I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One woman's search for the Golden State Killer, coming to Sky and Now TV from HBO

If you are a fan of true crime but you are yet to hear the name Michelle McNamara, you’re in for an eye-opening experience with the TV adaption of her groundbreaking book. HBO has made a six-part series based on her publication I’ll be Gone in the Dark – Michelle’s own search for one of the United State’s most dangerous yet mysterious perpetrators. She wrote the book as her own personal true crime diary – about a man only known by nicknames including the Visalia Ransacker, EAR (East Area Rapist) and ONS (Original Night Stalker).

Michelle’s own moniker for him, the Golden State Killer, is the one that’s stuck – describing the man who murdered at least 13 people, in their own homes, in the dead of night across southern California.

Michelle McNamara

Remember how the podcast series Serial helped to dig up new evidence in the Adnan Syeed case? Well, McNamara’s research helped to catch a serial killer that had eluded the authorities for almost 40 years.

From HBO and directed by Academy Award nominee Liz Garbus, the six-part series, executive produced by Michelle’s husband Patton Oswalt, also offers survivors and their families a voice after so many years of silence.

Patton Oswalt and Michelle McNamara

Who is the Golden State Killer and what did he do? The Golden State Killer terrorised his victims through the 1970s and 80s. He is known to have committed at least 13 murders and 50 rapes spanning six California counties over two decades.

It started in 1973 with a bunch of house burglaries – a man locals called the Visalia Ransacker. He would break into his victims’ homes by prying open a window or door while they slept.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

But his crimes soon escalated into rapes and murders along the California coast. His other nicknames, EAR and ONS, were coined due to the locations of the crimes – such as the East Bay area of Northern California.

As well as his heinous crimes, he would also steal jewelry, identification, cash and coins from the victims’ homes. He would often target couples and silence the man with a gun before stacking plates on his back and  threatening to kill the wife if he heard them move. He would then rape the wife in another room, sometimes within earshot of the victims’ children.

Who is Michelle McNamara?

Michelle, her husband Patton and their daughter Alice

Michelle became obsessed with ‘EARONS’ (this is what the true crime online world referred to him as) after finding out that, despite his crimes, there was little information about him. In 2006, McNamara launched her website TrueCrimeDiary – and the man later branded the Golden State Killer was the main focus for many armchair sleuths, and she soon realised she was not alone with her obsession.

She linked up with other citizen detectives, such as Billy Jensen and Paul Haynes, creating bonds with them before pooling their wealth of information – and they slowly started to paint a picture of the killer by linking his many crimes. McNamara also kept law enforcement officers, including Rt Det Larry Crompton from Contra Costa County, and Rt Det Richard Shelby from Sacramento – who had previously worked on the case – up to date with her work.

Michelle McNamara

A breakthrough came when McNamara came up with the idea of using the killer’s DNA profile – which had been sat unused in evidence for years – on a genealogy site to track down potential relatives.

“The amazing thing about this DNA technology is every three months it keeps getting better,” said Michelle. “Within a year we will probably have the family tree.” Despite her incredible detective work, as you will see in the series – which airs on Now TV from August 30 – the personal consequences of Michelle’s obsession to catch the killer were grave.

As revealed in the programme, the Golden State Killer indirectly made Michelle his victim too. Her book, based on her research, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, was released in February 2018. Its title is a reference to a direct quote spoken by the Golden State Killer to one of his victims: “You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

How was the Golden State Killer caught?

James Joseph DeAngelo makes his first appearance in court

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr has finally been unmasked as the Golden State Killer. He is a father of three daughters and grandfather of one grandaughter. Inspired by McNamara’s interest in genealogy and online DNA testing services, Paul Holes, Chief of Forensics in Contra Costa County, reconstructed the killer’s family tree with the help of genetic genealogist Barbara-Rae Venter.

DeAngelo was arrested on April 24, 2018 – a month after retiring – after authorities managed to track him down after using a free genealogy website, GEDmatch, using his DNA to find potential relatives. He later pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first degree murder and 50 rapes in a plea deal to escape the death penalty. A former Vietnam veteran and police officer, DeAngelo lost his job after being arrested for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent.

He was sentenced to six months probation before being sacked.

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He worked various jobs, including as a truck mechanic, but he somehow managed to stay under the radar for most his life. His name may not have been on Michelle’s list of suspects, but his profile was eerily similar to the one she had built up. Despite Michelle’s hard work, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones did not credit her directly.

He said: “It kept interest and tips coming in but other than that there was no information extracted from that book that directly led to the apprehension.” Members of DeAngelo’s family – who also appear on the show – claim that he was abused as a child and later witnessed a rape of a family member. Once law enforcement believed they finally knew the identity of the Golden State Killer after using the database, detectives went through DeAngelo’s bins to get a vital piece of DNA to compare it to.

Has the Golden State Killer been convicted? Yes. Joseph James DeAngelo told victims he was “truly sorry” before he was sentenced to life imprisonment for a decade-long string of rapes and murders across a wide swath of California.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman said 74-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo will die in prison for his guilty pleas to 13 murders and 13 rape-related charges between 1975 and 1986.

Joseph James DeAngelo looks away from the podium as the people who he victimised read out their victim impact statements

DeAngelo also publicly admitted dozens more sexual assaults for which the statute of limitations had expired. Before sentencing, DeAngelo rose from a wheelchair, took off his mask and said to the court: “I listened to all your statements, each one of them, and I’m truly sorry for everyone I’ve hurt.” He eluded capture for four decades until investigators used the DNA tracking to unmask and arrest him in 2018.

Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty, but settled for a life term given California’s moratorium on executions, the coronavirus pandemic, and the advancing age of DeAngelo, his victims, and witnesses they needed to make their case. Judge Bowman sentenced DeAngelo under a plea deal that called for him to be sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, plus 15 life terms with the possibility of parole and eight years for other enhancements. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara’s hunt for the Golden State Killer, is coming to NOW TV Entertainment Pass on August 30.

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