‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’: Michelle McNamara, the Golden State Killer and a Portrait of Obsession

I'll Be Gone in the Dark

I generally avoid “true” crime books, as longtime Daily Mirror readers know, but I picked up “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” at the library out of passing interest.  LADailyMirror.com gets a small but steady amount of traffic from earonsgsk.proboards.com, which is devoted to the “Golden State Killer,” previously known as the “East Area Rapist” or “Original Night Stalker,” and naturally, I have wondered why.

The post drawing the traffic is from the “Parker Center Cop Shop Files” and concerns the unsolved killings of William C. Harber and Constance Thorn in June 1976. The general view on the board seems to be that the killings are unrelated to the “EAR/ONS/GSK” attacks, and I would agree, based on what little information I have.

“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” assembled after Michelle McNamara’s death and condensed from her writings, voluminous notes, massive files and interviews,  is a labor of love and a testament to McNamara’s husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, who is portrayed throughout the book as extremely supportive of his wife’s growing interest and eventual obsession with the case.

Because it was compiled and reconstructed after McNamara died in 2016, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” needs to be judged on a different scale than if it were completed by a living author: It rambles greatly and contains digressions that would presumably be blue-penciled under other circumstances. But these long detours help capture McNamara’s personality and explain her overwhelming enthusiasm for the case.

One of the inadvertent and surely unintended elements in the book that interested me the most was the way McNamara casts a light on the thriving subculture of Internet crime buffs, with which I have some experience because of my Black Dahlia work. This is the only book I have read that delves into the phenomena of Web sleuthing and murderinos.

As portrayed by McNamara, the Golden State Killer folks are vigorous Internet sleuths, tending toward the eccentric, with a mix of retired detectives and others with an authentic law enforcement or investigative background to keep people tethered to reality.

Some of them apparently have quirky personalities but nobody has gone off the deep end and accused their father; as of this writing, no one has muddied the waters with a book using a lot of phony “evidence” titled “Daddy Was the Golden State Killer” or claimed that there was a massive police conspiracy and cover-up to protect some minor celebrity.

Thank goodness.

The recent five-part TV series “Unmasking a Killer” provides a straightforward presentation of the investigation. “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is more of a portrait of one woman’s growing interest/obsession with an undeniably intriguing case with a lot of insider gossip, late-night tapping at the computer, visits to crime scenes and trips across the country to furtively exchange information with other enthusiasts.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 2018, Books and Authors, Cold Cases, Crime and Courts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’: Michelle McNamara, the Golden State Killer and a Portrait of Obsession

  1. Nina says:

    Thanks for this review. I found myself a little frustrated with the book, given the rave reviews it’s been garnering on GoodReads and Amazon. It is a fascinating document of McNamara’s obsession and process, but the discussion and analysis of the case are so scattered and disorganized.
    FYI, there is at least one person on reddit suggesting that McNamara herself was murdered by her husband to cover up the fact that his father is the Golden State Killer. Crazies everywhere.


  2. Randi says:

    Murderino! Sounds like Larry is a fan of MMF? I read this book and loved it. Unlike other true crime books I’ve read (a lot), this one creeped me out to no end. Not sure if it’s because of the EARONSGSK or the way it was written but oof…


  3. Eve says:

    Terrific, terrifying book, even here at the other end of the country. Sent me copy to a true-crime book fan friend in England after I read it.

    I also watched the HLN series, which interviews a lot of the people in this book, as well as some surviving victims. it was on Sunday nights and I went to bed riight after watching, which was a huge error in judgment.


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