Golden State Killer: Did late crime writer Michelle McNamara inspire capture of suspected serial murderer?

Tireless work of author who passed away in 2016 credited with prompting arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, an ex-police officer accused of multiple killings and rapes four decades ago

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 26 April 2018 15:36 BST
Patton Oswalt explains how his late wife's book helped to catch the Golden State Killer

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Louise Thomas

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The arrest of retired police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, could bring an end to one of California's most notorious unsolved crime sagas.

A previously unidentified assailant known as the "Golden State Killer", the "East Area Rapist" and "the Original Night Stalker" carried out a reign of terror in the Sacramento and Los Angeles areas in the 1970s and 80s, blamed for 12 murders, at least 50 rapes and sexual assaults and a string of home invasions and burglaries.

Mr DeAngelo, charged with two counts of murder, has been connected to the historic crime spree by a DNA test, according to detectives investigating.

Tragically, one person who played a vital role in bringing an end to the affair passed away before she could see her investigative work come to fruition.

Michelle McNamara, a true crime writer married to comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, was just 46 when she died of an undiagnosed heart condition in 2016.

Long fascinated by the case, Ms McNamara's book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, was published posthumously in February.

The late author studied the case in depth and knew her suspect intimately, meeting with victims, pouring over files, autopsy reports and maps and recruiting retired homicide detectives to assist her and pool their resources.

She even coined the nickname that ensured the perpetrator will be remembered in the annals of Californian crime history alongside such infamous cases as the Black Dahlia, the Manson Family murders and the Zodiac Killer.

Local law enforcement have described the case as "a source of great frustration" over the last 40 years but have so far been reluctant to credit Ms McNamara with anything more than raising the profile of the case.

"It kept interest and tips coming in but other than that there was no information extracted from that book that directly led to the apprehension," said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.

Mr Oswalt was elated at the news but said his late wife would have had no interest in praise.

"She cared about the Golden State Killer being behind bars and the victims getting some relief", he tweeted.

Ms McNamara detailed her "obsession" with the case in a 2013 article for Los Angeles Magazine, a piece that prompted HarperCollins to offer her a book deal.

As a 14-year-old living in Oak Park, Illinois, Ms McNamara became fascinated with an unsolved murder near her family home and later briefly worked for a private detective before finding steady work as a TV writer.

She continued to write regularly about the Golden State Killer on her blog, True Crime Diary, explaining her enthusiasm for the subject in 2011:

"I'm drawn to cases that aren't so high profile, that are maybe even a little neglected, but which have enough evidence and clues that anyone with a will and an internet connection can try to piece together the puzzle. That's exciting to me."

Her total immersion in the case began to take its toll on her health and Ms McNamara later developed anxiety issues and suffered insomnia, leading in turn to a reliance on Xanax, Adderall and Fentanyl that is believed to have played a role in her sudden death in her sleep on 21 April 2016.

In tribute to her determination to bring justice and resolution to the victims and their loved ones as a result of the killer's crimes, many admirers took to social media yesterday to share a passage from I'll Be Gone in the Dark in which the author imagines the perpetrator's capture:

“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... 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.”

HBO is currently producing a documentary on the Golden State Killer in which Ms McNamara's work is expected to be given a central role.

The Golden State Killer's 12 murder victims

  1. Brian Maggiore, 22, Rancho Cordova, 1978
  2. Katie Maggiore, 20, Rancho Cordova, 1978
  3. Dr Robert Offerman, 44, Goleta, 1979
  4. Dr Debra Alexandra Manning, 35, Goleta, 1979
  5. Charlene Smith, 33, Ventura County, 1980
  6. Lyman Smith, 43, Ventura County, 1980
  7. Keith Eli Harrington, 24, Dana Point, 1980
  8. Patrice Bricoe Harrington, 27, Dana Point, 1980
  9. Manuela Witthuhn, 28, Irvine, 1981
  10. Cheri Domingo, 35, Goleta, 1981
  11. Gregory Sanchez, 27, Goleta, 1981
  12. Janelle Lisa Cruz, 18, Irvine, 1986

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