Saturday, October 6, 2018

Book Review- I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

By Dark Sleuth

A single prolific criminal terrorized communities in Northern and Southern California.  He was a peeper, a burglar, a rapist and a killer.

For decades he remained nameless except for several monickers that, like his crimes, traversed the state.  
It started in the early 1970s in Visalia, California, where a man peeped, stalked and burglarized homes.  He earned the name the "Visalia Ransacker."  Next he became the "East Area Rapist," after moving north and making Sacramento County and the surrounding areas his hunting ground.  Later he targeted southern California, seemingly ending his crime spree in the mid 1980s in Orange County.  By then he was known as the "Original Night Stalker."    

What followed was silence.  Some believed that he had died.

But not Michelle McNamara, the writer and blogger behind True Crime Diary.  She predicted that he was still alive and would be found living a quiet, nondescript life.  

 In 2013, McNamara consolidated the previous monickers into one.  She rebranded the unknown perpetrator as the "Golden State Killer" in her Los Angeles Magazine article titled, "In the Footsteps of a Killer." 
Nearly 5 years later authorities announced the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo on April 24, 2018, a Navy veteran and former police officer. He was living in the suburbs near Sacramento.  The suspected Golden State Killer was apprehended when DNA evidence uploaded to a genealogical database produced a familial link.  

Sadly, despite all of her had work on the case, McNamara would not live to see her book published nor to see the suspected killer named.  She died in 2016.

*   *   *

 I'll Be Gone in the Dark is a book meticulously researched.  True to its title, the book describes the author's growing obsession with the case.  In the beginning, McNamara tells of taking over her daughter's playroom at night as her family slept.  Surrounded by toys in a still house, she poured over details on online forums run by amateur sleuths.

Over time, McNamara gained the trust of investigators and was given extraordinary access to case files. 

It is strange to read the book after the news of the arrest.  As Rolling Stone reports, "The timeline for all these crimes significantly overlaps with DeAngelo's own history."  Even during the crime spree, authorities suspected that the perpetrator may have had military training and/or may have been an officer.  

For example, in the book McNamara includes an eyewitness account of a man who watched a man suspected of being the "Visalia Ransacker" find a target.

One night, a young man was waiting for his girlfriend outside her home to take her out.  Inside his girlfriend was talking to her mom.  As he waited, he spotted a man in the distance, seemingly become entranced with the girlfriend as he watched her through the house's front windows.  The boyfriend stayed in his position, not visible by the dark-clothed man. He watched as the man dropped to the ground and began a military crawl, quickly approaching the house.  When the man stood up the boyfriend made his presence known and spooked the man.  There was a little bit of a chase but it ended with the Visalia Ransacker getting away- as he seemed to be armed.  

Even in his earliest cases, long before he escalated to rape and murder, the Visalia Ransacker/Golden State Killer, was using his military training to reconnoiter.  Practicing his approach, gathering information until he could strike.  Gaming the advantage. 

As McNamara had predicted, the perpetrator would eventually be found among the same communities he targeted: middle-class suburbs.  

The title I'll Be Gone in the Dark refers to something the Golden State Killer said to threaten a victim.  He was right of course.  After each attack he was gone, only to reemerge night after night, protected by the mundaneness of California single-story homes, manicured lawns and his knowledge of military and police procedures.  

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