HBO's true crime docuseries I'll Be Gone in the Dark catalogues author Michelle McNamara's exhaustive search (opens in new tab) to uncover the identity of the serial murderer she dubbed the "Golden State Killer." But the series, which premieres June 28, is just as much about McNamara as it is the predator who's responsible for 12 murders, 48 rapes, and more than 100 burglaries in the '70s and '80s. McNamara, the hero of the well-reviewed series, was happily married to standup comedian and actor Patton Oswalt and mom to their daughter Alice; she obsessively conducted research and interviews for her popular blog, True Crime Diary, in her spare time. Before McNamara tragically passed away in 2016 at the age of 46, she was bringing together disparate pieces of information from different police files to form one, cohesive look at one of the most prolific killers (opens in new tab) in United States history.
In one of the interviews with McNamara that made it into the series, she explains, "The great tragedy of this case, to me, is that it's not better known." Arguably, the work she did to highlight, bring together, and uncover new information changed that. McNamara gave the Golden State Killer his nickname—he'd been given several in different areas, including the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Visalia Ransacker, but it wasn't clear that they were the same person—and the spotlight her bestselling book placed on his crimes reestablished a popular awareness about what he'd done.
If you know anything about Oswalt, you'll have some context on McNamara, because the comedian spoke glowingly about his wife both on- and off-stage. There were funny stories about rats and house-hunting gone horribly wrong (opens in new tab), but as silly and as hilarious as the stories were, he always made very clear that his wife was the fixed center and the inspiration of his life. He shared McNamara's horribly prescient mantra about the world—"It's chaos. Be kind."—in a comedy special after her death.
McNamara was obsessed with cold cases, and devoted the last few years of her life to cracking the case of the Golden State Killer. Working with detectives, she spent many, many hours on Internet research, interviews, visiting crime scenes, and following leads. She said (opens in new tab) that her goal was not to write a bestseller but to sit across from the arrested killer.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
McNamara died in her sleep on April 21, 2016, before the work was completed. She had been having trouble sleeping because of the horrific nature of her research, and Oswalt suggested (opens in new tab) she take a night off to "sleep until you wake up." She took some Xanax and died in her sleep (opens in new tab). The autopsy later revealed that she had an undiagnosed heart condition, and that plus the accidental overdose (Adderall, Fentanyl, and Xanax) caused her death at 46 years old.
Oswalt, crime writer Billy Jensen, and McNamara's researcher Paul Haynes finished her book in 2018. Two months later, an arrest was finally made in the case: Joseph James DeAngelo (opens in new tab), whose DNA from a genealogy website connected him to one of the crime scenes, was charged with 13 counts of murder. In 2020 he offered to plead guilty for life in prison instead of receiving a death sentence.
The book's closing words, highlighted frequently post-publication, had McNamara envisioning the scene when the killer was finally captured.
"One day soon, you’ll hear a car pull up to your curb, an engine cut out. You’ll hear footsteps coming up your front walk...Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell. This is how it ends for you. 'You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,' you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light."
"I hope you know, sweetie. I feel like you know," Oswalt tweeted (opens in new tab) when the book was released. "And I hope you know it when your work leads to his capture."
You did it, baby. The book is excellent, the writing brilliant. You tried to bring kindness to chaos, which was your way. #IllBeGoneInTheDark #MichelleMcNamara pic.twitter.com/xUKgEXOmR7February 27, 2018
During his 2017 Emmys acceptance speech (opens in new tab), Oswalt paid tribute to his partner. "Every bit of growth that I've had in my career, especially in my writing and my performing, came because I met Michelle McNamara. Because I met and married this woman who just was so much wiser and self-actualized and aware of life than I was."
"I want to share this with two people: One of them is my daughter, Alice, waiting at home. The other one is waiting somewhere else—I hope."
Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.
Lizzo Embodies Disco-Ball Chic at the BET Awards
By Iris Goldsztajn
Lizzo, Sophie Turner and More Celebrities React to Roe v. Wade Being Overturned
It's been a difficult weekend.
By Iris Goldsztajn
Olivia Rodrigo and Lily Allen Dedicated 'F*** You' to the Justices Who Struck Down Roe v. Wade at Glastonbury
Rodrigo listed their names one by one.
By Iris Goldsztajn
The 28 Best Korean Movies on Netflix in 2022
See you guys never.
By Quinci LeGardye
'Manifest' Season 4: Everything We Know
It's official: The once-canceled NBC show is returning for a final chapter (or two) on Netflix.
By Jenny Hollander
Join #ReadWithMC: Marie Claire's Virtual Monthly Book Club
Never feel guilty about skipping book club again.
By The Editors
Rose Leslie and Theo James Play 'How Well Do You Know Your Co-Star?'
The 'Time Traveler's Wife' stars prove their chemistry is one for the ages.
By Marie Claire Editors
The 30 Best Black TV Shows Ever
Clear your schedule. You have some binge-watching to do
By The Editors
Take a Tour of Ali Wentworth's Awe-Inspiring Personal Library
The author and actress shares her favorite reads in 'Shelf Portrait.'
By Neha Prakash
SuChin Pak Is No Longer Settling for Your Definition of Courage
In an excerpt from a new book, the journalist details the racist incidents at MTV News that shaped her early career and how she's only recently been able to dismantle that trauma.
By Neha Prakash
The 27 Best True Crime Shows to Binge-Watch
Real life can be a lot scarier than fiction.
By Cady Drell