I didn’t know who Michelle McNamara was until I heard Patton talking about her on Conan shortly after she died. I had never heard from her nor read any of her work. That was little more than a year ago. I Googled and discovered her LA Magazine article and then read more about her death and the book. How had she never contacted me? How could the Smith murder possibly be included and I never once spoke to the author or her researchers? Oh well, I was super busy with my job and it was bound to happen; someone was going to write a book. I put it out of my mind. Who would know the book would take on a life of its own?
I love writing. I didn’t realize is until I was in my 40s. I had been doing it my whole life but it was for marketing and I didn’t think it was “real” writing. I was paid to tell stories about the companies I worked for and it came easy. I’ve always taken great care when presenting facts or other people’s stories. I had to, we could be sued if I screwed up. When blogging became a thing, I loved it. I blogged about homeschooling Katie and teen life and marketing and even Katie’s summer trips to different countries. It was a way for me to be part of something even if I couldn’t do it my self.
I get why Michelle was consumed by this story. I understand how writing about it enveloped her. It’s happening to me. I woke up on April 25th and my world turned upside down. A day hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t spent at least part of my time thinking about DeAngelo or Charlene or my dad. My thoughts bounce from the legal aspects to the grisly details of the crimes to survivors who are struggling to find out if he was their attacker to media inquires as we piece this things together now that he’s been arrested. Its a hot mess of details, feelings – and here’s the key – extraneous information that isn’t relevant.
With that in mind, I headed toward Barnes and Noble with mixed emotions. I was excited about seeing the folks that were coming. The fans of the book and the folks who had lived through the East Area Rapist’s terrorism were at the top of my list. I was also interested in talking to Patton and his team but I didn’t know if that would happen. I was nervous about what I wanted to say to them. While I don’t regret that the book was published, I was disappointed in a few things and let’s face, my opinions don’t mean shit. But it was my family’s story in that book and I was hoping to at least to be heard. Of course, the extrovert that I am, I calmed my nerves by working the crowd.
My thoughts about I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
The Smith Family wasn’t consulted at all for the book.
The chapter is short and appears to be based on news reports (I have no idea how it was constructed actually so this is speculation based on what was included). That’s a shame because the Ventura reporter that did the last story that was specifically called out in the book, did a bad job. I hate that series of articles more than anything that’s ever been written. The reporter forgot a whole child – my dad’s other son. She made stuff up. She exploited a man who was exonerated and managed to trash him all over again so his grand kids learned things they didn’t need to know. She got details about the killer wrong and she never once worked to fix anything in her fiction-filled story. The fact this book points to that set of articles without confirming accuracy is perpetuating the hurt it caused years ago. It’s a horrendous mistake.
The information shared about Janelle Cruz is unnecessary.
The book is super uneven. You can tell when Michelle tapped something she was interested in. Debbie Domingo had a really good relationship with Michelle and it shows. Her story is full-bodied, maybe with too much personal information about her relationship with her mom, but that was up to Debbie to share and she reports she feels really good about what was written. That’s awesome. But in the case of Janelle, the information about her past was not shared by the family and feels a lot like victim shaming. I know that wasn’t the intent, but when we are dealing with something so incredibly fragile, this is a line that has to be clearly defined. As I understand it, Michelle didn’t get to finish this section personally. I believe Michelle was committed to protecting and representing the victims in the most positive ways. Alas, she wasn’t able to put her seal of approval on this section. ALL OF US had complex, imperfect families with lots of gossipy intrigue and drama. Stop a minute and imagine if your family’s story was put into print! Life is messy and it’s how we survive and endure that’s our legacy.
I hate the name Golden State Killer.
I resent that Michelle named him. I resent she named him something that diminishes the scope of the crimes he committed – rapes, ransacking, terror, brutality, kidnapping, pedophilia, assault, theft – the list goes on. I resent that she had no standing in this case – as either a victim or law enforcement – and because she wrote a damn book, her name sticks. It’s a shame. I love the Golden State. I love the Golden State Warriors. I hate that Cavs fans call Warrior players, the Golden State Killer, because it’s so much more than an insult. It’s disgusting. I get it. They guy had so many monikers. But really, when it’s all said and done, he’s the East Area Rapist. Sure there’s the Visalia Ransaker, but to my way of thinking, that name isn’t toxic enough.
I’m kind of over men telling our story.
My first question to the men at the front of the room at Barnes and Noble was for Patton: why didn’t you have a woman on this team to finish the book? Patton had a throw away answer – both Paul and Billy had been working with Michelle so it didn’t make sense to bring in someone new. Okay. I get that. But the problem is, the empathy that Michelle was bringing to her work kind of fell apart. Can we all agree men are raise differently in our culture than women? And even women have to work hard to push through our societal norms that perpetuate myths about crimes against women. In fact, another question that night revealed a bias Paul has (that we actually talked about in the back). When the team was asked why they thought DeAngelo stopped committing crimes, Paul cited his reduced libido as a possible cause. That perpetuates the myth that sex crimes are about sex. Not true: it’s about power and control. Nope, I’m not sure a woman wouldn’t have made the same mistake – but the right woman would not have.
This book did not solve the case.
That’s not to say it didn’t do good. I believe in many ways it did. It helped people understand the breadth and depth of the damage this monster caused. It tried hard to put the humanity first along with the gory details. Because of her “Hollywood” connections and relationships, I believe this got far more attention than anything I might write. But let’s be really clear: hard working people in law enforcement have spent humongous portions of their lives chasing this guy. Crowdsourced investigations continued on ProBoards for decades (as soon as we had the Internet). I only wish Hollywood would give the same love and attention to the victims as they did to Michelle (whom I also consider a victim). I think that might happen as HBO starts their project. I met with one of the producers and she’s committed to telling the story with humanity and a 360-degree lens. It could be amazing. I told her this isn’t a documentary, it’s freaking mini-series. I’m sure I’ll have more on the HBO stuff as it develops.
Okay Jen, get over your bad self.
Here’s the really good news. I didn’t realize it was going to happen, but we got a chance to talk to the guys after then event. Had I known, I might not have asked my question about fixing errors in the book in public. I thought that was my only chance and it had been bugging me for so long. When I asked, in front of everyone, the guys really had a bad answer. They pointed to the legal team that belongs to the publisher and essentially said fixing things was their job. But that’s a bogus answer. If you write it, it’s your responsibility. And clearly Patton knew that because the minute the event was done, he jumped up and came directly to me and said, “We’ll fix what needs fixing, just let us know.” That was the right answer. He was exceptionally kind when he said it and then Paul Haynes followed up with me backstage (it wasn’t a stage, but that feels like the right word).
The infamous “Melanie”, our crime concierge as I’ve come to know her, really likes Paul Haynes. They’ve worked together over the years as Melanie knows so much about all the cases. She assured me he was authentic and trustworthy and that I could take him seriously. If you get that kind endorsement from Melanie, I know you are a good person. Her BS detector is that powerful. Talking to Paul was really good. I got to tell him about my issues with our content and how pointing to a secondary source (the articles) as something “worth reading” was just plain irresponsible. It’s not even a primary source. It’s just junk. He got it. I talked with him about Janelle and how sometimes it’s better to say less, regardless of where the story leads. And that Michelle seemed to be committed to doing no harm. They should have kept that as their mantra as they finished her work.
Paul explained to me one reason they didn’t write very much about our case is their years-long wait on a file from Ventura. As it turns out, I’ve had the file they wanted the whole time. I got it 35 years ago because like them, I too wanted to know what was true and what was rumor. If only they had reached out to me. Thankfully Paul agreed that our case had so much non-related intrigue, it would have been a rat hole anyway (I kind of agree but I need to watch myself here in case I tell some of the stories – I don’t want to be a hypocrite). I’m grateful to have had his ear and I hope, before there’s a reprint, some things are adjusted for all the families that are looking for fixes.
The secret life of extroverts.
For all of you who are not extroverts, here’s what often happens next to us. We hit a wall. All the energy falls away. It’s like the bones are removed from your body and there’s no structure to hold you up any longer. You can’t listen, see or respond. I knew I had to jam and I slipped out. Yes, we are notorious for not saying goodbye. At that point, it’s too much. I walked out to my car, had one last really nice, gentle conversation and I and started driving. Quickly I realized I was starving. I called my mom as I looked for a place to grab grub. Taco Bell on Auburn. Well lit. Sold.
I got my taco supreme and bean burrito with green sauce (seriously, the only way to eat it, I don’t even know why they have that crappy red sauce). I sat back in my car. All alone. The quiet really setting in. I wolfed down the taco. I really was hungry. And then it hit. I knew it would. Tears. Layers of them. I sat in that damn parking lot and just let her go as I cried for my dad and Charlene. I cried for all the people that had been hurt by him. I cried for the woman who got up and spoke about her rape and abuse that was unrelated to GSK (I wanted to simply stand up and give her a hug, yes, you were seen and heard). I cried because I never expected a man would be arrested and never expected to be involved with the case at this level at this age.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this stuff. The book isn’t bad and I believe Michelle had every right to write it. This story belongs to everyone. It’s been written into the lives of so many people in California and beyond. Its still unbelievable to me that a man got up everyday and made terrorizing his home town his sole mission in life.
I choose to stay involved because it is healing.
I chose to stay involved because this story should not be forgotten.