#childabductors | New documentary of author Michelle McNamara’s obsessive journey to unmask the Golden State Killer 

One author’s obsessive pursuit to unmask the Golden State Killer, one of the most prolific serial murderers and rapists in US history, is being brought to life in a new six-part HBO documentary series.

True-crime author Michelle McNamara died of an accidental overdose on April 21, 2016 – just two years before police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, a retired police officer, believing him to be responsible for at least 13 murders, 50 rapes and 100 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986.

Though tragically she never lived long enough to witness the fruits of her labor, in the five years leading up to her death, McNamara compulsively played amateur sleuth – delving into the history of the Golden State Killer and analysing his every move in a bid to finally unmask him and bring him to justice. 

‘I had a murder habit – it was bad,’ McNamara once wrote of her obsession over the case, which had been fueled by an unsolved murder in her hometown as a child. ‘I knew I would be feeding it for the rest of my life.’

McNamara’s unrelenting voyage to unmask the Golden State Killer is captured in HBO’s upcoming documentary series, ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’, set for release on June 26.

‘I just obsess over it,’ McNamara is heard confessing in a newly surfaced video diary. ‘What drives me is the need to put a face on an unknown killer.

‘After my husband and daughter fall asleep, I hunt for the killer on my laptop.’

True-crime author Michelle McNamara died of an accidental overdose on April 21, 2016 – but in the five years leading up to her death, McNamara compulsively played amateur sleuth – delving into the history of the Golden State Killer and analysing his every move in a bid to finally bring him to justice 

She died just two years before police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, a retired police officer, believing him to be responsible for at least 13 murders, 50 rapes and 100 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986

She died just two years before police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, a retired police officer, believing him to be responsible for at least 13 murders, 50 rapes and 100 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986 

The series shares its name with McNamara’s book, which was published posthumously in February 2018. The title was taken from a quote the book’s subject allegedly hissed at one of his victims: ‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,’ 

From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, California was terrorized by a balaclava-wearing assailant who would monitor suburban neighborhoods, sneak into homes in the dead of night and blind his prey with a flashlight.  

Usually targeting couples, he would tie up the man, place dishes on his back and threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall onto the floor while he was raping the female victim. 

He spoke only through gritted teeth and his depraved obsession of committing heinous acts of rape soon escalated into a deadly taste for murder.

Many of survivors have claimed he would often sob uncontrollably after committing a sexual assault, calling out for his mother. He would then sit quietly in the darkness for hours to trick his blindfolded victims into thinking he’d left, before striking again. 

The suspect’s last known killing occurred in 1986; and as mysteriously as the demonic figure appeared, he vanished without a trace. 

The various crime sprees of the masked assailant would go on to be attributed to a number of different names – the Visalia Ransacker; the Original Night Stalker; and the East Area Rapist – before it became evident they were all committed by the same man.

It wasn’t until McNamara began compiling some 3,500 of pages of evidence for her book and online crime blog, that she would coin the moniker the Golden State Killer.

‘She had material that other investigators had never seen,’ retired detective Paul Holes, who had worked on the unsolved murders at the time, told HBO of McNamara. 

‘Even though she never had a badge and a gun, Michelle was always one of us.’

'I just obsess over it,' McNamara is heard confessing in a newly surfaced video diary. 'What drives me is the need to put a face on an unknown killer. 'After my husband and daughter fall asleep, I hunt for the killer on my laptop.'

‘I just obsess over it,’ McNamara is heard confessing in a newly surfaced video diary. ‘What drives me is the need to put a face on an unknown killer. ‘After my husband and daughter fall asleep, I hunt for the killer on my laptop.’

The various crime sprees of the masked assailant would go on to be attributed to a number of different names - the Visalia Ransacker; the Original Night Stalker; and the East Area Rapist - before it became evident they were all committed by the same man

The various crime sprees of the masked assailant would go on to be attributed to a number of different names – the Visalia Ransacker; the Original Night Stalker; and the East Area Rapist – before it became evident they were all committed by the same man 

From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s California was terrorized by a balaclava-wearing assailant who would monitor suburban neighborhoods, sneak into homes at night and blind his prey with a flashlight

From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s California was terrorized by a balaclava-wearing assailant who would monitor suburban neighborhoods, sneak into homes at night and blind his prey with a flashlight

The Golden State Killer is suspected of committing dozens and dozens of crimes in Sacramento County in the late 1970s. Pictured is crime scene evidence from one of the attacks 

The Golden State Killer is suspected of committing dozens and dozens of crimes in Sacramento County in the late 1970s. Pictured is crime scene evidence from one of the attacks 

Usually targeting couples, he would tie up the man, place dishes on his back and threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall onto the floor while he was raping the female victim

Usually targeting couples, he would tie up the man, place dishes on his back and threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall onto the floor while he was raping the female victim

After McNamara’s death, aged 46, her husband Patton Oswalt solicited the help of Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen, two investigative journalists and friends of McNamara, who worked to finish her book.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was released just weeks before the arrest of 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, on April 24, 2018, who was initially charged in connection to the 1980 double homicide of suspected GSK victims Lyman and Charlene Smith.

Police would later charge him in relation to 11 more murders. Because of California’s statute of limitations on pre-2017 rape cases, DeAngelo was not charged in relation to any of the instances of sexual assault, but he was charged in August 2018 with a slew of kidnapping and abduction charges. 

Investigators zeroed in on DeAngelo by matching DNA evidence found at the crime scene to genealogical data stored on the websites 23andme and Ancestry.com.

At the time, his only known run-in with police occurred in 1979, when he was fired as an officer of the Auburn Police Department for shoplifting from a Citrus Heights Drug Store.

‘We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also knew that needle was there,’ Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at the time. ‘We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento. The answer was always going to be in the DNA.’  

After McNamara's death, aged 46, her husband Patton Oswalt (right) solicited the help of Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen, two investigative journalists and friends of McNamara, who worked to finish off her book.

After McNamara’s death, aged 46, her husband Patton Oswalt (right) solicited the help of Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen, two investigative journalists and friends of McNamara, who worked to finish off her book.

Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected Golden State Killer, is arraigned in a Sacramento courtroom in april 2018

 Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected Golden State Killer, is arraigned in a Sacramento courtroom in april 2018

DeAngelo was initially charged in connection to the 1980 double homicide of suspected GSK victims Lyman and Charlene Smith

DeAngelo was initially charged in connection to the 1980 double homicide of suspected GSK victims Lyman and Charlene Smith

At the time, his only known run-in with police occurred in 1979, when he was fired as an officer of the Auburn Police Department (seen left in uniform) for shoplifting from a Citrus Heights Drug Store. A composite sketch of the suspect draws a remarkable resemblance to DeAngelo at the time

At the time, his only known run-in with police occurred in 1979, when he was fired as an officer of the Auburn Police Department (seen left in uniform) for shoplifting from a Citrus Heights Drug Store. A composite sketch of the suspect draws a remarkable resemblance to DeAngelo at the time

DeAngelo was living quietly in this Citrus Heights home when he was arrested in April 2018 on the basis of groundbreaking genetic genealogy evidence

DeAngelo was living quietly in this Citrus Heights home when he was arrested in April 2018 on the basis of groundbreaking genetic genealogy evidence

DeAngelo faces charges linking him to at least 13 murders and over 50 rapes across California in the 1970s and 80s

DeAngelo faces charges linking him to at least 13 murders and over 50 rapes across California in the 1970s and 80s

In March, DeAngelo offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office countered saying they wished to  continue seeking the death penalty. 

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steve White allowed prosecutors, over defense objections, to take four more cheek-swab DNA samples from DeAngelo as they try to link him to old crimes. 

White gave prosecutors permission to swab the suspect’s cheek for additional DNA evidence to be used in crimes in Ventura, Santa Barbara, Orange and Contra Costa counties.  

For the time being, he turned down a request that a fifth sample be taken to be given to prosecutors in Sacramento, where his trial on 13 murder and 13 rape-related charges is expected to be held.

‘I am ordering that buccal swab samples be taken from the defendant,’ White said. ‘They will not be done forcibly. … It won’t be in open court,’ Sacbee reported.

The state last executed someone in 2006, and has a backlog of more than 700 killers on death row. 

A capital trial, which would follow a lengthy preliminary hearing in May, could cost taxpayers an estimated $20 million.

Joseph James DeAngelo is currently being held without bail in the Sacramento County Main Jail.  

GOLDEN STATE KILLER’S THIRTEEN VICTIMS

Claude Snelling: September 11, 1975

Claude Snelling: September 11, 1975

Claude Snelling

September 11, 1975

Journalism professor Claude Snelling, 45, was asleep in his home in Visalia, California when he heard an odd noise outside at about 2am. 

He rushed outside to find a masked man dragging his 16-year-old daughter Elizabeth away.

The abductor shot Snelling twice, killing him, and fled the scene on foot, leaving Elizabeth unharmed. 

The shooting was connected to the work of the Visalia Ransacker, believed to be responsible for 102 burglaries in the area, when ballistics matched the gun that killed Snelling to one that had been stolen in a previous break-in. 

Brian and Katie Maggiore: February 2, 1978

Brian and Katie Maggiore

February 2, 1978

Brian Maggiore, 21, and his wife Katie, 20, were walking their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood, just outside Sacramento, on February 2, 1978. 

The FBI said the couple were chased down before being shot and killed by the Golden State Killer.

Dr Robert Offerman

Alexandria Manning

Dr Robert Offerman and Alexandria Manning: December 30, 1979

Dr Robert Offerman and Alexandria Manning

December 30, 1979

Dr Robert Offerman, 44, and Alexandria Manning, 35, were killed at a home in Goleta near Santa Barbara. 

Offerman, an osteopathic surgeon, and Manning, a clinical psychologist, had their hands bound with twine. 

DeAngelo is also charged with murdering Lyman and Charlene Smith at their Ventura County home on March 13, 1980

Patrice and Keith Harrington were killed in their home at Dana Point on August 19, 1980

Lyman and Charlene Smith (left) and Patrice and Keith Harrington (right)  

Lyman and Charlene Smith

March 13, 1980

Lyman Smith, 43, and his wife Charlene, 33, were bludgeoned to death with a fireplace log in their Ventura County home. 

Smith was an attorney who was just days from being appointed a judge. His wife worked as a court clerk. 

Patrice and Keith Harrington

August 19, 1980

Patrice Harrington, 28, and her husband Keith, 25, were killed in their home at Dana Point. Police said they were beaten with a blunt instrument.   

Patrice was a pediatric nurse and her husband was a medical student at UC Irvine.  

Manuela Witthuhn

Janelle Lisa Cruz

Manuela Witthuhn (left) and Janelle Lisa Cruz (right)

Manuela Witthuhn

February 5, 1981

Manuela Witthuhn, 28, was raped and beaten to death in her home in Irvine. 

She was home alone at the time because her husband was in the hospital recovering from an illness. 

Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez 

Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez 

Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez

July 27, 1981

Cheri Domingo, 35, and Gregory Sanchez, 27, were house sitting in Goleta when they were murdered in bed. 

Domingo was found with her hands tied and suffering massive head injuries. Sanchez was shot and bludgeoned.

Janelle Lisa Cruz

May 4, 1986

Janelle Cruz, 18, was bludgeoned to death in her family’s home in Irvine. She was home alone at the time and police found her lying across her bed. 

A real estate agent who was selling the family’s home was the first to discover the teen’s body. Blood was found spattered throughout the home and police believe she was beaten with a pipe wrench.  


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