The HBO docuseries I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, which explores the late writer Michelle McNamara’s investigation into the "Golden State Killer," is back with a special episode (Monday, June 21 at 10:00 p.m. ET on HBO and Crave) focusing on the unsolved murder of Kathy Lombardo, the case that led to McNamara's obsessive search for the killer.
Lombardo was raped and killed in McNamara’s hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, in 1984, when McNamara was just 14. Featuring the writer’s archival research and audio recordings from when she returned to Oak Park in 2013, this special episode dives deeper into what sparked McNamara's fascination with unsolved murders.
“We had the story of Kathy Lombardo and Michelle's interest in the case of Kathy Lombardo’s murder,...this was something that Michelle wrote about in her book and something that during the course of the series we tried to include,” I’ll Be Gone In The Dark director Elizabeth Wolff told Yahoo Canada.
“This was the case that she was going to take on once she finished the book and so we thought it was a fitting tribute to her to delve deeper into this case that was so important to her, and share this investigation that she conducted with the world.”
McNamara, who was married to and shares a child with actor Patton Oswalt (an executive producer on the series), passed away in 2016 from an accidental overdose. Her book “I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer" tracks McNamara's work to keep that case alive in the public eye for many years. The "Golden State Killer," Joseph James DeAngelo, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the U.S. 2020, after pleading guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder dating back to the 1970s.
“To me this story is made by Michelle's investigation, Michelle is an avatar for us,” Wolff said. “In her fascination with these cases we're able to explore our own cultural fascination with darkness and crime.”
“Her investigation of this very complicated series of crimes I think brings a richness to the storytelling so that it's not just a salacious, exploitative, true crime story. To us the goal was really, how can we bring justice to the victims, just like Michelle wanted to bring justice to the victims.”
'My life has gone on for 40 plus years and I've had to live with this'
This series has a significant focus on the survivors, rather than falling into the more typical pattern in crime documentaries of telling the narrative, or parts of the narrative, from the perspective of the perpetrator. This includes survivors of unsolved attacks in the Chicago area and highlighting the stories survivors and family members of victims of the "Golden State Killer" told in court last year in front of DeAngelo.
“You're not going to see anything [in this] series where it's the feet of the perpetrator, or the flashlight, or any of that," Wolff said. "You're seeing it from what was it like to be a young woman, mom, a newlywed, in bed in the '70s, and what did it look and feel like to be woken up from that peacefulness and to have your world turned upside down,”
“We had the same conversations with our composer...you see these shows and the music is actually scored almost from the perspective of the perpetrators arousal, and we wanted that to be the exact opposite.”
Wolff admits that given the quantity of serial killer and crime-related content that is created and consumed, it’s almost like “muscle memory” for the edit to fall into the trap of storytelling from the perpetrator’s perspective.
“We want to end with the survivors clapping and leaving, and we want to hear from them and so at every step of the way we said OK, this guy is not going to have the last word,” she said.
“When we spoke with the survivors a lot of them said, 'when I do interviews about this the only thing in my interview that's used is the moment of me describing the attack, but it's so important for me to let people know what it's like afterwards because my life has gone on for 40 plus years and I've had to live with this.'”
Throughout the series, there is a call to action for people to not leave murders unsolved and to continue to fight for justice for survivors and victims.
“In many ways that was our inspiration for how we ended the special episode,...you heard from that email that Michelle sent her publisher, inside everyone lurks a Sherlock Holmes," Wolff said.
"We wanted this to be a call to action so that other people could maybe pick up where Michelle left off and help solve the Kathy Lombardo case, but also the thousands of other cases like this, that don't get the attention that they deserve."
Embodying that call to action for this special episode in particular, as we see a seemingly inconsistent investigation conducted by the Oak Park Police Department on Lombardo’s case, the filmmakers and Chris Lombardo (Kathy’s brother) have filed a lawsuit against the police department for claiming they cannot get access to the case files because it’s an active investigation.
“I'd be interested to know what they're doing to advance the case because they certainly weren't going to tell us, and if they haven’t advanced the case, I want to know that because I want a judge to rule that they have to turn over these files,” Wolff said.
“Like you'll see in the series for the Golden State Killer, Michelle had gotten all of those case files so we were able to use a lot of the case files to bring that story to life. We did not have that with Kathy Lombardo because we have no case files."