Michelle McNamara's Blog, True Crime Diary, Pursued Cold and Forgotten Cases

Now it stands as a testimonial, and memorial, of her work.

Michelle McNamara reflected in a round mirror.
(Image credit: HBO)

Michelle McNamara, true crime blogger and author whose years hunting the Golden State Killer are documented in the HBO series I'll Be Gone in the Dark, spent years of her life obsessively taking on cold and forgotten cases. Before her accidental death in 2016, she'd devoted much of her energy to that particular case, but her blog was much more extensive than that. Her volunteer work was unflinching—she visited crime scenes, pored over social media, interviewed witnesses, worked with detectives, and dove into cases that remained unsolved with the goal of uncovering critically important details. 

McNamara launched True Crime Diary in 2006 and, from there, "chronicled hundreds of unsolved crimes." In the About page, it lays things out clearly. "True Crime Diary seeks to find the angle others have overlooked—a suspect's revealing online activities, for instance, or a similarity between cases that hasn't been made public yet. Additional information now comes from interviews with law enforcement, and victims' family members, friends and associates." It adds, "True Crime Diary is not interested in looking back at notorious criminals and saying, wow. We're interested in looking at unfolding cases and asking, who?"

The Golden State Killer, as McNamara would later name him, made his debut on the site in 2011. In a post titled "Part 1: Who Are You?" she admitted right at the top, "I'm obsessed. It's not healthy. I look at his face, or should I say someone's recollection of his face, frequently."

She went on: "He killed more people than the Zodiac, but he has only a fraction of the Zodiac's notoriety. His under-the-radar quality—he moved through a series of mid-sized California towns over the span of ten years—makes him more terrifying to me." She added, "He didn't need you to publish his letters. He was too busy jiggling locks and pressing against window screens, testing for vulnerability." It was obvious immediately that she felt compelled to investigate, to bring justice for the families and do what had never been done before—catch this burglar, rapist, and murderer, who was one of the most prolific serial killers in the U.S.

Eventually her work led to an L.A. Mag article and a book deal. She gave interviews and spoke in depth about the case, some of which was used for the HBO docuseries. "The great tragedy of this case, to me, is that it's not better known," she says in archive footage. She also made it clear throughout that a book deal wasn't her end goal—her end goal was to see the killer arrested and be able to see his face, for real, as he sat behind bars.

The blog looks like it's been sitting as a memorial and testimonial to her work since her death. The last blog post on the blog dates from June 2015. It was the first part of three and remains unfinished, detailing cases that were decades old and yet had recently seen major breakthroughs. She remembers an aside about investigations: "'Controlling cops is a lot like herding cats,' the lieutenant wrote. 'Like blind hogs they sometimes find an acorn, but mostly they just tear up the ground and muddy the waters.'"

"Muddy waters are, of course, the plague of unsolved cases, and the murk thickens from any array of sources, not just disorganized and uncommunicative cops," she wrote. It's not hard to connect her interest in recently solved murder investigations to her own work.

In the post before that, dated September 2014, she apologized for her absence. "I’ve had little on my mind except finishing my book on the Golden State Killer," she wrote. She explained that she'd been going through online community pages. "I scroll through the memories with the hope that something useful might reveal itself, a throwaway comment about an event, or job, that might connect back to something I’ve read elsewhere. A few things are already percolating…"

In retrospect, it feels like a heartbreaking reminder of where McNamara was, mentally, before her death—and also, how she just missed seeing her dream come true of seeing the Golden State Killer behind bars. (Arrested suspect Joseph DeAngelo pleaded guilty at the end of June, 2020.)

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.