HBO Docuseries Tracks Writer's 'Superhero' Quest to Catch Golden State Killer
On Monday, Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo confessed to 13 murders and more than 40 sexual assaults
For 11 years in the 1970s and ’80s, the Golden State Killer stalked across California in one of the most vicious crime sprees in U.S. history — burglarizing more than 120 homes, raping more than 40 women and murdering another 13.
On Monday, in a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, the killer, former police officer and mechanic Joseph DeAngelo, 74, pleaded guilty to a long list of heinous crimes stretching across California, from Sacramento to Orange County.
The confession of DeAngelo, who was arrested in 2018 with the help of a genealogy website, came one day after HBO aired its first episode of a six-part documentary series, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, based on the bestselling book of the same title by Michelle McNamara, the late wife of actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, about her attempts to catch the Golden State Killer. (An exclusive clip is shown above.)
The series — which continues this Sunday and is available to stream on HBO Max — chronicles the decades long manhunt for the killer — as well as McNamara’s investigative journey and her struggles with depression before her death in 2016 at the age of 46.
“I think what's important is that he has confessed to all of these crimes, that even the uncharged crimes are now accounted for, and that there is finality,” I’ll Be Gone in the Dark director Liz Garbus tells PEOPLE. “I won't use the word closure, but that there is finality for the survivors.”
McNamara died before she finished writing the book. The book was completed by her friends, crime writers Billy Jensen and Paul Haynes.
“Michelle was a mother, she was a wife, she was a sister, and a daughter, and that she has also become a superhero for many in terms of her commitment to solving unsolved crimes,” Garbus says. “I guess I wish she could have made that balance, of work, and life, and the pressures that she put on herself to solve the case. I wish that she would have had a smoother time with that. And I think a lot of women can relate to those competing pressures.”
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Oswalt, who is now married to actress Meredith Salenger, is also featured in the docuseries.
“We worked with Patton over the course of a year-and-a-half, and I think grief goes through different stages," says Garbus. "And I even saw him being able to talk about stuff over that period of time that would have been harder at the beginning. So I guess he went on his own journey alongside us.”
The series is also a tribute to the sexual assault victims who shared their own struggles after decades of silence. Many of the victims were in the ballroom at Cal State Sacramento, where DeAngelo entered his guilty plea and confessed to his crimes.
“We started hearing from the survivors about a marriage that didn't last seven months after the attack, or a young girl who was a victim of sexual assault, whose father said, ‘Don't talk about this,’” Garbus says.
“There was definitely a story there, and in some ways it's no surprise that the kind of shame was inflicted upon the victims themselves, even though it was not their shame, it was his shame, but [in] society, of course, there wasn't really the vocabulary to talk about these things within families or friends.
"And then, in the '70s and '80s, [with] cops working rape scenes, there were very few female officers on the scene. As one of our survivors said, her body was treated like a crime scene. So there was trauma upon trauma and bringing out that story became very important to us.”
The six- part documentary series I'll Be Gone in the Dark continues Sunday on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.