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Gone in the Dark: The 40-Year Hunt for the Golden State Killer

Michelle McNamara’s obsessive search for the man who terrorized California during the 1970s and ‘80s is chronicled in her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I'll Be Gone in the Dark excerpt

The Golden State Killer has been wanted for over 40 years. 

Also known as the Original Night Stalker and the East Area Rapist, the unknown assailant began raping women in 1976 and escalated to murder in 1978. At the time, authorities didn’t realize that the same person was responsible for these crimes. But it soon became clear that the East Area Rapist was in fact the Original Night Stalker. 

First targeting the Bay Area of Northern California before moving south, the Golden State Killer—a new name, coined by true crime author Michelle McNamara—committed 50 rapes and murdered 12 people before going cold in 1986. Since then, he has taunted some of his previous victims with phone calls—most infamously contacting a woman in 2001, asking if she “remembered when we played.” 

In 2016, the FBI released more detail about the crimes—including composite sketches and victims' testimony—as well as offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. 

On April 25, 2018, 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested on two counts of murder and is currently being held without bail. DeAngelo was a police officer before being fired for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellant in 1979. Based on DNA evidence, it is believed that he is the Golden State Killer. 

Though McNamara didn't live to see her book published—she tragically died in her sleep in 2016—her husband, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, was integral in finishing what she started. The adaptation rights to her book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark, have already been acquired by HBO Documentary Films, and it’s clear that McNamara's research and dedication to the case helped bring it back into the spotlight. 

Read on for an excerpt from I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, and then download the book. 




I'll Be Gone in the Dark

By Michelle McNamara

After Jane Carson’s attack in October, rumors flew around the community about a serial rapist at large, but the Sheriff’s Department asked the local press to not publicize the crimes, fearing that the spotlight might drive the suspect away from the east side, where they hoped to contain and catch him. Shelby, Daly, and their colleagues in the detective unit went about quietly chasing leads. They checked with parole and probation officers. They looked at deliverymen, milkmen, janitors, and carpet layers. They left their business cards on neighborhood doors and followed up on tips that came in, usually about young men who stared too hard or stayed out too late or were, as one tipster said about his younger brother, “fruity.” They blindfolded Jane and played tape recordings of two suspects’ voices for her. She lay on her bed; her arms shook. “Not him,” she said. They canvassed pawnshops for the stolen items, and visited House of Eight, a porn shop on Del Paso Boulevard, inquiring about customers into bondage. They followed up on a tip about a man who was paying the DMV for women’s registration information, then following them in his car. They questioned him outside his house, where they noted that he stood in the gutter, too distracted to notice the stream of water swirling around his nice leather dress shoes. He wasn’t the EAR, but they got the DMV to stop allowing the practice of purchasing private information. They noted blushing, blinking, arm crossing, and repeating questions in a clear grab for time. None of it led to the EAR.

Meanwhile, gossip in the community mutated in the vacuum of official word. The police weren’t telling the public about the rapes, the rumors went, because the details were too horrible to repeat. He was mutilating women’s breasts. The rumors weren’t true, but the press blackout meant that no one publicly refuted them. Tension peaked on October 18, when the EAR attacked twice in twenty-four hours. One of the victims, a thirty-two-year-old housewife and mother of two, lived on Kipling Drive in Carmichael, one of the more affluent neighborhoods on the east side. Some speculated that the EAR, fed up with his lack of press, was pushing into the nicer neighborhoods to ensure publicity. It worked. Five hundred people attended a town-hall meeting on crime prevention at Del Dayo Elementary School on November 3. Shelby and Daly took turns at the microphone awkwardly trying to answer heated and panicky questions about the EAR.

The next morning, the Sacramento Bee ran a story by police reporter Warren Holloway: MAN HUNTED AS SUSPECT IN 8 RAPES. The press blackout was over.

Maybe it was a coincidence, but on the evening of November 10, the same day the Bee ran a follow-up story (EAST AREA RAPIST . . . FEAR GRIPS SERENE NEIGHBORHOODS), a man in a leather hood entered the window of a house in Citrus Heights and snuck up on a sixteen-year-old girl watching television alone in the den. He pointed a knife at her and issued a chilling warning: “Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

This time the EAR took his victim outside the house, leading her down an embankment to a cement drainage ditch, about twenty feet wide and ten feet deep, where they walked about a half mile west to an old willow tree. The girl later retraced the path with Shelby and some other detectives; cut shoestrings, shredded Levi’s and green panties lay in a heap in weeds near the tree. The girl said she hadn’t been raped. Coaxing information from people in the aftermath of a violent attack is tricky, especially when, like Shelby, you’re a blunt, six-three older male and the victim is a female teenager who’s emotionally about to capsize. You look them in the eye and ask the hard question. You may or may not believe the answer. You ask later, less pointedly, maybe in the middle of talking about something else. They repeat their earlier answer. That’s all you can do.

The EAR may have thought she was someone else. “Don’t you go to American River College?” he asked her. When she answered no, he pressed his knife against her throat and asked again. Again she said no. The girl told the detectives she resembled a neighbor who had gone to American River College, a local community college. But there was the weird precision timing again. She was only going to be alone in the house for a short window of time. Her parents had gone to the hospital to visit her brother, and she had a date scheduled with her boyfriend later that night. Before he took her to the drainage ditch the EAR had carefully replaced the screen on the window he’d entered and turned off the television and the house lights, as if he knew people would be returning soon and didn’t want to raise an alarm.

The girl added to the ever-growing catalogue of fleeting details glimpsed in the dark through a loosened blindfold. Black, square-toed shoes. A small flashlight, small enough that it disappeared into his left hand. Military fatigue pants. While she was tied up, he kept scrambling up the west side of the embankment and looking out at something, the girl said. Back and forth. Fidgety like. Shelby climbed the embankment. They were, as always, minutes or hours behind him. You could plant your feet in the man’s footprints, but without knowing what drew him to that spot, yours was the chump’s view, dumbly scanning the horizon for a hint. Overgrowth of tangled brush. Fences. Backyards. Too much. Not enough. Square one.

The leather hood the girl described extended beneath the EAR’s shirt and had slits for eyes and mouth; that sounded to Shelby like the kind of hoods arc welders wear underneath their helmets. He hit up welding equipment companies for customer names. Nothing panned out. Meanwhile, the phones rang at the Sheriff’s Department with people spilling names. The detectives tried to eyeball everybody. Guys were eliminated if they had big feet, a sunken chest, a potbelly, a beard, a wandering left eye, a limp, custom arch supports, or a sister-in-law who confided that she skinny-dipped once with her husband’s younger brother and he had a big penis.

The EAR attacked another teenage girl, this one in Fair Oaks, on December 18. There were two more victims in January. RAPIST STRIKES AGAIN, 14TH TIME IN 15 MONTHS read the headline in the January 24 edition of the Sacramento Bee. A quote by an anonymous sheriff’s detective conveyed the brittle weariness setting in: “‘It was exactly the same as all the rest.’”

Want to keep reading? Download an excerpt now. 

Featured image of sketches: Wikipedia