Even after the Golden State Killer's case had been cold for over two decades, there was at least one person still interested in it: Michelle McNamara. A journalist and a true crime aficionado, it made all the sense in the world that this woman gave herself the task of tracking down this mystery killer. The way that Michelle McNamara's Golden State Killer book started, though, goes even deeper than that.
According to her old friend Kera Bolonik, who wrote a story about McNamara for Vulture after McNamara died in 2016, McNamara's interest in unsolved murders began when she was a teenager. A woman in her suburban town of Oak Park, Illinois was killed while jogging, and police never found the killer. The fact that a person could be murdered without the killer leaving even a trace deeply disturbed and fascinated McNamara, and Bolonik wrote that in 2006, her friend started a blog called True Crime Diary to discuss cold cases.
In the world of unsolved mysteries, there was no greater jewel for McNamara than the case of the Golden State Killer. Wanted for 12 homicides, 45 rapes, and 120 burglaries, this man had escaped the grip of police since 1986, when his spree of violence and vagary stopped, 10 years after it had started in 1976.
Investigating this and the other cases was going to take a lot of work, and thankfully McNamara had someone supporting her and encouraging her to delve deeper: her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt. Oswalt told Bolonik that they decided together she'd do the True Crime Blog and just work on the cases for a while. “Of course, it turned into this whole career," Oswalt told Bolonik.
First, her investigation became a long-form article in Los Angeles Magazine called "In the Footsteps of a Killer." Later, it morphed into her book about the case, which was only published in February of this year. The title of that book is I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, and Bolonik writes that the first line comes from something that the Killer himself once said to one of his victims.
According to the New York Times, McNamara was close to solving the case when she died unexpectedly in 2016, leaving Oswalt and her daughter — and her book. The case, as she notes in the title of her own book, had become something of an obsession, making her insomnia and anxiety worse. Instead of letting it drop, though, the Times writes that Oswalt decided to make sure the book got finished.
“We can finish the book, but it was tangential to the work, which was: She was going to solve this crime,” he told the New York Times. “She didn’t want credit for it. She wanted him to be locked up. She was close to figuring it out. It would give her bad nightmares.”
So, working with a different researcher and a journalist, Oswalt pushed the project forward, according to the Times' account. And now that a suspect has been arrested, Oswalt posted a video to Instagram expressing his belief that McNamara's research had allowed it to happen.
“I think you got him, Michelle,” he said in the video.
The Mercury News reports that the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department had recently reopened the case, and that's what resulted in the discovery and arrest of the Sacramento area man who has now been identified as a suspect in the case. The authorities aren't publicly acknowledging what evidence led them to this man, but it's entirely possible that McNamara's work helped pave the way to this momentous capture.