5 Things to Know About Michelle McNamara and ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’


    Michelle McNamara‘s legacy lives on. For years, the writer spent her time digging into mysteries on True Crime Diary, a blog she created that cultivated a massive fanbase. However, her life changed in 2008, when she learned of the Golden State Killer, a name she created for a man responsible for 50 home-invasion rapes and 12 murders in the ’70s and ’80s.

    In 2013, she was asked to write a lengthy feature for Los Angeles Magazine about the case and the hours of investigation she had done. After that was published, she landed a book deal and began working on I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.

    In 2016, McNamara died in her sleep at the age of 46 from an accidental overdose. Her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, enlisted the help of McNamara’s research partners, Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen, to finish and publish her book in February 2018.

    The book was adapted in 2020 for a six-part HBO docuseries, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

    “I mean, when you start a documentary, you have all kinds of ideas and dreams and hopes about who will talk to you or what material you’ll get, and sometimes it doesn’t all add up to that,” director Liz Garbus said on the “Watch With Us” podcast in June. “But in this case, it really did. Michelle’s family was so forthcoming and they shared so much, they love their sister. You know, beyond words, and I think that talking about her — while it was also hard — it was also probably nice to feel that her legacy would have another blip in the public radar by adapting the book for this, for the small screen.”

    She also noted that Oswalt couldn’t have been more helpful — which really moved the doc along.

    “When you start, you just have to kind of be an open book. You’ve got this wet clay and what shape will you put it in?’” the Emmy-winning director added. “When [Patton] shared Michelle’s iPads and videotapes that she had made and audio recordings of interviews she had done, we felt like, ‘Wow. We have access to her investigation. We can really make it feel like you’re along on the ride with Michelle trying to understand this case, the obsessive hard work that she did.’”

    Two months after the book was released, Oswalt hosted a reading in McNamara’s hometown of Chicago. Hours later, 72-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested and identified through DNA evidence as the notorious Golden State Killer.

    Scroll through the gallery below for more on McNamara and the docuseries, airing on HBO Sundays at 10 p.m. ET.

    Her Research Helped the Arrest Happen

    McNamara pushed for the use of DNA — something that wasn’t possible 30 years earlier when the case was originally being investigated. That move became one of the key components in officers making an arrest.


    Robyn Von Swank / HBO

    She Began Her Obsession With Murders When She Was 14

    As a young girl, McNamara heard about the rape and murder of 24-year-old Kathleen Lombardo, which happened down the street from her house. The case was never solved, although Garbus told Us that she and her team had dug into it when working on the documentary. “I certainly wish we had been able to explore that more, but maybe there will be other citizen detectives like Michelle and her circles who will take that one,” she said.

    Robyn Von Swank / HBO

    The Case Is Still in Court

    On June 29, DeAngelo is scheduled for another hearing for motion for dismissal, motion to continue, motion to compel and demurrer. That said, his name was barely mentioned in the docuseries, as it focuses on McNamara’s story and the survivors.


    Courtesy HBO

    McNamara’s Memory Lives On

    “You did it, baby. The book is excellent, the writing brilliant. You tried to bring kindness to chaos, which was your way,” Oswalt tweeted in 2016, sharing a photo of McNamara’s book next to her tombstone, which reads, “Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Crimefighter, Writer, Poet, Perfect.” 

    Courtesy HBO

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