BROOKLYN, NY — Comedian and author Patton Oswalt is on tour promoting the release of his late wife, Michelle McNamara’s, book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.
CrimeFeed attended the February 28 discussion, held in St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights in front of a packed house, presented by local bookstore Books Are Magic, and led by novelist Megan Abbott.
He sold himself short though, as he is an insightful and intelligent speaker, knowledgable about true crime, and managed to be funny as well as poignant. He shared stories of how intensely involved McNamara got with her research and the toll it took on her, psychologically and physically. Oswalt described her as having a “lethal level of empathy,” and said she would be constantly corresponding with the families of the victims of the Golden State Killer.
He remembered how McNamara would say that she was jealous of people who were obsessed with events such as the Civil War, for example, rather than a more current and unsolved true crime case. She pointed out that “their monsters recede, but mine are ever present.” Oswalt also recounted something haunting that McNamara said, talking about how her interest in true crime began when she was 14 years old and a neighbor was killed while out jogging: “Violent men unknown to me have occupied my mind my entire adult life.”
It was important to McNamara that I’ll Be Gone in the Dark not just be a dry account of the crimes — a litany of murders. Oswalt said that the book, “focuses on the people who turn toward life, not those who swim in death and despair.” Rather than just describing rapes and murders, the book shines a light on the victims, investigators, the suspects, and even other people who became obsessed with the case.
He explained that it even functions partially as a memoir of McNamara’s relationship with her mother. The text acknowledges her personal influences and biases, while at the same time, effortlessly integrating them into police procedurals. Because of this personal and human touch, and McNamara’s commitment to focusing more on the victims rather than dwelling on grisly details of sexual assaults and murders, Oswalt said that he feels that I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the “perfect true crime book for women.”
Her manuscript wasn’t complete when she unexpectedly passed away on April 21, 2016, from a combination of an undiagnosed heart condition and a lethal combination of prescription drugs. But McNamara’s lead researcher, Paul Haynes, and investigative journalist Billy Jensen did their best to make sense of her notes and interview transcripts and to put together the last third of her unfinished book. While it’s missing McNamara’s signature voice, they do a valiant effort of making use of her meticulous research, honoring the victims, and following any leads they can. Oswalt also contributes an afterword to the book.While the book is on shelves now, there could still be more leads to come, as Oswalt pointed out that Haynes and Jensen are still going through 51 bankers boxes of police files that McNamara was able to take possession of, and digitizing their contents. And Oswalt does believe that through McNamara’s efforts, the Golden State Killer will be caught. He says that the FBI has narrowed their list of possible suspects down to 50 names.
Oswalt himself seems to have caught a bit of McNamara’s crime-fighting bug. He said that after his official tour with I’ll Be Gone in the Dark winds up, he’ll head to Sacramento to make a special appearance. A member of a Golden State Killer web sleuth group brought up the fact that many people who were personally affected by the crime spree and who lived locally at the time are senior citizens now, and can’t drive or may have other mobility issues. She requested that Oswalt make the effort to host an appearance where they would be able to attend, and he said that he absolutely was planning to. Oswalt confessed that one of his motivations was that he really thinks that if the killer is still alive, that he is following all the renewed interest in the case, and that if he’s still in the area, his ego will compel him to attend the event.
Oswalt offered up a little behind-the-scenes knowledge from someone doing a true crime book tour — he explained that when bookstores host high-profile true crime authors, they don’t set the event up in the round; the speaker’s back will always be to the wall. In addition, every event will have plainclothes police officers in the crowd, observing and photographing the audience. Many killers are known for showing up to crime scenes or otherwise inserting themselves into investigations — Oswalt recounted how the Green River Killer attended several book readings by true crime author Ann Rule.
As the audience now laughed nervously and glanced around the room at each other, we were grateful for the warm and comedic touch that Oswalt had brought to the event, despite the grim subject matter and the huge void left by the lack of author Michelle McNamara.
To learn more about this case, watch The Golden State Killer: It’s Not Over on ID GO!
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Main photos: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark cover image [Amazon]; Megan Abbot and Patton Oswalt [Christine Colby/Investigation Discovery]