“A violent crime never ends with a victim. A singular act reverberates, its wounds appearing in other people, sometimes months and years later. The pain ricochets.”—Michelle McNamara.
Nothing fascinates me more than twisty murder mysteries and psychological thrillers. Binging on smart fiction and nonfiction PBS and HBO whodunits helped me survive the pandemic shutdown and take a much-needed break from the political horror show playing out on the news every night. One welcome discovery was Michelle McNamara, the author and journalist, and one of the most dogged online true crime junkies whose blog, TrueCrimeDiary.com, chronicled her obsession with solving unsolved crimes.
During the 1970’s and ’80s, roughly about the same time serial killer Ted Bundy was on the prowl in the Pacific Northwest, a string of idiosyncratic home burglaries, 50 brutal home invasion rapes and 12 murders were terrorizing clusters of low-crime neighborhoods in Northern and Southern California. Dubbed variously as the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Raper (EAR), the Original Night Stalker (ONS) and the Golden State Killer, the predator or predators stymied original investigators who failed to link cases occurring beyond their jurisdictions. The cases went cold, and 37 boxes of case files were stockpiled and forgotten.
Left behind were a long list of traumatized survivors–those who were brutally raped as teenagers and young women; the parents, spouses and children of those women; the families and friends of the men and women who were murdered; the detectives who failed them–and the amateur and professional sleuths who kept the EAR/ONS cases alive in online chat rooms and crime blogs.
Michelle McNamara was determined to bring the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (EAR/ONS), whom she dubbed the “Golden State Killer,” to justice and assure closure for the rape victims, their families and the families of the murder victims. She began building bridges with the EAR/ONS victims, many of whom had never even shared their stories with their closest friends and families (rape victims were systematically marginalized by the criminal justice system in the 1970’s and ’80s). Disturbing patterns emerged through her research, connecting the burglaries, rapes and murders in disparate California communities to a single perpetrator. McNamara was hooked.
You can revisit the backstory of the case and McNamara’s obsession with it in my lengthy June 28, 2020 piece in FrontRowCenter– I’ll Be Gone in the Dark Makes Chilling Debut on HBO. Based on her best-selling book of the same name, the gripping six-part HBO series documents the roadblocks she faced in her efforts to right a boatload of horrific wrongs perpetrated almost a half century ago and left unpunished. Did she, in fact, fulfill her dream to bring the diabolically evil perpetrator out of the shadows of time, enabling his victims and the criminal justice system to finally see him, as she had hoped to see him, in the light of day–old and powerless?
Thankfully, the filmmakers responsible for the original series, including Award-winning documentarians Liz Garbus and Elizabeth Wolff, answer that question and bring closure to a community of survivors in a new hour-long HBO film, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: Show Us Your Face, that I encourage you not to miss. It also opens a window on an unsolved rape and murder case that first intrigued Michelle McNamara as a teenager in her privileged hometown of Oak Park, Illinois.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: Show Us Your Face debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, June 21, 2021, 10:00 -11:00 p.m. ET/PT (see below for complete screening and streaming details for the new episode and the original series).
This new episode brings us face to face with the Golden State Killer, former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, as he plays the physical and mental “incompetence card” to no avail and is sentenced to life in prison several times over without parole for the 50 home invasion rapes and dozen murders he committed during his reign of terror in the 1970’s and ’80s in California.
Several of the sociopath’s victims and their family members are reintroduced here as they convene with others for DeAngelo’s public sentencing hearing in August 2020. We are privy to their powerful survivor impact statements spoken directly to wheelchair-confined DeAngelo. He acknowledges his guilt to each individual charge and makes a blanket apology to his victims. Michelle McNamara may not have lived to see this day (she passed away in 2016); but her determination to solve the case made DeAngelo’s capture and his victims’ closure possible.
As with the original six episodes of the series, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: Show Us Your Face is riveting. The hour-long film seamlessly updates the case history, its resolution and the emotional scars that remain. It closes one chapter in McNamara’s investigative work, but introduces yet another pivotal cold case that she credited with igniting her lifelong obsession with unsolved murders: the 1984 rape and murder of Kathleen Lombardo in McNamara’s hometown of Oak Park, Illinois.
Although she was only 14 at the time, McNamara felt compelled to visit the crime scene. Its impact was life-changing. She returned to her hometown in 2013 to revisit the case and was immediately drawn to the ineptitude of the original investigation and missed connections between similar cases in the vicinity.
The filmmakers incorporate the late Michelle McNamara’s own archival research, voice recordings and interviews, most especially with Ms. Lombardo’s brother Chris, and another victim, Grace Puccetti, who survived a shockingly similar attack in the same vicinity just two years before Ms. Lombardo’s murder. McNamara was unable to close this case before she died, but she incited like-minded community and family members to reopen the case and push for release of the evidence.
“Inside everyone lurks a Sherlock Holmes that believes that given the right clues, they could solve a mystery,” said Michelle McNamara.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: Show Us Your Face not only explores the long road that Joseph DeAngelo’s victims travelled toward healing… a journey that Michelle McNamara set in motion. The film also opens a window on another cold case with wide reach that first captivated Michelle McNamara at 14 and remained an obsession until her untimely death at 46. Hopefully, there will be additional “special episodes” tracking new developments and a viable perpetrator in that case that will make the Oak Park victims, their survivors and McNamara’s unrequited dream come true.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: Show Us Your Face debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, June 21, 2021, 10:00 -11:00 p.m. ET/PT. Check listings for repeat air dates in the days and weeks ahead and its availability in tandem with the original 2020 six-episode series, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, on HBO On Demand and streaming via HBO Max.–Judith Trojan