While Bonnie Colwell was once engaged to a man who went on to kill 13 and rape dozens of women, she firmly stands with the victims of the serial murdered now known as the Golden State Killer.
Not long after Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo was arrested in 2018, Colwell’s was thrust into the public spotlight. She was called the catalyst for the serial killer’s rage by at least one tabloid after it was reported that he repeatedly told one of the women he sexually assaulted,” I hate you, Bonnie.”
Even a Mercury News article — which cites Colwell and DeAngelo’s 1970 engagement announcement — reported that his violent campaign was fueled by animosity towards Colwell. A New York Post headline exclaimed “Golden State Killer was driven by hatred of ex-fiancée: investigator.”
Colwell reflected on the aftermath of DeAngelo's arrest in HBO’s new docuseries “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”
“I had no idea how much I would be involved,” she said.
After the news broke that she was DeAngelo’s ex, Colwell said satellite trucks and reporters packed the street in front of her home. Her Facebook photo was plastered in news articles. Reporters blew up her phone and left notes at her home.
Everyone wanted insight into DeAngelo’s life — and many saw Colwell as an avenue.
“It was total invasion of my privacy,” Colwell said in the docuseries. “But I refuse to wear the blame for a crazy man so I don’t carry the guilt for that. But, the empathy with the women that were attacked: I can’t turn that off.”
Colwell noted that she had her own horrifying experiences with the serial killer she was once engaged to marry that informed her empathy: events that seemed to horrifyingly foreshadow DeAngelo's future crimes.
She previously spoke to the Los Angeles Times in 2019 about her relationship with the Golden State Killer for the podcast “Man in the Window.” In it, she revealed that when she and DeAngelo were dating, she observed him killing several animals. In the podcast, and in the new docuseries, she explained that DeAngelo bought her a small .22 rifle and that he’d often take her on illegal hunting trips.
They’d shoot down doves and he’d rip their insides out. They trespassed on a fenced-in-property to illegally poach frogs. Colwell said DeAngelo would kill deer for fun.
“So many of the things we did together, he pushed me toward fear,” she recalled in “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”
These activities wasn’t in Colwell's nature and described herself as “the good girl, the rule follower, a straight A student when I started dating this guy," she said.
She recalled in the docuseries that she was once on the back of DeAngelo’s motorcycle as they were dangerously riding up a steep hill, a feat she called “suicide.” A German Shepherd began chasing them and she noted that her then-boyfriend “kicked the dog underneath the chin and broke its neck. It just dropped dead.”
The pair had first met when DeAngelo approached Colwell at Sierra College around 1970. At the time, she was studying nursing while DeAngelo had just served four years in the Navy. He was five years her senior and he was studying law enforcement at the school.
They began dating, and eventually he took her virginity.
Colwell said that sex with him was not pleasant; in fact, it was sometimes downright “painful," she noted in the docuseries.
“I really didn’t know any better,” she said. “I just had no reference to say this is going toward abusive.”
DeAngelo would want hours-long sex with her while listening only to the 1960s psychedelic rock group, The Doors, Colwell said.
While Colwell never recounted an official proposal, she said that the future murderer gave her an engagement ring with a big gemstone — telling her they were going to be married.
Colwell ended their engagement and their relationship in 1971 after she became annoyed with continued persistence to help him cheat on a test. She recalled in the docuseries that when she refused to help him cheat, he put pressure on her.
"'You have to,'" he would tell her, according to Colwell.
She eventually had enough and gave him his ring back.
Two weeks later she awoke to DeAngelo tapping on her bedroom glass.
“And I just pulled the, just a thin cotton curtain on the window, and I pulled it back,” she said in “Man in the Window.” “And he was pointing a gun at my face.”
She told “I'll Be Gone in the Dark” that DeAngelo demanded she get dressed so they could head to Reno, Nevada to elope. Colwell ran out of the room to get her father — as she lived with her parents at the time.
Her father told her to stay in the bathroom while he went to speak to DeAngelo. After a while, she came out of the room to find DeAngelo was gone.
Her father told her to go to bed without explaining what had transpired in his conversation with DeAngelo.
Colwell recalled to the Los Angeles Times that she was so spooked by the attack she dropped out of school for a month and even changed majors to avoid DeAngelo. She only saw him once again after that encounter, while walking in a mall with her husband. She hid when she saw him.
After DeAngelo’s arrest, she felt haunted by her one-time fiancé once again. In addition to the media frenzy following the killer's arrest, her mind kept returning to the night that DeAngelo — whose modus operandi included breaking into his victims’ homes through their windows — showed up at her window armed with a gun.
“When he was arrested and I started to tell the story again, I was sleeping about 3 hours a night,” she said. “I’m waking up with a gun at my head over and over again.”
"I'll Be Gone in the Dark" airs on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.
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