Left: One of the composite sketches of the Golden State Killer. Right: Suspect Joseph James DeAngelo, who was arrested in April.
Left: One of the composite sketches of the Golden State Killer. Right: Suspect Joseph James DeAngelo, who was arrested in April.
via Los Angeles Police Department

How a South Florida Native Helped Michelle McNamara Chase the Golden State Killer

Paul Haynes first heard of the murderer now known as the Golden State Killer through a television special. It was sometime around 2008, and there was little public awareness of the man who had terrorized California for over a decade beginning in 1976, ultimately committing at least 12 murders and 50 rapes.

The case stuck with the Plantation native and Florida Atlantic University grad, who was astonished it had flown under the radar for so long. By 2010, he found himself using his downtime at work searching online databases and public records for names of potential suspects. He shared his theories on an online forum maintained by A&E, which was packed with people just as obsessed as he was.

"It was something that I was embarrassed about; it was something I didn't talk about with people," says Haynes, who is now 36. "When I went on first dates, it was something I kind of withheld because it's a strange kind of preoccupation."

But that strange preoccupation would lead him down an unlikely path to a partnership with true-crime writer Michelle McNamara, a move to Los Angeles, a best-selling book, and now an HBO show.

That part of the story is better known: McNamara, wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, spent years working on "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," a gripping account of the crimes of the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer. In 2016, before she finished writing, she died suddenly of an accidental overdose. The book was released in February, completed in McNamara's absence by Haynes, Oswalt, and investigative journalist Billy Jensen. Two months later, Sacramento police announced they'd finally made an arrest: former cop Joseph James DeAngelo.

It was on the A&E forum that Haynes first connected with McNamara, who nicknamed him "the Kid." Both had long been captivated by unsolved crimes ("Each case represents a puzzle with a real-world solution," Haynes says), and especially by the case then known as EAR-ONS, short for the East Area Rapist-Original Night Stalker. 

The killer would slip into his victims' homes at night and wake them with a flashlight. In the early years, he would rape the female victims while leaving the men tied up. Later, he moved on to murder. He vanished after 1986.

McNamara and Haynes, who was spending as many as 15 hours a day mining data for clues about the killer's identity, began writing back and forth and swapping theories. It turned out he and McNamara, whom he knew from her blog, True Crime Diary, had some similar ideas.

"We always felt the case was highly solvable; it was inevitable that it would someday be solved," he says.

In 2013, McNamara wrote a story for Los Angeles Magazine about her search. Haynes wrote an accompanying piece. Soon after, she began working on a book about the case and asked him to be her lead researcher.

Haynes pored over maps of California, believing the case could be solved using geographic profiling — analyzing crime locations to figure out the area where a suspect most likely lives. McNamara interviewed the detectives who chased the Golden State Killer over the decades. In the summer of 2015, Haynes moved to L.A. He and McNamara got their hands on 40 boxes of case files from Orange County, which she called the "mother lode."

One day, Haynes emailed McNamara his thoughts on a file she'd sent him from that mother lode. She didn't respond to that message, or to another he sent about something else. Later that day, one of McNamara's friends told him she had passed away that morning.

"When it finally broke the next day, that confirmed that it was something that really happened, not something I had just dreamed," Haynes says. "It was the last thing I expected would happen."

The book had to be finished, he and Oswalt and Jensen decided. They spent about a year and a half working on it, patching the holes and preserving the general shape and tone. "I'll Be Gone in the Dark" became a number one New York Times best seller. HBO announced in April it would create a docu-series based on the book.

Then on April 24, after doing a book event in Chicago with Oswalt and Jensen, Haynes found out an arrest had been made. The next day, he saw for the first time the name and face of the killer he and McNamara had been pursuing for years.

DeAngelo, who was identified using DNA, had never been on their radar. Still, Haynes believes her work helped build awareness and open up resources that hadn't been available before. One of his first thoughts after learning the news of DeAngelo's arrest was how tragic it was that McNamara wasn't there.

"I think she would have a whole book full of questions to ask him," he says. "As do I." 

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