Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara
Genre: Non-fiction, true crime
My rating: ★★★★
A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.
“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.
At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.
A few acronyms I’ll be using in this review:
EAR = East Area Rapist. A serial rapist who hit the eastern areas of Sacramento in the 70’s.
ONS = Original Night Stalker. A serial rapist and murderer who hit the southern California area during the 70’s and 80’s. Not to be confused with Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker. The EAR and ONS is the same person, but it was unbeknownst at the time of the attacks.
GSK = Golden State Killer. This moniker was coined by the author, Michelle McNamara, for EAR/ONS. The EAR, ONS, and GSK are all the same person.
I am a huge true crime fan and spend most of my nights reading the subreddit r/unresolvedmysteries, so it’s no surprise I devoured this book. I’ve always been intrigued by the EAR/ONS case so imagine my surprise when the news broke earlier this year that he had finally been apprehended. Like, can you imagine a serial rapist and murderer who was known for raping over 50 people and killing at least 10 was living among us for DECADES!?
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was published in 2018, posthumously after Michelle McNamara passed away in her sleep in 2016. It painfully saddens me she never got to see the beautiful moment of the killer being brought to justice, but her endless research did not go unnoticed.
This book closely focuses on the victims and starts with the attacks in the eastern Sacramento area in the 1970’s. At the time law enforcement thought the EAR was only hitting certain neighborhoods, but then his MO evolved: instead of rapes, he was also murdering his victims (sometimes couples) in the southern California area.
I can’t even imagine the fear everyone felt at the time. The killer was hiding in plain sight: he would stare directly into the victim’s windows, follow them to real estate open houses, and hide in their yards waiting for them to go to sleep. He used basic tools to break into homes and did very little to conceal himself.
And despite the mounting evidence, it was impossible to catch him even when DNA analysis started to become “a thing”. EAR/ONS was profiled as someone who probably came from a straight-laced family, meaning they didn’t get in trouble with the law (therefore their DNA wasn’t in the system), and they were probably financially stable and well educated.
What I loved most about this book was how thorough Michelle was in her research. And she was also very transparent about how her obsession affected her family. But it’s amazing how far she went to find out about each suspect. She purchased old cuff links which she thought belonged to the killer. She even tracked down a year book of a potential suspect because she heard the killer had large calves and she wanted to see who fit that description in the year book.
I could go on and on about this case. It is amazing how much DNA science has evolved. Familial DNA was what caught Joseph James DeAngelo this year. I heard that the co-authors are working on adding an updated edition. But don’t quote me on that one. I’m sure the trial (if there will be one) is going to be insane.
As for my rating, I did remove a star as there were times the non-linear format got a little confusing, but overall this is such a thrilling read that I highly recommend to crime fans.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was read during week 1 of #FridayFrightAThon. Each week in October we are picking up a new thriller! We will be discussing each book using the hashtag #FridayFrightAThon on Twitter and Bookstagram.