10 min read ⌚
One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the story of the Golden State Killer and one woman’s obsession to identify him.
And it’s fascinating from cover to cover.
And even beyond that.
Who Should Read “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”? And Why?
Do you like CSI shows or books related to true crimes?
Well, let’s just say that we have no doubt that I’ll Be Gone in the Dark will probably be one of your favorites.
But, don’t trust our word for it: be sure to read it as soon as possible
Michelle McNamara Biography
Michelle McNamara was an American crime blogger and freelance writer.
After graduating from the University of Notre Dame and earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, McNamara launched her website, True Crime Diary, where she shared with the world her fascination with serial murderers, especially the Golden State Killer.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was supposed to be her debut book; unfortunately, it ended up being her only book: McNamara died in her bed on April 21, 2016, just a week after her 46th birthday.
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark PDF Summary”
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is one of the most chilling books you’ll read this year – or any other year, for that matter.
In it, Michelle McNamara goes on a personal quest to identify the Golden State Killer, a guy you know by that name precisely because of her efforts. (Before this book was published, McNamara penned quite a few related articles for the Los Angeles Magazine, in which she coined the name.)
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark chronicles not only the three separate crime sprees of the Golden State Killer (Part 1) but also McNamara’s efforts to find out as much as she can about him (Part 2).
McNamara died before being able to finish the book and discover the identity of the Golden State Killer; however, that’s not where the book ends.
And this is not only because Michelle’s lead researcher, Paul Haynes, and investigative journalist Billy Jensen prepared I’ll Be Gone in the Dark for its release by compiling the rest of McNamara’s notes and adding a third part to the book.
Read ahead to find out what we mean.
Part One: The Murderer with Three Names
The Original Night Stalker (October 1979 – May 1986)
The book begins with an exploration of the deaths of Patrice Harrington (on August 19, 1980) and Manuela Witthuhn (on February 6, 1981) – both in Orange County.
Criminalist Jim White (of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department) notices strange similarities between the murders.
Both Patrice and Manuela were about the same age (27-28) and recently married; in the case of Patrice, her three years younger husband, Keith Eli Harrington, was also with her, murdered as well; Manuela’s was hospitalized, and she had been alone on the night of the murder.
Both Patrice and Manuela were bound, raped, and bludgeoned to death; most conspicuously, in both cases, the killer had stolen a small and trivial object of personal value to the victims and taken the murder weapon with him.
In time, Mary Hong and Larry Pool – the former a criminologist, the latter a sex-crimes detective – join Jim White and the three discover DNA evidence linking the three murders.
Soon, the investigation discovers three other cases that may be related.
On October 1, 1979, an intruder tried to murder a Goleta couple; fortunately, the attempt failed after the wife’s scream alarmed a neighbor, an FBI agent. The couple provided a description: a 5’9” man in his thirties with blonde hair.
Two days before the start of 1980, Dr. Robert Offerman, a 44-year-old osteopathic surgeon, and his wife, Alexandria Manning, 35 years old, were killed in a manner very similar to Patrice and Manuela: tied and shot dead.
And on March 13, 1980, another couple, Charlene and Lyman Smith, were bludgeoned to death after being bound with drapery cord; Charlene had been raped before.
Years after the connection between the murders was made, the murderer stroke again, killing a troubled teenager by the name of Janelle Lisa Cruz on May 4, 1986.
The East Area Rapist (June 1976 – July 1979)
At the time, nobody knew that the murderer of Patrice and Manuela – known to the local area residents as the Night Stalker, but after Richard Ramirez’s murders renamed the Original Night Stalker – had a previous criminal history.
Or, better yet, many knew, but they used a different name to tell that story.
Namely, between 1976 and 1979, a guy dubbed the East Area Rapist terrorized Sacramento, with over 50 attacks during that period.
He started in 1976 by stalking middle-class neighborhoods late at night and trying to discover alone women in one-story homes, usually near open spaces which would provide him a quick escape.
In time, however, the East Area Rapist changed his preference for couples, breaking in their houses through windows or sliding doors and waking them up with a flashlight while threatening them with a handgun.
The rest of the modus operandi was, more or less, the same as the one practiced by the Original Night Stalker.
First, he would ask the wife to tie her husband, after which he would tie the woman himself.
Afterward, he would separate the two, dragging the woman to an adjacent room where he would rape her repeatedly and unhurriedly.
In fact, the Rapist often spent hours in the home, drinking beer and eating food in the kitchen or ransacking drawers and closets for some personal items of little value.
After some time, the East Area Rapist would leave the house, his victims uncertain whether he has due to his leisurely and silent presence before.
Even though the Rapist always wore a mask – usually a ski mask – many identify him as a young man with a round face, wide eyes and a broad mouth.
The Visalia Ransacker (April 1974 – December 1975)
But that’s a description and an MO already familiar to some officers from Visalia P.D., as detective Richard Shelby – who is assigned with the case of the Eastern Area Rapist – learns from his colleagues.
Namely, between April 1974 and December 1975, a baby-faced man burglarized over 120 homes and committed at least one murder in Visalia, California.
The strange thing: he ignored almost everything valuable, stealing only coins and personal items of low value.
Richard Shelby and his partner, Carol Daly, are almost sure that Visalia was the training ground for the East Area Rapist of Sacramento.
They still don’t know that Sacramento was the training ground for the murder spree of the Original Night Stalker in Santa Barbara and Orange County.
In 1997, Paul Holes, a criminologist from Contra Costa County, creates a profile of the Original Night Stalker.
Three years later, Larry Pool of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, notices similarities between some of the murders and the rapes.
The next year, Holes and Mary Hong realize that the DNA of the Contra Costa County attacks matches the one of the Original Night Stalker.
In April 2001, the police informed the media of the connection, and on April 5, 2001, an article is published in the Sacramento Bee magazine confirming what many had been suspecting for the past few years.
Namely, that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker are one and the same person.
Just one day later, a victim of the East Are Rapist receives an eerie phone call.
“Remember when we played?”
That’s everything she hears before the caller hangs up.
Part Two: McNamara’s Journey
A decade later, McNamara, a crime blogger obsessed with serial killers, starts investigating the murders.
She collects theories related to the identity of the man referred to as the East Area Rapist-Original Night Stalker (or EAR-ONS, for short).
Soon, she starts publishing articles in the Los Angeles Magazine, dubbing the EAR-ONS the Golden State Killer.
During her investigation, she meets with the Kid and the Social Worker, pseudonyms of two people who are part of an internet group devoted to discovering the identity of the Golden State Killer.
McNamara also meets with Richard Shelby, Larry Pool, and Paul Holes who tell her everything she needs to know about the Golden State Killer, as well as about the different tactics the police use to eliminate suspects and close in to the murderer.
Paul Holes even takes Michelle on a tour of a few murder sites, pointing out to her possible places of entry and escape the Golden State Killer might have used.
Using this knowledge, McNamara theorizes that the killer might have been originally from Goleta and that he might have had a military background.
In addition, she hypothesizes that he might have lived in Sacramento and gone to the California State University there, since, as she notes, his murders seem as if to follow an “academic schedule.”
Part Three: The Ending that Wasn’t Written
On April 21, 2016, Michelle McNamara died in her bed in her family’s home in Los Angeles, California. Her death was attributed to the mixing of multiple drugs.
She was only 46 at the time of her death.
She never got to finish her book.
That’s why Paul Haynes – aka the Kid from the book – and Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist, decided to write the third part of the book.
In it, they describe the full extent of McNamara’s obsession and her investigative work, analyzing her geographic profiling maps, theories about the identity of the killer, and many other of the 3,500 documents in Michelle’s hard drive.
(Her obsession with the Golden State Killer and her desire to find him is once again highlighted by Patton Oswalt, Michelle’s husband, in the afterward of the book.)
The third part of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark ends with an e-mail Michelle had sent to her editor in the final month of 2013, stating her optimism about new developments in the case and her wish to turn her readers into detectives.
“If the challenge here, or perceived weakness,” she writes, “is that the unsolved aspect will leave readers unfulfilled, why not turn that on its head and use it as a strength? I have literally hundreds of pages of analyses from both back in the day, and more recently—geo-profiles, analysis of footwear, days of the week he attacked, etc. One idea I had was to include some of those in the book, to offer the reader the chance to play detective.”
Haynes and Jensen swear to not stop the investigation until getting the Killer’s name.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark ends with a strange Epilogue subtitled “Letter to an Old Man,” in which McNamara addresses the Golden State Killer.
“One day soon, she ends it, “you’ll hear a car pull up to your curb, an engine cut out. You’ll hear footsteps coming up your front walk.”
“Like they did for Edward Wayne Edwards, twenty-nine years after he killed Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew, in Sullivan, Wisconsin. Like they did for Kenneth Lee Hicks, thirty years after he killed Lori Billingsley, in Aloha, Oregon.”
McNamara ends her letter to the Golden State Killer with a few sentences which will undoubtedly give you goosebumps:
Walk into the light.
The doorbell rings.
No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell.
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.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark Epilogue
You may wonder why we chose to summarize the epilogue above and not in the section titled “Epilogue.”
Well, that’s because this book has an epilogue in reality.
Published on February 27, 2018, McNamara’s book reignited interest in the Golden State Killer. Just two months later, HBO bought the rights for it and announced the development of a documentary series.
The filming began on April 24, 2018, two years after the accidental suicide of McNamara, almost to the day.
That very same night, at a promotional event in Illinois, Patton Oswalt, Michelle’s husband, told the audience that he believes the Golden State Killer will soon be caught.
“He’s running out of time,” he concluded.
The very next morning, the Sacramento Police announced the arrest of the 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer in Auburn and Exeter, California.
James’ DNA matched the one of the Golden State Killer.
He was not just a suspect.
He was the murderer.
“You did it, Michelle,” Oswalt told his Instagram followers soon after. “Even though the cops are never going to say it, but your book helped get this thing closed.”
Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark Quotes”That’s what we do. All of us. We make well-intentioned promises of protection we can’t always keep. I’ll look out for you. Click To Tweet He loses his power when we know his face. Click To Tweet I love reading true crime, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that, as a reader, I am actively choosing to be a consumer of someone else’s tragedy. Click To Tweet He's the fake shark in Jaws, barely seen so doubly feared. Click To Tweet What is the lasting damage when you believe the warm spot you were just sleeping in will be your grave? Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was deemed the best book of the last year by so many magazines and authors that there’s, really, no reason to list them here.
“What readers need to know—what makes this book so special—is that it deals with two obsessions, one light and one dark,” wrote Stephen King. “The Golden State Killer is the dark half; Michelle McNamara’s is the light half. It’s a journey into two minds, one sick and disordered, the other intelligent and determined. I loved this book.”
King also described the book as a “brilliant genre-buster,” a feeling shared by just about anyone.
Including us: this book is unputdownable and brilliant.
We can’t recommend it enough.