Friday, May 4, 2018

Books: On the Hunt For The "Golden State Killer"

I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer
By Michelle McNamara
Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, $27.99

For over ten years in Northern California, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults before he took his rampage to the southern part of the state, 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, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer."

McNamara pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

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.

The foreword to I'll Be Gone In The Dark is by author Gillian Flynn and the afterword is by McNamara's husband, actor Patton Oswalt.
Utterly original and compelling, it has been hailed as a modern true crime classic, one which fulfilled Michelle's dream of helping to unmask the Golden State Killer.

At the time of the crimes in the 1970s and '80s, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic, to the point where he was capable of vaulting tall fences.

After he chose his victims, he often entered their homes when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layouts. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them.

Though they could not recognize him since he always wore a mask, his victims recalled his voice, which was a gutteral whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

McNamara wrote of why this particular case captured her attention, "I've written about hundreds of unsolved crimes, from chloroform murders to killer priests. The Golden State Killer, though, has consumed me the most. In addition to fifty sexual assaults in Northern California, he was responsible for ten sadistic murders in Southern California. Here was a case that spanned a decade and ultimately changed DNA law in the state. Neither the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized San Francisco in the late 1960s and early '70s, nor the Night Stalker, who had Southern Californians locking their windows in the '80s, were as active. Yet the Golden State Killer has little recognition. He didn't have a catchy name until I coined one. He attacked in different jurisdictions across California that didn't always share information or communicate well with each other. By the time DNA testing revealed that crimes previously thought to be unrelated were the work of one man, more than a decade had passed since his last known murder, and his capture wasn't a priority. He flew under the radar, at large and unidentified.

"But still terrorizing his victims. In 2001 a woman in Sacramento answered her phone in the same house where she'd been attacked twenty-four years earlier. 'Remember when we played?' a man whispered. She recognized the voice immediately. His words echo something he said in Stockton, when the couple's six-year-old daughter got up to use the bathroom and encountered him in the hallway. He was about twenty feet away, a man in a brown ski mask and black knit mittens who was wearing no pants. He had a belt on with some kind of sword on it. 'I'm playing tricks with your mom and dad,' he said. 'Come watch me.'

"The book for me was that the case seemed solvable. His debris field was both too big and too small, he'd left behind so many victims and abundant clues, but in relatively contained communities, making data mining potential suspects easier. The case dragged me under quickly. Curiosity turned to clawing hunger. I was on the hunt, absorbed by a click-fever that connected my propulsive tapping with a dopamine rush. I wasn't alone. I found a group of hard-core seekers who congregated on an online message board and exchanged clues and theories on the case. I set aside any judgments I might have had and followed their chatter, all twenty thousand posts and counting. I filtered out creeps with iffy motives and concentrated on the true pursuers. Occasionally a clue, like the image of a decal from a suspicious vehicle seen near an attack, would appear on the message board, a bit of crowdsourcing by overworked detectives who were still trying to solve the case.

"I didn't consider him a ghost. My faith was in human error. He made a mistake somewhere along the line, I reasoned."

McNamara's theory ultimately proved true, and her work was posthumously rewarded, as the Golden State Killer was arrested on Tuesday, April 24 and later identified as Joseph James DeAngelo, who is now 72. Authorities used genealogy web sites and a DNA sample also played a part in his arrest.

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