True crime fans love to bend their brains around cold cases and follow the clues that might help solve them at last. Few, however, are as successful as Michelle McNamara, author of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, who tied together seemingly separate crimes as the work of the man she dubbed The Golden State Killer.
McNamara died in her sleep in 2016, having turned to prescription drugs to help her cope with the anxiety and insomnia brought on by her obsession with solving the horrific crimes committed in the 1970s and 80s by Joseph DeAngelo.
DeAngelo carried out 13 murders, more than 50 rapes and upwards of 120 burglaries during a rampage that spanned two decades. He finally pleaded guilty to multiple counts of murder and kidnapping on June 29 2020, at the same time admitting to many crimes he had not been charged with due to the statute of limitations in California, including rape.
He was also a police officer and sometime mechanic who was fired from the police department after he was arrrested for shoplifting. McNamara tied his crime clusters together after the DNA of the then ‘East Area Rapist’ and ‘Original NIght Stalker’ were matched, coining the name ‘The Golden State Killer’ in 2013.
Her work helped keep the case alive and ultimately to lead police to Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. McNamara was determined to identify the killer but died before he could be named.
Other true crime writers helped McNamara’s husband, the comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, to finish her book after her death. It was updated and published just before the Golden State Killer case came to court in 2018.
DeAngelo, who was finally caught through the use of familial DNA via the Ancestry website, liked to collect trophies from his victims, chiefly jewellery and underwear. I included him in my Crime Dictionary because of this as well as the way he was finally identified with his DNA being uploaded to a website, a world first.
In another first, he was sentenced during the coronavirus crisis wearing a face visor in a university ballroom specifically used so that social distancing could be maintained during the hearing.
Although his crimes were heinous and DeAngelo has expressed no real remorse, there was a moment of light relief when the court erupted in laughter at the revelation that many of his victims had described his tiny penis.
Victims and their relatives applauded as prosecutor Amy Holliday recounted the evidence of a victim only identified as Jane Doe 20:
“After the sexual assault she could hear DeAngelo walking around the house. After she could no longer hear him in the house she was able to remove the blindfold and hop, still bound, to a neighbor’s house for help. When asked to describe her assailant to law enforcement Jane Doe 20 reported that he had a small penis, a fact that was consistently recorded by the majority of the sexual assault victims.”
After one of his victims pointed out 74 year old DeAngelo in the makeshift courtroom, the laughter and applause began. It was a fitting response to a man who had degraded and destroyed so many people.
Michelle McNamara would have been proud.