Editor's note: On Wednesday, authorities announced the arrest of a 72-year-old ex-cop in the Golden State Killer case that terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s. Sacramento police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, Sheriff Scott Jones announced at a news conference. The elusive killer is believed to have killed 12 people and raped 45.
Michelle McNamara, the late wife of Patton Oswalt, was fascinated by the case and wrote I'll Be Gone in the Dark about her search for the killer.
She died almost exactly two years ago on April 23, 2016. But with Oswalt's help, her book was published in February, stoking renewed interest in the Golden State Killer case.
Here is USA TODAY's review of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, first published on Feb. 26.
Michelle McNamara was an obsessive. She was also a damn good writer. That combustive mix has produced I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (Harper, 328 pp., ★★★ out of four), a dark page-turner about a serial rapist and killer with a tragic twist.
You wouldn't sleep either if you lived in the haunted world vividly described in Dark.
Between the mid-1970s and '80s, a man snuck into homes across California and committed upwards of 50 rapes and 10 murders. (The murder victims were both women and men.) Dubbed by local law enforcement the East Area Rapist — because many of his crimes happened in eastern Sacramento — he was never caught.
McNamara, a TV writer (and dedicated amateur criminologist who started the website True Crime Diaries), spent years tracking the killer, whom she dubbed the Golden State Killer, or GSK.
The author befriended equally obsessed cops, cased victims' homes to try and determine a pattern, and used the Internet to build an army of fellow Nancy Drews.
Frustrations abounded. A lack of technology in the '70s perhaps helped the killer get away; an abundance of modern crime-busting tech, foremost DNA testing, cleared the most promising suspects in recent years.
And still McNamara pressed on, like a mathematician obsessed with solving a theorem or an archaeologist bent on finding a lost civilization.
If there is a criticism about McNamara’s otherwise scintillating work, it's the book's disjointed structure. We rocket back to the past for the crimes, and zip to the present for the author’s conversations with experts. We race up and down the state of California incessantly.
The antidote, however, is McNamara’s poignant prose. You turn the pages just to see which revealing gem you’ll be presented with next.
Here's McNamara on a killer's mind: "He's the maltreated hero in the story. Staring up at him anguish-eyed is a rotating cast of terrified faces. His distorted belief system operates around a central, vampiric tenet."
And on her own growing obsession: "There's a scream permanently lodged in my throat now. When my husband, trying not to awaken me, tiptoed into our bedroom one night, I leaped out of bed, grabbed my nightstand lamp, and swung it at his head."
McNamara was with Oswalt for 13 years; but she lived with GSK.
While McNamara had assembled much of the book before her death, it was finished with the help of her lead researcher, Paul Haynes, and investigative journalist Billy Jensen, who gained access to their friend’s 3,500 computer files on the GSK case.
Despite her dogged sleuthing, McNamara did not identify the killer. Her two collaborators offer a solemn promise: “We will not stop until we get his name.”
In his afterword, Oswalt — who has agreed to undertake publicity duties for Dark — hints that the next generation of GSK sleuths may be close to home.
He describes the couple’s now 8-year-old daughter, Alice, opening a Christmas present that contained a digital camera. She was pleased with the gift, but something nagged.
“Later that morning, she asked, out of the blue, ‘Daddy, why do you and Santa Claus have the same handwriting?’
“Michelle Eileen McNamara is gone. But she left behind a little detective. And a mystery.”