A writer’s book has helped to crack a cold, decades-old, serial-killer hunt in the US. Tragically, she died before the suspect was arrested. Michelle McNamara was obsessed with the case of the so-called Golden State Killer, a man who sowed hell across California in the ’70s and ’80s, notching up 12 murders and close to 50 rapes. His victims included women at home on their own, and women at home with their children. He then went on to rape women with their husbands present before murdering them both.
He was described as a six-foot tall, white male with blond hair and a peculiar, gravelly whisper, wearing gloves and a ski mask. He would pause for a snack after raping the women, sometimes piling their husbands with plates and warning them he would kill them if he heard the china rattle. Many he did kill, by shooting them or bludgeoning them to death with whatever was at hand.
Communities panicked. Open neighbourhoods became fearful and kept their doors and windows locked. Families bought guns. One woman slept with an ice pick under her pillow. In those days before cellphone records and advanced DNA analysis the police had little to go on. And then, in 1986, the murders abruptly stopped and gradually the case went cold.
Michelle McNamara was a teenager in a suburban Illinois town when a woman was murdered while out jogging. The police never found the killer, but the case sparked an interest in the writer about unsolved murders. She started a true-crime blog in 2006, and soon one case became her sole focus: the Golden State Killer. For years she gathered evidence and research, convinced that she could solve the mystery. “It became her career,” says her husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt.