I feel like I have been waiting my entire life for this true crime book to be published. Michelle spent six obsessive years writing about an unsolved spree of horrific crimes in the 1970s and 1980s, which included 13 confirmed murders, over 50 rapes, and more than 100 burglaries across California, the Golden State. And it was Michelle who coined the phrase Golden State Killer to link all of his crimes together. Before this, he had several names, including the East Area Rapist, Visalia Ransacker, and Diamond Knot Killer. She poured over police reports and interviews, contacted the original detectives on the job, and visited the actual crime scenes.
Michelle was the original Internet true crime sleuth, and she never stopped. Her passion for finding the killer and her empathy for his victims is evident in every single page. Not only did Michelle have a true crime obsession like many of us do, but she was also a brilliant writer. Michelle received a BA in English from the University of Notre Dame and earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota.
After Michelle’s sudden passing in April 2016, her husband, Patton Oswalt, alongside her partners, Billy Jensen and Paul Hayes, were determined to get her unfinished book published. They didn’t want to write the conclusion because, as loosely quoted by the trio when I saw them speak at the Citrus Heights’ Barnes and Noble, “they cannot write as well as Michelle.” Instead, Billy and Paul diligently scoured through Michelle’s extensive handwritten notes and over 3,000 files on her computer. They ultimately used her words to finish the book, which in my mind, is the sweetest possible way to honor her memory. Patton spoke about her genuine obsession and how self-aware she was of it. He compared it to Robert Graysmith and his obsession with the Zodiac killer, which Michelle read several times.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was published in February 2018, two years after Michelle’s untimely death. During my visit to Barnes and Noble in May 2018, I met some of the victims’ families, and a few of them signed my book. I also learned that HBO bought the rights to the book and was filming the documentary series at the time I was there. It was a surreal experience.
In April 2018, two months after the book’s publication, Joseph James DeAngelo was taken into custody and confirmed via a DNA match to be the Golden State Killer. I do not doubt that Michelle’s book, her passion, curiosity, tenacity, obsession, empathy - whatever you want to call it - revived the decades’ old case and ultimately led to his arrest. Paul Holes, the lead detective and whom Michelle became friends with, has confirmed this fact in more than one instance.
So as I mentioned, I feel like I was waiting my entire life for this book. There are really two reasons: one is that Michelle is a kindred spirit as I share her insatiable curiosity of true crime; and two, I grew up in the area and during the era of these heinous crimes. I grew up in Sacramento, where he went to high school, and when DeAngelo was arrested I found out that he had lived 15 minutes from my house all these years. IT’S INSANITY.
Here are a few recommendations if you’d like to learn more about the Golden State Killer case: