Update: Did not see this press release yesterday. It explains more about the approach to the series and mentions victims! I’m still worried this will romanticize one person (Michelle), but she did write the book!
I didn’t realize HBO was going to drop the teaser on Sunday and it did catch me a bit off-guard. I always do my best to share real-time feelings about these things, so let’s do that. I’m writing first because I need to be thoughtful about what I say.
It’s no secret I didn’t know who Michelle McNamara was or that she was working on a book. I blogged about that as part of the book event held in Citrus Heights, attended by Patton Oswalt, Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen.
Michelle didn’t talk to the Smith’s for the book, and as I mentioned, instead referred to a series of articles that I probably hate more than anything else out there because it was inaccurate, salacious and forgot a whole kid – my brother Jay. How can someone pretend to be a reporter and literally leave out a child. It caused hurt and it stuck in my craw. I was doing interviews – always willing to help anyone or anything that would help catch our killer. But we didn’t hear a word from anyone on the McNamara team. I’ll admit, it’s disappointing. But that’s history, let’s move forward.
HBO did many interviews with the victims
I can’t talk about it in-depth, but I assume they also did interviews with law enforcement and others who dedicated their lives to finding this man. I hope they did. The victims I’ve spoken with about the interviews thought they were comprehensive, thoughtful and for us, deeply personal. For some, it’s the first time they’ve publicly told their stories. While I can’t speak for the others, I know I was honest, vulnerable and willing to help HBO tell our story. The reason I did it was specifically to respect my dad and stepmom who were robbed of their lives at the hands of a maniac.
The intersection of entertainment and true crime
One benefit I have about telling my story is I don’t have to answer to anyone other than my family. Whatever I do, I try to do it thoughtfully because isn’t just my story, it belongs to my brothers too. I also don’t do it for entertainment. I mean if you are entertained, that’s great, but for me, it’s real-time therapy as I work to understand everything happening and essentially summarize it for consumption. When I’m writing or talking, I feel more like a teacher than anything else.
But now imagine being a studio that must profit off the storytelling. The book gets optioned – meaning they license the rights to make a film based on the book – and now you must create something that will make money for the studio. How do you do that? What creative choices will you make? Will you include some “star power” to make sure it has mass market appeal? Will you conduct re-enactments to depict the crimes? Will you edit interviews in a way that increases the entertainment value while maybe compromising the intent? This is the hot mess that truly lies in the hands of the creative team.
I have zero clue about how HBO will do this. I’ve already exchanged tweets with Liz Garbus, Director, yesterday (and she’s agreed to an interview later!), and she shared one from Kris Pedretti (victim #10 and her tweet is gold). Liz’s reputation is outstanding and I have faith in her desire to tell our story with compassion and empathy. Not only that, but her team sang her praises and comported themselves in a way that’s consistent with what I learned about her.
Then why did the teaser knock me sideways
Man, the teaser bugs me. It’s bugging a few of the victims. But we also know, we need to get over ourselves. I think the first misstep was setting our expectations – and honestly, I even think they intended to manage this – but it just got bungled. We did hear promotion would be starting soon. What we didn’t hear was it would 100% focus on Michelle. It’s nothing like what we expected – and it’s just a teaser– we get it. It’s entertainment first and then it’s storytelling. It’s a sixty second teaser. Get a grip. You’re in marketing Jen, what part of this surprises you?
Just the part where I let my guard down.
Seriously. I also wasn’t prepared for the squeals of delight on Billy Jensen’s twitter feed as his fans, and let’s be honest, he has fans and that’s a good thing, but his fans are super happy for him. Alas, all I could think today was damn folks, people died. People were raped. So many lives were tipped over because of DeAngelo, but sure, add memes and emojis and celebrate. How’s that for some honestly. It is hard to look at but that’s only because it’s inherently weird that other people are making money off your traumatic event. I’ve talked about the Golden State Killer economy. With a few exceptions, I don’t have a problem with it.
This is just the beginning
It’s a teaser designed to sell the series. Got it. It’s going to play out over six episodes, and I believe will tell the story from many points of view. My hope is it champions the strength of the people who’ve survived. My hope is this will help people understand what happened in the 70s and 80s. My hope is we get DeAngelo in a courtroom so this perpetual anxiety I have that this guy’s going to escape conviction by dying finally disappears.
I’m genuinely interested in your thoughts about the teaser. Leave a comment here or chat me up on Twitter!
Today I got my hands dirty planting some tomatoes and strawberries with the hope they will flourish. I used to be a great gardener, but the teen years and work pushed my avocation to the side. Well baby, I’m back. I read a beautiful quote from Virginia Woolf this morning (and good lord no, I don’t wake up on Saturdays and read classic literature! I was at Starbucks and it was on a cup). It said, “I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One does, I think, as one gets older.” We all need spring.
Survivors, an incredible garden and HBO.
With court ending so oddly, we were a little bit all over the place (that’s probably just my perspective, we tend to squad and I’m a notorious loner until I get to a place). After the Orange County energy left, I wrapped up talking to a few reporters before I hit the road. You guys know I love journalism and I really enjoy talking with them about the case and what they are hearing.
We met at the same home with the incredibly manicured and curated garden we visited last fall. The garden has all these little mini-garden vignettes and I could play there all day. In fact, let me take this moment to announce I’m seeking a husband that loves gardening, photography and animals. Take that universe – I’ve officially put it out there. The overall effect of this lush place is calm.
Outside the front door, there was a sign posted by HBO. I had been told they would be there but at no point did they talk about filming. Based on that, I made a poor assumption: I didn’t realize they were coming to film. Duh. Some of the survivors had already been interviewed by HBO. I have not. I’ve met with the writer and a few other folks have called, but that’s about it. I’ve been constantly advocating for a female point of view on the story, but let’s face it: it’s entertainment and they need to produce something that will sell. I stupidly thought they were there for background and research.
HBO hosted a late lunch for us, and it was lovely.
There were tables set up with flower arrangements that made the event seem much more formal. I immediately noticed the camera and HBO folks everywhere and I quickly figured out we weren’t going to be able to talk freely. When I walked in, the camera crew was with a couple I didn’t recognize. I later learned they were Bob and Gay, a still married couple, and this was their first time joining us. They did not go to court. They were basically putting their toe in the water but, HBO interviewed them, so you’ll learn more about them when the film comes out.
I mentioned Bob before. I really felt connected to him since he is a lawyer who survived an attack. He was mellow and warm, and you could see the rapport that exists between him and his wife. For me, having them there was very meaningful.
Unintended consequences might be featured on HBO.
As I mentioned in another blog, we didn’t know what was going to happen in court that day and we really didn’t know why we were treated differently. As a result, that was much of the conversation. We talked about how most of the chairs in the courtroom were taken and why weren’t allowed in first (like normal) and that there was so much media there. It’s so funny how habit works because that’s how our expectations were set – by what’s happened before. Not being able to sit together threw us for a bit of a loop. It was much of our discussion at the lunch. I’m thinking HBO must have recorded a lot of that conversation.
We didn’t stay all that long. The incredible Carol Daly once again made her delicious ice cream and we got to play with a chocolate lab puppy that’s a new resident at the house. Overall, the vibe was so off on Wednesday, that’s why I needed time to sort out my thoughts. I’ve always been so protective of our privacy and now, as we all should have known, we’ve hit a pivot.
From politics to monetization, we are all making the best decisions we can.
The other thing that’s starting to be more apparent, is how each of us is moving through our “personal journey”. I know that’s a hackneyed term, but you get what I mean. I write and (sometimes) podcast. I’m trying to figure out if I can monetize my website, but honestly, it’s not very important to me. I’m much more interested in my readers and how we can possibly help one another heal.
Some of us have agents and are interested in doing speaking. I think that’s awesome. I suspect we’ll all hear more about this going forward and I hope the community will support folks as they venture out. Screw DeAngelo. If survivors can get something positive from this – so be it. I trust this group can handle our individuality along with our common cause.
Couldn’t resist adding this pic – I got out of the car, started walking inside the hotel and I heard something. Never let the turkeys get you down! This is at the Marriott compound near Cal Expo. I suspect the high rivers have pushed them out.
It’s 4am as I start this because I can’t sleep. I’m so angry, it’s beyond my belief. I have to get this off my chest because what happened yesterday was absolute garbage. Regardless of your position on the death penalty, that’s not what this is about. No, it’s possible for everyone to have their own point of view on the death penalty. That’s how it works. What happened yesterday was not about the death penalty: it was about politics and we were used without our consent. (Disclaimer: written while triggered and sleep deprived. There are bound to be typos here.)
Think about that. Victims of the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist and the Original Nightstalker: now collectively known as the Golden State Killer Survivors, were once again victimized, in broad daylight, without any single member of the prosecution considering how we might feel about what went down yesterday.
I call it crashing thoughts. When my front brain can’t keep up with all the crap my back brain is processing.
Our gathering yesterday was weird. I’ll write it up, but I need to jump around a bit to explain what’s going on. I left the afternoon event yesterday feeling strange; like in my body. I felt anxious and sad and a feeling of dread, but I didn’t know what the feelings were attached to, so I called mom and rattled off the headlines. Typically when I make her listen to me (let’s call a spade a spade here, she rarely gets a word in edgewise), I can sort out my thoughts and feelings. Here’s what I shared with her:
The Planned Parenthood event moved me. Hearing stories from women and men about their healthcare journeys reinvigorated my commitment to female equality and the right to healthcare. The speakers discussed several laws being written today that are designed to take away a woman’s right to make decisions about her body. Decisions being made by politicians; not doctors and families. If you have never had a transvaginal ultrasound, you don’t get a vote in this one. I had several during fertility treatments. Nobody buys you a drink afterward. I understand this might sound like noise to some, but watch The Handmaid’s Tale if your imagination stops there.
Yesterday, I got to meet Mr. Harrington for the first time. Just in front of the doors of the courtroom, he was talking to a large press gaggle and I assumed, “of course, it’s the first time he’s shown up here, makes sense.” He told the story of his murder – his brother and wife – and as he described it, I teared-up because the Harrington story is the closest to ours and his description was vivid and incredibly relatable for me. I’ve always identified with the Harrington case because the murders were so similar. I stepped away as I felt the tears coming. When Mr. Harrington emerged from the building, I introduced myself and cried again because I had looked forward to meeting him at some point. Remember, for me it’s been 20 years that this family has been part of my story. HBO was freaking everywhere with their cameras (that’s them in my photo from yesterday’s blog) and they captured our meeting on film. My feelings were authentic and if they use that tape, there will be no mistake it was real. At least for me.
The afternoon gathering was uncomfortable. As mentioned, HBO was there and I guess I didn’t realize ahead of time that they would be filming us. I thought they were there to do more background, but I’m an idiot. They were there to tape what we were talking about. Over the last year, this has been our safe space. We say all kinds of things that reflect the individual differences and the commonalities among us. You know when I talk about these gatherings, I do it broadly and make every effort to keep private information private. Every survivor is on their own journey and they deserve to share as they see fit. At least that’s been my commitment when writing. The worst part of the HBO project is that it will be subjective: meaning it’s entertainment. It’s not news and just like the McNamara book, it’s all about an outsider’s interpretation. So I remain dubious. I was taped and recorded. But I wasn’t at ease.
I met a new survivor couple and they were so warm. Bob and Gay joined us for the first time yesterday (they did not go to court). They were together during the attack and they are still together today – I’m not 100% positive but I think they are the only surviving “couple” to stay together. That alone was pretty incredible. But then I learned Bob is a lawyer. I locked in: for the first time, I could talk to a survivor who might have had the same thoughts my dad did during the attack. It was a powerful connection. I talked to Bob for a long time. I found it soothing. New Bob (my dad’s nickname was Bob, just to add to the kismet factor) is kind, thoughtful in his answers, and freaking in love with his wife, Gay. I won’t turn this into a therapy session, but he got in my head in many good ways.
The hearing yesterday was weird. Beyond weird. I wrote about how different it was last night and the number one thing we all talked about yesterday afternoon was that we felt shoved aside and irrelevant yesterday. Everything that happened in court was both a surprise and confounding. We spent a lot of time speculating yesterday about was really going on. But at that point, we didn’t have all the information.
As usual, mom was great. She listened, asked questions and helped me think more about what I’d experienced. But it wasn’t until I started writing last night, that I started to understand the big picture.
After lying in bed arguing in my damn head, it’s time to talk.
Yesterday was planned, staged and executed as a precursor to last night’s fundraiser and today’s press conference aimed at fighting the Governor of California and furthering the political careers of the District Attorneys. I’m not naïve. I knew this was coming. But I am incredibly angry that I was used yesterday, without my consent, in a political game that has nothing to do with us: the survivors. Let’s break it down.
Yesterday’s hearing wasn’t a hearing. It was a stunt.
We were unwitting victims of a political move and I did not consent. If we just take this one point and consider it: in and of itself, it’s shameful. I don’t care whose side you’re on or what your position is on the death penalty. Those things are not relevant to what happened here. The District Attorneys, mine included from Ventura, put together a “hearing” so they would have a platform for fundraising.
It started with our arrival. We were last into the courtroom. We’ve always been first. Sure lawyers might be there, but before they were incredibly respectful. Yesterday, they were front and center, so they’d be seen on camera, and amazingly, the judge agreed to let a lot of extra cameras in the room. We came in last to an unfamiliar and overwhelming scene of media and no seats set aside for us. We had to fumble and fit where there were seats left scattered about the tiny gallery. And if you don’t believe this was incredibly choreographed, at one point a camera man asked the couple I was sitting next to if they’d move because he couldn’t see them in his shot! They declined.
There were two motions ruled on – I remember the other one now – one was about pretrial publicity (dammit, I hate that now I’m thinking DeAngelo’s attorney might have a point), which the judge denied and the other was a very mysterious order of protection. We don’t know who needs to be protected but I found that intriguing. Then, in a weird move, the judge asked if there was an announcement and that’s when each DA stood and got their moment in the sun as they said they would seek the death penalty.
One by one.
Then the hearing was dismissed. The media was excused, and my Ventura-based legal team shook my hand and reassured me they were working hard.
We left the courtroom and without our knowledge, walked into a political media circus.
I was almost last out because I was talking with my Ventura folks. As I walked through the door, I saw an older man, in a suit, with a file folder, talking with the press. I was surprised it was such a big crowd but then I deduced it must be Mr. Harrington and he had never been to court before and I thought that was why the crush was on.
After I figured out it was him, I sat down with the others on the bench you can see behind him. Those are the survivors, sitting there, trying to figure out what was going on. I have no idea why they were sitting there but someone mentioned they were asked to when they came out. They became unwitting props in a production that didn’t bother to ask us if we wanted to participate. But again, we didn’t know any of this at the time.
When Mr. Harrington finally came outside, that’s when I introduced myself. I had left to talk with other media folks, so I don’t really know how long things went on inside and what was being discussed. I saw him, connected and then someone said to me, we’d like to have to join us at our big press conference tomorrow. A man with dark hair was pushing it and suggesting I come. He had no details other than today at 10am. I now know it’s the Death Penalty Moratorium Press Conference that will happen today at 10am in Sacramento. Again, this isn’t about the death penalty. It’s about politics and positioning District Attorneys – who are elected and therefore are politicians – as being tough on crime. Alas, I find it funny that the death penalty is where they want to hang their hats.
Let’s face it: the death penalty is the last phase in a conviction. It’s rare, expensive and only affects a handful of cases. Here’s some more factual information so you can see what crimes fall under the provision (this site appears to be neutral reporting of data). It’s always been weird to me that DAs want to hang their hat on the white elephant rather than the day to day stuff. But that’s me. I digress.
Why does my stomach ache and my head hurt.
As I drove home, and clearly mentioned on Twitter and on my blog last night, I felt sick. How was it that none of the survivors knew what was going down yesterday but one? How did the rich white man from Orange County, Mr. Harrington, who has never talked with us, just take over the narrative? How did the women and men, who’ve been coming to court for a year, sharing their stories, finding their courage, how did we become victim props for the DAs’ agenda?
Well, it turns out, yesterday in court was just part one of an integrated fundraising campaign being run by Crime Victims United. Just take a moment and delight in the cleverness of the name. United. As in, not you Golden State Killer guys, but us guys from places like Orange County. The GUYS united around a political platform that supports Devin Nunes and Dana Rohrabacher. And again, I will set this aside because I’m capable of living in a world with different opinions.
My District Attorney from Ventura was one of the speakers last night. They were specifically using the Golden State Killer case to raise money. I would have appreciated Mr. Totten telling me yesterday what was really happening and allowing me to then decide how I might want to participate – or not. Either way, this wasn’t about the victims. If it was, they would have been honest. They told none of us. Mr. Harrington was the only person (man) read in and they steamrolled the rest of us in pursuit of their personal agenda (as opposed to the collective agenda we survivors thought we were using).
Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture for a minute.
Our Ventura crime is on track. Clean, clear and DNA with a clean chain of custody. But many of the crimes DeAngelo committed are not being charged. This has been devastating for many of the survivors. Half of the time, we are merely supporting one another through the grief of not being part of the case while vicariously living through the charges that will stick. Remember Bob, the husband that was new yesterday? Their case can’t be made. There are others in the same boat – meaning, the police and DAs will not even talk with them anymore. They aren’t as relevant. It’s the cruel reality of American jurisprudence. But feelings don’t care about reality and people are human. The pain is real.
My point is, several victims have already had to eat a shit sandwich since DeAngelo’s been jailed. It’s beyond uncool to use any of us in this way. Furthermore, why did they hide their agenda from us? That’s the real question. I stood in front of Gary Totten and he said nothing. And they’d already pulled the trigger. They had their moment in court and Harrington was outside dropping the bomb. Did they think none of us would support their position? I know some of us who would have. But why ask a woman when there’s a rich, white man available? I bet some of you want to fight me on this but go back and read this again. He’s never, ever been to court. He hasn’t reached out to us. He showed up with his DA and left; making no real contact with any of us. If I hadn’t reached out to him, he wouldn’t have missed it.
I have always held Mr. Harrington in high regard. I worked in Northern California on Prop 69, which was funded by his family. The law passed requiring DNA from all convicted felons. It is a good law and it’s helping solve crimes. We share a horrible crime. I ignorantly thought we had a connection.
As for today’s press conference, it’s not about the Golden State Killer.
It’s about Gavin Newsom and politics and points of view and using a popular brand, GSK, to elevate their message. If you look at the list of participants, only Harrington is there as a GSK representative. I again ask why they chose him – and didn’t speak with anyone else that I know of – to participate in today’s press conference. In the context of #MeToo, white privilege and women being marginalized all over the place, politics once again defaulted to rich white men to control the narrative.
I’m going to talk more about this as it evolves. I want this group to pay for my week up here. My hotel, my food, gas. I was manipulated and played. Emotionally and financially. I came to what I thought was a hearing and instead it was political theater. I would have liked to know that ahead of time.
We are not fools. We are trusting. We’ve been honest and respectful and authentic. Frankly, my authenticity is all I have. I thought long and hard about what I’ve written here, but it’s too important to let slip through the cracks. I’m super interested in your opinion on how this is going down.
“Look for Karen,” Ray texted, “She’s coming up for the book event tonight!” Holy cow, I thought, she’s coming all the way to Citrus Heights to see Patton and crew? I knew Ray (and Karen) from my gig at WebEx, part of Cisco. I know East Area Rapist sleuths are a committed group, but I truly had no idea. I figured the evening would be busy and I had mixed feelings about going, but wouldn’t ya know it, the first person I saw when I got there was none other than Karen! She was like number 10 or 15 in line. It was so good to see a familiar face.
This was a big night. I’ve been thinking about how to do this post because a lot happened. So I think I’m going to break it into two parts (read part two). Part one – this one – I’ll focus on the support because I haven’t stopped being lifted by what happened last Wednesday. I’m serious. A crowd of 450+ people (ahh, the numbers, they are already starting to inflate. I feel so political!), a crowd of nearly 500 people filled the chairs, aisles, nooks and crannies of the Barnes and Noble in Citrus Heights. You can read the news reports if you want an overview, but here’s how it felt – and what it meant – to those of us who’ve lived this . insanity.
Little set up here: after court on Tuesday, I had a chance to watch some of the live feed from the courtroom on KCRA. When you watch like this, there’s a running chat window that let’s people react, comment and say nutty things (um, my word). I kept seeing this darn hashtag pop up, over and over, and I had no idea what it meant. I had intended to Google it but forgot, until I was stopped at the light on Greenback at Auburn Blvd. There, ahead of me, was the same hashtag in bumpersticker form! Don’t tell the CHP, but I Googled it right then and found out #SSDGM meant, “Stay Sexy, Don’t Get Murdered.” Color me confused. The light turned green and off I went.
I arrived around 4pm. As usual, the media trucks were already in place. What I didn’t expect was the line. I mean I knew there would be a line, but I didn’t know what kind of people would spend their day waiting to see Patton and crew talk. Turns out, pretty amazing people. I walked the line, talking with folks, thanking them for caring about this crime and had a chance to hear some of their stories. No matter what, when anthropologists study this crime, I hope they focus on what I’ve found. Fear didn’t make people run from one another; fear brought people together. It seems from the start, when the terror was high, folks looked out for one another. Have to say, it’s still happening.
[I was going to add photos here but there are too many, so I’m putting them below.]
I unlock the secret code.
As the line queued, I grabbed a quick bite at Starbucks, which was graciously paid for by Erin Newbold who was right in front of me in line and recognized me. It’s so stinkin flattering when that happens. You guys have no idea how your support feels – it’s amazing. Melanie was on her way and they were going to stick us in the very front for the talk. It was barely 5pm when the store decided to let folks in. And that’s when the real fun began!
Within minutes, folks filled the chairs and the buzz of excitement started. I took a look at the crowd and I’ll be damned if a woman wasn’t wearing a #SSDGM shirt! Finally! I would get some answers. Turns out, it’s the motto for the fans of My Favorite Murder – a podcast I’d love to be on one day (hint hint). These fans are also known as Murderinos and they wore their commitment to their fandom proudly (look at all the Murderino shirts in the photos!). I immediately took to them. Most of them were women – okay, like 95% of the audience was female – and they were smart, sassy and savvy. Some of my favorite S words.
Then someone asked me to sign their book. Really, I thought, I didn’t write it. But there were the pictures of my dad and Charlene. Both of them in their high school yearbook photos, looking young and fresh and ready to conquer the world. Sure. I’d sign it. And with that, I ended up signing maybe 100 books – working the crowd (I loved talking with you guys) and getting to meet so many people who lived through the East Area Rapist or grew up knowing about it from their families. The very idea that we were all there together with a suspect in custody made us all a little euphoric.
Did I mention HBO was there?
HBO has optioned the McNamara book for a documentary. They are still deciding how they want to tell the story and which aspects of the story to tell – I argued this is a multi-season series at a minimum – and they were filming this event as part of the production. Everyone in attendance were put on notice, they could be filmed! That probably explains why everyone looked so pretty.
As we assembled, the press was on the left, in the front, and the HBO crew was all over the place. Three chairs were set at the front of the room with three microphones. With multiple introductions, the guys finally arrived and the discussion got started. Patton sat on the right (facing the crowd), Paul Haynes in the center and Billy Jensen on the left. Rather than any formal remarks, the guys immediately took questions from the audience.
At this point, I have more to say about the talk, but I’m going to put that in part two.
Come back to the Green Room.
As the talk concluded, they whisked us (the survivors) and speakers back to the Green Room. That’s funny because it was really the store’s break room for the employees. I didn’t realize we would have time alone with the guys. Had I known, I might have held one of my questions for afterward. Patton, Paul and Billy spent time with the survivors which was really wonderful. HBO was filming so if anything good happened, I’m sure we’ll find out. I realized I hit the wall and I headed out.
The bookstore was almost empty.
The team had nearly put the whole store back together. I walked outside and reporters were filing their stories. I had parked way in the back and as I approached my car there was another woman getting into her car. I asked her if she enjoyed the evening. She had and then we talked a bit. I don’t even remember what we said, but it was just what I needed to make the transition and get back in my car to head home to the hotel.