Magazine article The Spectator

'I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer', by Michelle McNamara - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer', by Michelle McNamara - Review

Article excerpt

This true-crime narrative ought, by rights, to be broken backed, in two tragic ways. One is that the serial attacker it concerns, a sneaking California rapist who graduated to multiple murder, was never caught. The other is that its author died aged 46 before the book could be completed. That it is nevertheless so gripping and satisfying is thanks to its sensitive editors and compilers, but mainly due to the remarkable skills of Michelle McNamara herself.

The subtitle is 'One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer'. McNamara coined the catchy nickname for the shadowy figure that slaughtered five couples and two women between 1978 and 1986. The investigators knew him as EAR-ONS, after DNA connected the 'East Area Rapist' of Sacramento with the 'Original Night Stalker', so-called because his attacks began before those of the infamous Richard Ramirez, active 1984-85.

The EAR-ONS rapes and murders were not linked to begin with, because the latter took place further south, in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange County. After the killing of Janelle Cruz, they abruptly stopped; conventional wisdom maintains that violent serial killers only give up for two reasons: incarceration, whether in a mental hospital or prison, or death. But so much about EAR-ONS resists conventional explanation. He combined explosive rage and impulsiveness with lengthy planning and surveillance. He liked to steal victims' clock radios.

The sheer scale of offending gives the impression of someone who was able to attack almost at will, fleeing on foot or on stolen bicycles, even on one occasion outpacing a pursuer in a car. Identifying details are frustratingly vague. He usually wore a ski-mask. Witnesses' and survivors' assessments of his build, hair colour or age vary widely; the only things agreed on are his height, around 5ft 10, and his penis size -- unusually small. Similarly diverse are interpretations of his behaviour: breaking off an attack for a bout of heavy breathing could be asthma, ungovernable excitement or theatrical sadism.

McNamara explains that an unsolved murder of a young woman in Chicago, close to where she lived as a child, fed an obsession with crime and killers that led ultimately to her widely admired blog, TrueCrimeDiary. …

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