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How Michelle McNamara's book about the Golden State Killer helped solve the case

Raechal Leone Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Patton Oswalt and Michelle McNamara make an appearance on Nov. 5, 2011, in Los Angeles. (Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for LACMA)

Writer Michelle McNamara was admittedly obsessed with catching the serial killer she first referred to as the Golden State Killer before her untimely death in April 2016, and she worked tirelessly researching a book that she hoped would help put him behind bars. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was released on February 18, 2018 — decades after the first crimes were committed — and a suspect was arrested just two months later. So did she do it?

Patton Oswalt, McNamara’s husband, certainly believed she had more than a little to do with it. The internet seemed to agree, even as authorities dismissed the notion at a Wednesday news conference, when a reporter asked Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones whether the book had led to the arrest.

“I’m glad you asked that question, because it’s a question we’ve gotten from literally all over the world in the last 24 hours,” Jones said, “and the answer is no, other than the fact that it, like the media, kept this in the public eye, kept public interest. It kept interest and tips coming in. Other than that, there was no information extracted from that book that directly led to the apprehension.”

In fact, the book brought a considerable amount of attention to the case, thanks to its popularity. It debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and eight weeks into its run, the book is at No. 7 for hardcover nonfiction books. This month, HBO bought the rights to make it into a documentary series. Amazon readers continue to snap it up, so much so that it sold out within hours of the new development in the sad saga.

Diana Aizman, a former Los Angeles prosecutor and current managing partner of Aizman Law Firm, said that kind of attention is imperative. She cited the Serial podcast and Netflix’s Making a Murderer documentary as examples of how public opinion can have an effect. In both cases, there were further developments following mainstream interest.

“I think that the sheriff is confusing Michelle McNamara or her estate and the book with trying to take credit for solving the investigation, and that’s not what they’re doing,” Aizman tells Yahoo Entertainment. “What they’re saying is that they have sort of put a microscope up to this case and singled it out and given it a platform. That’s what caused the interest that resulted in the ultimate work that was done by the sheriff’s department.”

Aizman notes that McNamara’s contribution doesn’t mean that law enforcement officials contributed any less.

“Nobody’s taking away the work of the men and women of law enforcement that have obviously devoted hours and hours and hours of their life to solving this crime,” Aizman says. “That’s not what’s being said. No one’s taking away any credit from them. It’s more of an issue that when you have a book or a movie or a podcast that has as much public appeal as Michelle McNamara’s did, it’s going to drive an investigation with a little bit more gas than one of the other cold cases that no one’s really that interested in.”

Following the arrest, McNamara’s friend Sarah Stanard shared her frustrated reaction with the Washington Post. “It was pretty amazing,” she told the newspaper. “I’m going to try not to be angry, but they’re taking all the credit.”

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