In this month's edition of Bad Readers Book Club, Leigh (of my "Reputation" album review fame) and I read Michelle McNamara's true-crime thriller "I'll Be Gone in the Dark" and discussed the Golden State Killer now that we have a face to put to the name. We tackled the book, Michelle McNamara herself, and the most frustrating aspects of the GSK's 13-year rampage and the 30 years it took after to catch him.
For some background, Michelle McNamara was a true-crime author who ran the website True Crime Diary and was obsessed with finding the serial predator and killer she dubbed the Golden State Killer. The moniker encompasses all three suspected stages of his rampage: the Visalia Ransacker from approx 1973-76, the East Area rapist from 1976-79, and the Original Night Stalker from 1979-86. She conducted a lot of research on and alongside an incredibly active Reddit community, as well as many detectives both retired and present.
Michelle died in 2016 but left behind an incredible, almost finished thriller. Her investigative team, Paul Haynes and Billy Jenkins, completed the book with Michelle's widower Patton Oswalt and it was released in February 2018. On April 24, 2018, the Golden State Killer was caught. 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested by the Sacremento County Police after his fourth cousin submitted DNA to GEDmatch. (The Reddit community Michelle was, and Paul and Billy are currently a part of, can be found here.
With this in mind, I present to you this month's Bad Reader Review!
Emily: "First of all…. Did you like the book?"
Leigh: "Yes, oh my god! It was so good!!"
E: "Me too. I had to be asked by my family to stop talking about it."
L: "Her narrative was just so compelling."
We talked at length about Michelle's narrative style and the way in which she turned such a gruesome history into something gripping and, in a very odd and dark way, inviting to a reader.
E: "Well, that was the whole thing… The thing about true crime is that you're so focused on the crime that you don't realize these are people's lives."
L: "Yeah that's so true she really focuses on the lives."
E: "Michelle focuses on the lives that were [involved] rather than just on the crime itself."
L: "That one victim and the wife writes the detective a letter and then they moved across the country…. I think that captures it well like you're so focused on the crime scene that you don't necessarily think about what comes after."
In the letter Leigh mentions, one of the victims wrote to the detectives on the case at the time with every piece of information she thought would be valuable. At this stage in the GSK's career, he was targetting couples. While Michelle focused a handful of cases in great detail, she incorporated as much information from as many other cases as possible.
At the end of the letter in question, the wife closed with an ambiguous line which prompted Michelle to investigate. What she found was that the couple could not live in the house they were attacked in anymore and moved across the country.
Leigh: "I also loved the moments when Michelle talks about Michelle... Like the portrait her life and how she compares the journey for her to find the killer to his journey to becoming a killer… She's trying to point out the irony that not everyone's the good guy."
E: "Within the book itself, she almost made herself a character."
E: "No one could have written this book but her. Her team says that the end like no one could have written this but Michelle so we'll try to do her name justice because she was so passionate about this but we will never succeed at replicating what she's done".
L: "And they really didn't… Part 3 was a snooze fest."
The book opens up with a foreword by thriller writer Gillian Flynn and Leigh and I disagreed completely on its role: while I liked that Flynn opens up by highlighting how a lot of the book is just as much Michelle's story to find the killer as it is the story of the then-unnamed killer himself. While I agreed with this, I believe Leigh believed that
If you want to know about Gillian Flynn's life, read her foreword about Michelle McNamara's life.
L: "It seems like such an ambitious project…. To research a cold case without the resources of a police department. Michelle talks about the fine line that she walks like I have the cockiness of thinking I'm going to see something no one else saw but also I don't care who catches him… the best way to find him is to crowdsource."
E: "I've only been doing topical research because his face scares me."
L: "The thing about him though… is that he looks different in every stage of his life he's like a chameleon. It's so scary he looks like a different person like he just has one of those non-descript faces."
Leigh and I spent a lot of time talking about the Golden State Killer himself because... well, a prolific serial killer was caught after 32 years of evading the cops; how can you not talk about that??? Joseph James DeAngelo was a former member of the Navy, a cop in Auburn and Exter counties, and an employee at a Save Mart.
"The judge is allowing the police officers and prosecution to take further DNA samples and pictures of his body to match against old evidence…. His penis….. If he's not well endowed."
He physical description sometimes varied, but what was known for sure was that he was blond, athletically built, and, as his rape survivors told detectives, not well endowed. While somewhat rooted in countless reports, the focus on the GSK's penis is likely to publicly shame someone who demoralized and degraded countless other individuals.
L: "The thing about him now is that he's so old he has no idea what the fuck is going on."
E: "No I think he has a very clear idea what the fuck is going on."
L: "He walked into court and he can't even keep his head up like it's embarrassing."
E: "You don't think its a play?"
L: "No I think it's a play but I just wish he was found sooner. This isn't even satisfactory to me anymore."
E: "Once you read the parts about Mary Hong in 1998 and Paul Holes started finding things 10 years later… Why wasn't this solved sooner? I think they got overwhelmed because it's been so long trying to find this guy. Like I didn't realize why this would be such a big deal but there's one chapter when Michelle calls people who are listed as witnesses in police reports… There were like 4 other serial killers and serial rapists active all over California in the 70's, but when Michelle said she was calling about one everyone knew without asking that she was talking about the EAR."
Mary Hong worked in the Orange County's Crime Lab and in 1998, found that the suspect DNA in three different cases were all 100% matches. It took 20 years after that to catch JJD... Why? Leigh argued that there was evidence the police blundered so much while going after the GSK.
E: "Who that I graduated high school with could become a serial killer? Like he spent so much time not caught! It's a bit harder to get away with serial crimes now… because you know DNA… did you think he ever thought he would get caught?"
L: "No! Clearly not! He was living in Sacramento!"
E: "Then he was laughing everyone for most of his life! Who do I know- like is there anyone I know that could have gotten away with it?"
L: "No one thought it was him."
E: "I think thats the scariest part of it."
EAR-ONS detective Paul Holes mentioned there was a list of 10,000 potential suspects. JJD was not on it. Now that he has been caught and is on trial, the history and trail of this case are so infuriating and baffling. So many people were waiting for so long for a potential DNA match to catch the killer that he was just existing right under everyone's nose. The exasperated plea in response to this is just.... how?
E: "Do you think this book help catch the GSK"
L: "In June 2016 there was a task force created to analyze DNA in cold cases with a specific focus on the EAR-ONS. Michelle had done a lot of press work for this case leading up to it. So maybe her publicity on the case allowed them to focus on it and devote resources to it. But they didn't catch him by using research. They caught him with DNA."
E: "I feel like that's a very simplified way to catch someone who's evaded law enforcement for so long."
L: "Michelle is the most famous person who's investigated this case like she gave him the moniker of GSK. Every time they say it they're crediting Michelle. I think she created interest in the case. There's no doubt that she played a part."