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Michelle McNamara Heats Up The Golden State Killer Cold Case

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If you've been to the supermarket in the past month, you may have noticed the bold headline "A SERIAL KILLER IN SUBURBIA" on the cover of the current issue of Los Angeles Magazine. If you flip through, you'll find an excellent, terrifying article about the mysterious Golden State Killer by writer and and true-crime aficionado Michelle McNamara.

McNamara has been running her website, True Crime Diary, since 2006, but her Golden State Killer coverage is finally bringing her work to to people's attention. McNamara is hellbent on catching the serial rapist and killer that terrorized suburbs from Sacramento to Irvine throughout the 70's and 80's, and once you read her coverage of the case's horrific details, you can't blame her. She is currently encouraging anyone who may have tips about the cold case to come forward and help solve the mystery. You can do your own research in the massive evidence portal featured on L.A. Magazine's website.

McNamara recently talked to LAist about the killer, how to take action, and why we should never forget an unsolved case.

LAist: Tell us about how you initially learned about the Golden State Killer, and why you became so interested in him in particular.

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Michelle McNamara: As someone who's had a longtime interest in true crime stories, I was always vaguely aware of the Golden State Killer. He didn't have a lot of public name recognition, but I knew he was notorious in law enforcement circles for the scope and nature of his crimes. Then, in 2010, Larry Crompton, one of the original investigators, self-published a book about the case (Sudden Terror), and I ordered it. I nearly devoured it in one sitting. I was fascinated by how unusual the Golden State Killer was. He clearly did a lot of pre-planning and surveillance of his victims. He was brazen in that he took the risk of entering their homes. He was mysterious in that he was masked and spoke in a harsh whisper. Yet he seemed to occasionally reveal vulnerable sides of himself, several times crying at the scene and calling out for his mother.

But what most gripped me was that the case seemed solvable. The Golden State Killer attacked in relatively specific geographic locations: Sacramento, Davis, Modesto, Walnut Creek, Goleta, Ventura, Dana Point and Irvine, to name just a few, from 1976-1986. It seemed to me with the advent of information technology and public record aggregators that it would be possible to establish a list of viable suspects, of white men of a certain age who lived or worked in some or all of those locations. I discovered a community of people online that were essentially "crowdsourcing" the case, doing their own data mining and investigating, and that fascinated me.

Why is it important to reintroduce the public to the killer now, when he's been inactive for so many years?

The Golden State Killer's path of destruction isn't limited to his admittedly astonishing 60 victims (50 rape victims, 10 murder victims). Those victims all had families. They were loved and are missed everyday. His violent acts continue to reverberate today. Identifying him and finding justice for his victims is as important as it ever was. I also feel an added urgency in that people who might have important information are getting older and memories are fading. It felt important to get the word out and remind the public
about this man before it's too late.

On your website, True Crime Diary, you stress that you're interested in exploring unfolding cases, not fixating on past cases. I feel like most people interested in true crime arrive in that place after learning about historic cases. Was that not the situation for you?

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I stress that I'm interested in unsolved cases, not in looking back at solved ones and dissecting the mind of the psychopath, like [the case of] Ted Bundy, etc. It's the puzzle that's the draw for me. I'm drawn to cases that have enough data (clues, evidence, etc.) that there's the possibility, through inventive use of the Internet, of helping solve them.

Your coverage of the Golden State Killer case is fascinating because you're encouraging readers to participate in solving the mystery (you call it "crowdsleuthing" on your website). Do you have any words of advice for your would-be detectives, or any detail about the case you think is particularly important?

I've received some amazing tips from all sorts of different people with various backgrounds and expertise. I would encourage anyone interested in this endeavor to first read the story and look at the evidence. Can you think of any avenues to research? For instance, the Golden State Killer committed a home invasion and double homicide in Goleta in late 1979, then nothing there for 18 months, then another double homicide in Goleta in July 1981. Was there something going on in Goleta during that time—a wedding, a funeral, construction project—that's worth investigating? Look at the hand-drawn map found near one of the crime scenes. Anything jump out at you? I'm open to hearing from anyone with ideas, insights, or original ideas for how or what to investigate.

If one of our readers has a tip or believes they might know the identity of the killer, what should that person do?

They can contact me at contact@truecrimediary.com, or investigators at either serialkillerclues@ocsd.org or earinfo@sacsheriff.com.