If you consider yourself a true crime junkie, you'll have heard of the Golden State Killer. The serial murderer—who was separately dubbed the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Visalia Ransacker—was responsible for the murder of at least 10 people and the sexual assault of at least 50 more in the '70s and '80s. Michelle McNamara, a writer known for her popular cold-case website True Crime Diary, gave the Golden State Killer his now-notorious name back in 2007. She then began on a nearly decade-long hunt for the killer, a journey McNamara chronicled in her true-crime book I'll Be Gone in the Dark. It's an intimate and blood-pumping account of her journey to bring this case to justice, and it's now the subject of the new six-part documentary series from HBO.
"From the very beginning, Michelle and I discussed that we wouldn't be able to ID the killer by the end of the book," Jennifer Barth, McNamara's editor at HarperCollins, told The Daily Beast. "I felt that wasn't the core of the story; I felt it was the search for the killer and the people who search for them. We always said it would be amazing to unmask him, but that wasn't the plan."
Tragically, McNamara died in her sleep in 2016 following an accidental prescription drug overdose. She had written two-thirds of her book when she died. Her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, was the one to make sure that his late wife's book would be finished and released.
"I contacted her researcher," Oswalt told The Daily Beast, "and started talking, what do we do about the book? How do we structure the narrative? It became a bunch of meetings and get-togethers. The thing just happened."
Oswalt sat down with McNamara's researcher Paul Haynes and crime journalist Billy Jensen, and the three finished the book as a team. Jensen explained in his own book (Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders) that while McNamara had completed numerous chapters for the book, they weren't in any particular order. Jensen, Haynes, and Oswalt sequenced her material and filled in the gaps that weren't already addressed in her book.
"This book had to be finished," says Oswalt to The New York Times. "Knowing how horrible this guy was, there was this feeling of, you're not going to silence another victim. Michelle died, but her testimony is going to get out there."
The book was released on February 27, 2018, and debuted in the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Oswalt congratulated his wife on her success on Twitter, writing: "I hope you know, sweetie. I feel like you know. And I hope you know it when your work leads to his capture. #IllBeGoneInTheDark debuts at #1 on the @nytimes bestseller list. I'm so proud of you."
"If Michelle had been married to somebody else, I'm not sure that they would have pressed on with the book and been able to help make it happen in the way Patton did," says Barth to Entertainment Weekly. "It was a total commitment…He's just been a real champion."
Two years after she died, California authorities finally arrested a man they believe to be the Golden State Killer: Joseph James DeAngelo. DeAngelo is expected to plead guilty to the crimes and will likely be sentenced in August. The now-72-year-old has "withered away" during his time in prison, and with the likelihood of a successful execution being small due to his age, he is expected to take a deal that will see him in prison for the rest of his life.
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