Did Michelle McNamara’s Book ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’ Help Catch The Golden State Killer?

The first episode of HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was released on June 28. The true crime documentary series revolves around Michelle McNamara’s book of the same name. Before her death, McNamara was heavily involved in investigating the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist, and killer who terrorized citizens of California between 1974 and 1986 before going dormant. In April 2018, Joseph DeAngelo was arrested for the crimes, just two months after McNamara’s book was released posthumously. He stands accused of at least 13 murders, 50 rapes, and 100 burglaries and is expected to plead guilty on June 29.

Who is Michelle McNamara?

McNamara, the author of I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, was a television writer before starting her blog, True Crime Diary. On the blog, McNamara wrote about cold cases but paid specific attention to a series of crimes committed in California between 1974 and 1986. Her attention to detail, and desire to uncover who was behind the string of heinous crimes spiraled into an obsession.

McNamara, who married Patton Oswalt in 2005, is often credited with giving the killer the moniker he is best known by. Before McNamara dubbed him The Golden State Killer, the perpetrator was known by multiple names, including The Visalia Ransacker, The Original Nightstalker, and The East Area Rapist.

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McNamara died in April 2016, two years before DeAngelo was charged with the crimes that occupied so much of her time. Upon the announcement of his arrest, Oswalt paid tribute to his late wife on social media.

Did Michelle McNamara help capture the Golden State Killer?

The announcement of DeAngelo’s arrest caught the world by surprise. It was just two months after McNamara’s book was published. Oswalt was still working on promoting the nonfiction offering, and readers were still working their way through the 352 pages of information. One would assume, given the timing, that something inside the book led to the capture. According to Marie Claire, that’s not the case. While the Sheriff’s department noted that McNamara’s blog and the book might have renewed interest in the case, they insist there was nothing inside the pages that led them directly to DeAngelo. Instead, a DNA match through a genealogy database helped identify the suspect.

Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected "Golden State Killer", appears in court for his arraignment on April 27, 2018 in Sacramento, Californi
Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected “Golden State Killer” | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McNamara may not have found DeAngelo herself, but the profile she developed from countless hours of research was incredibly close to the man who would eventually be charged with the crimes. McNamara theorized that the perpetrator had a background in the military or the police, for example. DeAngelo is a Navy veteran who went on to work as a police officer for a brief time.  

Popular blogs and podcasts have led to the closing of high profiles cases before

While the sheriff’s department has failed to credit McNamara with helping to solve the case, they have, at least, admitted that McNamara did help to bring renewed interest and increased tips. She is not the first, nor will she be the last, citizen detective that has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about long-forgotten cases. Occasionally, that awareness kicks investigations into high gear and helps bring killers to justice.  

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Payne Lindsey’s podcast, Up and Vanished, renewed interest in the disappearance of Tara Grinstead. Grinstead, a beauty queen, and teacher vanished mysteriously in 2005. As Lindsey recorded his podcast, a tip led the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to two friends who were charged in Grinstead’s disappearance and murder. Investigators credited Lindsey’s podcast for bringing the case back into focus for locals.

Filmmakers, Lance Reenstierna and Tim Pilleri, are hoping for a similar outcome with their podcast, Missing Maura Murray. The duo has spent years combing over the evidence in Murray’s 2004 disappearance from a lonely road in New Hampshire. The nursing student hasn’t been seen since, but Pilleri and Reenstierna are hoping their podcast will help jog the memories of locals who have been reluctant to speak.