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Crime News Serial Killers

What Happened To Michelle McNamara, Who Tragically Died Investigating The Golden State Killer?

Michelle McNamara is the author behind a groundbreaking book on the Golden State Killer.

By Connor Mannion

Although many people are now aware of the nefarious history of the Golden State Killer, the public may have remained in the dark if it weren't for the work of dedicated true crime investigator and writer Michelle McNamara.

But tragically, McNamara, 46, would not live to see the arrest and potential guilty plea of suspect Joseph DeAngelo, nor would she see the publication of her seminal work on the Golden State Killer, "I'll Be Gone In The Dark" — which has now been adapted into an HBO docuseries directed by Liz Garbus. 

McNamara had long written about the Golden State Killer on her popular blog "True Crime Diary" and in Los Angeles Magazine, Time reported. She later began work on a book to flesh out her investigation into the killer blamed for a series of rapes and murders across California from 1976 to 1986. McNamara even coined the now infamous moniker "The Golden State Killer," CNN reported.

"The displeased felt that sounded too glamorous, like he was a Hollywood star. But as my research takes me across California the more I feel the moniker, with its jarring juxtaposition, is apt," McNamara wrote in a 2014 post. The killer has also been known by the monikers the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker, according to The Guardian.

But on April 21, 2016, her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, found her dead in their bedroom. An autopsy later showed McNamara had died due to an undiagnosed heart condition and the use of a mixture of prescription medications like Xanax and Adderall, The New York Times reported. Oswalt said the stress of her investigation may have resulted in her taking a dangerous combination of drugs.

At the time of her death, McNamara was working long days and staying up late at night — unable to sleep because of anxiety and nightmares, according to EW.

“It’s so clear that the stress led her to make some bad choices in terms of the pharmaceuticals she was using,” Oswalt told the New York Times in early 2018. “She just took this stuff on, and she didn’t have the years of being a hardened detective to compartmentalize it.”

Oswalt said the reaction to her death was emotional and immediate.

"The reaction to her passing, the people who are shocked at her senseless absence, is a testament to how she steered her life with joyous, wicked curiosity," Oswalt wrote in a 2016 column for Time. "Cops and comedians call — speechless or sending curt regards. Her family is devastated but can’t help remember all of the times she made them laugh or comforted them, and they smile and laugh themselves. She hasn’t left a void. She’s left a blast crater."

McNamara's book was only half finished at this point, and Oswalt enlisted journalist Billy Jensen and researcher Paul Haynes to help finish the book — which was finally published in February 2018.

The result is a unique work of true crime: some parts completely finished and others a series of raw notes and transcripts, like a memorable section where McNamara interviews cold case investigator Paul Holes.

Just two months after publication, investigators would announce the arrest of DeAngelo, alleging the former police officer was the elusive murderer McNamara obsessively chronicled. 

Although authorities attempted to downplay McNamara's contributions in their announcement of the arrest, her co-authors and Oswalt claimed this did not seem rooted in reality.

“Just the fact that they said the book didn’t help but then said, ‘We’ve got the Golden State Killer,’ it’s a bit contradictory,” Jensen told the Associated Press in 2018.

Oswalt agreed: “Even though the cops are never going to say it, your book helped get this thing closed," Oswalt said at the time. 

Even DeAngelo's arrest had almost eerie parallels with how McNamara imagined the Golden State Killer would be caught. 

“It looked as though he might have been searching his mind to execute a particular plan he may have had in mind ... but he was not given the opportunity. It happened almost instantly and he was taken into custody without incident at all," Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said in 2018 of DeAngelo's "surprised" reaction to his arrest outside of his home, according to the AP.

McNamara envisioned it similarly.

“The doorbell rings,” she wrote in her book. “This is how it ends for you. ‘You’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark,’ you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light.”

The six-part "I'll Be Gone in The Dark" docuseries premieres on HBO on Sunday, June 28. DeAngelo is reportedly expected to plead guilty to over a dozen killings the next day.