Michelle McNamara

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Michelle McNamara
Born(1970-04-14)April 14, 1970
DiedApril 21, 2016(2016-04-21) (aged 46)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park
EducationUniversity of Notre Dame (BA)
University of Minnesota (MFA)
Years active2006–2016
(m. 2005)

Michelle Eileen McNamara (April 14, 1970 – April 21, 2016) was an American true crime author. She was the author of the true crime book I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer,[1] and helped coin the moniker "Golden State Killer" of the serial killer who was identified after her death as Joseph James DeAngelo.[2][3] The book was released posthumously in February 2018 and later adapted into the 2020 HBO documentary series I'll Be Gone in the Dark.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Michelle Eileen McNamara was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on April 14, 1970, the youngest child of stay-at-home mother Rita (née Rigney) and trial lawyer Thomas W. McNamara.[6] She had four older sisters and one older brother.[7] Her parents were Irish-Americans, and she was raised Catholic.[8] In 1988, she graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School, where she had been editor-in-chief of The Trapeze (the student newspaper) during her senior year. In 1992, she graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in English.[9] She earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota.[10] After graduating, she moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and aimed to become a writer in the film and TV industry.[8]


In 2006, McNamara launched her website TrueCrimeDiary.[2][11] McNamara had a long-standing fascination with true crime originating from the unsolved murder of Kathleen Lombardo that happened two blocks from where she lived when she was young.[1][9][12] In 2014, McNamara and true crime investigative journalist Billy Jensen were on a SXSW Interactive panel called "Citizen Dicks: Solving Murders With Social Media".[13][14][15] McNamara and Jensen had a long-term friendship based on their shared passion for researching and writing about true crime.[16]

McNamara became interested in the crimes of the unidentified rapist and murderer known as the East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker and the Visalia Ransacker, among other epithets.[17] Due in large part to McNamara's efforts in tying these crime clusters together in public consciousness after the EAR and ONS crimes were linked by DNA,[18][19] the murderer was later to be known only as the Golden State Killer (GSK). She penned articles for Los Angeles magazine about the serial killer in 2013 and 2014.[20][3] Paul Holes, an investigator for the Contra Costa County district attorney's office, stated that McNamara's dogged persistence and trustworthiness with sensitive information about GSK cases earned her an unusual level of cooperation from law enforcement officials.[21] She then signed a book deal with HarperCollins and began to work on a book about the case.[19]

Her book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, was about two-thirds finished at her death. The document was edited and completed by true crime writers Paul Haynes, Billy Jensen and her widower Patton Oswalt following her death in April 2016. The book, released posthumously on February 27, 2018, reached number 2 of The New York Times Best Seller list for non-fiction and number 1 of combined print and e-book, nonfiction.[22][23] The book remained on the list for 15 weeks.[24]

On April 9, 2018, HBO announced that it had purchased the rights for her book and was developing it into a documentary series.[4] Filming for the series began on April 24, 2018.[25] The documentary series, also titled I'll Be Gone in the Dark, is directed by Liz Garbus[5] and premiered on June 28, 2020.[26]

On the evening of April 24, 2018, authorities in California identified Joseph James DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer and arrested him at his home.[27][28] Oswalt stated that authorities' use of the killer's nickname that McNamara coined was "proof of the impact of her work".[29]

Personal life and death[edit]

McNamara married comedian and actor Patton Oswalt on September 24, 2005.[6][30] They had a daughter named Alice (born April 15, 2009).[31][32]

McNamara died in her sleep at her family's Los Angeles home on April 21, 2016, at the age of 46.[33][34] According to the autopsy report released online by Radar,[35] her death was due to the effects of multiple prescription drugs including Adderall, fentanyl, and Xanax. According to the Radar article, several of the medications were not prescribed to her, and other drugs such as cocaine and levamisole were also found in her possession. Previously undiagnosed heart disease was a contributing factor, and the coroner ruled her death an accidental overdose.[36] In June 2020, her widower Patton Oswalt and I'll be Gone in the Dark director Liz Garbus acknowledged that McNamara had been addicted to opioids.[37]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ a b Alter, Alexandra (February 15, 2018). "Michelle McNamara Hunted, and Was Haunted by, the Golden State Killer". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Duggan, Gerry (September 18, 2007). "Blogs: Michelle McNamara". SuicideGirls. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  3. ^ a b McNamara, Michelle (February 27, 2013). "In the Footsteps of a Killer". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Andreeva, Nellie; Petski, Denise (April 9, 2018). "Docuseries Based On Michelle McNamara's 'I'll Be Gone In The Dark' True-Crime Book In Works At HBO". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Andreeva, Nellie (May 1, 2018). "Docuseries Based On Michelle McNamara's Golden State Killer Book 'I'll Be Gone In the Dark' Greenlighted By HBO". Deadline Hollywood.
  6. ^ a b "Michelle McNamara and Patton Oswalt". The New York Times. September 25, 2005. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  7. ^ "Michelle McNamara, 46: Writer, mother, OPRF grad". Wednesday Journal. May 17, 2016. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Bolonik, Kera (February 26, 2018). "My Friend Michelle McNamara, the Crime Writer Gone in the Dark". Vulture, New York. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Reidy, Jaime (Spring 2013). "Sleuth". Notre Dame Magazine. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  10. ^ "Michelle McNamara, Writer and Wife of Patton Oswalt, Dies at 46". The Hollywood Reporter. Associated Press. April 22, 2016. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  11. ^ Dufresne, Tristan; McNamara, Michelle (April 8, 2011). "The Codex - Who Done It? An Interview With Michelle McNamara". Almost Always Books.
  12. ^ McNamara, Michelle (April 6, 2012). "Origin Story". TrueCrimeDiary.com. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  13. ^ Jensen, Bill; McNamara, Michelle (2014). "Citizen Dicks: Solving Murders With Social Media". SXSW PanelPicker. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  14. ^ Jensen, Billy; McNamara, Michelle (July 26, 2013). "Solving murders with social media" (Slide presentation). Slideshare. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  15. ^ "NSA, Assange, Grumpy Cat... 2e journée au festival South by Southwest: Bill Jensen Michelle McNamara 13h00: Résoudre des vrais crimes en ligne". Le Monde (in French). 2014. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  16. ^ Jensen, Billy (April 23, 2016). "Michelle McNamara, True Crime Writer". Billy Jensen. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  17. ^ McNamara, Michelle (February 27, 2013). "In the Footsteps of a Killer". Los Angeles. Archived from the original on October 20, 2017. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  18. ^ Melton, Mary (April 26, 2016). "Michelle McNamara's Obsession With Unsolved Crime Was Life-Affirming". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  19. ^ a b "Patton Oswalt Remembers His Wife, Michelle McNamara: 'She Steered Her Life With Joyous, Wicked Curiosity'". Time. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  20. ^ "Michelle McNamara". Los Angeles Magazine. January 22, 2014. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  21. ^ Billy Jensen (2019). Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders. Sourcebooks, ISBN 1492685852
  22. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. March 18, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  23. ^ Canfield, David (March 7, 2018). "Michelle McNamara's posthumous I'll Be Gone in the Dark is a No. 1 best-seller". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  24. ^ "New York Times Best-Sellers: Hardcover Nonfiction". The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  25. ^ Raphael, Michele (April 25, 2018). "Arrest of "Golden State Killer" Mirrors Prediction in Michelle McNamara's Book". LA Weekly. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  26. ^ "I'll be Gone in the Dark".
  27. ^ Inklebarger, Timothy (April 26, 2018). "Late Oak Park native tracked Golden State Killer". Wednesday Journal. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  28. ^ Modell, Josh (April 27, 2018). "Golden State Killer: Patton Oswalt on Michelle McNamara, Catching Serial Killer". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  29. ^ "'You did it, Michelle': Patton Oswalt praises late wife for work on Golden State Killer". ABC News. April 26, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  30. ^ Zinoman, Jason (October 26, 2016). "Patton Oswalt: 'I'll Never Be at 100 Percent Again'". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  31. ^ Susan Mallie; Lourdes Aguiar; Gayane Keshishyan Mendez; Lauren Clark (April 22, 2017). "The Golden State Killer". 48 Hours. CBS News. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  32. ^ Oswalt, Patton (December 2, 2016). "Patton Oswalt's Year of Magical Parenting". GQ. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  33. ^ "Michelle McNamara, writer and wife of Patton Oswalt, dies at 46". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. April 22, 2016. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  34. ^ "Michelle McNamara, Crime Writer and Wife of Patton Oswalt, Dies at 46". People. April 22, 2016. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  35. ^ "Read the autopsy report - Radar Online" (PDF). Radar Online.
  36. ^ McCartney, Anthony (February 3, 2017). "AP Exclusive: Oswalt says heart condition, meds killed wife". AP News. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  37. ^ "Patton Oswalt reflects on 'I'll be Gone in the Dark' and Michelle McNamara's accidental overdose: 'There were signs that I didn't know to look for'". June 25, 2020.

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