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Late author Michelle McNamara has been credited with helping to catch the suspected and elusive Golden State Killer with her writing on the case, but it was another book on the subject that kicked off her obsession with the mysterious murderer.
In her 2018 book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” McNamara, who died in 2016 before its publication, details her fixation with tracking down the Golden State Killer — also known by the moniker of the East Area Rapist. The killer is believed to be responsible for at least 50 rapes and 13 murders in six California jurisdictions during the '70s and '80s. He targeted couples in their homes, often restraining the men while he raped their partners.
In archival interview footage recorded before her death, McNamara explains in HBO’s new docuseries by the same name that she was dedicated to shedding light on the then-largely unknown case and putting “a face on an unknown killer.” Not only did her book become a bestseller, raising public awareness about the Golden State Killer’s crime spree, but a suspect was finally identified and arrested after decades. Joseph DeAngelo, 74, was taken into custody in April 2018 after genetic analysis pointed to him as the main suspect. He’s expected to plead guilty to 13 murders and 13 kidnapping charges linked to rapes on Monday.
While McNamara never got to see the fruits of her labor, she has been applauded for drawing attention to the case that ultimately resulted in charges against DeAngelo. The new docuseries details how she became involved in the case to begin with. She said that in around 2011, she came across a true crime TV show about the East Area Rapist and became entranced.
“I thought, you got to be kidding me,” she said, reflecting on how shocked she was to have never heard of the case before. “I’ve never… what?!”
She then began searching around on the internet for more information on the case, and stumbled across Larry Crompton’s 2010 true crime book “Sudden Terror: The True Story of California's Most Infamous Sexual Predator, the East Area Rapist AKA the Original Night Stalker." Crompton is a retired detective from the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department who worked on the East Area Rapist task force back in the 1970s. His book draws on police and victim interviews, newspaper clippings and Crompton’s notes from his time on the force.
“My job was to catch him and I didn’t do that and I can’t let go,” he noted in the docuseries.
McNamara began reading the book in 2011 and she became obsessed by the case, she noted in a 2013 piece for Los Angeles Magazine.
"After reading Crompton’s book one night, I Googled 'East Area Rapist' and 'Original Night Stalker' to see what else was out there about him," she wrote, adding that the search led her to a message board where she "started off as a lurker, an outsider gleaning the insights of others who were obsessed."
Soon enough, she began spending countless hours researching the serial killer. She then became focused on tracking him down. Furthermore, she wanted to make sure the public knew about the lives and stories of his victims and survivors. That set her down her own path to try to pick up where Crompton left off. First, she wrote the wildly successful 2013 longform article "In the Footsteps of a Killer" for Los Angeles Magazine, in which she gave the East Area Rapist the new moniker, Golden State Killer. The nickname became a household one and McNamara moved on to write "I'll Be Gone in the Dark."
But the legacy of "Sudden Terror" remains important and the Kindle version of the book has been updated in 2020 to reflect updates in the case.
“Justice is on the way at last,” the description states, giving a nod to DeAngelo's arrest and prosecution.
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