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352 pages, ebook
First published February 27, 2018
“He loses his power when we know his face.”
“I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane.”
That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter’s playroom. For the most part I mimicked the bedtime routine of a normal person. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. But after my husband and daughter fell asleep, I’d retreat to my makeshift workspace and boot up my laptop, that fifteen-inch-wide hatch of endless possibilities…I rarely moved but I leaped decades with a few keystrokes. Yearbooks. Marriage certificates. Mug shots. I scoured thousands of pages of 1970s-era police files. I pored over autopsy reports. That I should do this surrounded by a half-dozen stuffed animals and a set of miniature pink bongos didn’t strike me as unusual. I’d found my searching place, as private as a rat’s maze. Every obsession needs a room of its own. Mine was strewn with coloring paper on which I’d scribbled down California penal codes in crayon. - from the prologueI’ll Be Gone in the Dark is not just a tale of a decade-long crime spree, of a maddeningly elusive peeper, burglar, rapist, and murderer. It is not only a tale of obsession, as the author, and others with her particular inclination, bury themselves in the forensic, statistical, genetic, and geographical trail left by this relentless offender. It is a story as well of how some dedicated active and retired police, and private citizens worked hand in hand to try to track down a homicidal monster. It is also a story of the impact that monster had on the communities he terrorized and on how advances in technology over several decades shortened the distance between suspicion and apprehension.
[Her] fascination with the grisly began when she was just 14, when a young woman named Kathleen Lombardo, whom McNamara knew from church, was murdered while jogging a block and a half away from McNamara’s home in Oak Park, Illinois. The man who slit Lombardo’s throat was never found. McNamara would be forever haunted by what she’d later describe as “the specter of that question mark where the killer’s face should be.” - From Vulture articleShe takes us along with her, introducing readers to three general groups of people, the victims, the professional investigators, and her small band of amateur sleuths. These are not deep profiles, but we are given enough about each to understand their roles in the ongoing drama, and their motivation.
falling for a suspect is a lot like the first surge of blind love in a relationship. Focus narrows to a single face. The world and its practical sounds are a wan soundtrack to the powerful silent biopic you’re editing in your mind at all times. No amount of information on the object of your obsession is enough. You crave more. Always more. You note his taste in shoes and even drive by his house, courtesy of Google Maps. You engage in wild confirmation bias. You project. A middle-aged white man smiling and cutting a cake decorated with candles in a picture posted on Facebook isn’t celebrating his birthday, but holding a knife.As with the infamous Kitty Genovese incident in 1964, how people react not just to crime but to neighborhood security in general comes in for some scrutiny here.
That’s what we all do. All of us. We make well-intentioned promises of protection we can’t always keep.People did react in some ways. Sacramento saw a spate of residents trimming trees and uprooting bushes to deny cover to the GSK, installing floodlighting, reinforcing doors, sleeping with hammers under pillows, and buying thousands of guns. Victim support groups formed, some of the victimized men joining neighborhood patrols. Community safety meetings were packed. There were some positive impacts from GSK’s dark deeds, though.
I’ll look out for you.
But then you hear a scream and you decide it’s some teenagers playing around. A young man jumping a fence is taking a shortcut. The gunshot at three a.m. is a firecracker or a car backfiring. You sit up in bed for a startled moment. Awaiting you is the cold, hard floor and a conversation that may lead nowhere: you collapse onto your warm pillow, and turn back to sleep.
Sirens wake you later.
The case had a profound impact not just on fear and public safety in California, but also on the way that rapes were investigated and how rape victims were treated, said Carol Daly, a detective in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office at the time…Rape victims were seen and cared for faster, and pubic hair, scratches and other evidence were examined and preserved, she said. Rape kits were standardized. “Every victim went through the process,” she said. - From 4/25/18 – NY TIMES articleWhen my wife was reading this book, some time ago, she became a bit
He was a compulsive prowler and searcher. We, who hunt him, suffer from the same affliction. He peered through windows. I tap “return.” Return. Return. Click Mouse click, mouse click…The hunt is the adrenaline rush, not the catch. He’s the fake shark in Jaws, barely seen so doubly feared.McNamara died in her sleep, in April, 2016, at age 46, from a combination of drugs interacting with an undiagnosed medical condition that caused a blockage in her arteries. She had been stressed out from working on this book, putting in long hours and suffering anxiety and nightmares that kept her from sleeping. Her husband engaged researcher Paul Haynes and investigative journalist Billy Jensen to complete the book McNamara had worked on for so long, and with such dedication.
A week after Michelle’s death, we gained access to her hard drive and began exploring her files on the Golden State Killer. All 3,500 of them. That was on top of dozens of notebooks, the legal pads, the scraps of paper, and thousands of digitized pages of police reports. And the thirty-seven boxes of files she had received from the Orange County prosecutor, which Michelle lovingly dubbed the Mother Lode.The GSK burglarized more than 120 homes, raped dozens of women, killed at least ten people, and at least one dog during the 1970s and 1980s. We do not know how many people he drove mad in their decades-long inability to find him, or how many lives were ruined as a result of his crimes. The good news is that in April 2018, only a few months after the publication of Michelle McNamara’s book, a 72-year-old man, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested, based on DNA evidence. The Golden State Killer is finally in jail. He had not killed anyone in thirty years, as far as we know, but it is in the nature of such sprees to have a strong impact long after the events themselves. Meg Gardiner, who grew up in Santa Barbara, in one of DeAngelos target neighborhoods, tells of the experience of terror during the period of the killer’s mayhem.
Yesterday my brother texted: “I have a different feeling driving around the neighborhood today. It was always in the back of my mind that he could still be living around here. In a weird way it feels safer.”So does Michelle McNamara’s work, her legacy, a major contribution to finally locking up a long-sought monster.
It does. The fear is gone. But the shadows remain.
I hope you got him, Michelle.— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 25, 2018
I hope THEY got him. #IllBeGoneInTheDark #MichelleMcNamara #stepintothelight https://t.co/ewq3NyCz56
The Written Review
Halloween is just around the corner and it's time for some spooky books - but which ones are worth your time? Check out this BookTube Video for answers!
The Golden State Killer began as a rapist and transitioned to a murderer - he reigned over California for over a decade...and then he just disappeared. Gone.
Open the door. Show us your face.
Walk into the light.
I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy.She ran a popular website - called TrueCrimeDiary.com - and soon her mere interest became an obsession.
He loses his power when we know his face.And so the search began.
I lamented to one of them that I felt I was grasping at straws.She chronicled her journey and the evidence she gathered in this book I'll Be Gone in the Dark but before she could publish, she died.
“My advice? Grasp a straw,” he said. “Work it to dust.”
He pointed a knife at her and issued a chilling warning: “Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.”Whew.
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"I love reading true crime, but I've always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else's tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane."
"We swim or sink against our deficits in life."
"He loses his power when we know his face."
I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. So like any responsible consumer, I try to be careful in the choices I make. I read only the best: writers who are dogged, insightful, and humane.
It was inevitable that I would find Michelle.
I’ve always thought the least appreciated aspect of a great true-crime writer is humanity. Michelle McNamara had an uncanny ability to get into the minds of not just the killers but the cops who hunted them, the victims they destroyed, and the trail of grieving relatives left behind.
He was brazen. Twice he entered homes, pressing on undeterred when he knew victims had spotted him and were frantically dialing the police. Children didn’t bother him. He never hurt them physically, but he would tie up the older ones and put them in another room. He put Jane’s toddler son on the bedroom floor during the attack. The boy fell asleep. When he awoke, he peered over the bed. The EAR had left. His mother lay bound in strips of torn towels and was gagged with a washcloth. He mistook the ligatures for bandages.
“Is the doctor gone?” he whispered.
It was a little after four a.m. when the first officer entered the opened rear patio door, hesitantly making his way toward the woman calling out to him. She lay face down on her living room floor, naked, her wrists and ankles tied behind her with shoelaces. A ski-masked stranger had just spent an hour and a half terrorizing Fiona and her husband. He brutally raped her. Fiona was five two, 110 pounds - a wisp of a woman. She was also a native Sacramentan, in possession of a dry, matter-of-fact manner, a clear-eyed resilience that belied her petite size.
“Well, I guess the East Area Rapist is the South Area Rapist now,” she said.
After spending enough hours with them, I’ve noticed a few things about detectives. They all smell vaguely of soap. I’ve never met a detective with greasy hair. They excel at eye contact and have enviable posture. Irony is never their go-to tone. Wordplay makes them uneasy. The good ones create long conversational vacuums that you reflexively fill, an interrogation strategy that proved to me through my own regrettable prattle how easily confessions can be elicited. They lack facial elasticity; or rather, they contain it. I’ve never met a detective who pulled a face. They don’t recoil or go wide-eyed. I’m a face maker. I married a comedian. Many of my friends are in show business. I’m constantly surrounded by big expressions, which is why I immediately noticed the lack of them in detectives. They maintain a pleasant but vigorous blankness that I admire. I’ve tried to imitate it, but I can’t. I came to recognize subtle but discernible shifts in the blankness - a narrowing of the eyes, a jaw squeeze, usually in response to hearing a theory they’ve long since eliminated. A veil comes down. But they’ll never tip their hand. They’ll never tell you, “We already looked into that angle ages ago.” Instead they’ll just absorb it and leave you with a polite “Huh.”
In their reserve and in virtually every other way, detectives differ from show-biz folks. Detectives listen. They’re getting a read. Entertainers get a read only to gauge their influence on a room. Detectives deal in concrete tasks. I once spent an hour listening to an actress friend analyze a three-line text that hurt her feelings. Eventually I’ll see the cracks in a detective’s veneer, but in the beginning their company is an unexpected relief, like fleeing a moodily lit cast party loud with competitive chatter and joining a meeting of determined Eagle Scouts awaiting their next challenge. I wasn’t a native in the land of the literal-minded, but I enjoyed my time there.
Most violent criminals smash through life like human sledgehammers. They have fists for hands and can’t plan beyond their sightlines. They’re caught easily. They talk too much. They return to the scene of the crime, as conspicuous as tin cans on a bumper. But every so often a blue moon surfaces. A snow leopard slinks by.