The Golden State Killer: the book and then the arrest

May 1, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism.

The arrest recently of a man accused of being the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who haunted California’s neighborhoods and psyche, in the 1970s and 80s, is a story with many threads — including a now best-selling book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by the late Michelle McNamara.

Michelle McNamara

McNamara had pursued the story of the Golden State Killer for several years and had become transfixed by it. Her goal was to find the killer and write a book about her pursuit. Those efforts ended on April 21, 2016, when her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, found her dead. She died of an undiagnosed heart disease that had been complicated by a number of drugs that she had been taking.

Oswalt did not want her story to go unfinished, so, according to the New York Times:

Shortly after her death, Mr. Oswalt recruited Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist, and Paul Haynes, who worked closely with Ms. McNamara on the book as a researcher, to comb through her handwritten notes and the roughly 3,500 files on her computer and piece together the story she set out to tell. Source: Michelle McNamara Hunted, and Was Haunted by, the Golden State Killer – The New York Times

The book was published in February and has been on best-seller lists ever since.

Meanwhile,  California criminal investigators had put together a task force the previous summer to make another attempt at finding the killer. McNamara was dead by then, but law enforcement officials knew of her efforts used what she found in their search.

Two months after her book was published, California law enforcement authorities announced the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer in a couple of California districts, and charged him with one of the murders associated with the series of killings. They plan other charges.

Investigators had a big weapon on their side that they didn’t have when the crimes occurred in the 1970s and 80s: DNA. They used that weapon in a creative and unconventional way.

Investigators used DNA from crime scenes that had been stored all these years and plugged the genetic profile of the suspected assailant into an online genealogy database. They found distant relatives of Mr. DeAngelo’s and, despite his years of eluding the authorities, traced their DNA to his front door. “We found a person that was the right age and lived in this area — and that was Mr. DeAngelo,” said Steve Grippi, the assistant chief in the Sacramento district attorney’s office. Source: How a Genealogy Site Led to the Front Door of the Golden State Killer Suspect – The New York Times


Additional sources:

Search for ‘Golden State Killer’ Leads to Arrest of Ex-Cop – The New York Times

Is Joseph James DeAngelo “The Golden State Killer”? Michelle McNamara’s quest to find elusive serial killer – CBS News

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