from my bookshelf: i’ll be gone in the dark by michelle mcnamara


michelle mcnamara was a journalist who took it upon herself to solve the (no longer) cold case of the golden state killer. the gsk raped, murdered, and traumatized victims up and down the state of california between the years of 1976-1986. mcnamara coined the term “golden state killer”, created a network of individuals who, like her, were not law enforcement, but were eager to utilize modern technology to sift through evidence and theorize about the case, and created a close relationship with detectives who had worked the case and were starting to feel helpless. i’ll be gone in the dark is about mcnamara’s search for the gsk, the inner-workings of her mind and what made her uniquely cut out for this task, and how her obsession affected every facet of her personal and family life. mcnamara passed away while writing the book, but it was finished by her husband, patton oswalt, and research team. the gsk was caught this year.


“The hunt to find the Golden State Killer, spanning nearly four decades, felt less like a relay race than a group of fanatics tethered together climbing up an impossible mountain.”

“Taking on two people, as the Harrington’s killer had, was considered unusual. It was high risk. It suggested the killer’s pleasure was in part derived from raising the stakes.”

“Most violent criminals smash through life like human sledgehammers. They have fists for hands and can’t plan beyond their sightlines. They’re caught easily. They talk too much. They return to the scene of the crime, as conspicuous as tin cans on a bumper. But every so often a blue moon surfaces. A snow leopard slinks by.”

“I was foregoing a fancy Hollywood party to return not to my sleeping infant but my laptop, to excavate through the night in search of information about a man I’d never met, who’d murdered people I didn’t know.”

“The part of the brain reserved for sports statistics or dessert recipes or Shakespeare quotes is, for me, a gallery of harrowing aftermaths.”

“She could be undermining and cutting in her remarks, but the older me sees that as a reflection of her own undercut self-image.”

“But I felt her expectations, the transference of hope, and I bristled. I both yearned for her approval and found her investment in me suffocating. She was both proud of the fact that she had raised a strong-minded daughter and resentful of my sharp opinions.”

“My mother was, and always will be, the most complicated relationship of my life.”

“He loses his power when we know his face.”

“You could plant your feet in the man’s footprints, but without knowing what drew him to that spot, yours was the chump’s view, dumbly scanning the horizon for a hint. Overgrowth of tangled brush. Fences. Backyard. Too much. Not enough. Square one.”

“They hunted a man whose face they didn’t know. Didn’t matter. The action of moving forward, their hands unrestrained, of physically doing something, was all that did.”

“Charlene Smith was just the latest unlucky stand-in for the lustful, sneering women–mother, schoolgirl, ex-wife–who formed a disapproving circle around the killer in his daydreams, their cacophony of disdain forcing him, always, to his knees; the act of grabbing the log was arousal alchemized to hate, a vicious punishment meted out by one judge: his corroded brain.”

“Tracking back the killer’s predatory development was like watching a horror movie in reverse, but rewinding was important.”

“The things they hear: Dogs barking. Heavy footsteps on the lava rock path. Someone cutting through the window screen. A thump against the air conditioner. Tampering with the sliding glass door. Scratching at the side of the house. A call for help. A scuffle. Gunshots. A woman’s long scream. No one calls the police.”

“That’s what we do. All of us. We make well-intentioned promises of protection we can’t always keep.”

“The Golden State Killer haunts their dreams. He’s ruined their marriages. He’s burrowed so deeply inside their heads that they want to, or have to, believe that if they locked eyes with him, they’d know.”