As a teenager, Michelle was deeply affected by the unsolved murder of Kathleen Lombardo two blocks from her own home. This murder shaped not only her passionate interest in crime-solving, but also her compassion for the victims of crime. This compassion is apparent throughout her book and, I think, is responsible for making I'll Be Gone in the Dark such a compelling read.
Michelle McNamara started her website True Crime Diary in 2006, establishing a network of crime researchers, as well as writing numerous articles relating to unsolved crimes. She used 21st century technology to bring to light possible clues to a killer's identity. It was Michelle herself who coined the phrase Golden State Killer after authorities connected the crimes of the Original Night Stalker and the East End Rapist through DNA analysis. As a serial killer, rapist, and burglar, he committed at least 12 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986. He is thought to have begun as a burglar known as the Visalia Ransacker before his crimes escalated to rape and murder.
The author's observations about her childhood and how she became passionate about unsolved crimes are fascinating in themselves:
...When I meet people and hear where they're from I orientate them in my mind by the nearest unsolved crime.... Mention that you're from Yorktown, Virginia, and I'll forever connect you with the Colonial Parkway, the ribbon of road snaking along the York River where four couples either disappeared or were murdered between 1986 and 1989.
What is remarkable about this book is not only the excellent narrative, but also the author's ability to avoid sensationalizing the crimes and the killer, choosing instead to make us aware of the actual victims, often forgotten in true crime accounts. Michelle McNamara re-creates the crime scenes of the Golden State Killer, always mindful of the small details of the victims' lives, in a manner that creates an intimacy between the author and the reader.