Park, Ill., native Michelle McNamara researched the
Golden State Killer for years.
even wrote a New York Times best-selling book about the
man who raped and murdered dozens from 1976 to 1986 in
Southern California, "I’ll Be Gone in the Dark:
One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State
week, a suspect was arrested in the case, but McNamara
wasn’t here to see it. The true-crime writer died
unexpectedly in her sleep in 2016, leaving it to friends
and family to celebrate her determination to see what
she saw as a "solvable case" solved.
everyone woke up to that news, we were like, ‘Holy s
—," said Kera Bolonik, a Brooklyn resident and
friend of McNamara’s for 32 years. "Of course,
there’s this unanimous feeling that she did this. ‘Oh
my gosh, she did this.’ It’s four days after her
second anniversary of her death and a week and a half
after what would have been her 48th birthday. … All
this work took them to this place, so there’s a lot of
pride and some sadness that she’s not here to
experience that pride and relief and elation, but
ultimately what she did want to happen did happen."
McNamara wanted was for an identification to be made and
resolution for the victims and their families, Bolonik
perpetrator was also known as the East Area Rapist and
suspected of murders and rapes in 10 counties throughout
California. While armed and wearing a mask, he would
enter through windows at night and surprise sleeping
victims who ranged in age from 13 to 41.
said this guy wasn’t a genius, he just practiced a
lot. That’s what this guy did," Paul Haynes, who
collaborated with McNamara on the book, said in an April
5 episode of the "My Favorite Murder" podcast.
police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was taken into
custody outside his Sacramento, Calif., home Tuesday and
charged with numerous counts of murder. Sacramento
County officials said DNA collected from a crime scene
of the Golden State Killer was compared to online
genetic profiles on genealogical sites to find a match
for a suspect.
husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, was at Anderson’s
Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., last week with Haynes,
lead researcher of "I’ll Be Gone in the
Dark," and Billy Jensen, an investigative
journalist who also collaborated on the book. At the
time, an arrest had yet to be made.
the news broke, McNamara’s sister Maureen Stratton,
said the whole family was ecstatic but "so
distraught" that her younger sister was not here to
were in Naperville for the book event, and (Haynes and
Jensen) seemed very confident talking about it like it
was just a matter of time that an arrest was going to
happen," Stratton, an Oak Park resident and
Northwestern University law professor, said. "And I
remember thinking to myself: ‘They’re never going to
find him. I did not have that confidence, so it truly
was stunning and shocking, and I think we all just
cried. I think we were all like, ‘Omigosh, this is
recalled McNamara’s writing of the book and the
investigation of the case being a sort of push-and-pull
that weighed on her. "She just kept thinking: ‘I
think we can solve this, I think we can solve this.’
She just felt so strongly that this was solvable and
that it really needed to be solved because all of these
victims … so it was her life’s mission to figure it
Humbert, a Naperville resident and friend of McNamara’s
since seventh grade at Hawthorne Elementary, said she
couldn’t describe the emotions she felt after hearing
the arrest news.
writing that book, her finishing that, which was always
something so important to her was one thing, but this
— this arrest, this was what mattered to her. That was
more important to her," Humbert said. "She
definitely wanted to provide peace for the victims and
the survivors. I think I wavered between crying and
having chills all day long. I’m sure all of us did,
everyone who loved her and knew her life’s work felt
expressing their pride in her work and drive, McNamara’s
circle reflected on her writing path — from poetry to
editor of the Oak Park River Forest High School
newspaper to short stories and ultimately true-crime
writing. Her blog, True Crime Diary, created soon after
her marriage to Oswalt, according to Stratton, focused
on hundreds of unsolved crimes. But it was the Golden
State Killer that was her most defining case, Haynes
Michelle’s objective was singular — to identify the
Golden State Killer," he said. "It’s so sad
that Michelle died without knowing this person’s
identity; it’s so sad that Michelle is not here right
now to celebrate this momentous thing, which is really
the prize at the end of the maze that Michelle was
County Sheriff Scott Jones told reporters that McNamara’s
work helped build interest in the case — interest that
led to television networks HLN and Investigation
Discovery doing series about the case — but he didn’t
go as far as saying her book led to a suspect.
Michelle’s book and Michelle’s involvement, the
motivation and thrust to solve this case wouldn’t be
there, so I would say that Michelle’s involvement
absolutely had an influence on this case being
resolved," said the Los Angeles-based researcher.
you read her book, she was kind of putting pieces
together. … Nobody knew that it was this particular
guy; the cops who had been working on the case for 20
years didn’t know," she said. "But she had a
very clear sense of what kind of person they were
looking for and how it was going to come about — even
through DNA, genetic testing.
suspected, she says in the book, that he was connected
to the military somehow, that he must have been in law
enforcement. Plus she named him the Golden State Killer,
which allowed all these jurisdictions to come together
— that was the umbrella. Her work and the ability to
talk among all these jurisdictions, it enabled her to
look at information in new ways and ask questions that
had never been asked.
was a cold case. No one was talking about this case. It
had just languished. But she brought attention to it
with her blog and through her article and then with her
book. It created a sense of urgency that was so crucial.
… She lived and breathed this."
Documentary Films has acquired rights to the book for a
docuseries of its own. Haynes said he’ll definitely
continue following every development in the case as it
goes forward. "This is only the beginning of a new
chapter in this case," he said.
the case evolves, McNamara’s sister wants people to
remember one thing about her "brilliant,
wasn’t about solving the case and getting the glory.
She wouldn’t care about that at all. She just wanted
to put a face and a name to this horror and get some
peace for people. I think she was a very selfless person
that way," she said.
writer Nara Schoenberg contributed to this report.