Oak Park, Illinois, native Michelle McNamara researched the Golden State Killer for years.

She even wrote a New York Times best-selling book about the man who raped and murdered dozens from 1976 to 1986 in Southern California, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.”

Last week, a suspect was arrested in the case, but McNamara wasn’t here to see it. The true-crime writer died unexpectedly in her sleep in 2016, leaving it to friends and family to celebrate her determination to see what she saw as a “solvable case” solved.

“When everyone woke up to that news, we were like, ‘Holy s –,” said Kera Bolonik, a Brooklyn resident and friend of McNamara’s for 32 years. “Of course, there’s this unanimous feeling that she did this. ‘Oh my gosh, she did this.’ It’s four days after her second anniversary of her death and a week and a half after what would have been her 48th birthday. … All this work took them to this place, so there’s a lot of pride and some sadness that she’s not here to experience that pride and relief and elation, but ultimately what she did want to happen did happen.”

What McNamara wanted was for an identification to be made and resolution for the victims and their families, Bolonik said.

The perpetrator was also known as the East Area Rapist and suspected of murders and rapes in 10 counties throughout California. While armed and wearing a mask, he would enter through windows at night and surprise sleeping victims who ranged in age from 13 to 41.

“Michelle said this guy wasn’t a genius, he just practiced a lot. That’s what this guy did,” Paul Haynes, who collaborated with McNamara on the book, said in an April 5 episode of the “My Favorite Murder” podcast.

Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was taken into custody outside his Sacramento, California, home Tuesday and charged with numerous counts of murder. Sacramento County officials said DNA collected from a crime scene of the Golden State Killer was compared to online genetic profiles on genealogical sites to find a match for a suspect.

McNamara’s husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, was at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, last week with Haynes, lead researcher of “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” and Billy Jensen, an investigative journalist who also collaborated on the book. At the time, an arrest had yet to be made.

When the news broke McNamara’s sister, Maureen Stratton, said the whole family was ecstatic but “so distraught” that her younger sister was not here to enjoy it.

“We were in Naperville for the book event, and (Haynes and Jensen) seemed very confident talking about it like it was just a matter of time that an arrest was going to happen,” Stratton, an Oak Park resident and Northwestern University law professor, said. “And I remember thinking to myself: ‘They’re never going to find him. I did not have that confidence, so it truly was stunning and shocking, and I think we all just cried. I think we were all like, ‘Omigosh, this is incredible.’

Stratton recalled McNamara’s writing of the book and the investigation of the case being a sort of push-and-pull that weighed on her. “She just kept thinking: ‘I think we can solve this, I think we can solve this.’ She just felt so strongly that this was solvable and that it really needed to be solved because all of these victims … so it was her life’s mission to figure it out.”

Becky Humbert, a Naperville resident and friend of McNamara’s since seventh grade at Hawthorne Elementary, said she couldn’t describe the emotions she felt after hearing the arrest news.

“Her writing that book, her finishing that, which was always something so important to her was one thing, but this — this arrest, this was what mattered to her. That was more important to her,” Humbert said.

‘I’ll Be Gone

in the Dark:

One Woman’s

Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer’

Michelle McNamara

Harper (340 pages)


Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read or Share this story: