True Crime Tuesdays: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Legacy of trauma9
Helen Archer | On 22, Sep 2020
On Tuesdays, our resident true crime obsessive gets their fix with a documentary film or series. We call it True Crime Tuesdays.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is one of the most hotly anticipated true crime series in recent years. Based on the book of the same name by Michelle McNamara – published posthumously to critical acclaim, earning a 15-week spot on the New York Times bestseller list – it’s the story of an obsessive investigation into a series of unsolved rapes and murders which took place in California between 1973 and 1986. As most viewers will know, Joseph James DeAngelo pled guilty to the crimes in June 2020 – two years after he was arrested and four years after McNamara’s death – but what HBO’s six-part documentary lacks in suspense, it makes up for in heart.
There are two intertwining stories here – that of the author McNamara, and that of the focus of her work, the serial rapist and murderer she referred to as the Golden State Killer (GSK), but who had previously been known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Visalia Ransacker. Due to a lack of communication and cooperation between various agencies at the time, the attacks weren’t initially linked to the same person, although it eventually transpired that he was behind at least 13 murders and 50 rapes. McNamara, a true crime enthusiast, founded the website True Crime Diary, which fostered a community committed to sharing information in the hope of solving the case and uncovering the culprit’s identity. The book she was writing when she died at the age of 46 was a lyrical record of her research.
Directors Liz Garbus, Elizabeth Wolff, Myles Kane and Josh Koury stick very closely to the book’s structure. Amy Ryan acts as voiceover artist, reading passages from the page, and yet Michelle herself is physically present in the series thanks to the extensive home footage her husband, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, shot in order to document his wife’s progress. McNamara recorded audio of the interviews she conducted with investigators, law enforcement, families of victims and survivors of the GSK, which are played over footage of crimes scenes and tours of the neighbourhoods in which the killer stalked his victims. In this way, the series retraces not just his steps, but Michelle’s as she investigated. The cumulative effect is of bringing the book – and Michelle – to life.
It’s a fascinating look at her method of work, and the web sleuthing community. While for long periods McNamara seems to despair of her project, at other times she’s heady with new leads – the discovery and access to boxwoods of files is treated here as a heist, music and all – and the series simulates the highs and lows of the search for a killer. There is, too, an intimate glimpse into McNamara’s own personal life, as she writes about her childhood, her relationship with her mother, her marriage and her daughter, as well as her own history of sexual assault and depression.
All of this coincides with a deeply moving lamentation about the human cost of the disturbing crimes, and the lifelong effects they had on the victims. Some of the GSK’s survivors speak candidly about the ways in which their lives were devastated by the attacks, and of the various methods they sought to cope with it – including self-medication. Michelle’s death adds another layer of tragedy, and for the second half of the series there’s a looming sense of dread as her own sudden end approaches – even as the net is closing in on D’Angelo, thanks to new developments in genealogy technology. That she passed away not long before he was named as a suspect seems a cruel blow.
As Michelle’s family comes to terms with their own bereavement, so the GSK survivors come to terms with the news of D’Angelo’s arrest and confession, forming a support network and community which allow them to process their resurfacing memories, regain control, and ultimately step out of the darkness and into the light. This is a deeply humane examination into the long-lasting nature of trauma, and the ways in which it can infect and shape a life.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is available on Sky Crime. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.