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True Crime Book Club - Past Titles: Sept. 2022

Trigger Warning: Take a look through our previous titles from our True Crime Book Club.

"I’ll be Gone in the Dark" by Michelle McNamara

  1. One of the many tragic things about this book is that some of it had to be completed after the author's death. It's pretty clear which parts these are, but what were the main differences in the narrative style between the writers? What do you imagine being the challenges of writing in someone else's voice?
  2. McNamara diverts from writing solely about serial killers and rapists to give a more personal narrative. Did you find this to be a nice respite or just a distraction from the crimes?
  3. Some of the descriptions of the attacks were pretty difficult to read. Did you find these parts more or less upsetting than consuming similar content via television or podcast?
  4. Did you find yourself behaving differently after reading how some of these attacks occurred - perhaps by being more observant/nervous? 
  5. McNamara goes back and forth in the timeline of the attacks - what purpose did this serve in her storytelling? Did you mind it?
  6. The book’s epigraph is the poem "Crime Club" by Weldon Kees. How does this poem set the tone for the story that follows?
  7. While I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a true crime story - a chronicle of the Golden State Killer - it is also a memoir. Why do you think McNamara included the story of her childhood and relationship with her mother in this story? In the book, Michelle confesses, "Writing this now, I’m struck by two incompatible truths that pain me. No one would have taken more joy from this book than my mother. And I probably wouldn’t have felt the freedom to write it until she was gone." Why couldn’t she write this book if her mother had still been alive? Why is it difficult for many people to reconcile parental expectations and disappointments with their own pursuits?
  8. In following Michelle’s search to unmask the GSK, what did you learn about her and the kind of person she is? How does getting to know her shape the story and your understanding of the case as it unfolds? Meeting Michelle in these pages, does she fit with your "profile" of a true crime obsessive? How would you characterize Michelle if you were introducing her to a friend?
  9. Novelist Gillian Flynn wrote the introduction to the book. How are crime novelists and true crime writers alike, and how do they differ? Do you read crime novels? If so, what draws you to them? How does the experience of reading a crime novel compare to reading a true crime account? What emotions does each elicit?
    1. “Viewers get to know several of the women beyond one harrowing night, through decades of undiagnosed PTSD, marriages that faltered, secrets kept even from the family in a culture that stigmatized survivors. This core of respect for shared humanity differentiates Garbus’ as well as McNamara’s tellings from so much true crime storytelling and justifies weaving the personal into the procedural. In the show, that means not just quoting McNamara’s insights into abuse and addiction but also forming a portrait of the author through conversations with the people who knew her—particularly Oswalt, who provided access to home movies, text messages, and journals. It’s a fitting tribute that Garbus draws out the painful experiences that connected McNamara to many of her fellow citizen detectives, granting humanity even to talking heads.” (TIME)
  10. What does Michelle tell us about the way crimes are investigated? What did you learn about the professionals who investigated them? What, if anything, might have helped them in their search for the GSK? How has technology improved their ability to share information? Has it in any way made solving crime more difficult?
  11. With the proliferation of genetic testing services, people can find out about their heritage and links to others who share their DNA. Currently, genetic testing services like 23andMe cannot upload the DNA of criminals for possible familial matches. The colleagues who finished the book after Michelle’s death use a quote from Jurassic Park to highlight the issue: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should." Why can’t law enforcement use these services as a tool? Should an exception be made in cases like GSK?
  12. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a living testament not only to Michelle McNamara and her unwavering commitment to this story but to the law enforcement professionals who have pursued him. What are your impressions of the detectives? Did you find yourself judging them for failing to capture GSK?
  13. Many people have investigated this case, from police detectives to amateurs. What made the GSK case so difficult to solve? His crime spree seems to have stopped in 1986. Do you have a theory that explains why he suddenly disappeared?
    1. Why was the Golden State Killer so hard to catch? - Sponsor Content - I’ll Be Gone in the Dark on HBO
    2. Must Reads: Why did it take so long to arrest the Golden State Killer suspect? Interagency rivalries, old technology, errors and bad luck - Los Angeles Times 
    3. How The Prolific Golden State Killer Managed To Hide In Plain Sight For Four Decades
    4. Why did the Golden State Killer stop (assuming he did)?  
  14. The book barely has a chapter on Joseph James DeAngelo, the man who was eventually identified as the Golden State Killer. Why do you think the final authors did not say more about him? Was that decision understandable?
  • Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. 
    • November 8, 1945 - present
    • a former police officer who between 1974 and 1986 committed at least:
      • 13 murders 
      • 51 rapes 
      • Over 120 burglaries across California
    • responsible for at least three separate crime sprees throughout the state, each of which spawned a different nickname in the press before it became evident that they were committed by the same person. 
      • In the San Joaquin Valley, he was known as the Visalia Ransacker 
      • before moving to the Sacramento area, where he became known as the East Area Rapist and was linked by modus operandi to additional attacks in Contra Costa County, Stockton, and Modesto.
      • DeAngelo committed serial murders in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Orange counties, where he was known as the Night Stalker and later the Original Night Stalker (owing to serial killer Richard Ramirez also being called the "Night Stalker")
    • In 2001, after DNA testing indicated that the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were the same person, the combined acronym EARONS came into use.
      • The case was a factor in the establishment of California's DNA database, which collects DNA from all accused and convicted felons in California
      • To heighten awareness of the case, crime writer Michelle McNamara coined the name Golden State Killer in early 2013
    • On June 15, 2016, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies held a news conference to announce a renewed nationwide effort, offering a $50,000 reward for the Golden State Killer's capture. 
      • On April 24, 2018, the State of California charged 72-year-old DeAngelo with eight counts of first-degree murder, based upon DNA evidence
        • investigators had identified members of DeAngelo's family through forensic genetic genealogy
      • This was also the first announcement connecting the Visalia Ransacker crimes to DeAngelo
        •  Owing to California's statute of limitations on pre-2017 rape cases, DeAngelo could not be charged with the 1970s rapes, but he was charged in August 2018 with thirteen related kidnapping and abduction attempts
      • On June 29, 2020, DeAngelo pled guilty to multiple counts of murder and kidnapping
        •  As part of a plea bargain that spared him the death penalty, DeAngelo also admitted to numerous crimes with which he had not been formally charged, including rapes.
      • On August 21, 2020, DeAngelo was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The 12 victims of the Golden State Killer's deadly crime spree | Daily Mail  Online   

  • Birth - April 14, 1970, in Oak Park, Illinois, USA
  • Death - April 21, 2016, in Los Angeles, California
  • Education - B.A. (English) at University of Notre Dame; M.F.A. (Creative Writing) at University of Minnesota
  • Early life and education: McNamara grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, the daughter of Thomas W. McNamara, a trial lawyer, and Rita McNamara (nee Rigney), a stay-at-home mother. Her parents were Irish American. McNamara was the youngest of the couple's five daughters and one son. They grew up Irish Catholic. 
  • Career: After graduate school, in 1997, McNamara moved to Los Angeles to write in the film and TV industry. In 2006, she launched her website. McNamara had a long-standing fascination with true crime originating from the unsolved murder of Kathleen Lombardo that happened two blocks from where she lived when she was young. She became interested in the Golden State Killer case and penned articles for Los Angeles magazine about the serial killer. It was McNamara who coined the term "Golden State Killer" after authorities linked DNA evidence that connected the Original Night Stalker and East Area Rapist. She then signed a book deal with HarperCollins and began to work on a book about the case. She died before the book could be finished; it was posthumously updated and finalized by true crime writer Paul Haynes, crime journalist Billy Jensen, and her husband, Patton Oswalt. The book, released almost two years after her death, reached No. 2 on the New York Times Best Seller list for nonfiction and No. 1 for combined print and e-book nonfiction. In April 2018, HBO announced it had purchased the rights for I'll Be Gone in the Dark and was developing it into a documentary series. Filming began in April 2018. On April 25, 2018, two months after the book's release, Californian authorities arrested Joseph James DeAngelo as the alleged Golden State Killer. 
  • Personal life: McNamara married actor Patton Oswalt on September 24, 2005. The couple's daughter Alice was born in 2009.
  • Death: McNamara died in her bed on April 21, 2016, in her family's Los Angeles, California, home. According to the autopsy report, her death was attributed to the effects of multiple drugs, including Adderall, Xanax, Fentanyl, and amphetamines. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease was a contributing factor. The coroner ruled it an accidental overdose. She is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
    • “McNamara’s long chase would become an exhausting and all-consuming one, its grip on her so tight that it led to a homebrewed cocktail of pharmaceuticals that were meant to alleviate the stress but instead aggravated an undiagnosed heart condition and killed her. In a way, that made the 46-year-old McNamara, the long-dormant killer’s final victim.” (
  • “From the very beginning, Michelle and I discussed that we wouldn't be able to ID the killer by the end of the book," Jennifer Barth, McNamara's editor at HarperCollins, told The Daily Beast. "I felt that wasn't the core of the story; I felt it was the search for the killer and the people who searched for them. We always said it would be amazing to unmask him, but that wasn't the plan.” (Marie Claire)

After McNamara’s death, “Oswalt sat down with McNamara's researcher Paul Haynes and crime journalist Billy Jensen, and the three finished the book as a team. Jensen explained in his own book (Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders) that while McNamara had completed numerous chapters for the book, they weren't in any particular order. Jensen, Haynes, and Oswalt sequenced her material and filled in the gaps that weren't already addressed in her book.” (Marie Claire)


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