Michelle McNamara, true crime blogger and author whose years hunting the Golden State Killer (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) in 2006 and, from there (opens in new tab), "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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) article (opens in new tab) and a book deal. She gave interviews (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab) at the end of June, 2020.)
Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “The Bachelor” to Everlane to Meghan Markle. Igoe: “I go to the store,” not “Her huge ego."
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