Michelle McNamara was determined to bring a serial killer to light. McNamara, who died in 2016, ran a blog called True Crime Diary where she investigated crimes committed by what police then believed to be two different people. The killer, also known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Diamond Knot Killer, burglarized hundreds of houses and committed rapes, assaults, and killings. The crimes, which began in 1976, continued for a decade, terrorizing California. In 2001, DNA confirmed they were actually the same person. McNamara brought attention to the case through her blog and eventual book, coining the term Golden State Killer.
A new six-part HBO docuseries, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, examines both McNamara’s investigation and her book of the same name. “What drives me is the need to put a face on an unknown killer,” she says in the trailer. McNamara pressed officials to examine DNA in the cold case, which wasn’t possible 30 years earlier, when the crimes occurred. It eventually led to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, then 72, a former cop. He is believed to have committed at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes.
To make understanding the HBO docuseries a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of notable moments in both the Golden State Killer and McNamara’s histories.
1973: DeAngelo Starts Job As A Police Officer
DeAngelo served in Exeter, CA.
1974-75: The Visalia Ransacker
A crime spree occurs in Visalia. On September 11, Claude Snelling is shot twice in the back and later dies. It’s believed the Visalia Ransacker committed at least one murder (Snelling) and 120 burglaries.
1976-77: The East Area Rapist Terrorizes Sacramento County
DeAngelo works as an officer in Auburn as burglaries and rapes begin to occur in Sacramento County. The suspect, who would become the East Area Rapist (EAR) would pry open a window or door when victims slept and sometimes steal jewelry, identification, and money.
1978: The Golden State Killer's First Murder
The Golden State Killer makes his first murder on February 2 when he shoots and kills Brian and Katie Maggiore, who were out walking their dog in the Sacramento area. On June 15, 2016, the FBI says it believes the East Area Rapist murdered the couple. Crimes continue to occur in the East Bay area.
1979: The Goleta Murders
DeAngelo is fired from his officer position for allegedly stealing a hammer and dog repellent, ABC reports. On October 1, an intruder ties up a couple in Goleta. A neighbor who happens to be an FBI agent hears the noise and chases the intruder. Two months later, on December 30, Robert Offerman and Debra Manning are found shot dead in his condo in Goleta. The October attack is later linked to the Offerman-Manning killing by shoe prints and twine.
1980: The Diamond Knot Killer Terrorizes Ventura
On March 13, Charlene and Lyman Smith are found dead in their home in Ventura, and Charlene had been raped. A diamond knot was used on her wrists, leading to the Diamond Knot Killer name. On August 19, Keith Eli Harrington and Patrice Briscoe Harrington are found dead in their home in a gated community. Patrice had also been raped.
1981: More Murders In Orange County & Goleta
On February 6, Manuela Witthuhn is raped and murdered in Irvine. Her TV is in the backyard, signaling an attempt to make it look like a robbery gone wrong. On July 27, Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez are killed in Goleta. It is the last reported murder for several years.
1986: The Golden State Killer's Last-Known Murder
On May 4, Janelle Lisa Cruz is found dead in Irvine. She was raped and bludgeoned to death in DeAngelo’s last known crime.
2001: EAR & Original Night Stalker Connected
DNA testing confirms the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker are the same person.
2006: Michelle McNamara Starts Her True Crime Diary
McNamara launches her website, True Crime Diary. She developed a “murder habit” after a woman she knew from church was killed when McNamara was 14.
2013: McNamara Starts Her Golden State Killer Investigation
McNamara finally coins one name for the perpetrator in the California murders: the Golden State Killer. She writes about the serial killer for Los Angeles magazine.
2016: McNamara's Death
On April 21, McNamara dies at her home due to an undiagnosed heart condition and an accidental combination of Adderall, Xanax, and Fentanyl. Two months later, on June 15, the FBI announce an effort to find the Golden State Killer and offer a $50,000 reward.
2018: McNamara's Book, Presumed Golden State Killer Arrested
McNamara’s book, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, is posthumously updated by Paul Haynes, Billy Jensen, and her widower, the actor Patton Oswalt, and released on February 27. On April 25, DeAngelo is arrested after police compare DNA evidence to information from genealogy websites. He is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder. On August 13, he is charged with first-degree murder for Snelling's death in 1975. DeAngelo cannot be charged with rapes or burglaries from the ‘70s, however, because the statute of limitations is expired.
2019: DeAngelo Faces The Death Penalty
On April 10, prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty for DeAngelo and the judge allows cameras in the courtroom for the trial.
2020: Golden State Killer Goes To Trial
On March 4, DeAngelo offers to plead guilty, but only if the death penalty is off the table. It’s not accepted. On June 15, reports say DeAngelo will plead guilty to 13 murder charges and kidnapping charges on June 29 in a deal to avoid the death penalty.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).