The men who helped publish the late Michelle McNamara’s book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” talked about the role she played in investigating the decades-old Golden State Killer case during a Q&A session at the Citrus Heights Barnes & Noble on Wednesday night.
Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, McNamara’s husband and the person who worked to get the book published after her death in 2016, attended the event, along with roughly 450 true-crime fans and Sacramento-area residents who packed into the bookstore.
The group gathered just miles away from the home where Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies arrested Joseph DeAngelo, 72, in his home over a month ago in connection with the unsolved serial killings and more than 50 rapes attributed to the notorious Golden State Killer.
Some sat in chairs set up near the center of the bookstore, while others lined up against bookshelves to catch a glimpse of the event.
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“I tried to empathize with what the victims were feeling,” Oswalt said of DeAngelo’s arrest. “Michelle did not believe in closure but believed in relief and healing. I certainly hope there was an element of that.”
He was joined by Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist who covers unsolved crimes, as well as Paul Haynes, who helped McNamara research the serial killer while writing the book. Both men combed through her notes and emails to piece together her work after she died.
McNamara’s efforts to find the Golden State Killer, a nickname she coined, have widely been lauded for creating a new interest in the unsolved case. The serial killer is also known as the East Area Rapist based on a series of rapes that happened on the eastern side of Sacramento County.
In 2013, she wrote an in-depth feature article for Los Angeles magazine about her own obsession with the case, as well as the remaining investigators who were still determined to track down the killer. She also started her own website, True Crime Diary.
News of her unexpected death in her sleep in 2016 and word of the unfinished book drew additional attention to the serial killings and rapes.
“When Michelle died, it became a national and international story,” Jensen said. “It was about a woman who was trying to find this Golden State Killer, and a lot of people who had no idea about the case started looking at it and saying, ‘Wow, maybe we should put some more resources behind it.’ ”
While Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones denied the book played a direct role in DeAngelo’s arrest, he did credit the novel for generating tips and interest from community members.
DeAngelo was arrested at his Citrus Heights home on April 24. The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office confirmed they tied DeAngelo to the Golden State Killer by using a genealogical website to match DNA from one of the crimes scenes to the genetic profile of a relative.
Since then, DeAngelo has remained behind bars at the Sacramento County Main Jail. He faces 12 murder charges stemming from killings that took place in the ‘70s and ‘80s across various counties in California, including the 1978 slayings of Brian and Katie Maggiore in Rancho Cordova.
The case has also led other law enforcement agencies to consider the use of genetic profiling in unsolved cases, including that of the Zodiac Killer, believed to have killed several people in the Bay Area during the 1960s. That killer's identity remains unknown.
Earlier this month, the Vallejo Police Department said they sent evidence from one of the Zodiac crimes to a private DNA lab in hopes of tracing him in a similar fashion as in the East Area Rapist case.
“This is going to create a whole new set of jobs,” Jensen said of the DNA testing. “There’s so much that’s going to be out there and that’s going to be solved.”
Amy Goldman, an English teacher who has lived in the Sacramento area since 1992, said she first heard about the case after listening to the audio file of McNamara’s book. She wore a shirt that read “Murderino,” a nickname for fans of the true-crime podcast “My Favorite Murder.”
“I’m just fascinated because I recognize all the places that they talk about,” she said.
Colette Bonnett, from Carmichael, said she grew up hearing stories about the East Area Rapist from family members who lived in the Sacramento area during his reign of terror. She has not read the book but said she was drawn to the event by the locality of the case.
“He was so confident that he would never be caught that he was a local resident,” she said.
“My brother lives in Citrus Heights, and so do my niece and nephews, so it hits close to home for me,” Bonnett added.