‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’ Finale Delves Deep Into the Golden State Killer’s Past

“So many of the things we did together, he pushed me toward fear,” Joseph James DeAngelo’s ex-fiancée says

Last Updated: August 2, 2020 @ 7:03 PM

(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t watched the final episode of HBO’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”)

The final episode of HBO’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” chronicles the search for the Golden State Killer and delves into the past of Joseph James DeAngelo, who was identified decades later as the man who committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes and over 100 burglaries.

In the episode, DeAngelo’s former fiancée Bonnie Colwell shares how she met DeAngelo when she was 18 and that after a year of dating, he gave her an engagement ring. But “the rules were never for him,” she said. He took her hunting without a license and spearfishing, which was illegal. “So many of the things we did together, he pushed me toward fear,” she recalled, adding that she remembering bike-riding with him and feeling like, “this was suicide.”

When he continued to pressure her, she gave him back the ring. But two weeks later, at 2 a.m., there was a tapping on her bedroom window. When she looked, she saw DeAngelo on the other side, pointing a gun at her. “Get dressed, we’re going to Reno tonight; we’re going to be married,” he insisted. Colwell, who still lived at her parents’ home at the time, woke up her dad for help. He asked her to wait in the bathroom until he came back. Two hours later, he returned. That was the last time she saw Joseph James DeAngelo.

The filmmakers interviewed various members of DeAngelo’s family, giving audiences a deeper glimpse into what his life was like before he started committing the East Area burglaries and rapes, and eventually murders all over California. He had three daughters and a granddaughter, yet he still committed the heinous crimes between 1973 and 1986.

In 2018,  authorities charged 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo with eight counts of first-degree murder, based on new DNA evidence. While he cannot be charged with rapes or burglaries from the ’70s because of the statute of limitations, he was charged with 13 related kidnapping and abduction attempts. He appeared in court last month to plead guilty to 13 charges of first-degree murder and 13 charges of kidnapping to commit robbery. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“My mom as she’s dying says, ‘This family is so full of secrets, everyone has a secret,'” DeAngelo’s nephew Wes Ryland says in the documentary. He also says that DeAngelo and his siblings, two younger sisters and one brother, were often left alone to find food for themselves, and their dad would lock them all in a closet and punish them, but DeAngelo would get the worst beatings.

Perhaps the most shocking detail comes from the same nephew, who said DeAngelo watched his 7-year-old sister get raped by two men in an airplane hangar in Germany. “Then he went and did that to other women,” he says.

Lisa Ortiz, DeAngelo’s cousin, says she still has a hard time believing the things DeAngelo did. She says he took her in when she was abused by her father, and he was the father she wishes she had. She lived with him from 1982 to 1986 — the years he didn’t kill any victims. But shortly thereafter, on May 4, 1986, 18-year-old Janelle Lisa Cruz was found bludgeoned to death in Irvine.

The documentary is based on Michelle McNamara’s book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” which describes her sleuthing deep into the night of the rapist and killer. McNamara, who was married to actor-comedian Patton Oswalt, died in April 2016, and never saw her work lead to the capture of the Golden State Killer.