It’s indisputable that Michelle McNamara had a passion for true crime. She ran the popular blog, True Crime Diary, in which she wrote profound true crime articles, predominantly about missing persons and unsolved murders. She had a mind for detail. She referred to herself as a “citizen sleuth” meaning that she wasn’t in a law enforcement career nor was she a private investigator but she was drawn to crime and conducted her own investigation and research with the sources that were available to her.
In a 2007 interview, she said that she initially created the blog as a hobby; something to fill her time: “I think what’s interesting about them is there’s more stuff to be unearthed that hasn’t been in the public yet and you can do it.”
She was a mother to Alice and a wife to the comedian and writer, Patton Oswalt. The couple met in 2003 at one of his comedy shows. They went on several dates and bonded over their fascination of true crime.
She was practically a true crime encyclopaedia and could easily retain information about each and every case she researched. There was one case, however, that never left her mind: The Golden State Killer, also commonly known as The Original Night Stalker and The East Area Rapist.
As a matter of fact, it was actually McNamara who coined the nickname “The Golden State Killer,” hoping that a catchier moniker would draw much-needed attention to the case. “One of the uncomfortable truths about tracking and catching serial killers is, marketing matters,” she said. She believed that the nickname “The Original Night Stalker” was easily confused with Richard Ramirez, the sadistic serial killer who terrorized California between 1984 and 1985. The media dubbed Ramirez “The Night Stalker.”
To make matters even more confusing, The Golden State Killer was generally identified on the internet as EAR/ONS. “It’s clumsy. This guy benefited from not having a name people knew,” she said.
The Golden State Killer’s crime spree started in 1976 with a rape in Rancho Cordova, California, and finished 10 years later with a murder in Irvine, Orange County, California. Between 1976 and 1979, the unidentified sadist attacked and raped almost 50 women in California. He would gain access to their home in the dead of the night by prying open a window or a door. Once inside, he’d shine a flashlight into the eyes of the sleeping resident. If a man was present, he would be tied up first and the unidentified man would place plates on his back, telling him that if he moved, the plates would rattle and he would “kill everything in the house.”
The man of the house would be forced to listen to his wife being raped in the room next door.
In 1977, investigators held a series of town hall meetings in regards to the sexual assaults. During one, a man stood up and exclaimed that if the masked rapist ever came to his house, he would kill him to protect his wife. Just several months later, that man and his wife were attacked. The serial–rapist was seemingly at that very meeting – a truly chilling thought.
Seemingly unsatisfied, he switched up his modus operandi and turned to murder. Between 1979 and 1986, he murdered at least twelve men and women and attempted to murder one more. The crimes associated with The Golden State Killer were particularly gruesome. Most victims would be bound with wire or rope and then the woman of the house would be raped. When the killer was finished, he would either shoot or bludgeon his victims to death. In May of 1986, 18-year-old Janelle Cruz became the last victim. She was bludgeoned with such force that her mouth was completely obliterated; she swallowed her own teeth.
The killer would periodically call his surviving-victims on the phone and taunt them. The police would later release several of these bone-chilling phone calls in the hopes that somebody would recognise his voice. In one, he can he heard breathing very heavily down the line before whispering: “I’m gonna kill you,” over and over again.
While law enforcement knows his DNA profile, they still have not been successful in matching it to a suspect.
Michelle McNamara knew that the case needed more recognition if she ever wanted to see it solved. Examining police reports, interviewing victims and family members, and embedding herself into the online community that was as obsessed with the case as she was, Michelle started to write an investigative book on the case titled “I’ll Be Gone in The Dark.” She signed her first book deal with Harper Collins.
She always hoped for a Hollywood ending. She anticipated that one day, she could finally identify the elusive killer. Fate had a different plan, however, and Michelle tragically passed away on the 14th of April, 2016, before she had the chance to complete her book. While wearing herself out desperately attempting to close in on the killer, Michelle accidentally overdosed on a combination of Adderall, Xanax and Fentanyl. One could say that Michelle was The Golden State Killer’s final victim.
Her autopsy concluded that she also suffered from an undiagnosed heart condition which played a part in her death. She was just 46-years-old.
It didn’t take Michelle’s husband long to reach the decision that all of his wife’s hard-work wouldn’t be in vain. The book had consumed her life and it was a very big part of her. He decided that it needed to be finished and her hard work recognised. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to complete the book alone so enlisted the help of her lead researcher, Paul Haynes, as well as her colleague, Billy Jensen. “One of the things I could like more than anything is to be able to bring it across the finish line. Michelle’s work could well be the key to finally identifying the Golden State Killer,” said Jensen.1
In a Facebook post about the book, Oswalt said he hopes the book will lead to the apprehension of The Golden State Killer. “I can’t help feeling that somewhere, in her final pages, she left enough clues for someone to finish the job she couldn’t – to put California’s worst serial killer behind bars.”
Michelle had hoped that too. In a letter to the killer that is included at the end of “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” she addresses him directly and tells him that his as an innocent man is nearly up:
“This is how it ends for you.
“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,” you threatened a victim once.
Open the door. Show us your face.
Walk into the light.”
Otto Radio now has Michelle McNamara’s revolutionary book, “I’ll Be Gone in The Dark,” with an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by Patton Oswalt. Not only is the book a haunting insight into one of America’s most notorious unidentified serial killers but it also offers a portrayal of one woman’s obsession and tireless pursuit for truth and for justice.
Can you crack the case? Listen now to find out.