“I think you got him, Michelle.”
Two years and four days after her unexpected death, it looks like true crime writer Michelle McNamara helped solve a decades-long mystery. Her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, certainly seems to think so (and most fans agree), based on the joyous activity of his social media accounts today after the announcement that an arrest has been made.
Patton has recently been on a book tour, promoting McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the exhaustive, gorgeously written but also seriously gutting true crime book she had been hard at work on up until her death on April 21, 2016. She died unexpectedly in her sleep from a combination of medications and an unknown condition that caused blockage in her arteries, after a long period of long days, sleepless nights, nightmares, and anxiety all surrounding her attempts to unmask the serial killer and rapist she officially named “The Golden State Killer.”
Also referred to as the “East Area Rapist” and “Original Night Stalker” and the combined “EAR/ONS,” the GSK operated around Sacramento, California in the 1970s and 1980s. He was known to stalk middle class neighborhoods, often entering homes to scope them out, unlock windows, and unload guns days before actually attacking. He started by raping women who lived alone, but later moved on to attacking couples. He was connected to at least 50 rapes, eight murders, and many burglaries and stalking cases, while possibly connected to countless other incidents. The details of his crimes are brutal even just for light Wikipedia skimming—unimaginable at the level of a deep dive Michelle was in.
In an interview with The New York Times, Patton said that he had suggested to his wife that she take a night to “sleep until you wake up,” but she never did.
While Patton was shocked and grieving for a long time after the loss, he eventually got together with Michelle’s friends and colleagues, investigative journalist Billy Jensen and lead researcher Paul Haynes to finish the book based on Michelle’s notes and research. The book was finally released this past February, and during press surrounding its release, there was a lot of speculation on whether it could actually help identify the culprit.
“I’m highly confident this offender will be identified within the next three years,” Haynes said in a Reddit AMA. “Due to Michelle’s work on the case, and also because we have some highly intelligent and motivated investigators prioritizing it.”
It took just under two months for police to identify a suspect.
The news came out on Wednesday morning, the day after an event for the book near Chicago, which also happened to be the start of filming for an HBO documentary.
“All of [Michelle’s] family was there. Ended with me saying, ‘He’s running out of time,’ Patton tweeted. “And now all of this. Surreal.”
He was all over Twitter throughout day, starting around 5 a.m. Chicago time.
“She would be beyond excited about this. I think this is the definition of ‘bittersweet,'” he said, responding to tweet after tweet and article after article praising Michelle, the book, and her extensive research with hearts and retweets.
The internet was abuzz all morning, both over Patton and Michelle but also over finally having a suspect in custody. Both #GoldenStateKiller and East Area Rapist were trending in the United States, and the Unresolved Mysteries subreddit, which compiled a full list of all developments as they came in, was losing its mind, as was the dedicated EAR/ONS subreddit.
Details quickly started to come together online, like the tidbit that the suspect was engaged to a woman named Bonnie, and was once said to have whispered “I hate you, Bonnie” to a victim. The GSK was always suspected to have been in law enforcement, and Deangelo was a police officer who was fired after getting caught shoplifting a dog repellant and a hammer—both of which were likely used in his crimes.
A press conference was held by law enforcement officials in Sacramento on Wednesday to announce that 72 year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested in his home in Citrus Heights, California, on Tuesday after “DNA technology” matched him to at least one of the crimes. He was specifically charged with the 1980 murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith, who were just one of many couples attacked over the years.
While it was said at that rather self-praising Sacramento press conference that I’ll Be Gone in the Dark didn’t reveal any new information to investigators, Patton paid that comment little mind.
“No? I’ll Be Gone in the Dark didn’t help?” a fan tweeted to Patton. “YES, it did!”
“It did,” he responded. “Bit Michelle McNamara didn’t care about getting any shine on herself. She cared about the #GoldenStateKiller being behind bars and the victims getting some relief. She was Marge Gunderson in FARGO, not Chilton in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.”
“Also, the cops will NEVER and HAVE NEVER credited a writer or journalist for helping them solve a case,” he continued. “But every time they said #GoldenStateKiller they credited the work of #MichelleMcNamara and #IllBeGoneInTheDark.”
Whether or not she gets official credit, Michelle did undeniably see this future.
“One day soon, you’ll hear a car pull up to your curb, an engine cut out,” she wrote in her book as a letter to the killer (which was excerpted in The New Yorker in January and passed around online all day Wednesday). “You’ll hear footsteps coming up your front walk.”
“The doorbell rings. No side gates are left open. You’re long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell. 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.”
That’s not exactly how the sheriff briefly (and much less elegantly) described the surveillance and arrest outside of DeAngelo’s home, but it’s close enough to say that even though Michelle was gone and the book was published before the suspect was caught, it was still somehow a perfect ending.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is currently in the top five on the New York Times bestsellers list.