CBR 10 Bingo: So Shiny! Bingo #3!
On April 24, 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested and charged with eight counts of first-degree murder by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Santa Barbara County would soon follow with four additional murder charges. The man widely known as the Golden State Killer, thought to be responsible for at least 13 murders and over 50 rapes spanning the 1970s and 80s, had finally been caught.
No doubt the families of the victims felt some degree of comfort and relief at the arrest. Additionally, the friends and families of late journalist Michelle McNamara celebrated the end of a mystery that had haunted McNamara and spurred her to write I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, published posthumously in 2018. That McNamara’s work had an impact on the investigation is evident by the police’s use of the name Golden State Killer, a term McNamara coined on her TrueCrimeDiary website.
The painstaking research that McNamara did is obvious in every chapter. Additionally, though, her writing is rich and respectful of the victims and their families. The people touched by violence are as essential to the story as the killer himself, ensuring that this never becomes a paean to the killer’s ego. She does delve into his mind, though, and tries to understand what tips a person with violent fantasies into the realm of actual violence. “Violent fantasy advances to mental rehearsal. He memorizes a script and refines methods. He’s the maltreated hero in the story. Staring up at him anguished-eyed is a rotating cast of terrified faces. His distorted belief system operates around a central, vampiric tenet: his feeling of inadequacy is vanquished when he exerts complete power over a victim, when his actions elicit in her an expression of helplessness; its a look he recognizes, and hates, in himself.”
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was unfinished when McNamara died suddenly in April 2016; her manuscript was assembled and finished by lead researcher Paul Haynes and investigative journalist Billy Jensen. The book was released with touching tributes from Gillian Flynn and Patton Oswalt. Could any of the individuals involved in what surely must have been a labor of love imagine that the journey would end with an arrest less than two months after publication? According to those who worked with her, McNamara was obsessed with the case; yet she herself never felt she had to be the one to solve it. The obsession was a reasonably healthy one, in that she wanted to see the killer caught–not by herself, necessarily–by anyone. She wanted to see justice prevail.
This book is not only a study of a serial killer, but also a study of what makes McNamara, as a writer, tick. She recounts how she signed her journals “Michelle, the Writer” as a teenager. She confesses to a complicated relationship with her mother. And she shares the story of how, when she was 14, a woman in her neighborhood was murdered while jogging. Although she hadn’t been interested in mysteries before this, two days after the murder she walked to the alley where the woman was found. “Why are you so interested in crime” people would sometimes ask her. Writes McNamara, “I always go back to that moment in the alley, the shards of a dead girl’s Walkman in my hands. I need to see his face. He loses power when we know his face.”
Congratulations, Michelle. You got your wish.