Content warning: This article contains descriptions of rape, assault, and murder.
When HBO translated I’ll Be Gone in the Dark from page to screen, we were all captivated by author Michelle McNamara’s obsession with finding the Golden State Killer. But there’s a piece of the puzzle we only get a glimpse of — the event that started it all for McNamara: the murder and assault of Kathy Lombardo.
Now, co-director Elizabeth Wolff and co-director / writer Liz Garbus revisit the site of the Kathy Lombardo tragedy in a special epilogue of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark on HBO. While a small portion of the episode will focus on the closure of the Golden State Killer case, most of it will discuss what happened to Kathy Lombardo and who killed her.
Michelle McNamara always wanted to figure out what happened to Kathy Lombardo.
The thing that McNamara taught all of us by bringing us I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which essentially helped capture the ever-elusive Golden State Killer (named by McNamara herself), is that anyone can solve a crime. McNamara once even wrote, “Inside everyone lurks a Sherlock Holmes.” So what does that have to do with Kathy Lombardo?
Well, on Aug. 1, 1984, 24-year-old Kathy Lombardo, McNamara’s neighbor, was jogging close to home in Oak Park, near Chicago, when she was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. Although McNamara was only 14 at the time, she was captivated by the search for Lombardo’s killer. And she wanted to help.
In her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, McNamara recalled visiting the scene of the crime and picking up pieces of Lombardo’s shattered walkman. The mysterious and sudden brutal tragedy against Lombardo kickstarted McNamara’s interest in solving crimes, specifically cold cases. It’s what brought her to thread together the missing pieces of the Golden State Killer case.
In 2013, McNamara ventured back to Oak Park with one of the boys who first found Lombardo after the assault, Terry Keating, to try to figure out what happened to Kathy Lombardo. Although McNamara sadly passed away suddenly from an accidental overdose in 2016, Wolff, Garbus, and McNamara’s husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, want to continue her sleuthing work.
Was Kathy Lombardo’s killer ever caught?
Like the Golden State Killer, when McNamara was captivated by Lombardo’s case, her killer wasn’t caught. However, even over 35 years later, Lombardo’s killer has still not been caught, and their identity is unknown. There are several theories, though, but I’ll Be Gone in the Dark connects Kathy Lombardo’s assault and murder to another assault that happened around the same time.
One assault survivor, Grace Puccetti, finally came forward about her similar experience in the Oak Park area in which she was held at knifepoint and threatened sexual assault. Puccetti’s mother advised her not to tell the authorities for fear of how she would be treated. Considering the way women are still treated when they come forward about sexual assault, it would be difficult to blame her mom for being protective.
There was a popular theory that the killer got off the "L" train to follow Lombardo, but McNamara debunked this herself as a creation to make the people of Oak Park believe the killer wasn’t among them. Keating believes that he saw a man emerge from an alley acting strange. His description matched up with a neighbor who believed the killer to be the same man.
One former homicide detective believes Lombardo’s murder is linked to the unsolved murder of Rita Hopkins from six years prior. But another detective thinks the killer must have been from Chicago, not Oak Park.
The series creators, along with Lombardo’s brother, Chris, are hoping that by bringing more publicity to Lombardo’s case and connecting more dots, we can all finally catch her killer.
The epilogue of I'll Be Gone in the Dark airs June 21 at 10 p.m. EST on HBO.
If you need support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit RAINN.org to chat online one-on-one with a support specialist at any time.