A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Thursday, November 7, 2019

TRUE CRIME THURSDAY- Chase Darkness with Me by Billy Jensen - Feature and Review



Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?

Journalist Billy Jensen spent fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common―they didn't have an ending. The killer was still out there.

But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer and author of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara, Billy became fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops had given up. A plan to solve the murders himself.

You'll ride shotgun as Billy identifies the Halloween Mask Murderer, finds a missing girl in the California Redwoods, and investigates the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. You'll hear intimate details of the hunts for two of the most terrifying serial killers in history: his friend Michelle McNamara's pursuit of the Golden State Killer and his own quest to find the murderer of the Allenstown Four. And Billy gives you the tools―and the rules―to help solve murders yourself.

Gripping, complex, unforgettable, Chase Darkness with Me is an examination of the evil forces that walk among us, illustrating a novel way to catch those killers, and a true-crime narrative unlike any you've read before.



Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving MurdersChase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chase Darkness with Me by Billy Jensen is a 2019 Sourcebooks publication.

Gripping and personal journey into true crime reporting and crime solving-

The sheer number of cases that remain unsolved are mind numbing. We often focus on the crimes that make the big headlines, but for every one of those, there are numerous others that never make a blip on the public’s consciousness. Some cases go viral, such as the one where an innocent man is knocked unconscious, then hit by a car, then robbed while he lay in the street. Although the crime was recorded, finding the man who assaulted the victim took a long time, with many dead-end leads, and required much tenacity, patience, and a very sharp eye.

For Billy Jensen helping to solve the lesser known cold cases has become his life’s work. He is still a writer and journalist, but what he writes about is unsolved crimes. He became friends with fellow cold case/true crime advocate, Michelle McNamara, and he helped to complete her book after her untimely death.

In this book, Jensen explains how he became a crime reporter, his personal background, and even exposes his single-minded fixation on solving crimes, helping law enforcement, and bringing some closure to the victim's families, who at this point, just want to know the truth.

His heady exhilaration at having helped law enforcement close the books on a case is what keeps him from losing faith when so many cases hit a brick wall.

One thing that we can all agree on is that despite all the perils of social media, without it, and the advances in DNA and forensics, murderers and rapists like the Golden State Killer, might never have been caught. Jensen outlines the way he uses social media and the internet, in general, to help solve crimes.

It’s a fascinating story, and you have to hand it to the guy. He’s like a dog with a bone when he gets started on a story or case and he doesn’t turn loose of it, even when it looks as if he’s just chasing his own tale. This dedication might also be described as an obsession, though.

One issue I had with the book, and it is the same issue I had with McNamara’, is the layout and organization of the book. The flow is uneven, as Jensen seems unsure of when to insert something poignant or personal, which came off as feeling a little too forced and awkward. The timing is a bit off in that area, but I did enjoy some of the nostalgia from the seventies he spoke of. Adding personal antidotes was something that worked for McNamara, but not so much here, I think.

The other issue I have with the book is with the last portion, which is a DIY tutorial on amateur sleuthing and crime solving.

Because it goes without saying that law enforcement agencies nationwide are overwhelmed, it may have gotten to the point where it now takes a village to help solve crimes. It never hurts to be informed, prepared, aware, and alert. I do not have a problem with people logging onto to social media to study crime, cold cases, or missing persons profiles. Sometimes a citizen’s hyper-awareness could help save a life.

In many ways, I greatly admire Jensen and what he does. Without him, some crimes, and murders would mostly likely have remained unsolved.

That said-

While I read a great deal of true crime, and do follow certain specific cases, I keep my concerns and interest in the proper perspective.

Too many people interfering in official police investigations could backfire spectacularly. While Jensen found the internet and social media to be a huge asset, we all know by now that it is also packed with erroneous and harmful information, which could hinder, instead of help, solve a crime. It could also be very dangerous, opening oneself up to scams or cons or even physical harm. It could lead to false accusations as well, and we know that even a hint of such a thing can ruin a life in an instant.

So, I’m thinking this is a bit of a slippery slope and I’m not entirely comfortable with Jensen encouraging the general public to follow his chosen path. Putting oneself out there, interviewing victim’s families and the heart wrenching, day to day, drudge of following a lead that turned out to be nothing, is an emotional drain that can be mentally draining, and quite damaging… just take a look at the toll it took on Michelle McNamara.

I’m not saying Jensen glorified his work or sugarcoated anything, as the cases he examines are truly horrifying and one gets a glimpse at the cost the author pays, and the sacrifices his family must endure for him to be successful at what he does.

In my humble opinion, climbing into that dark, murky world, and becoming- shall we say- devoted- to the exclusion of all else in life can’t be all that healthy.

Still, I did find this book to be very interesting, and absorbing, overall, sans the DYI bits. Although I don’t necessarily recommend we all jump into the boat along with him, I’m glad Jensen has had success as a reporter, author, and amateur sleuth and hope that as he continues his work, he will at long last solve some of the cases that continue to haunt him.






Billy Jensen

Billy Jensen is a true crime journalist focused squarely on unsolved murders and missing persons. But after 17 years of writing hundreds of stories with no endings, he was fed up--and decided to try and solve the murders himself using radical social media techniques. And it worked. Billy has solved or helped solve ten homicides. Law enforcement agencies now reach out to Billy to help in cases that have them stumped, using him as a "consulting digital detective," or as Men's Journal referred to him: The Facebook Detective.

After his friend Michelle McNamara suddenly passed away in 2016, Billy helped finish her book on the Golden State Killer, I'll Be Gone in the Dark, alongside her researcher Paul Haynes and her husband Patton Oswalt.

He has written crime stories for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Magazine and the Long Island Press, and is one half of the podcast Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad, with former cold case investigator Paul Holes, and one third of The First Degree podcast.

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