⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Pros: wonderfully written, a great non fiction without being just a knowledge dump
Cons: sometimes, the personal stories didn't connect and really took me out of/distracted me from the story
TRIGGER WARNING: MURDER, RAPE, VIOLENCE
Ever since I was a girl, I've been interested in true crime. I blame both my grandfather and Robert Stack equally for this. While listening to a true crime podcast one night, I had my first encounter with the Golden State Killer aka the East Area Rapist aka The Original Night Stalker. I remember being confused at the last one... the Original Night Stalker? There was more than one?
Richard Ramirez was the one I'd heard of... the weird man with bad teeth and great hair who wreaked havoc on California in the 80's, killing, raping and just being all around awful for a full year before he was caught. He drew a pentagram on his hand in court... you know the guy! That was the Night Stalker I knew.
The Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker or EARONS as he's referred to by Michelle, was an unknown (at the time) man who murdered, robbed, stalked, tormented and ruined lives in California for over a decade beginning in 1974. This was the man I was about to learn about via the podcast. This man genuinely frightened me and not just because his crimes were vile and dehumanizing in a way that I'd never heard of before. But because this man- at the time- was still out there.
THE WRITING, THE STORY, THE KILLER, THE CASE
Michelle was an incredible writer, I really loved the way she told this story. You could feel her involvement, her passion, her determination to find this man in every page turned. She was also married to well known comedian and actor, Patton Oswalt*** who wrote a beautiful afterword for Michelle in an updated copy of I'll Be Gone in the Dark. Sadly, Michelle passed away in 2016. The book was finished by crime writer Paul Haynes, investigative journalist Bill Jensen and Michelle's husband, Patton. It was then published in 2018, literally months before the Golden State Killer was caught. Such a bittersweet thing. The book has also been adapted into a television series that is currently streamable on HBOmax.
I remember exactly where I was when the news broke because it was around that time that I had first learned about him, his MO and the awful things he did to people who just happened to be unlucky enough to catch his eye. His name is Joseph James DeAngelo and he is currently in his 70's and awaiting trial.
I won't bore you with details about the case, you can get all of that from a variety of resources, but I will say that this book is a wonderful read and a great place to start. Michelle did a great job of not only outlining the gruesome details but translating it into real human emotion. It informed me and made me feel things; very well done.
Going back to the podcast about him... this was the first time a podcast about a murderer actually frightened me. I have heard viscous tales about The Toy Box Killer, BTK, Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy but this man... this man scared me like I'd never been scared before. Hearing about the way he would break into homes and render the men helpless as he raped the women, setting dishes on the men's backs so that if they moved, he'd know and would then kill the women. The way if something was mentioned in a town meeting- ex. "EARONS never attacks couples in their homes"- he would go on to do that thing, implying that he was among them, one of them and he was watching. The whispering, heavy breathing phone calls he made. I vividly remember getting chills at hearing a child recount that days before her house was made a crime scene, she woke up in the middle of the night to see a man leaning over the side of the roof and peering into her window only to then lean back and disappear into the darkness. I. Beg. Your. Pardon?!
Since then, I have listened to several other podcasts about him and read many books. After he was caught, I got to keep up with the case and his trial via news articles in real time. After reading Michelle's book I found myself wishing she was too, it felt like she should be here for this, as I'm sure everyone who knew and loved her also thought.
***fun fact: in college circa 2007, I was asked via a stranger I'd just met on Facebook- back when only college kids could use it- to go to a comedy show with her! I got to meet Patton that night as he was one of the comedians performing. How cool?!***
Also, please enjoy my GoodReads review and follow me there if you'd like! This review is a great summary of all the things I plan to discuss at length below.