Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Jill Watson recommends I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Amber Welsh has been binge-watching Truth Be Told, Hawk Ripjaw finally checked out Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Jan Kalina has been listening to Taylor Swift’s folklore.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Jill: Unpacking the grief and trauma of a doting husband and young daughter’s loss of a mother, a powerhouse of an investigative journalist, and one hell of a nice lady would challenge any documentarian. Added to the potency and richness of Michelle McNamara’s story, both before and after her sudden death in 2016, Liz Garbus’ HBO documentary series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark rehashes the crimes of the Golden State Killer through the recollections of investigators, alongside powerful, non-exploitative portraits of his surviving victims and their families.
Garbus could not have woven this tapestry more respectfully or thoroughly. Too often, true crime television and film glamorize the perpetrator and overlook the aftermath and devastation wrought on the victims. I don’t think it’s that the people who make these programs don’t care, it’s that those are taboo subjects that make people uncomfortable, and if not done properly and with care, will make the viewer look away. Liz Garbus has an enormous, nebulous gift in using the language of film to do it exactly right.
McNamara’s friends, family, co-investigators, and the survivors all gave Garbus access and footage for her to piece it all together into something meaningful, insightful, and devastating in all the ways these stories demand and deserve.
Michelle McNamara’s obsession with true crime led her to write a true crime blog called True Crime Diary. She was active on armchair detective websites where amateur sleuths pool resources to solve crimes. Her passion and aptitude for investigation led investigators like Paul Holes to trust her and share case information with her. Her blog, which focused on crimes, and also included snippets of her personal life, caught the attention of publishers, and the book was greenlit.
When I say McNamara had an obsession, I don’t mean an intense interest. From her writings, her interviews, and testaments from family and friends, the unsolved case of the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker, consumed her. She couldn’t sleep without intense nightmares about the case. While her untimely and devastating death was not related directly to the case, the documentary lovingly shows that this was a woman on a heroic mission to help stop this man from hurting and killing anybody else.
After McNamara died, her torch was respectfully picked up by her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, researcher Paul Haynes, and true crime writer Billy Jensen. Together they used McNamara’s research and contacts to complete her book, which was published in 2018.
The book was published February 27, 2018. April 24 of 2018, the Golden State Killer, whose name I won’t use because he doesn’t matter, was charged with 13 counts of murder. He is suspected of more than 50 rapes, with crimes spanning from 1973-1986.
I can’t recommend this documentary highly enough, and not just to true crime enthusiasts. It’s a compelling piece about how even through the worst of circumstances, collaboration and connection will get the best of us through, and the worst of us? They’ll be gone in the dark.