I’m ashamed to say I didn’t really know much about McNamara’s previous work. As an avid armchair detective, I can only assume I (largely) missed her True Crime Diary since my inclination is toward Victorian-era mysteries and early forensics. The oversight is mine, and I can only hope to clue in other true crime and mystery readers to her writing.
McNamara spent countless hours over several years trying to solve the case — or help law enforcement find new leads — of the East Area Rapist / Original Night Stalker. She eventually dubbed “EAR-ONS” the “Golden State Killer” as it became clear that the perpetrator was indeed the same person.
In the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, one cold, deliberate man carried out at least 45 attacks and 12 murders in California. He stalked his victims by breaking in to homes, peering through windows, jumping backyard fences — then returning to attack. His identity remains unknown.
McNamara outlines the specifics of the mystery in searing exactitude. She pulls bizarre and vivid details from witness statements and police reports, breathing new life into the cold case. Yet there are no scenes of gratuitous facts. She manages to deftly outline the horror of the crimes without magnifying the gore. And yet the book is terrifying. I thought I could read it at night, home alone, and fall asleep, no problem. I was very wrong.
What is more interesting to her is the strange behavior and repeated patterns exhibited by the Golden State Killer. Why does he often strike in new housing developments, or near homes on the market? Why does he attack multiple homes in the same neighborhood? Why does he stay after his crime and eat leftovers from the fridge? And what is the significance of the valueless keepsakes he takes from the scene?
If you commit murder and then vanish, what you leave behind isn’t just pain but absence, a supreme blackness that triumphs over everything else. The unidentified murderer is always twisting a doorknob behind a door that never opens. But his power evaporates the moment we know him. ~Pg. 102
McNamara also shines a light on the dogged, if overwhelmed, law enforcement officers who have spent as many sleepless nights as her trying to find the killer. With them, she traces crime scene routes, sifts through crushed, mildewy Banker’s boxes and shares tiny scraps of information that always lead nowhere. As much as she is frustrated and obsessed, McNamara’s book never devolves into police-shaming. Instead, she lays bare her own insomniac tendencies and gratefully shares any lead she finds.
McNamara’s writing is bright and gripping and elusive. It is a shame all of her words have already been written, not only for her tireless work but her ability to uncover the facts with grace and respect. As her friends note in the third and unfinished part of the book: “What her works evoked was the intrigue, the curiosity, the compulsion to solve a puzzle and resolve the soul-chilling blank spots.”
While the title refers to a chilling phone call to a victim, I can’t help but imagine it’s a message from McNamara herself. She’s gone now, still in the dark as to his identity, but she left us with all the clues to finally find the Golden State Killer.
My thanks to HarperCollins for the advanced copy.
by Michelle McNamara
Print Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper (February 27, 2018)