(Spoilers ahead for “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” Do not read if you don’t want to know what happens in Episode 4.)
Was the East Area Rapist, also known as the Golden State Killer, also the Visalia Ransacker who committed burglaries in Visalia, California, in the 1970s? That question is explored in the fourth episode of HBO’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”
The Visalia Ransacker committed approximately 120 crimes from early 1974 to late 1975, and there has been increasing evidence that the Golden State Killer and the Visalia Ransacker were the same person. Both the VR and East Area Rapist would break into people’s homes and tear up the inside, steal small, personal items of value only to the owners and help himself to the kitchen while contemplating their next move. In addition, both cased their victims’ homes before they broke in.
In December 1975, Detective Bill McGowan was shot when he found the Visalia Ransacker entering a home in the area he was staking out. After attempting to detain the ransacker, the suspect removed his mask and feigned surrender, but then shot McGowan. McGowan was hypnotized to remember the face of the Ransacker, and the composite sketch was released to the public. After that, the crimes in Visalia stopped.
But that’s when the East Area Rapist began his reign of terror. The EAR attacks began in June 1976. The two men also had another similar trait — they would make phone calls to prospective victims, threatening to kill them. The EAR would often say “I’m going to kill you,” while the Visalia Ransacker would say, “I’m going to come over and f— you.”
Michelle McNamara, a true-crime fanatic who spent a lot of time investigating and hoping to solve this particular case, was allowed to enter the Orange County records room holding the files pertaining to the EAR/ONS (East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker, the latter being another name used for the Golden State Killer). She took the boxes back to her home she shared with husband Patton Oswalt.
The case consumed her even more than before, and she began to develop sleep and anxiety issues, leading her to take Xanax and other prescription drugs. Nightmares also became prevalent. And that’s when her famous “Letter to an Old Man” was born, in which McNamara directly addresses the Golden State Killer. The letter was published as the epilogue of her book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” that was published after her death in 2016. In the documentary series, viewers can see what kind of stress McNamara was under to deliver the book about the killer as new breaks in the case were unfolding in real-time. You can read the chilling letter here.
McNamara’s investigation reopened interest in the case and helped lead authorities to the arrest of 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, who 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.
In fact, DeAngelo was charged with the 1975 murder of Claude Snelling, who was killed by the Visalia Ransacker. Authorities strongly believe they were one and the same person.