In the 1970s and 1980s, a man who would become known as the Golden State Assassin was robbed, raped, and murdered across swaths of California, but always evaded capture. And when writer Michelle McNamara became aware of her crimes in the early 2000s, she simply couldn’t avoid the case.
McNamara’s work to narrate the misdeeds of the Golden State Killer (a name she coined) became the basis of a the Angels Magazine article and later a book. HBO’s I’ll be gone in the dark, a docuseries based on McNamara’s nonfiction work that premiered on Sunday, is the story of a woman bitten by what she calls “the killer bug” and her efforts to trace the identity of the man who terrorized California communities during years. The series also tells the story of McNamara’s unexpected death while writing the book and how it affected her husband Patton Oswalt (Veep) and her little daughter Alice.
Spoiler alert: If the killer’s nickname rings a bell, it’s likely because, largely thanks to McNamara’s work, he was identified as former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo and arrested in 2018, two years after McNamara’s death.
The series premiere uses McNamara’s writing (narrated by The office alum Amy Amy) and an extensive archive of recorded interviews, emails, text messages, and voicemails to create a portrait of a woman who really loved investigating an investigation. We learn how she surfed the Internet on sleepless nights, intrigued by stories of a man in a ski mask breaking into women’s homes, tying up their partners, and then raping women. At first, that’s where it would stop; finally her behavior escalated to the murder of the women or couples she found.
“Everyone has their cause, and this just feels like what I was born to do,” says McNamara in an old interview. The premiere also features interviews with those involved in the case, including the now-retired police officers who worked on it and some of the victims, as well as some of the “citizen detectives” McNamara met during his online investigation.
Oswalt is also there to talk about how he and McNamara started dating and fell in love after they met at one of their comedy shows. AND the Angels Editor Nancy Miller discusses how she was instantly captivated by McNamara’s storytelling and handling when they first met to discuss a possible article.
At the end of the premiere, McNamara has so impressed a longtime citizen detective (who appears to have had an impressive flow to authorities) that he has been given access to a vast treasure trove of police documentation. And in the final moments of the episode, Miller officially orders the Angels piece that would eventually lead to McNamara’s book.
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