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I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

April 25, 2018 - It gives me great pleasure to update this post with the news that authorities have arrested Joseph James DeAngelo in the decades-long investigation into the Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist. #MichelleMcNamara - you did it. He stepped into the light.

Dear Diary,
Imagine being so obsessed with something that it consumes you.

Perhaps this is why I find the show 'The Curse of Oak Island' so compelling, not for the thrill of the treasure hunt they've embarked on, but because it was an endeavor Rick Lagina dreamed of taking on since childhood.

It's why I purchased Michelle McNamara's book, I'll Be Gone In The Dark, published following her untimely death, and restocked since Amazon sold out following its release.

The book chronicles her exhaustive search into who she dubbed the Golden State Killer, whose rampage through California included fifty violent sexual assaults and at least 10 grisly, gruesome murders that left a generation cowering in fear.

He was a boogeyman, emerging from the darkness to carry out his horrific crimes.

And then one day, inexplicably, he stopped.

No one knows who he was, where he was or why he did this. And it was this mystery that motivated a graduate of the University of Minnesota to investigate the case herself.

She started a blog, True Crime Diary, which became quite popular among circles of armchair detectives and so trusted by the actual investigators that Dateline enlisted her assistance for interviews. She wrote, and researched, and interviewed, and chased leads that turned into frustrating dead ends, and she would sob in defeat only to somehow find a renewed strength to keep going. She began to organize her tireless efforts into a book; a book that she could unfortunately never see finished, yet triumphs thanks to her husband and closest associates. She died tragically in her sleep as she neared its end. That chapter was printed as it was with the Editor's Note that she had passed.

This book read like both a memoir and a case summary. I learned quickly that it was unwise to read at night yet continued to do so anyway, often times reading well into the morning hours. I found myself relating to her on so many avenues of her life - her Minnesota ties, her passion for chasing stories, journalism, her blog, writing as her family slept, and finally, her obsession with the process of how law enforcement traps monsters.

This book went above and beyond the narratives of the profiler who helped catch the Unabomber. Where he was cocky, she was confident. She was empathetic when he was selfish. And she connected to her audience to share her obsession in such a way that I couldn't help but simultaneously weep and cheer for her.

"You'll be silent forever. I'll be gone in the dark."

We live in a world filled with monsters, but also a world filled with helpers. Look for the helpers, even in the darkest of moments. They're there. And I hope from where Michelle is, she'll soon be able to hear the echo of a jail cell door clicking shut behind the man she calls the Golden State Killer.

Read the book. Just not in the dark.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book through the link, I will receive a small percentage of commission. You are under no obligation to use these links, but if you do, I will use the money to reinvest in the blog.

We're Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

Dear Diary,
I was looking to prioritize a few things in my life. I soon came to the realization that in order to make time for them, I needed to stop investing time in other things.

Before, once my children were asleep, I would schedule posts to various social media accounts. I wasn't writing. I wasn't reading. My new camera has the ability to shoot video, which I wasn't editing. It made sense to me to deactivate a few of those platforms and delete the apps from my phone, in order to pursue the passion projects I had set aside.

This post focuses on my desire to read more.

If you look at my archives, you'll discover I've penned only ONE book review. This publishing celebrates the fact that I've finished another book.

Samantha Irby pens the popular blog, "Bitches Gotta Eat," to which I am a loyal reader so I was already familiar with her writing style.

She's hilarious.

And as the tracking number for my order brought her collection of essays closer to my doorstep, my building anticipation turned quickly to excitement.

In her book, Irby writes about much heavier topics than on her blog but injects the subject matter with such humor that I laughed out loud on numerous occasions. I found myself relating to her discussions of her autoimmune diseases, nodding in agreement when she refers to life as a "dumpster fire," and despite the book's title, I longed to meet her for coffee (or something stronger) to ask for her advice. Irby is relatable, speaking right to the heart of her struggles but still embracing the life that she has been given.

Make the most of it. Laugh at it.

My favorite chapter introduced me to her bitch of a cat, Helen Keller. Rescued as a kitten, Irby didn't expect her cat to survive and wrote that it was apparent the two hated each other. "You're going to die soon," she'd promise as the cat side-eyed her. The descriptions of Helen Keller reminded me so much of Sasha, our cat who died at age 3 from cancer and whose cremated remains became a white elephant gift after taking up an awkward residence in a bathroom.

(Oh did that surprise you? It's true. I promise we love our pets, we just harbor a disgusting amount of shock value when we don't know what to do with something, like an urn.)

Look, life isn't going to be fucking perfect. No person is either. But what matters most in any situation, is that you go to bed knowing you tried. You tried your best, and if you didn't, well ... you can always turn your failures into a laugh-until-you-cry memoir.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book through the link, I will receive a small percentage of commission. You are under no obligation to use these links, but if you do, I will use the money to reinvest in the blog.

Minnesota's Connection to Jesse James

Dear Diary,
On Sunday, the kids and I walked in the footsteps of history.

Northfield, MN is located approximately 20 miles south from our house with strong ties to the infamous outlaw, Jesse James. In fact, the townspeople are credited with influencing the end of his crime spree.

On September 7, 1876, eight members of the James-Younger Gang rode into Northfield with the intent to rob the First National Bank.

It was supposed to be textbook.

The gang assumed the townspeople would be so naive to the reality of a bank robbery that they would cooperate. When 3 of the desperadoes stormed the bank and ambushed the 3 employees, they were promptly told that the vault door could not be opened.

Out on the street, the townspeople sensed something was amiss and began to arm themselves. A merchant stumbled upon the robbery in-progress and yelled, "Get your guns, boys - they're robbing the bank!"

Two of the gang members got on their horses and began firing their pistols and ordering people to leave the area or be shot. A non-English speaking Swedish immigrant named Nicholas Gustafson didn't understand, and he was mortally wounded. He died 4 days later.

The foiled robbery lasted 7 minutes.

When the smoke settled, two gang members lay dead. Two more were badly wounded. The remaining fled southwest, triggering the largest manhunt in U.S. history at that time. 

Much of what is seen at the site is original. The vault was restored to its former glory, and the actual clock stands frozen at 2 p.m. to commemorate the events that wrote Northfield into the pages of history.

A photograph of the bank as it would have looked at the time of the robbery hangs in the building, and below is how the bank appears after its stunning restoration.

The attention to detail and historical fact takes your breath away.

The kids tried to disobey posted signage that prohibited access to the vault area, as their curiosity got the best of them. It was a tough negotiation.

(Square-head nails!)

Bank teller Joseph Lee Haywood is regarded as a hero. He was shot and killed for refusing to open the fault. His blood stains the pages of the transaction ledger that is now enclosed in glass and covered by a thick, black cloth to preserve the penmanship.

If you look closely at the names recorded, you'll see the name J.S. Allen, the merchant who shouted for the men in town to get their guns. What's remarkable, is after the failed robbery the bank continued recording in the ledger.

In 1870s America, banks didn't carry the peace-of-mind of federally-insured deposits. Bank robberies devastated towns and sent people into financial ruin. A museum employee was kind enough to have a conversation with Landen and Madelyn about the handwritten logs, and how they differ from account management today.

(The large, beautiful windows let in a lot of natural light.)

As Landen read the exhibit notes, and realizing he was standing where Jesse James once stood, it made the stories come alive. I firmly believe that learning in a classroom only takes you so far. When you can connect the lesson to a real life experience, the effect is everlasting and deeply impactful.

Northfield celebrates the bravery of its citizens with a festival every September, the Defeat of Jesse James Days, featuring reenactments and parades. Minnesota may be known for being "nice," but its people have shown that we are not ones to be messed with. That spirit lives on.

Should you find yourself in the Twin Cities, it is worth the drive to visit the site that stopped Jesse James.

The Historic First National Bank of Northfield Site
408 Division Street, Northfield 55057
*There is a small admission fee and specific operating hours, but well worth it for the step back in time. 

Abandoned World War II Munitions Factory - Rosemount, MN

Dear Diary,
Located off County Road 46 in Rosemount sits an old, abandoned munitions factory that the government had annexed during World War II. The decaying structures rise above the overgrowth like eerie reminders of a time long since passed.

(Snow covers the land once known as Gopher Ordinance Works.)

The by-products of weapons were made here ... that were likely sent off to war in the European and Pacific Theaters ... that likely killed people.

To have this connection so close to where I raise my children is chilling, and try as I might not to think like that, the thoughts still strike me just the same.

I pull over on the side of the road. With my keys in my pocket, and my long lens attached to my trusty Canon, I exit my car. I walk as far as I am able, banned to go any further than 20 steps because of the NO TRESPASSING signs that guarantee a ticket and possible arrest if I let my curiosity get the best of me.

I use my long lens like a telescope, which allows my vision to get closer to the ruins than my body ever could. These are the images I’ve captured:

In 1943 the U.S. government took control of 12,000 acres of farmland located south of Minneapolis. By the time the munitions plant was up and running, the end of the War was 7 months away (and another reason why I try to shake the aforementioned morbid thoughts from my head - the timeline of this site is quite short). Two years later, the land was deeded to the University of Minnesota, and since then, it’s been used mostly for academic and agricultural research.

Known today as UMore Park, there are portions that have been opened to the public as park land and trails, but the structures themselves are strictly off limits. (Why?) From the road, you can see the rows and rows of cement columns wrapped in ceramic, the large concave supports, the dismantled storage tanks, and in the distance, four ominous venting towers shaped like gun barrels.

It stands, because no one knows what to do with it. Both the U and the Army Corps of Engineers have completed assessments on the land, but the results are mixed. Some of the land has received the approval for possible development, while others haven’t. (Again, why?)

Either way, nothing has happened so the war factory continues to cast its haunting shadow.

Note: If you’re going to check out a location or abandoned building, it is imperative to obey the posted signage. Satisfying your curiosity is not worth the creation of a rap sheet.

The Controversial WWII V-J Day Kiss Statue - Sarasota, FL

Dear Diary,
It's one of the most iconic images to ever come out of WWII V-J Day.

This image, which captures the jubilance felt by all upon the War's end, was immortalized with a statue in Sarasota, FL.

Called 'Unconditional Surrender,' the statue was met with one of two extreme reactions - people either loved it or hated it. Those who loved it felt it captured the celebratory joy and loss of inhibition that came with the end of WWII, while others deem it to be a case sexual assault since it's clear the kiss took the woman by complete surprise.

Located downtown, the 28-foot tall, 15,000-lb. Seward Johnson-sculpted statue stands at an intersection in front of the marina. It's centralized location helps make it one of the most photographed spots in Florida.

We passed the statue en route to Siesta Beach, so my photograph was taken in haste. The artisan's skill was apparent even in quick passing, and I marveled at the fact that it seems this 3D image was simply plucked from the photograph itself. 

The photo was taken on August 14, 1945 in Times Square, on the day of the Japanese surrender. People filled the streets upon hearing the news, feeling a sense of pride the country has arguably not experienced since that day. 

The sailor and the dental assistant (not a nurse) have both been identified - George Mendonsa and Greta Friedman - but since passed away, with Friedman's obituary even commenting on the opinion of the spontaneous kiss being an assault. But Friedman's son expressed that his mother did not perceive it that way.

It was a moment of great relief for all those who served, but even more than 70 years later, the statue continues to stir debate. Is this art? Is it history? Is it evidence of assault, and should it stand on the waterfront of a major city? 

So what's your take - is it a moment of euphoria on one of the most historic days in America, or does it depict something that should not be celebrated at all?

A 24-Hour Beach Escape

Dear Diary,
I wish to live an abundant life, filled with choice.
One where, when presented with an opportunity, we’re able to take full advantage of without consequence.
No permission needed, no justification warranted; simply follow its pull and see where it leads.

We departed the snowy landscapes of Minnesota to thaw in the warmer temperatures of Florida. Nick had a long layover, we had a long weekend and the flights were accommodating to standby passengers.

It was settled then.

The kids’ priorities were simple.


They packed light to save room for their swimsuits and goggles, and our first stop was Siesta Beach. Rated the best beach in the country, the crystal white sand was soft beneath our bare feet. We collected shells along the shoreline to mark our time here.

We then found a private spot on one of the outlying islands. We had the beach mostly to ourselves, and we giggled at the prospect of a suntan in March when our home was still covered in snow!

We do not have a conventional lifestyle, but it's one that I am eternally grateful for. Being married to and loving a pilot means long stretches apart, but it also means the sky is limit and we can meet up in new cities to explore.

Landen, who has been flying since he was 10 months old, and Madelyn, since she was 1, have logged over a combined million flight hours to various destinations like Houston, Honolulu, Denver, Colorado Springs, San Diego, Atlanta and now this weekend, the areas surrounding Ft. Myers and Sarasota. They've grown into wonderful travel companions, and it's our goal to take them to Europe this summer.

Our lifestyle taught them how to be spontaneous, as these weekend jaunts often present a mere 24 hours prior to departure. And Madelyn has learned how to manage her diabetes far from home, without it hindering on her experiences. Even with its challenges, I feel I've achieved the kind of life I dreamed of when I was still in high school. I've longed to see the world beyond the view outside my bedroom window, and now, I'm able to cash a cultural paycheck of sorts for my children's benefit.

Some may say my children are spoiled, but I believe it's these experiences that are teaching them how to conduct themselves in public. How are they supposed to learn manners and etiquette if they are not put in situations where they must use it? How else will they be exposed to how other people live, or other dialects, or new cuisines if we remain at home all the time? Both Landen and Madelyn are very open and up front with their opinions, desires, and wishes, and I try to balance their upbringing by making them earn it (i.e., experiences, things, allowances, etc. - it's okay to tell your kids 'no' after all) and by indulging them.

This weekend was surely an indulgence.