“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” was written by Michelle McNamara. The true crime book was published by Harper Collins on February 27, 2018. The publication took place two months before the apprehension of The Golden State Killer on April 24, 2018. In addition, because the book wasn’t finished, (I’ll get to that later on in the post), it was published posthumously, a bit under two years after McNamara passed away on April 21, 2016. She died from an undiagnosed heart condition.
The Visalia Ransacker, The East Area Rapist, those were two of the several names originally given to the seemingly impossible to catch, Golden State Killer. He was able to avoid apprehension for over four decades. Was he a ghost? No, he was a man, and apart from his abhorrent crimes, a rather ordinary one. Joseph James DeAngelo’s reign of terror took place from 1973 through 1986. The crimes that have been attributed to him amounted to his being convicted of 13 murders, 50 rapes, and 120 burglaries.
The miniseries “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” delves into McNamara’s meticulously researched and exceptionally well written book. The following are some, but not limited to, people who were interviewed throughout the series. First, was McNamara’s husband, the comedian, actor and author, Emmy winner Patton Oswalt (Talking for Clapping) and Paul Haynes, McNamara’s researcher, who spent countless hours communicating with her, as they, among other things, followed up on leads, and looked into the backgrounds of suspects. In addition, there was retired Contra Costa County Detective Larry Crompton, who worked on the Golden State Killer case. He wrote about his experiences in his own book “Sudden Terror,” which was published by AuthorHouse in 2010. Furthermore, Contra Costa County, retired Chief of Forensics, Paul Holes, talks about his work on the case. The two men were in favor of what McNamara was doing and were invaluable to her while she was researching her book. Nancy Miller, McNamara’s editor at Los Angeles Magazine where the project began and Jennifer Barth her editor at Harper Collins where her project came to fruition give their take on McNamara and her work. Most importantly, however, among those who are interviewed are a number of the survivors of The Golden State Killer. (As an aside: Oswalt and McNamara were married on September 24, 2005. The couple had one child together, a daughter, Alice, who was born on April 15, 2009).
Throughout the miniseries, archival news footage is featured. The footage gives viewers a real sense of the fear that was endured by certain communities that the Golden State Killer targeted. Additionally, there are re-enactments of certain parts of McNamara’s life. Portraying McNamara was Lauren Orlando. During the portions of the miniseries where McNamara’s writings are being read, the narrator is Oscar nominee Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone).
The seven episodes of “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” were directed by Elizabeth Wolf (Mars), two time Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone), Myles Kane (Journey to Planet X), and John Koury (An Immortal Man). The series was released for streaming on the internet and premiered on HBO on June 28, 2020. Parts drama, crime, and mystery, it has a runtime of five hours and fifty-three minutes.
As mentioned, McNamara didn’t finish her book before she passed away. She wrote a great deal of it, including the prescient ending “Letter to an Old Man.” The reason why the book wasn’t finished was because she and Paul Haynes were granted access to all of the case files of a police department, that no one outside of members of law enforcement, who worked on the case, had seen before. There were discussions between McNamara and her publisher as to whether or not she should hold off on finishing the book until she had a chance to see what the files contained. In the end it was decided that McNamara should review the files, to see if they could help lead, when compared to what she already knew, to the possible identify of The Golden State Killer.
McNamara’s book is perhaps the best true crime book I’ve ever read, with one possible exception. The exception being the late journalist and author Phillip Carlo’s book “The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez,” which was published in 1996 by Kensington. For those who read McNamara’s book and found it as absorbing as I did, this miniseries will probably hold your interest from beginning to end. Viewers who are interested in true crime, will likely find that “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” provides great insight into what motivated McNamara to keep pursuing her quest, as well as the events which led to the eventual capture and conviction of The Golden State Killer.