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Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders
by Billy Jensen
Sourcebooks, 2019


Want to know what a life-long obsessive quest for truth and justice looks like? Look no further than true-crime writer turned true-crime fighter, Billy Jensen. After a life dedicated to the journalistic pursuit of telling stories about victims overlooked by society, Jensen decided to refocus his energy. Realistic about the pressure homicide detectives face due to burgeoning caseloads yet frustrated by the plunging clearance rate for murders, Jensen took the unique and groundbreaking approach of using social media to track down violent criminals. Armed with this innovative use of technology and possessing a knack for investigating, he soon became an unexpected asset to police departments looking to expand beyond the traditional way of fighting crime. His days of being a passive observer over, Chase Darkness with Me describes how Jensen came to spend his life chasing elusive criminals.

One of the original citizen sleuths, Jensen opens up about his friendship with fellow “DIY detective,” Michelle McNamara. Known for her blog, True Crime Diary, McNamara was on an intensive years-long quest to uncover the identity of the Golden State Killer*. Skilled at developing strong relationships with homicide detectives not used to sharing information with citizens, she was also an early adopter of inputting DNA into public databases to track criminals. After their collaboration was cut short by her tragic death in 2016, Jensen (along with researcher Paul Haynes), helped finish her book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. In Chase Darkness with Me, Jensen provides a riveting first-hand account of events as they unfolded after learning police were to set to announce the arrest of Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo.

Jensen also explains the phenomenon well-known to the true-crime community of having white whales. Michelle McNamara’s was the Golden State Killer. Jensen admits to having more than a few. A white whale is that one case that ‘grabs you by the throat’ and won’t let you go. It is that case that gnaws at you. That case that pushes you to advocate for those no longer here to advocate for themselves. Jensen’s biggest white whale is the Bear Brook murders, also known as the Allentown Four. For me, those cases are Paige Renkoski, the 24-year-old who disappeared from the side of a busy Michigan highway never to be seen again and more recently the still-unsolved murder of 27-year-old Egypt Covington, the vibrant and talented bartender I had met at my local watering hole. Ask any amateur detective, and they will easily recount theirs too.

Jensen’s belief in the power of the citizen detective is compelling. His call to action is compelling and instructive. He knows there are others like him. Others who grew up with a father taken with true crime stories, like his. Who handed down the obsession, like his. To these like-minded sleuths who want to make a difference, he offers lessons learned, rules to live by, and proven tactics to employ. It is all part of his quest to raise an army of citizens that will revolutionize crime-fighting by offering valuable resources to cash strapped law enforcement agencies.

Maybe it is my midwest love of hockey and my affinity for the Bob Probert’s and the Darren McCarty’s of the world that makes me appreciate Jensen’s scrappy nature. Jensen is a prime example of what dogged persistence and an all-consuming passion can accomplish. Long after others would have given up the mission, Jensen continues to endure separation from his family and financial burden in his quest for justice. His answer to the question of why he does what he does is, “I simply cannot fathom that one person believes they can have such dominion over another that they can take away a life. And I cannot fathom that person living life free of consequence.” It’s this sentiment that endears Jensen to the true crime community and to which we can all relate.

*McNamara coined the term Golden State Killer. Known for attacks over a large geographic area with different modus operandi, the Golden State Killer had previously been known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and/or the Visalia Ransacker.


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In 2014, I came across an opportunity to write for an arts & entertainment website. To apply, all I had to do was write a film review. I had never written a film review. After a flurry of research on “How to Write a Film Review,” next was deciding the film. I did not have to think long. I would review Scream 4. I had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Scream series and had lost count of how many times I had watched and rewatched. I considered Wes Craven one of my heroes.

The topper? Scream 4 had filmed in my town and many a late night was spent sitting on a sidewalk across the street watching them film. Yes, I would review Scream 4. Below is my review as sent to the editor in 2014. Spoiler alert – I got the gig and for three years was a blogger for The Script Lab. Happy reading!



Dimension Films – 2011
Director: Wes Craven
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson, Ehren Kruger (not credited)


Scream 4: Calling Kevin Williamson, Calling Kevin Williamson
Michelle Donnelly

With fevered anticipation I arrive at the movie theater on opening night to see Scream 4, the latest installment of the Scream series. An hour and fifty-one minutes later, I walk out wondering what I have done to drive screenwriter Kevin Williamson away and am confused as to why he wants to destroy the relationship we once had. The movie starts well enough, with the blood and gore Scream audiences expect and the intelligent humor we love, but quickly dissolves into a stilted image of its former self.

Legendary director Wes Craven reunites with Scream veterans Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, who are back for this 2011 film that, by all accounts, would have been the basis for Scream 3 had Williamson written it. The concept for Scream 4 and screenplay are all Kevin Williamson, but much maligned Scream 3 screenwriter Ehren Kruger, was brought in for rewrites as Williamson, who is contractually obligated to The Vampire Diaries, had to step away from the project.

While countless friends and foes have preceded her in death, survivor Sidney Prescott returns to Woodsboro on the tenth anniversary of the original massacre. Much to the chagrin of Gale Weathers, Sidney has become a New York Times best selling author after her self-help book “Out of Darkness” became a hit with readers. Gale and Dewey, now married, have settled into small town life and Deputy Dewey has been promoted to Sheriff. Like Sidney, Gale is trying to reinvent herself, but suffering from writer’s block she spends her days as a frustrated housewife instead of penning her next novel. Meanwhile, Ghostface is back with a vengeance, promising more blood and a higher body count.

From the outset, Scream continues its pattern of poking fun at its genre and demystifying horror’s not so secret formula by uncovering the rules to successfully survive a horror movie. The new generation of Woodsboro natives, played by Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin, Marielle Jaffe, Erik Knudsen and Nico Tortorella are irreverent and savvy, but they still ask, “Who’s there?” and open doors when they shouldn’t. Neve Campbell, once again, fulfills her job as the hero. She portrays Sidney as smart and sophisticated and we happily still root for her. David Arquette, on the other hand, previously a hit as the affable, bumbling Deputy Dewey Riley, stumbles to reinvent a character the audience can identify with. Miraculously free of the pesky limp that plagued him in Scream 2 and 3, he gives us little reason to love him as Sheriff Riley.

One of the original Scream movie’s achievements was its social commentary. When Billy Loomis noted that life was one great big movie, it was statement about cinema’s effect on a progressively violent society. Scream 4 returns where the first Scream left off delivering a scathing, yet entirely deserved, attack on today’s society and the desire to live increasingly public personas, at any cost. The current prevalence of cutthroat reality entertainment makes the old school pine for the original Real World casts, who appear like socially conscious saints when compared to this generation’s fame seekers. That this is made a central theme is one of the movie’s shining moments.

Scream 4 offers enough quirky one-liners to keep us satisfied, all expertly delivered by an experienced cast, but the film suffers from a multitude of missteps. For one, it contains fewer characters that we care about. If we never come to love or connect to any of them, then why do we care if they die? And while the focus on social commentary gives it an element of depth, the plot seems to have been sacrificed. The introduction of Sidney’s never before known family members? Trite and reminiscent of Scream 3. Lastly, the element of surprise, those unexpected turning points that are supposed to wow the audience (and what made the original Scream stand out), seem manufactured; done only because it is the formula that one must follow when writing a horror movie.

Wes Craven is a master of fear, and a big reason much of the avid fan base continues its devotion to the series. He knows what keeps people awake at night and taunts the audience accordingly. Kevin Williamson, though, has become that bad boyfriend who keeps breaking up with us and yet we keep coming back for more. Disillusioned, we continually hope it will work out, but he just disappoints us again. Can’t we just get along? Come on Kevin, please don’t make me break up with you for good.


To read more articles I wrote for The Script Lab visit: