I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
By: Michelle McNamara
(**This review will reference the crimes committed by the Golden State Killer, which may be upsetting to some. If you feel like this may be the case for you, then you might want to pass on this book)
Published: February 27, 2018
From the Cover
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.
I will preface this review by saying I listened to this book as an audiobook. I have a love/hate relationship with audiobooks. There’s a part of me that aspires to be a true “audiobookie” that wants to claim, I am successful, sophisticated, and intellectual; I listen to audiobooks during my morning commute, when taking my dogs on a walk, cooking dinner, or shopping at Trader Joe’s. And then there’s the real me that gets distracted in between yelling at stupid drivers and weaving through traffic during my work commute, and the part of me that can’t part with listening to the new Florence & the Machine album on repeat.
This audiobook though. . . wow. I was enraptured. Crime novels seem to be my favorite and this one did not disappoint. I think listening to I’ll Be Gone instead of reading it made it even more resonant. Listening to the stories of victims, descriptions of crime scenes, and the notes from investigators scrambling to find answers to murders and rapes felt like I was watching the events transpire in real time over the evening news. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be alive–and living in California–during the GSK’s reign of terror. I probably would have moved.
One thing this novel highlights is the painstaking work McNamara did to hunt down the GSK. It is obvious from her notes that were compiled into this novel that this hunt consumed not only her work life but also her personal life. This novel is a combination of McNamara’s authorship and posthumous collection of her notes by her husband. She died at the age of 46 while writing this novel from an accidental overdose compounded by cardiovascular disease. While she was unable to identify the GSK while alive, it is believed her work helped not only keep the GSK in the attentions of investigators but also contributed to the eventual identification and arrest of the GSK only 2 years after her death.
This novel will rock you to your core. It is hard to comprehend this scale of crime could be anything but fiction. McNamara helped bring closure and comfort to so many families who had been threatened, traumatized, and irrevocably changed by the acts of a single man. Reading this book felt like an act of acknowledgment, Thank you Michelle, you did it.
GSK at a glance. The GSK’s name is Joseph James Deangelo. He is now 72 years old and is responsible for at least 13 murders, 50 rapes, and 100 burglaries between the years 1974-1986 throughout the state of California. He is a Vietnam War veteran and former police sergeant. He was married and has 3 daughters. He was identified the GSK DNA was uploaded from a rape kit to a genealogical website and was matched to 10-20 distant relatives. From there, a genealogist was able to narrow the GSK down to two suspects, one of whom was Deangelo. His DNA was confirmed to the GSK rape kit DNA after investigators took samples from a tissue in his home garbage, and his car door handle while he was shopping at Hobby Lobby. Deangelo was arrested days later. At this time, Deangelo has not entered a plea and the district attorney has not yet decided on whether or not to seek the death penalty. His next appearance in court will be in December.