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Established New York 1997

Field Reports

22

Michelle McNamara, True Crime Writer

Posted April 23rd, 2016 in Field Reports by Bill Jensen

Michelle McNamara

Michelle McNamara was dogged. Fiercely dogged. Don’t-take-no-for-an-answer, don’t-leave-any-stone-unturned dogged.

 

She was a mother and a wife, but after she took her daughter to school or put her to bed, she spent seemingly every waking moment working on her book about a series of unsolved rapes and murders that took place across California in the ’70s and ’80s. Her ultimate goal? To identify the villain, to give the real name to the unknown assailant who goes by the monikers “The Original Night Stalker” and “The East Area Rapist.” She had written about the case in Los Angeles Magazine–where she rechristened him “The Golden State Killer”–and on her site, True Crime Diary.

 

Every month or so we would meet for lunch or drinks, where she would tell me about the latest clue she had uncovered–some bit of information that had been missed all those years ago. Her eyes lit up like Christmas as she walked me down the path of how the new clue might fit into the ever-expanding jigsaw puzzle she was putting together.

 

Then we would meet the next month, where she would excitedly tell me how that piece fit into the picture… or how it sent her down one of many rabbit holes.

 

She was unearthing an intense amount of information–boxes and boxes full of documents and police reports, old phone books, news articles. The kind of stuff you just can’t google. She went digging– into dusty archives, newspaper morgues. She knocked on doors. Shoe-leather work.

 

But her most amazing skill–what set her apart from any writer I have ever seen–was getting grizzled detectives from different police departments and law enforcement agencies to talk to each other and share details about their individual cases–something they never did at the time of the crimes. If they did, they could have helped solve the case and brought this serial killer to justice. But they are doing it now, because of Michelle. It’s not always easy talking to detectives about a cold case they worked on. It’s their unfinished businesses. Imagine if someone called you up to get you to talk about a project you failed to complete 40 years ago. Now imagine telling that person no. Now imagine that person not going away until you talked to them about it. Now you have an idea of Michelle.

 

She knew more about this case than anyone, and I truly believe she would have solved it. Hell, I bet she already has solved it. I bet she has the name of the bastard in one of her thousands of pages of notes. She texted me earlier this month saying she had a real good lead on a suspect. “A lot of tiny details in his favor,” she wrote. “We’ll see. Have been here before. But God I would be so happy.”

 

I don’t know what is going to happen to the book, but If asked I would do my damndest to help get it out there. I know our mutual friend and fellow crime writer Steve Huff feels the same way.

 

After the book was finished, Michelle and I were going to start a cold case group, a sort of Los Angeles Vidocq Society, where we would invite the smartest people we knew from Hollywood, law enforcement and journalism to a dinner one night a month and review an unsolved murder case. We would then give each person a task, and at the next meeting would present their findings, which we would deliver to law enforcement before introducing the next case.

 

Michelle was really excited to do this, as was I. We were building a list of people to invite and a list of cases to work. The only thing we didn’t know was what to call this little group. The Vidocq Society was named after the French criminal-turned-detective who is credited with ushering in a new era of detective work. Michelle was ushering a new era of citizen sleuthing, and her investigation is going to illustrate what a dogged woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer could do for justice. If I can ever muster up the strength to start this group without her, I guess I now know what it will be called.

 

 

Update: 826LA–which teaches kids creative writing out of the back of the Time Travel Mart in Echo Park–has set up a page to make a donation in Michelle’s name. On top of being a great investigator, Michelle was a fantastic writer. She merged her creative writing skills with true crime facts to build a different type of crime storytelling.

 

In this age of bytes and screens, we need to get a pen and piece of paper into more kids’ hands–and some guidance from fun, talented teachers. That’s what 826LA does, so please think about donating in Michelle’s name–so we can foster the next generation of true crime writers.

 

Bill-Jensen-Michelle-Mcnamara

Michelle and I at SXSW in 2014 for our panel, Solving Murders With Social Media. 

  • AnitaDanish

    Thank you for sharing. I really, really hope her book comes out, but I wish she could be around to see that happen even more.

  • Devastating loss. I’m so sorry to her family and friends.

  • Jonathan Smith

    Very nice piece, it’s nice to see a piece not simply stating “wife of”. Oh, just a heads up, you use ‘her’ twice in a row: “I bet she has the name of the bastard in one of her her thousands of pages of notes.”

  • JohnDough610

    Great piece. I was eagerly awaiting the book.

  • reflector84

    Sounds like she was a great person to be around. You are probably right… she has several cases solved. A shame that someone so talented was taken so young. All the best to Patton Oswalt and the rest of her family. Rest in Peace.

  • disqus_ctzLi2IUuU

    I think you should start the group. I think she would love that.

    • MagsMcNamara

      I know she would. She was my aunt after all and she would have loved nothing more.

      • disqus_ctzLi2IUuU

        I am so sorry for your family’s sudden and unexpected loss. I hope you all receive some answers soon. I get it – right now, a group doesn’t make sense without her, but later on he should totally revisit the idea and think of the joy she’d get from it.

  • Arthur Hinty

    I know the concept of “heaven” is kind of passe these days, but if it were true … Imagine Michelle’s soul meeting some of the souls of the victims of the crimes she worked so hard to solve. Think of the wonderful things they would say to her to give their thanks …

  • Oreole

    This lady seemed like a real life Lois Lane. Tenacious, inquisitive, and intelligent. Learning more about this woman made me realize the world has lost someone truly special.

  • David Beeler

    Heart is broken for Patton, their daughter and the rest of her family. RIP.

  • Ludovicah

    She sounds a really fascinating woman, and one I’m sure I would have liked very much. As a researcher myself I can relate to that same sense of excitement you described

  • PK_Brooks

    I feel terrible for her family and friends–a true loss.
    However she passed, I have to say that my first instinct when I saw the headline was that ONS had gotten to her. I don’t know if you can be relieved when you hear someone had passed in their sleep, but I definitely exhaled after reading the article.

    • Jules

      what is ONS?

      • Scott M

        EAR/ONS stands for East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker, the monikers the media and police gave to the man responsible for over 50 rapes and 12 murders. Michelle changed those monikers into one since he was the same man, The Golden State Killer, or GSK. I use GSK as the standard from now on when talking about this case.

    • Colette

      One month ago Michelle had an interview which is on YouTube for Bird With A Broken Wing” Part 1, Michelle says EAR/ONS “was a coward who killed people in their sleep”, then 1 month later she dies in her sleep? I hope they look at her death very closely. EAR/ONS knows how to get into homes without anyone knowing.

      • Scott M

        I thought the exact same thing when I found out about her passing. She unexpectedly passed away in her sleep? It sounded exactly like it could have been the GSK. I’ve followed Michelles and others work for a long time, and this was just so shocking to find out. Perhaps she found out too much information and he got her before she released it, or perhaps she suffered from a blood clot or embolism. We’ll find out in the coming months what really happened. All I know somewhere in her notes she has the name of the GSK. May she find rest on the other side, whatever or wherever that may be.

  • Ben Phillips

    I’m very sorry for her passing…her family, her loved ones, all the great work she did…just not f**king fair.

  • Erin Newton

    Great tribute to a wonderful person and writer. Bill, I hope you and Steve finish her book. I think she would love the mystery to be solved.

  • m marco

    I heard that she was an author, yet I cannot find any books that bear her name. Did she write under a pseudonym?

  • Jill Storm

    Bill Jensen, I’m glad you liked my tweet about Michelle so that I was able to find you. A long term reader of True Crime Diary and writer myself, I was so sad to hear of Michelle’s passing. I admired so much about her, none of which was short enough to make it into a tweet: the light and shade in her prose, her dogged pursuit of uncovering the truth in these neglected cases. I could go on and on. I really hope her book is finished or at least published in part. What a tremendous loss, most of all to her family. Please keep those of us who followed the blog and Michelle’s voice updated in the coming months.