When I took on the story of the Golden State Killer I knew the long-unsolved case would be challenging to write about for logistical reasons, but there was also an unspoken matter that concerned me: how the surviving victims and the victims’ families would feel about revisiting this devastating chapter in their lives. I knew from previous experience writing about cold cases that you can never predict how people will respond to something from the past being brought up in the present. Some are grateful. Others are furious. The lack of closure in an unsolved case seems to have a sharpening effect on those left behind; the details remain vivid to them even years later, possibly because they’ve gone over them looking for answers so many times.
For some, that vividness becomes too much to bear. I don’t blame them. Still, I was touched when Dr. Robert Offerman’s niece, Sally Duray, sent the note below to thank me for the article. I was particularly moved because I mostly knew Dr. Offerman through the police files. Here was a relative, describing her memories of “Uncle Bob.” Ms. Duray included with her letter a small snapshot of Uncle Bob with his two siblings, taken a year before his murder. The three look relaxed and are smiling easily. “The last time they were all together—very happy!” She wrote on the back. I keep the snapshot pinned to the bulletin board in my office now, a reminder that while the Golden State Killer may be a puzzling blank, his victims, the men and women across California whose lives he destroyed, are not.
Top: The front and back of the photograph of Dr. Robert Offerman and his siblings sent to Michelle McNamara. Bottom: The front of Sally Duray’s letter.