I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was one of the most frightening, sad, and remarkable shows I’ve ever seen. It could only have been a true story as there is no way that you would ever make up a tale like this.
There was pure evil in California in the guise of the ‘Golden State Killer,’ also known as the ‘East Area Rapist.’ Between 1973 and 1986 this unknown monster was responsible for 13 murders, 50 rapes and 100 burglaries in three different crime sprees in three areas across California.
The story is told over six episodes, through the lens of Michelle McNamara, a writer who started True Crime Blog in 2006 and rediscovered this case. The case gets its hooks into her and she becomes completely obsessed with it. Her doggedness in following the case wins her trusted friends in law enforcement and key people in the ‘citizen crime’ movement (like minded, non-law enforcement people).
HBO’s series, directed masterfully by Liz Garbus, slowly unravels the timeline of the crimes. No one can find or identify this person, though his modus operandi is similar in every crime. He seems to be an unknown specter in the dark, moving at will and doing whatever he wants. Garbus uses many interviews with the victims to understand the trauma they have been through. She also has an almost endless amount of phone and computer data from McNamara to rely on and make the story real.
The story is framed using McNamara, her sleuthing, and her family as its center. We hear all about her courtship and eventual marriage to comedian Patton Oswalt, who seems to be the nicest guy ever. Soon they have a daughter and all is well at home but the case grinds on.
In 2013, McNamara wrote an extensive article on the case for Los Angeles magazine. I urge you to check it out.
This story leads very quickly to a book deal (what becomes the true crime masterpiece I’ll Be Gone In The Dark), which leads to even more pressure on the author. She’s working on a book and still actively trying to solve the crime. Indeed, in an unheard of move, law enforcement allies turn over thirty-odd boxes of evidence to her to check out.
Unfortunately, things get very dark, as Michelle has been fueling herself with prescription drugs. In 2016 she died in her sleep with adderall, xanax, and fentanyl in her system, her tolerance exacerbated by an undiagnosed heart condition. McNamara’s allies join together to finish her book, which when done is considered a triumph. Even better news, with new, advanced DNA testing, the police are able to find the killer in 2018. He pleaded guilty to all crimes to avoid the death penalty. This leaves Michelle’s Letter To An Old Man, a message to the killer himself published in the book, even more prescient:
Once apprehended, there is much information about the killer’s upbringing; he had a life of abuse when young. His family members are totally devastated by the discovery of his secret, dark spree. But the final episode is mostly devoted to the victims, all of whom are scarred and damaged in some way. The ruin and pain this man brought on people is incalculable. The victims make the best, meet up together, and enjoy each other's comfort. And their lives go on.