'I'll Be Gone In The Dark': Who is the Golden State Killer that Michelle McNamara was looking for?

A serial killer, burglar and rapist, he was known for his involvement in at least three crime sprees that earned him a different nickname in the 1970s and 1980s


                            'I'll Be Gone In The Dark': Who is the Golden State Killer that Michelle McNamara was looking for?
Golden State Killer (Federal Bureau of Investigation/Wikipedia Commons)

HBO's new six-part documentary 'I'll Be Gone In The Dark’ paints the gory picture of a serial killer named Golden State Killer. Based on the book of the same name, the story envisages author Michelle McNamara’s investigation into the dark world of the violent predator. The spectacular retelling of the book sheds light on her obsession with unsolved cases of the man who terrorized California in the 1970s and '80s and is responsible for 50 home-invasion rapes and 12 murders.

Directed by Academy Award nominee and Emmy-winning director Liz Garbus, the tale begins with a glimpse into the investigation of McNamara who lived a quiet life as a writer, mother and wife to her comedian-husband Patton Oswalt. Their adorable love story met a tragic end with her death and the hunt continued for the serial killer who plagued her thoughts. Drawing on archival footage, police files, snippets of exclusive interviews with detectives, survivors and family members of the killer, the series weaves together a picture of a complex and flawed investigation that challenged police for decades.

The one question the series brings to the mind is: Who was the Golden State Killer?

A serial killer, burglar and rapist, he was known for his involvement in at least three crime sprees that earned him a different nickname, much before it was established that it was the same person. In the Sacramento area, he was known as the East Area Rapist, and he was known for his southern California crimes as the Original Night Stalker. Together, it made for an acronym EAR/ONS. Not just that, it is believed that he began his set of crimes as a burglar — while he was dubbed as the Visalia Ransacker. He was also known as Diamond Knot Killer. Not just his victims, he also taunted the cops with vicious, obscene phone calls, saying: "You're never gonna catch me," "Gonna kill you b***h" and "I'm the East Side Rapist".

Hand-drawn punishment map (Sacramento Police Department)

Before he was found, a set of characteristics were formed based on crime-scene evidence: Said to be a white male, he was about 5 feet 10 inches tall with a slender and athletic build. Moreover, his shoe size was between 9 and ​9 1⁄2. His blood type was said to be A and a DNA test confirmed that his sperm did not contain blood-group antigens. Moreover, in most cases, there was a fence and officers felt that a drainage system was connected. He was said to be quite acrobatic, a man who was capable of sprinting, cycling and scaling fences.

The investigation ran for decades and in 2001, it was finally corroborated that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were the same person. McNamara coined the name "Golden State Killer" in early 2013 and her blog True Crime Diary significantly helped solve the case and bring all the survivors together. 

Placing bits and pieces of information together, the Golden State Killer's sketches were created and his psychological profile was designed when the murders began in 1979. According to Leslie D'Ambrosia, the primary author of the profile, he was thought of as a 26-to-30-year-old man who engaged in brutal sex and may have had a criminal record during his teenage years. Moreover, with the lack of proof for the series of cases circling through California, it was suspected that he had a thorough knowledge of police investigative methods and evidence-gathering techniques. Moreover, it was believed that he dressed well and would not stand out in upscale neighborhoods. It seemed like he kept a track of people around in the neighborhood and was quite neat and well-organized in his crimes. Criminologists suspected that he may have been an arrogant, domineering, manipulative man and a chronic liar. While the investigations were going on, three sheets of paper were found near a suspicious vehicle.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72 (Sacramento County Sheriff's Department)

While the first sheet had an essay on General George Armstrong Custer, the second sheet was a journal-style entry describing a school incident about a teacher who punished students. The article began with: "Mad is the word, the word that reminds me of 6th grade. I hated that year..." The third sheet had a hand-drawn map of a suburban neighborhood, with the word "punishment" written at the back and was found to be Golden State Killer's desired striking ground.

In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local law enforcement agencies held a news conference and announced a $50,000 reward for his capture. Thanks to the pioneering use of DNA techniques, authorities charged 72-year-old United States Navy veteran and former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo with eight counts of first-degree murder on April 24, 2018. DeAngelo had worked as a police officer in the Central Valley town of Exeter from 1973 to 1976 and was reportedly fired from the Auburn Police Department northeast of Sacramento in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. 

While DeAngelo cannot be charged with 1970's rapes, he was charged in August 2018 with 13 related kidnapping and abduction attempts. In a recent development, he is expected to plead guilty and accept at least 62 rapes during his sadistic spree in the 1970s and 1980s. Reports say he will enter a deal that will spare him the death penalty on charges for 13 murders and 13 kidnappings spanning six counties in California. Although the crimes can no longer be prosecuted because too much time has passed, it would bring closure to survivors who have waited for justice for decades. 

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