The Golden State Killer Was Finally Caught, And Some Believe It's All Thanks To This Book

The Golden State Killer (GSK) used to be an elusive boogeyman, believed to be either dead or retired somewhere in California. His case was cold for decades, and even though law enforcement knew several facts about him, people believed a Golden State Killer capture was impossible. Fortunately, writer Michelle McNamara was obsessed with finding him; she penned a book that caught everyone's attention.

McNamara suffered an untimely demise before I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer was completed. Her widower, comedian Patton Oswalt, published the piece posthumously with help from professionals. Some say McNamara's thorough research contributed to the April 2018 arrest of the alleged Golden State Killer, made two months after her book's release.

  • A Suspect Was Arrested Two Months After McNamara's Book Was Published

    After a five year investigative process, Michelle McNamara's book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer was published. The February 2018 book release occurred nearly two years after the author's demise. Though the GSK was active in the '70s and '80s, law enforcement could never settle on a suspect.

    On April 24, 2018, however, 72-year-old Joseph DeAngelo was arrested and charged with the slaying of Brian and Katie Maggiore and Lyman and Charlene Smith. McNamara's widower, Patton Oswalt, believed the book's information helped facilitate the arrest. In May of 2018, four counts of first-degree murder were filed by the District Attorney's office in Santa Barbara, California, against DeAngelo. 

    On June 29, 2020, DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and special circumstances, and 13 counts of kidnapping. DeAngelo will serve 11 consecutive terms of life without parole and waive his rights to an appeal. He agreed to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. 

  • The Alleged GSK's Arrest Was Eerily Similar To What McNamara Imagined

    Sacramento, CA, police arrived at Joseph DeAngelo's door in April 2018. They waited for the 72-year-old to leave his home, though, because they didn't want to risk chances of a shootout. According to the sheriff present, it looked like he might try to escape, but eventually the man surrendered peacefully.

    Michelle McNamarra included a letter to the GSK in her novel. Her words foretell the suspected killer's actual capture, noting: 

    One day soon, you’ll hear a car pull up to your curb, an engine cut out. You’ll hear footsteps coming up your front walk. Like they did for Edward Wayne Edwards, twenty-nine years after he killed Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew, in Sullivan, Wisconsin. Like they did for Kenneth Lee Hicks, thirty years after he killed Lori Billingsley, in Aloha, Oregon.

    The doorbell rings.

    No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell.

    This is how it ends for you... Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light.

  • McNamara Gave The Criminal His Golden State Killer Moniker

    The man who terrorized the cities of Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Sacramento, Yolo, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin in California was originally known as the East Area Rapist. He was sometimes referred to as the Original Night Stalker as well. Michelle McNamara, however, named him the Golden State Killer when she began obsessing over the case in 2007. The GSK moniker stuck until Joseph DeAngelo's April 2018 arrest.

    On September 12, 2014, McNamara shared on website True Crime Diary:

    I got some flak for giving him that name. The displeased felt that sounded too glamorous, like he was a Hollywood star. But as my research takes me across California the more I feel the moniker, with its jarring juxtaposition, is apt. 

  • McNamara Theorized DNA Technology And Genealogy Databases Would Help Locate The GSK
    Photo: Ann / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    McNamara Theorized DNA Technology And Genealogy Databases Would Help Locate The GSK

    Michelle McNamara believed DNA testing would lead law enforcement to the GSK. She predicted the surge of Americans using ancestry determination companies would help identify him because those people volunteer their familial DNA information.

    The GSK attacked Charlene Smith in 1980, but the forensic pathologist who handled the aftermath created two separate packages of DNA samples. GSK investigator Paul Holes came up with the idea to compare the extra DNA with data in genealogy website GEDMatch. Afterwards, they were able to locate relatives of suspect Joseph DeAngelo. 

  • The Suspect Had A Background In Law Enforcement

    Joseph DeAngelo served in the Navy on a guided missile cruiser during the Vietnam War; he became a California police officer in 1973. The retired veteran was fired in 1979, however, after shoplifting dog repellant and a hammer.

    DeAngelo's alleged double life as the GSK began in 1976. And Michelle McNamara's book mentioned the GSK would "park just outside the standard police perimeter" because he understood how investigations worked. The author also hypothesized he had a possible military background.

  • McNamara's Book Was Published Posthumously 
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    McNamara's Book Was Published Posthumously 

    Michelle McNamara admitted she was obsessed with and terrified of the Golden State Killer, recounting, “There’s a scream permanently lodged in my throat now." On the night of April 20, 2016, McNamara's husband, Patton Oswalt, told her to “sleep until you wake up.” The author heeded his advice and took Xanax, fentanyl, and Adderall all at once. The medicines negatively interacted with each other and an undiagnosed heart condition, killing the woman as she slept. 

    Oswalt discovered McNamara's body the next day and "basically begged [the co-authors] and the publishers to find a way" to complete his wife's work. Research assistant Paul Haynes and invesitagtive journalist Billy Jensen helped finish the book.