(Given the nature of the crimes please expect some facts in this write up that you may find upsetting)
The minute the Golden State Killer was apprehended social media went into melt down. The timing of his arrest, after all these years, was surely related to the publication of Michelle McNamara’s book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, this year? Michelle’s amateur quest to identify this dark force, this apparently long forgotten serial killer, was put out in a book in 2018 following articles and a blog that had previously detailed her quest. Tragically though Michelle had died before the book was finalised, before it was published and before the 72 year old Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested for several of the murders that form part of his chilling crime series. She died tragically young leaving a young daughter. But she definitely left a legacy. And her book was out of stock within days!
I, of course, being a true crime fan, jumped on the band wagon and was fortunate enough to find one of the last copies in my area, having gone out hunting! By the end of that day Waterstones were tweeting saying the book was out of stock and had gone for a reprint! There are few things that capture the imagination more than a serial killer. Seriously few books have an impact on me that sees me checking that the back door is locked. This one did. This one scared me a bit. This one was real.
To put it into perspective, as Michelle does, at the time the Golden State Killer was active in Sacramento there were four other serial rapists. Or was it five. Crazy numbers. Can you imagine the terror of living in that area. One of the serial rapists was arrested and put to trial. His lawyer argued that the chances that he would have a fair trial in the state were negligible because of how many serial rapists there were at work. Likely many people were scared and would judge accordingly.
Michelle clearly explains the reason for this strange phenomena. No DNA evidence. There was no such thing!
So these rapists were free to roam the streets and leave their fluids everywhere.
The Golden State Killer started off raping. He clearly stalked his prey, and watched, sat waiting until the time was right. One victim spoke of how she would get anonymous phone calls at every house she babysat at. Others spoke of suspicious incidents in the weeks leading up to the attacks, footprints in the garden, a nightie gone missing, someone watching. The Golden State Killer (or East Area Rapist EAR – as the police coined him, Golden State Killer is Michelle’s name for him) moved onto murder and moved onto targeting couples. Getting the female victim to tie up her partner and often balancing crockery on his back explaining that if he moved she would be killed. The female was then taken to another room and raped.
Both bodies were often found over the coming days by an unsuspecting family member or estate agent.
Michelle details the crimes in this fascinating, genuinely, book. She talks about her quest to find details out, her work to unearth evidence, her overwhelming enthusiasm 30 years later to bring this man to justice.
I really enjoyed this book. Michelle presents the facts clearly but without drama. What drama do such facts need? She clearly has spoken to many people in her investigations including family members who will, surely, have been glad to have had someone pushing this case forward. She travels to pursue leads and speak to witnesses. She speaks to many investigators in the case including those that have inherited the case today. The initial investigators are of course all retired now.
These rapes and murders happened in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the last murder being in 1986. Since that time the identification of DNA was invented. It was interesting to read how DNA is treated in the USA and I think I am right to say that there is no national database. Trying to find a suspect is like trying to find a needle in a haystack in a country the size of America.
I’m not sure how much of an impact Michelle’s work will have had in identifying Joseph James DeAngelo but it is clear that she helped keep this case alive, it is clear that she was an expert in this case and it has certainly ensured that I will be watching the news with baited breath to as the case develops. This book never ends with an answer, Michelle doesn’t pretend she thinks she knows who did it, she knows the answers lie with the DNA. Though she does suggest a likely vocation for the suspect would have been cop. And he was one.
As her husband, Patton Oswald, says with regard to the impact Michelle had on the case, the police may reject her contribution but everytime they refer to him as The Golden State Killer they recognise her work loud and clear!
A great book, if you can get your hands on it, and we’re just at the start of working out who this guy actually is.