On the day news broke that the primary Golden State Killer suspect was arrested after more than 40 years, Patton Oswalt sat down with EW and opened up about the complex emotions he’s feeling.
The comedian and actor was married to Michelle McNamara, the true crime journalist who spent more than a decade doggedly researching the case before her untimely death in April 2016. Her book on the Golden State Killer, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, was published earlier this year to great acclaim and a top spot on the New York Times best-seller list. (Read our review.) Oswalt had previously spoken to EW about how it became his mission to finish the project after McNamara died. On Wednesday, he spoke on the subject of the arrest while being interviewed for PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing.
“My mind is going in a million directions right now, but on top of all the exhaustion and surrealism, I just feel very, very happy that her work wasn’t in vain,” he says when asked what he’s feeling. “Weirdly enough, I had been with her family the night before, doing a talk for her book, so that was very strange.”
Between 1976 and 1986, it was estimated that the Golden State Killer murdered at least 10 people and committed at least 50 sexual assaults. The case struggled to gain traction until McNamara began digging into it, helping brand it (she dubbed him the “Golden State Killer”), and publishing initial thoughts and compilations of research on her website, True Crime Diary. Given this landmark moment in the case, Oswalt describes not having McNamara around to experience it as saddening. “Spin a wheel of emotions and pick eight of them, and they all apply,” he admits.
At a press conference earlier Wednesday, authorities suggested that no new leads came from McNamara’s work. Oswalt tells Couch Surfing this is slightly misleading, and doesn’t give McNamara the proper credit she deserves. “A cop is never going to credit a writer or a journalist in helping them solve a case,” he says. “But they kept saying ‘Golden State Killer,’ so just by that act alone, her work affected the case…The new name is what helped get interest in this thing.”
Oswalt clarifies that it became his “mission” to finish McNamara’s project, if only because it was what he needed to do at the time to keep living his life in the wake of her death. He encountered 7,000 pages of police reports on a thumb drive, and more than 40 boxes worth of documents that McNamara had left behind. As Oswalt puts it, “It was a massive undertaking that she did.”
As for what McNamara might have made of this moment? “She’s too complex a person to speak for in that way,” Oswalt says. “I can’t say what she would make of today. I wouldn’t insult her by putting words into her mouth. I honestly don’t know. She would have way too many emotions, and they would be very complicated. You couldn’t reduce them to a soundbite, so I’m not going to try.”
Check out our full interview with Oswalt above.