My sweet and slightly-twisted partner talked me into checking out the “My Favorite Murder” podcast this past week. I dodged giving it a shot at first since the topic of murder isn’t really my style; I’m already the kind of person that locks the door 3 times when I’m alone and still won’t look under the bed at the age of 25. Why would I want to imagine people breaking into my apartment to kill me and cut off one of my toes as a souvenir? (I find my own feet to be quite adorable — so naturally, I assume they would be the first to go).
However, I’m also the kind of person that easily gets hooked on inspirational pieces of work and lost down a rabbit hole of podcasts, headlines, videos, tweets and more. That’s what I do — I get excited about something new that appeals to me, and I become obsessed with researching and learning more about it. And like me, that’s something a lot of us do about the things we, at our core, are passionate about.
So I listen to episode 1. If you haven’t listened to this yet, and you don’t mind a little bit of sarcastic humor about “idiots who don’t wear seatbelts”, you’re going to love it. Podcast hosts Karen and Georgia are brilliant and hilarious, bringing intrigue and charisma to a topic as serious as “murder” for people who are obsessed with such a twisted yet fascinating subject. And the very best part: they make it feel a little less fucked up for people who want to obsess over true crime and fill their internet history with questionable serial killer biography searches. Congratulations – we’re not insane! And we don’t secretly want to murder someone.
In the very first episode, “My Firstest Murder,” they break it apart by — you guessed it –sharing their favorite true crime stories. And in the last 16 minutes of the 70-minute episode, the most fascinating story that stuck with me after it ended was the “East Side Killer” of Sacramento – also, and more commonly known as, “The Golden State Killer”.
A little bit about this guy: The Golden State Killer was an 18 to 30-year-old serial rapist known for attacking couples (specifically) and committed up to 50 rapes in the 70’s. And like any good serial rapist, of course, he eventually starts murdering them afterward. He even went as far as stealing sentimental items as he departed like engraved rings, IDs, cuff links, and other things that held personal value to these couples. He was in shape, he wore a ski mask, and for over 40 years, he was never found.
But he’s not really the one I want to give recognition to in this post. Karen and Georgia then proceeded to name drop Michelle McNarama, the author of the blog True Crime and her article featured in LA Magazine in 2015 (these being some of the only writings that existed when this podcast first aired in January 2016). They talked about her brilliant way of articulating his story, the victims’ stories, and the determination she had to uncover the truth behind who he was after all the time that had passed.
I searched her blog from the parking lot of my office building and came across an outdated website with the last post being from 2014. I thought it was weird, considering she was so brilliant and deeply invested in the story – why would she stop writing? I let it go, clicked “episode 2”, and drove home.
A few hours later, there it was – all the pieces of this story I’d just learned about that morning came together at 6:20pm as I was waiting for my pasta to cook. There was the headline: “‘Golden State Killer’ suspect, a former police officer, arrested after DNA match” by the Washington Post.
This headline I didn’t even care or know anything about only 6 hours prior was now suddenly sending me over the edge. So naturally, I started reading all the articles and the headlines and watching the videos. And then it came back to me: Michelle! You know who cares the most about this shit? Michelle. What does Michelle think? How does homegirl feel to know this thing she cared so deeply about uncovering is finally SOLVED? I have to know how joyful she must feel at this very moment.
But before I just put into Google search “Is Michelle McNamara like, so excited right now…,” I wanted to return to her outdated blog posts first, and her article published in LA Magazine. And finally, I landed on the review of her book about the Golden State Killer — a book she never got to finish, just like the blog that abruptly ended 5 years ago. And I then learned why.
In 2016, Michelle died in her sleep. She died in a way that holds little explanation and stands as a tragedy for those who knew and loved her. And while her death alone was sudden, it didn’t go without leaving behind something remarkable for not only those who knew her, but for people like me who just learned her name this morning.
The end of Michelle’s life was spent pouring every bit of her time and obsession toward justice for all of the horrible, repeated tragedies committed by one man in the 70’s. She sacrificed her time for the sleepless night of research, the countless interviews with the survivors, and of course, the writing of her book “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” that captures the true stories of the victims and the effort dedicated to finding their killer.
Justice consumed her, and she never gave up. And the most obvious characteristic about Michelle that stood firmly in my mind: she was undeniably obsessed with the truth.
I found it disappointing at first how unfair it is that she doesn’t get to relish in a case it’s taken over 40 years to solve. I imagined what it would be like to become so consumed with something so deeply and never get to see the impact it has. But that’s not the point, and she knew that.
“She always said, ‘I don’t care about credit. I want to know that’s he in jail.’ And now he’s caught. The bracelets are on, and it feels like this thing that she wanted so badly is now done,” Michelle’s husband, Patton Oswalt, says.
I now find that there’s something beautiful and poetic about all of this. Not in her death or that she never got to solve it herself, but because she did, and still does, have such a strong impact on this case — and I believe she knows from the beyond that the role she played in the unveiling of a monster is truly not trivial.
Michelle was obsessed with telling the stories in such detail that went beyond how were told in a police report. Her gift of writing had the power and ability to capture these graphic scenes in such a way that we could remember them so vividly – so that we would never forget. And now, in her absence, never give up on. Her words kept the story alive in readers’ minds, and her years dedicated to the truth finally paid off.
In her book, she writes: “This is how it ends for you,‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark,’ you threatened a victim once. Open the door. Show us your face. Walk into the light.”
Obsession is funny that way. Sometimes we don’t even realize it, because it’s so easy to get caught up without even realizing how many hours of sleep we’ve lost, how many nights of drinks with friends we’ve turned down or how distracted we become in places that aren’t about the thing we can’t stop thinking about. Instead, our eyes are focused on the shore: to leave an impact, to help others, to make a difference – whatever the end goal is for each of us. It’s at the forefront of our minds. And while obsession can get a bad rep – it shouldn’t; not always.
Beyond this story, I’ve learned from a lot of different sources that in order to have an impact on something, we have to become obsessed with whatever it is that we’re gifted with. Researchers, pianists, construction workers, mothers, police officers, and dog-walkers; our thing, whatever it may be, is the thing we must pour our hearts and souls into if we want to make change. We can’t pour 1/18th of ourselves into a million different passions and expect the same results from each one. It doesn’t work that way. What matters is the one thing we were designed to do, and we do it with everything we’ve got.
Michelle was obsessed, just like I became so obsessed to write about Michelle today. Because in our own way, that’s what we all do. It’s the thing we do that has so much power to bring all darkness into the light.
April 25th, 2018 will be marked with the arrest of a man that brings justice to the victims that have lost 40 years of safety, stability, sanity, or at worst, their lives. I hope there is some sort of celebrating today. I hope there is peace of mind today. I hope there are deep exhales today. And I hope wherever she is, Michelle is still experiencing that same joy I initially hoped for her.
Her obsession paid off. It is finally done. And her representation and example of the word will live on in my eyes as an inspiration to deep dive into my truths, all of our truths, and believing that our obsessions can be used for so much good.