You may well have heard of the Golden State Killer – a serial rapist and murderer who attacked more than 50 women in Sacramento and across California in the 1970s and 1980s – but for a long time his crimes did not receive the attention they warranted, and the case remained unsolved for over 45 years. One woman who was essential in the eventual identification of the assailant was Michelle McNamara, whose book about the case, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, was published posthumously in 2018.
Now, a new documentary series from HBO – available in the UK on Sky Crime/Now TV – has been made based on McNamara’s book. Through archive materials, excerpts from the book, and interviews with victims, investigators and McNamara’s family (including much from her widower, the comedian Patton Oswalt), the series painstakingly reconstructs McNamara’s investigation – from her time as a true crime blogger to her success in bringing the case back into the public consciousness (McNamara “rebranded” the attacker, then known clunkily as the “East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker” or “ EARONS”, and resurrected the cold case in a series of articles for the LA Times). The series moves beyond McNamara’s death in 2016 to further unexpected developments in the case.
Though I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is gripping and suspenseful, it is not trauma served up thoughtlessly for entertainment. McNamara’s sensitive, dogged approach has a permanent focus on finding closure and retribution for the women who were brutalised. “I just feel like he’s smirking somewhere,” McNamara says, “going like: ‘I don’t have to pay for this – ever.’” This is both a satisfying story of justice restored, and a moving tribute to one woman’s refusal to give up on forgotten victims.