I was overjoyed with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo for several of the Golden State Killer’s brutal crimes. For the victims, it means that his crime spree of 12 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries, was finally over. He will never call his victims again and threaten them. He will never cause nightmares with the survivors. He looks like a pathetic old man who will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars…something I am quite comfortable with. His reign of fear and torment are done.
We will learn more about this douchebag’s activities over time. The nuts and bolts of the investigation will be played out the courts. He may talk, he may clam up. In the end it doesn’t matter. It is a rare thing, to beat DNA evidence.
I write true crime books about cold cases. I was thrilled when the news was announced. I listened to the press conference live in the background while I worked my day job, hanging on every word. It gives hope to the thousands of victims and family members out there waiting for resolution on their open cases. At the same time it sends a ripple of fear into every murderer who believes he or she had gotten away with their crimes. Justice comes…prodding painfully slow in many cases…but it comes. Every uncaught serial murderer out there had a restless night of sleep as a result of this arrest. Once more, they are forced to look over their shoulders and wonder when, if ever, the long arm of the law will apprehend them. Good. Let these bastards sweat. Let them worry. Let them have a healthy dose of fear and mental anguish.
When they held the press conference the first question asked was, “Did Michelle McNamara’s book on the case have any influence?” Law enforcement said no. I respectfully disagree. Her writing of that book, like any book written on a cold case, keeps it in the public’s eye. Books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark keep the pressure on law enforcement when it comes to cold cases. While her book did not necessarily generate a tip that led to DeAngelo’s arrest, it spawned at least three documentaries to be produced in recent months. It made the phrase, “Golden State Killer,” become embedded as part of our true crime lexicon. It kept the public’s interest in the case and as such, keep the pressure on law enforcement. While they offered Ms. McNamara any credit, I will extend it at this time.
There are others that wrote books on the case that deserve equal credit. Countless podcasters covered the case over the last few years too and they deserve a professional nod from the true crime community. They were part of a secret army of citizens that were struggling to keep this case fresh in the minds of a generation that did not know this murder/rape spree. They are part of that unspoken True Crime brotherhood that refuses to let cold cases remain frigid. Hats off to all of them as well. A job well done!
When I proposed writing my first book on a cold case, Murder in Battle Creek, there were publishers that wouldn’t touch it. Not because of the writing or the content, but because it was about an unsolved murder. I remember one telling me, “Who wants to read about a case that never gets closed? True crime books have to have an arrest, a trial, and a conviction…that’s how they end.” It was such a narrow view…and discouraging. It was as if they were saying the victim (Daisy Zick) didn’t matter, that because their crime was unsolved that no one cared. I felt differently. I cared, and I didn’t think I was alone. I think the public likes to be a part of such an investigation. They want to know what went wrong and set it right. It is in the public’s nature to want to help. They want the facts and want to play armchair detective. They want the pain and suffering of the families to end too. I didn’t’ give up on trying to sell the book and was eventually successful.
The result – over two dozen new tips and leads…one just two months ago.
My second cold case book, I wrote with my daughter Victoria Hester. The Murder of Maggie Hume exposed the flaws in some of the investigatory work in that case, as well as exposed a suspect that the public had never heard of. The two of us had full cooperation with the prosecutor’s office and police. We reached out to the public in speaking events and made sure the story got to as many people as possible. The word got out.
The result – new tips and leads for the authorities to act on.
Our second book together, A Special Kind of Evil, The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings, has generated numerous new tips that have been turned over to the authorities. We have met with numerous people that are pounding the pavement in their own way, looking for resolution. I know some folks think true crime authors make their money off other people’s misery. They are wrong. Most of us, the ones I know, simply want to help.
I feel like we’ve done our small part in shaking the stigma about writing about cold cases in the publishing world. This recent arrest fills me (and my daughter) with renewed energy on the new cases we are exploring, as well as some of the new avenues we are looking into on the Colonial Parkway murders. The new cases we are looking into are exciting and bitterly cold. We look forward to thawing them out and bringing them into the light of public debate, investigation, and speculation.
Those of us that write about cold cases never are done with our work; not until the arrest and conviction takes place. We are on the cases until they are resolved. That’s part of the commitment on our part. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.
In the meantime, the good guys have racked up a heck of a triumph. This arrest is a victory for the law enforcement. It is vindication and resolution (hopefully) for the many victims of this scumbag. And, despite what was said in the press conference, it is a win for Michelle McNamara and her countless long hours of work and effort to keep this case in the public’s eye.