to 1986 committed 50 rapes and at least 13 murders. Those crimes were originally attributed to different suspects (known as the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist, and Original Night Stalker) until they were all pinned on the same individual thanks to the investigative work of Michelle McNamara.

A true-crime blogger, McNamara’s sleuthing and reporting brought the villain’s reign of terror to national light, first in a 2013 Los Angeles magazine article and then with her 2018 book that gives this series its name. Unfortunately, McNamara didn’t live to see her bestseller completed, or published—or to witness the identification and apprehension of the individual she’d long hunted, Joseph James DeAngelo, a Navy veteran and ex-cop—because on April 21, 2016, she passed away in her sleep due to a combination of heart problems and prescription pills.

In the face of that tragedy, McNamara’s husband Patton Oswalt enlisted the aid of writers Billy Jensen and Paul Haynes to finish I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. HBO’s true-crime series thus serves as both the story of the Golden State Killer and, just as importantly, of McNamara herself, who through copious archival videos, interviews, audio recordings and journal entries becomes the show’s narrator and protagonist. Directed by Liz Garbus along with co-helmers Elizabeth Wolff, Myles Kane and Josh Koury, it’s a gripping and moving saga of obsession, monstrousness, and the cultural and institutional sexism that allowed the Golden State Killer to not only get away with his crimes for so long, but to remain a somewhat under-the-radar evildoer compared to his more notorious ‘70s/’80s counterparts like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and the Zodiac.

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