Michelle McNamara’s probe traced in HBO doc


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Patton Oswalt says production on a documentary series based on his late wife’s true crime book ‘”I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” began one day after an arrest in the Golden State Killer case. (May 14)

Just as the former police officer believed to be the Golden State Killer is expected to plead guilty to numerous rapes and murders in a Sacramento County courtroom, HBO will shine a light on survivors, investigators and a crime writer with a self-described “murder habit.”  

The six-episode docuseries “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” (premiering Sunday, 10 EDT/PDT) examines the Golden State Killer’s crimes, features interviews with survivors of his attacks and traces Michelle McNamara’s personal investigation into the assailant for her book of the same name, published nearly two years after the author’s death in 2016. 

Comedian Patton Oswalt, McNamara’s husband, serves as an executive producer and is featured in the project, for which Liz Garbus (“Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper” and “Lost Girls”) is a director and fellow executive producer. 

Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, was arrested in 2018 in rapes and murders in the 1970s and ’80s throughout California. He is suspected of committing more than a dozen murders and 50 rapes. 

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Comedian Patton Oswalt with “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” director Liz Garbus. (Photo: Courtesy of HBO)

Oswalt tells USA TODAY that he felt sold on the docuseries, which coincidentally began filming around the time of DeAngelo’s arrest, after being approached by Garbus. He remembers he “handed everything over” to her “and just trusted for her to build the narrative as best she saw, because I’m too close to it personally to have the objectivity to form a narrative.”

But Oswalt says he hasn’t been able to finish watching the completed series, which includes footage of McNamara with their young daughter Alice, now 11, and endearing moments from their relationship.

“It just cuts so close to home, but seeing the moments – it’s bittersweet, because I’m seeing  little Alice being a little goofball, but then I know what’s coming for her,” he says. “It makes me really sad.” 

Oswalt says he and McNamara shared an interest in true crime, though his taste is “more sensationalistic” while McNamara, the author of the website True Crime Diary, focused on “the investigators and how they put the crimes together. Hers was much deeper and more elevated than mine.” 

He says her devotion was inspiring.

“She had doggedness and dedication in sticking with investigating these unsolved murders,” he says, “even when certain investigative alleyways she would go down would lead to a brick wall, she would then dust herself off and keep going.”

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Patton Oswalt and his late wife, writer Michelle McNamara, at a premiere for the 2007 film “Ratatouille” in Hollywood, Calif. (Photo: E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Disney Pictures)

“I’ll Be Gone” depicts McNamara’s commitment to the case – how she hunkered down in a hotel room with the case files from the rapes with her phone turned off, away from her husband and child. 

“I wanted to make sure that she had hours and hours and hours (with me saying), ‘I don’t want you having to think about anything else,'” he says.

“Patton was a real supporter of her writing and her work,”  Garbus says, “and I think you just see a lot of love and care there, and that’s very heartwarming in a very dark story.”

Oswalt refers to McNamara’s reliance on prescription medication (a partial cause of her death, in addition to a heart condition) in the documentary.

“There was a lot of sleeplessness and insomnia,” he says. “There must’ve been days where she was like, ‘I’ll take Adderall in the morning, I’ll take Xanax and Vicodin to get to sleep ’cause this is for a bigger purpose than me.'”

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Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected Golden State Killer, at an arraignment on April 27, 2018, in Sacramento County Superior Court. (Photo: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Survivor Kris Pedretti recounts fearing for her life, when she was repeatedly raped in 1976 at 15. She remembers the perpetrator told her “If you scream, or move, I will put this knife through your throat, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

The trauma greatly affected Pedretti.

“It was just a few hours,” she says, “but it changed everything.”

Should DeAngelo have faced the death penalty, a fate he’ll avoid with the guilty plea? .

“What matters to me is what matters to those survivors,” Garbus says, mentioning those he couldn’t be charged with due to the statute of limitations.

Oswalt also demurs.

“I don’t feel like I should have an opinion right now,” he says. “I just hope whatever is the worst thing for him, that is what happens to him.”

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