HBO’s new docuseries I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is more than a true crime show. While it does follow a cold case that took decades to solve, it simultaneously tells the story of Michelle McNamara, the author and “citizen detective” whose work helped authorities find the Golden State Killer after years of searching for his true identity.
McNamara ran a blog, True Crime Diary, where she reviewed and shared information with her readers about breaking news and unsolved cases. One night, she learned about the Golden State Killer (the name she originated for the East Area Rapist who committed multiple crimes in California in the 1970s and ‘80s) and later wrote an article for the LA Magazine about her findings so far. From there, McNamara landed a book deal and her true crime novel “I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” is the basis for the HBO show. McNamara died in 2016, before her book was finished, due to a mixture of medications and an undiagnosed heart condition. The final chapters were completed after her widower, actor Patton Oswalt (who also serves as executive producer), contacted researcher Paul Haynes and writer Billy Jensen to put together McNamara's research.
I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, from Emmy winning and Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus (Lost Girls), includes McNamara’s research, police files, archival footage, and never-before-seen interviews with survivors, detectives, and the killer’s family members. Excerpts from her novel which are read by actor Amy Ryan, who starred in Garbus' Netflix film The Lost Girls.
McNamara worked for over 10 years to achieve justice for the survivors who were discouraged from speaking up at the time. Now, they have the opportunity to share their experiences in their own words.
Across six episodes, I’ll Be Gone In the Dark breaks down the police’s investigation and how McNamara’s writing brought much needed publicity to the cases. Read through the episode guide below and follow along with the show to learn exactly how McNamara’s devotion to the unsolved case helped lead to the arrest of the Golden State Killer, just two months after her book was finally published.
Episode 1: "Murder Habit"
Air date: June 28
McNamara is a writer, mother, and wife who spends her nights scouring the internet for information about her obsession — unsolved cases. One night, she learns about the “East Area Rapist” (EAR) who was behind 50 home invasion rapes and 12 murders in California between the 1970s and ‘80s. McNamara begins to refer to the unidentified man as the “Golden State Killer” and digs deeper online, with the help of other citizen detectives, to learn more about the cold case. She submits an article to Los Angeles Magazine with all the information she has gathered. She also interviews multiple survivors of the EAR’s attacks and speaks to detectives who were assigned to the case in the past.
Episode 2: "Reign of Terror"
Air date: July 5, Now Streaming on HBO Max
The second episode travels back to the ‘70s as the local and citizen detectives involved with the “Golden State Killer” case (then called the EAR case) share details about the culture that kept victims quiet by discouraging them to speak out despite the growing serial rape cases in Northern California.
Also, the police realize the “Golden State Killer” is now targeting couples in addition to single women and teenagers.
On McNamara’s end, she speaks about a crucial moment in her childhood during 1984 — the year neighbor Kathy Lombardo was murdered. The True Crime Diary writer tracks this horrific event as the start of her cold case fascination.
Episode 3: "Rat in a Maze"
Air date: July 12, Now Streaming on HBO Max
The end of the '70s brings about the period in the EAR’s crime spree called “Original Night Stalker” series. The new horrific acts are occurring in the Santa Barbara area. A man named David Witthuhn, the widow of a murder victim named Manuela Witthuhn, becomes a suspect. It takes 20 years for DNA to remove him from the person of interest list after the police realize his wife’s murder is connected to the EAR’s crimes in Santa Barbara and Sacramento.
After her “In the Footsteps of a Killer” article is released in 2013, McNamara signs a book deal and she decides to include herself in the upcoming novel. Quietly, she struggles while devoting nearly all her time to finding the East Area Rapist.
Episode 4: "The Motherlode"
Air date: July 19, Now Streaming on HBO Max
McNamara works and her editors obtain East Area Rapist/ Original Night Stalker files from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Then, McNamara and her researcher Paul Haynes try to find a connection between the ERA and the “Visalia Ransacker” who also committed burglaries in the ‘70s. The endless clues become too much to handle and McNamara loses the ability to separate her commitment to her work from her family life. She suffers from nightmares and sleepless nights. Her use of prescription drugs to ease her stress soon trigger an accidental and fatal overdose, due to her undiagnosed heart condition.
Episode 5: "Monsters Recede but Never Vanish"
Air date: July 26, Now Streaming on HBO Max
After McNamara’s tragic death, Haynes, true crime writer Billy Jensen, and McNamara’s husband, actor Patton Oswalt, come together to finish her book. The novel is a best selling success. Its release also helps McNamara’s family better understand her depression and other private demons as they go over her autopsy report.
Encouraged by McNamara’s work, Paul Holes, Chief of Forensics in Contra Costa County, dabbles in genealogy and DNA testing sites. Holes and a genetic genealogist named Barbara-Rae Venter use the technology to build the killer’s family tree.
Episode 6: "Walk Into the Light"
Air date: August 2
The “Golden State Killer” is finally caught and arrested. Joe DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer, is arrested for the crimes committed by the “Golden State Killer.” Upon further research, Haynes and Jensen learn that DeAngelo lived as a suburban dad by day and a deadly predator by night.
The epilogue of McNamara’s book reveals how invested she was in the case and what she predicted the outcome would be. Multiple survivors meet face-to-face and later speak to Oswalt, Jensen, Hayes, and another citizen detective, Melanie Barbeau. Also, relatives of the “Golden State Killer” are interviewed.
Update: This article was originally published on June 28, 2020. Additional details have been added.