This week I mainly painted (my living room… I’m no Van Gogh or anything), binge-watched HGTV shows where things were going far worse in their major renovations than in my little paint-splotched corner of the world, and devoured I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara.
Even though the subject of this book is right in my wheelhouse (example: in between episodes of Property Brothers, I did occasionally peek at the ID channel to see whether I’d already seen this particular installment of American Monsters), somehow I hadn’t heard of Michelle McNamara, a writer and creator of the blog True Crime Diary, and I might never have seen her work if I hadn’t heard the news of her untimely death a few years ago, in her sleep, at age 46.
This is my loss, and it is a tremendous one.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is really a hybrid, a combination of notes, essays and interviews compiled by McNamara, interspersed with some autobiographical content that explains, in part, her obsession with the Golden State Killer. This was McNamara’s name for the serial rapist, killer and prowler who stalked various communities up and down the state (Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Contra Costa county, Goleta, Irvine, and others). Other names for this perpetrator include the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker (not to be confused with the other Nightstalker).
I don’t think this is much of a spoiler: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark doesn’t solve the case, nor does it narrow a vast and aging amount of evidence to a few specific names. What it does is detail the crimes—the path of terror this man wreaked on victims and their families. He is the unnamed shadow haunting every page of the story, elusive and shape-shifting, his crimes only linked years after the fact when law enforcement agencies began sharing information and the CODIS database became an essential crime-solving tool.
Also, it brings to life the woman behind the scenes: a woman who was haunted by an unsolved case from her childhood, and whose obsession with cold cases brought her to the GSK. In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, she interviews cold case detectives, tours neighborhoods and crime scenes, gathers a startling amount of evidence, and narrows in on certain theories. After her unexpected death, some of her crime-solving friends stepped in to look through the mountains of files and bring closure to her part of the story.
Recommended for: Anyone who can name upwards of five serial killers without the aid of Google, anyone who watches the ID Channel despite somewhat cheesy reenactments, anyone who has ever been obsessed with an unsolved mystery, anyone who worries about her own obsessions.
In short: Anyone like me.
Paula Treick DeBoard