The East Area Rapist - or the EAR - first struck on June 18, 1976, in Rancho Cordova, a city in Sacramento County, California. His face beneath a ski mask, he attacked a 23-year-old woman in her own bedroom. The EAR would terrorise the Sacramento area for three years.
On December 30, 1979, six months after the EAR attacks stopped, the Original Night Stalker - the ONS - murders began. He killed his first victims in Goleta, Santa Barbara, around 400 miles south of Sacramento. It wasn't until 2001 that DNA testing proved the attackers were the same man, now dubbed EAR/ONS by investigators and true crime obsessives. He committed 50 rapes and 13 murders.
In 2013, Michelle McNamara, online sleuth and writer of the trend-setting True Crime Diary blog, dubbed him "The Golden State Killer". Though relatively unknown to the wider public by that time, the name rightly raised his profile as one of America's most disturbing and prolific serial attackers. He was more active than the snappily-named 'Zodiac', 'Son of Sam' David Berkowitz, and the 'Night Stalker' Richard Ramirez.
McNamara - who was married to comedian Patton Oswalt - investigated the case for a book, I'll Be Gone In The Dark, but died in 2016 from an accidental overdose before the book was finished.
Paul Haynes, a friend of McNamara's and fellow Golden State Killer investigator, and journalist/citizen detective Billy Jensen finished the book, which was published in 2018. I'll Be Gone In The Dark has now been adapted as a six-part HBO series by documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus. It premiered in the US on Sunday and arrives on Sky in August.
But this is not another Serial or Making A Murderer. There's no case to crack. No investigation to go under the spotlight. No miscarriage of justice to be overturned. The mystery of the Golden State Killer has been solved.
In April 2018, Joseph DeAngelo, a 72-year-old Vietnam vet and former police officer, was arrested - two months after McNamara's book was published and more than 40 years since the attacks began. Last week, he pleaded guilty to all 13 murders, and dozens of rapes for which he cannot be criminally charged. DeAngelo, who had three daughters, will serve a life sentence without possibility of parole.
The story of the Golden State Killer goes back to April 1974 in the city of Visalia, roughly 190 miles north of Los Angeles, where a perpetrator known as 'The Visalia Ransacker' committed a bizarre series of burglaries. There were up to 130 break-ins across 18 months, sometimes multiple break-ins per night. Six months after The Visalia Ransacker's break-ins stopped, the East Area Rapist crimes began in the Sacramento area, 200 miles north of Visalia.
Michelle McNamara first learned of the case from a TV show. The interest led her to an A&E Cold Case Files message board, where a community of online sleuths shared clues and new information.
"This man was attacking people in the safest place you could imagine - in their bedroom, in their home, with their husbands beside them," says Billy Jensen. "Michelle was amazed that nobody had identified him because there was so much evidence."
McNamara was a self-confessed unsolved murder obsessive. "I had a murder habit and it was bad," she would say. Her obsession began as a teenager, when a woman from her neighbourhood - in Oak Park, Illinois - was dragged into an alleyway and had her throat slashed. The killer was never caught.
In 2006, McNamara launched True Crime Diary. By 2013 she was deep into investigating the EAR/ONS and wrote about the crimes for Los Angeles Magazine.
McNamara enjoyed the puzzle aspect and digging for clues. But there was more to wanting to unmask this killer. "Murderers lose their power the moment we know them," she said.
With the case spread across multiple jurisdictions, there was a lack of cohesion and communication. But McNamara brought the various agencies together.
"It's one thing to have tenacity and persistence," says Jensen about her investigator skills. "But she had the ability to be disarming and bring people together. She could say, 'I'm gonna get you guys together, we're going to have a steak dinner and talk about this'. That's something very special."
McNamara investigated with Haynes, using online resources and new technology (even buying potential evidence tracked down on eBay). She believed the case would be solved by ever-developing genealogy technology. The case had already changed DNA law: after the EAR and ONS crimes were linked, California passed Proposition 69, which mandated the collection of DNA from certain types of offenders to store in a database.
Balancing the case and motherhood, the Golden State Killer consumed her.
"Her personal life and her professional life were completely intertwined," says Liz Garbus. "She took over her daughter's playroom in order to store all of her files."
McNamara suffered from anxiety and exhaustion and died in her sleep on April 21, 2016, after taking a mix of prescription drugs. It was later discovered she had an undiagnosed heart condition.
The HBO series is not just another true crime series, but a multi-layered exploration of the victims, the investigation, the intersection of technology and DNA, the disturbing prevalence of rape in 70s America, and the unusual appeal of true crime itself.
I'll Be Gone In The Dark is on Sky Crime and Now TV from August 30.
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