HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark follows the story of one true-crime writer’s quest to find the Golden State Killer. Michelle McNamara, the author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, died before the killer was found. Her novel was published in 2018, and McNamara died in 2016.
Throughout her life, McNamara was drawn to true crime stories. After graduate school, she started a blog called True Crime Diary, which eventually grew to be one of the most widely recognized true crime blogs on the internet. It is often credited as an inspiration for true crime podcasters to this day.
McNamara held a Master’s Degree in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, which she obtained after graduating with her bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame. She grew up in suburban Chicago.
Here’s what you should know about McNamara’s family:
1. Her Father Was a Lawyer and Her Mother Was a Stay-At-Home Mom
McNamara was born in Oak Park, Illinois to father Thomas W. McNamara and Rita McNamara. Her father was a trial lawyer, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom.
When McNamara was just 14 years old, local jogger Kathleen Lombardo was murdered near McNamara’s family home, according to the New York Times. According to Vulture, McNamara knew Lombardo from church. The murder was never solved, and the event would later mark the start of a lifetime obsession for McNamara.
McNamara later described the way she was haunted by Lombardo’s murder as “the specter of that question mark where the killer’s face should be.” According to Kera Bolonik’s story in Vulture, McNamara was disturbed by the idea that the murderer could “vanish into the night, that life could move on, even return to normal, for the grieving survivors after the young woman’s violent death.”
2. She Was The Youngest of Six Children
McNamara was the youngest of six children born to Thomas and Rita. All of the children grew up Irish Catholic.
After living in Oak Park for the entirety of her childhood and adolescence, McNamara attended the University of Notre Dame and later the University of Missouri. After graduating from both programs, she moved to Los Angeles to write TV pilots and screenplays.
That’s where she launched True Crime Diary in 2006. In the blog, McNamara spoke at length about unsolved murders. The blog was not about looking back at notorious criminals, and it instead focused on cases that had not yet been solved and bringing light to them.
3. She Was Married to Patton Oswalt
In 2003, McNamara met comedian and actor Patton Oswalt at one of his comedy shows. The two bonded over their shared obsession for serial killers and love for the movie The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
The couple got married just a few years after meeting, and Oswalt urged her to use her hobby of researching unsolved cases into writing, which was a passion of hers.
In 2011, she used her blog to begin writing about a man who was known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker at the time, though, due to her naming, he would later be known as the Golden State Killer.
4. She Had One Daughter
McNamara and Oswalt have one daughter, Alice Rigney Oswalt. Oswalt told The Guardian in 2019 that the only way he made it through McNamara’s death and the salvation he found afterward was through fatherhood.
“I can say with a pretty good amount of confidence that if I hadn’t had Alice, if I didn’t have a daughter, I think I’d be alive right now, but I wouldn’t be functioning very well,” he said. “Drinking would have been a problem. Binge-eating would have been a problem. And then, I think, old-fashioned, almost Victorian melancholy. I would have merely existed.”
He said having Alice was something that made him tell himself to get out of bed, make breakfast and take care of someone.
5. Oswalt Wrote the Afterword to ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’
After McNamara’s unpredictable and untimely death in 2016, Oswalt knew he wanted the book to be finished. McNamara had died in her sleep of a combination of prescription medication and an undiagnosed heart condition.
Oswalt recruited Paul Haynes, McNamara’s research assistant, and investigative journalist Billy Jensen to finish the book, which came out two years after McNamara’s death. It features a forward by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by Oswalt.
Oswalt also served as an executive producer on HBO’s six-part docuseries I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. He appears throughout as a talking head and also during videos of him and McNamara together.