Based on a book by late true crime enthusiast Michelle McNamara, HBO's I'll Be Gone in the Dark rehashes the case of the Golden State Killer, who terrorized California from 1974 to 1986. He was known as the East Area Rapist throughout Sacramento and the Original Night Stalker across southern California, but is most widely referred to as the Golden State Killer. The show explores McNamara's obsession with the case, which went unsolved for over 40 years. It wasn't until April 24, 2018 that authorities caught who they believe to be the Golden State Killer: a former cop named Joseph James DeAngelo.
The Golden State Killer's crime spree lasted for over 10 years and spanned from Sacramento to Orange County. He was linked to 50 home-invasion rapes, 12 murders, and 120 burglaries, but the scant amount of evidence and lack of DNA profiling and technology allowed him to elude capture for four decades.
"Over the years, we heard of homicides down in Southern California, and we thought it was the East Area Rapist," retired detective Larry Crompton explained to CNN. "But he would not leave fingerprints, so we could not prove, other than his M.O., that he was the same person. We did not know anything about DNA."
It wasn't until 2001 that DNA tests proved that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were in fact the same offender. Eventually authorities used a free genealogy and DNA database called GEDMatch to try and track him down in 2017, and in April 2018, DeAngelo's name emerged as a possible suspect. Authorities collected some DNA from DeAngelo's car door handle in Citrus Heights and found it matched crime scene evidence. DeAngelo was arrested on April 24, at the age of 73.
DeAngelo has been in jail since his 2018 arrest. He faces 13 counts of murder with special circumstances, including murder committed during the course of a burglary and rape, and 13 counts of kidnapping for robbery. On June 15, The Los Angeles Times reported that DeAngelo plans to plead guilty this month in exchange for life in prison instead of the death penalty. The Times also noted that though prosecutors previously rebuffed DeAngelo's plea deals, they're now forced to move forward with one because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Most of the witnesses and victims in the case are now elderly and suffering from preexisting health problems, so it would be difficult to have them appear in court to testify.
This means that the Golden State Killer's victims can no longer face their attacker in court. “My view has been he will never be able to serve a long enough sentence,” Gay Hardwick, who was raped in 1978 while her husband was tied up, told The New York Times on June 15. “He’ll never serve the sentence that the rest of us have served.”