I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
True Crime, Non-fiction
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The Golden State Killer is well known by now.
Infamous for committing over 50 rapes, dozens of burglaries, and at least 10 murders, the Golden State Killer remained uncaught for decades.
Once known only as the East Area Rapist or Original Night Stalker (EARONS), the man was a legend. There were many reasons for that, but the biggest one was that he somehow had never been caught.
Michelle McNamara’s book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark brought a renewed public interest to this case. True Crime is in its heyday right now and this book shot to the top of the New York Times’ best seller’s list.
If you were outside of the more ardent True Crime aficionados, then you might not know who Michelle McNamara was. I had never read anything by her prior to this book and I was charmed by her descriptions. Michelle McNamara had this way with words that would transport you into her world. Then she’d transport you into the world of the victims of the Golden State Killer.
I don’t know if I would have been able to read this book at night if I was living in a house. In my tiny little apartment, there was nowhere for the Golden State Killer to hide. But when I pretended I was living in a house, I jumped at every creak of a floorboard. I pictured going to check the locks on the doors and windows again. One of Michelle’s greatest gifts is that she was able to put me into the bedrooms of the victims and captured their fear.
I imagined all too vividly waking from a deep sleep to see someone standing in my bedroom door. His flashlight would be blinding me, making it hard to see, but I would notice the mask first. The Golden State Killer wore a ski mask when he was committing his burglaries, rapes, and (one would have to assume) murders.
The next thing I would notice would be that he held a gun pointed at me and that he was wearing no pants.
Even living in a tiny apartment, Michelle’s prose got to me. I would double check my locks before I went to bed while reading this book. My apartment is brutally stuffy and hot with the window closed. But I asked myself if I was playing Russian Roulette by leaving it open?
Even knowing that the Golden State Killer had been caught (unrelated to the release of this book), did little to soothe my troubled imagination.
This is the power of Michelle McNamara’s writing.
When I finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, I was struck by this overwhelming sense of loss. Not just for the loss of life and the senseless evil perpetrated by a truly pathetic man, but because Michelle McNamara died before this novel could be finished.
Her husband Patton Oswalt (yes, that one), sought help from other investigative journalists to help finish the book. Honestly, the weaker points of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the shifts in writing style. It’s jarring when we move from Michelle’s writing to something written by someone else. Even when the chapter is pieced together carefully from her previous writings, it’s lacking.
I don’t hold it against I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. The writers are always up front about which source the writing is coming from. Everything is well-researched and well-told. But all I thought about after finishing wasn’t the Golden State Killer.
With a suspect arrested and going through the legal process, he’s lost a lot of his power over the imagination. What had once been a demon in the night is now a befuddled looking old man. The Golden State Killer is just an elderly man who will spend the rest of his days in jail.
No, after finishing I’ll Be Gone in the Dark I could only think about Michelle.
I wonder how Michelle would have reacted to the news of the Golden State Killer’s capture. I wondered if she would have been able to lay her obsession to rest with the Golden State Killer arrested. Or maybe she would have chosen a new cold case to ponder.
And most of all, I wonder if she’d be surprised to see his capture come from a source that she mentioned in her book.
No one suspected the man that DNA pointed to as the cause of so many ruined lives, but the methods Michelle mentioned in her book were also leveraged by police to capture the Golden State Killer.
In the end, it’s hard to say.
If you have any interest in True Crime at all, this book is a must-read. Far too often, the true crime novels available are poorly written or worse, poorly researched.
Breathtakingly written, intensely researched, and highly empathetic.