The late Michelle McNamara’s posthumously published “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is arguably the best true crime book of this century, and last year’s HBO miniseries (still available on HBO Max) was equally memorable. Now the author, the filmmakers and most importantly the victims of the Golden State Killer get the epilogue they deserve in a special episode premiering Monday.
McNamara was a journalist and citizen detective who became obsessed with tracking down the man who committed at least 13 murders and some 50 rapes in California in the 1970s and 1980s. She died of an accidental drug overdose in 2016 and thus never saw justice brought to light, but her imagined scenario of how the monster would be one day caught turned out to be eerily prescient. Thanks to the process of genetic genealogy, 72-year-old Joseph DeAngelo was taken into custody at his Sacramento area home in 2018 and charged with multiple counts of murder.
The special episode follows two storylines: DeAngelo’s trial last summer, and a visit to McNamara’s hometown of Oak Park and the 1984 murder case that ignited the teenage girl’s lifelong interest in cold cases. “I had a murder habit, and it was bad, and I would feed it for the rest of my life,” says McNamara in an archival audio recording.
When 24-year-old Kathleen Lombardo was raped and murdered in an alley just blocks from McNamara’s home, a teenage McNamara visited the scene of the crime. In present day, the filmmakers interview Kathleen’s brother, Chris Lombardo, as well as one of the men who found Lombardo’s body, and Grace Puccetti, who narrowly survived a similar attack, likely at the hands of the same man. We see home video footage of Michelle playing softball, and hear her talking about the case, either in her own voice, or with actress Amy Ryan reading from Michelle’s writings.
Equally compelling are the interviews with survivors of the Golden State Killer’s attacks, and the clips of DeAngelo in court, where he appeared to be feeble and completely out of it — in stark contrast to the surveillance camera footage of DeAngelo in his cell block, exercising and cleaning and looking vigorous as he moves about. He also invented an alter ego who forced him to carry out those attacks, in one last cowardly effort to avoid taking responsibility for his monstrous actions.
The judge wasn’t buying it and neither were the victims and their relatives, who delivered one powerful statement after another in a Sacramento State University ballroom that had been converted into a courtroom in order to accommodate some 200 socially distanced attendees.
DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Half a country away, the murder of Kathleen Lombardo in 1984 remains unsolved.