I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara
A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer – the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised 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.
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.
This scary and yet oh so fascinating book, is journalist Michelle McNamara’s personal investigation into the ‘golden state killer’. The author has meticulously trawled through thousands of documents, in an attempt to learn more details that may indicate who the killer terrorising the state is. It is worth noting that the writer sadly passed away during the writing of the book. Therefore, the book has been constructed by those who assisted her with her investigation. I think this important to note, as the timeline often jumps around the decades. But the main consensus of her findings is all included.
The book has an introduction by crime fiction author Gillian Flynn and an afterword by the authors husband, actor Patton Oswalt. Both shine a light on the author behind the novel. Both have incredible admiration for her drive and ambition to see justice served. There is a powerful letter to the killer from Michelle at the end and you get the distinct impression, she was one hell of a woman! If anything, ever happened to me, I would hope that the investigator had Michelle’s quest for justice.
The book opens with a map of the attacks and a list of investigators and victims. The author has predominantly put the victims at the heart of this book. This gives them a voice that I have rarely seen in true crime. Too often the focus is solely on the psychology of the killer and the criminal activities are in danger of being sensationalised. What Michelle has done, is show you the true horror of the crimes whilst maintaining you never forget the victims he left behind in his wake.
The golden state killer was previously known as the east area rapist. Where he carried out 50+ sexual assaults. The rapes take place in an organised and often controlled manner. Which makes them even more frightening. After one specific assault, where the perpetrator is chased by a neighbour (an FBI agent) he turns to murder. The murders offer him a way to silence his victims forever.
The development to serial rapist to serial killer is fully explored.
The book focuses on different cases individually. The one that stuck in my mind early on, was the murder of Manuela. The aftermath of survivor’s guilt for her husband is laid bare. How do you ever get your life back after such an awful crime has occurred? How do you accept no closure or justice? The crime is detailed further in the book, it is horrific and the very stuff of all women’s nightmares.
“Good criminalists are human scanners”
The killer then adapts his usual attacks of focusing solely on the female victims, to attacking couples. Sometimes even with their children present in the home.
Do not read this, late at night!
What makes this book so terrifying, is that it is all real.
These are real crimes and the killer is still at large.
With the killer adapting to couples, we are walked through the case of Patty & Keith. There was no DNA evidence available at the time of the murders and this allowed the killer to evade justice for so long. Eventually committing heinous crimes over several decades. With the introduction of DNA evidence, comes the matching up of the cases. But it doesn’t lead to any matches in the CODIS system, not even a familial match!
For Michelle McNamara the unsolved case became an obsession. It took over her life and became a vocation. No one wanted justice for these victims more than Michelle. The book details why Michelle was so obsessed by unsolved crimes. The case from her childhood that she has never forgotten, that would lead to her desire to put the golden state killer behind bars.
“I need to see his face.
He loses his power when we know his face”
I am a huge fan of various crime shows such as criminal minds or law & order special victims unit. But they never prepare you for true crime documentary’s or non-fiction books that explore all the darker angles of the criminal’s deviant crimes. The golden state killer had a commitment to reconnaissance. He was known to taunt the police and goad the victims, even decades after rape took place. There is one specific call he makes to a victim, which is detailed in the book. I don’t think I will ever forget the horror he fully intended the victim to feel.
There are other comments muttered to victims during assaults that are just as vile.
“Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark” – To a 16yr old victim, believed to be a case of mistaken identity.
The toll the case took on the investigators is debated, and they are named throughout. The author wanted people to see how many hours of investigation went into this case and yet it led it led to nowhere. The various investigators have an in-depth profile of the killer. Which I can only imagine must be incredibly frustrating to them. To go on and on, not getting a face to the name.
“The typical rapist does not have such elaborate schemes” – Carol Daly
There is so many themes discussed it would be impossible for me to list them all within this review. The development of forensics and by whom, is given a spotlight. The psychology of the rapist is also debated amongst professionals. Why is the killer so controlled? Is it dominance and power he seeks?
But still the killer persists to taunt the police…
“I’m the east area rapist I have my next victim stalked and you guys can’t catch me”
The story of young victim Janelle Cruz, Is truly heart-breaking. A girl that had already known abuse and neglect. Her life snuffed out, like it didn’t even matter.
“Nothing signals terror like a teenage girls wild, unrestrained scream in the night”
Similarly, the case of mother and daughter Debbi & Cheri Domingo. The mother Cheri and daughter Debbi, rarely got along and had the usual teen and mother drama of arguments. But when Cheri is taken far too early from Debbi. It will have an everlasting effect on Debbi’s young life, leading to addiction issues etc. I think this is something often overlooked in most true crime stories. The impact of the crimes on the surviving family members. I can not imagine a coping mechanism that ever prepares you for the news; these families received.
The identification of the golden state killer is further complicated by other killers who were known to have operated within the same area. For example, the night stalker Richard Ramirez 1984-1985. These cases were often similar and of the same savagery.
Although this book has given me several sleepless nights. It is a more than a worthy read. It is important for our society to put a face to victims of such heinous crimes. To force the justice system to ensure women are safe in the street and in their homes.
Highly recommended 4*
Website – True Crime Diary