Green River Killer
Wendy Coffield's body being
pulled out of the Green River, 1982
August 15, 1982, Robert Ainsworth, 41, stepped into his rubber raft and
began his descent south down the Green River toward the outer edge of
Seattle's city limits. It was a trip he had made on many occasions, yet
this time it would be different. As he drifted slowly downstream, he
noticed a middle-aged balding man standing by the riverbank and a
second, younger man sitting in a nearby pickup truck. Ainsworth
suspected that the men were out for a day's fishing. He asked the older
man if he had caught anything. The man replied that he had not. , the
man standing then asked Ainsworth if he found anything, to which
Ainsworth replied, "Just this old singletree." Soon after, the two men
left in the old pick-up truck and Ainsworth continued to float down the
river. Moments later he found himself surrounded by death.
Quickly, Ainsworth swam toward the riverbank where the truck stood earlier. In shock, he sat down and waited for help to arrive. Within a half hour, he noticed a man with two children on bicycles. He stopped them, told them of his gruesome discovery and asked them to get the police. Before long, a policeman arrived at the scene and questioned Ainsworth about his find. The officer disbelievingly walked into the shallow river and reached out toward the ghostly form. The officer immediately called for backup.
after reinforcement arrived at the scene, detectives sealed off the
area and began a search for evidence. During the search, a detective
made another macabre discovery. He found a third body, that of a young
girl who was partially clothed. Unlike the other two girls, this one
was found in a grassy area less than 30 feet from where the other
victims lay in the water. It was obvious that she had died from
asphyxiation. The girl had a pair of blue pants knotted around her
neck. She also showed signs of a struggle, because she had bruises on
her arms and legs. She was later identified as Opal Mills, 16. It was
believed that she had been murdered within 24 hours of her discovery.
an examination of the bodies at the scene, Chief Medical Examiner
Donald Reay determined that all three girls died of strangulation. The
two girls found in the water, later identified as Marcia Chapman, 31,
and Cynthia Hinds, 17, were both found to have pyramid-shaped rocks
lodged in their vaginal cavities. They were both held down by rocks in
further determined that Chapman, a mother of two who had gone missing
two weeks earlier, had been dead for over a week. She had shown
advanced signs of decomposition. However, Hinds was believed to have
been in the river for a period of only several days.
three bodies were not the only ones to be found in and around
Washington state's Green River. Several days earlier, the body of a
woman named Deborah Bonner was discovered. Her nude body had been found
slumped over a log in the Green River. She too had been strangled to
Just a month earlier, another young girl, identified as Wendy Lee Coffield, was found strangled and floating in the Green River. Moreover, six months prior to Coffield's discovery, the body of her friend Leanne Wilcox was found several miles from the river in an empty lot. It was not believed that the Green River Killer murdered Wilcox, but the opinion of the investigators has been recently challenged.
the space of six months, six bodies had been discovered in or near the
river. The police detectives at the scene quickly realized that there
was a serial killer on the loose. They knew that they had to find and
catch him as soon as possible before any more women disappeared.
A special task force was assembled of King County detectives to investigate the Green River murders. According to The Seattle Times, it was the largest police task force ever assembled since the Ted Bundy murders less than a decade earlier. Major Richard Kraske, the head of the Criminal Investigation Division; and Detective Dave Reichert of the King County Major Crime Squad led the team. They enlisted the help of FBI serial killer profiler John Douglas and criminal investigator Bob Keppel, who was known for his unique and successful approach of compiling evidence in the Ted Bundy case eight years earlier
Detective Dave Reichert
The investigation got off to a shaky start because a massive influx of information swamped the police force within a relatively short period of time. They simply did not have the means to process the ever-increasing amount of data and evidence and much of it was lost, misplaced or overlooked entirely. In fact, the situation got so bad that at one point they enlisted the help of volunteers to assist the police in the ongoing investigation.
Major Richard Kraske
During their investigation, detectives learned that the many of the murdered girls knew each other and shared a similar history of prostitution. Investigators decided to begin their search for the killer in the area where the girls were known to frequent. They conducted hundreds of interviews with many prostitutes who worked the main strip in Seattle, stretching from South 139th Street to South 272nd Street. Investigators tried to obtain information on any suspicious characters they might have encountered. However, many of the girls were reluctant to talk because of their blatant mistrust for the police.
One of the prostitutes who worked the strip filed a report with police, stating that a man who raped her made reference to the Green River murders. Soon after the report, the task force began to search for the assailant. On August 20, 1982, the police announced that they had him in custody as a potential suspect in the Green River murders. However, they were unable to find any plausible evidence connecting him with the crime. He was eventually released and the search resumed for the killer.
There were other prostitutes who filed reports with the police that were of special concern to the task force. It was believed that the reports could be related to the Green River murders. Interviews taken by two separate prostitutes claimed that a man in a blue and white truck abducted them and attempted to kill them.
According to one account by Susan Widmark, 21, a middle-aged man in a blue and white truck solicited her. Once Widmark was in his truck, he pointed a pistol to her head and sped off toward the highway. He took her to a desolate road, turned off the engine and proceeded to violently rape her.
Following the rape, he allowed her to dress while he began to drive away from the scene with her still in the car. While driving, he made reference to the recent river murders, while continuing to hold a gun to her head. Fearing for her life, she managed to escape from the vehicle while at a stoplight. Widmark was able to make out part of the registration number of the truck before the man sped away.
A similar incident happened to Debra Estes, 15, who filed a report with police in late August 1982, concerning a rape. Estes told police that she was walking down the highway when a man in a blue and white pick-up truck approached her and offered her a ride. She accepted and climbed into the vehicle. To her amazement, the man pulled a pistol out and pointed it at her head. He violently forced her to give him oral sex before releasing her into the woods, handcuffed and driving off. She immediately fled the scene looking for help.
Seeing an emerging pattern that could have been related to the Green River murders, the task force decided to follow the lead and search for the truck and driver. They hoped that new information concerning the man would lead them to a break in the case.
That September, a meat butcher named Charles Clinton Clark was pulled over in his blue and white truck while driving along Seattle's main strip. After a background check was conducted, it was learned that Clark owned two handguns. Investigators believed that Clark might be the man they were looking for. They obtained his driver's license photo and showed it to both Widmark and Estes. Both women positively identified Clark as their attacker.
Clark was arrested and his house and vehicle were searched. The police found the two handguns that were allegedly used in the assaults. After interrogation by police, Clark admitted to attacking the women. However, there was speculation as to whether he was the Green River Killer because he was known to release his victims following an attack. Moreover, Clark had a solid alibi during the time many of the Green River victims disappeared.
When Clark was being booked with the rape of Widmark and Estes, 19-year-old Mary Bridgett Meehan disappeared during a walk. Meehan was more than eight months pregnant and went missing near the Western Six Motel. The motel was located on the strip and was a frequent hangout and workplace for many of the prostitutes that fell victim to the Green River Killer.
Mary Bridgett Meehan
on a hunch, Detective Reichert began to suspect that one of the
volunteer civilians working on the case might be the Green River
Killer. A 44-year-old out-of-work taxi driver became the focus of the
investigation and was vigorously interviewed by the police. They were
concerned because two weeks prior to Meehan's disappearance, two
16-year-old girls, Kase Ann Lee and Terri Rene Milligan, mysteriously
disappeared. They too were thought to have had a history of
prostitution. It was suspected that they had fallen victim to the Green
River Killer. The taxi driver seemed to fit the profile of the killer
devised by FBI agent John Douglas.
Terry Rene Milligan and Kase Ann
According to Douglas, the Green River Killer was a confident, yet impulsive middle-aged man who would most likely frequent the murder scenes, in order to reenact the crimes in his mind. The killer was probably familiar with the area and was likely to have deep religious convictions. Moreover, Douglas believed that he might have an active interest in police work, especially the investigation into the recent murders. The killer might even contact the police in an effort to assist in the ongoing investigation.
During most of the winter of 1982, police heavily monitored the taxi driver's movements, although he continuously denied having anything to do with the Green River murders. The taxi driver eventually became the primary suspect in the killings. He was arrested for unpaid parking tickets, because investigators had no solid evidence connecting him to the murders, except that he knew five of the victims.
September 26, 1982, the decomposing remains of a 17-year-old prostitute
named Gisele A. Lovvorn were discovered. She had gone missing for more
than two months before a biker found her nude body near abandoned
houses south of the Sea-Tac International Airport. She had been
strangled to death by a pair of men's black socks. Intriguingly, at the
time of her disappearance, she was blonde. Yet, when her body was
discovered her hair was dyed black. Although her body was not found in
the direct vicinity of the now infamous river, police believed that she
was a victim of the Green River Killer.
Gisele A. Lovvo
Between September 1982 and April 1983, approximately 14 girls disappeared. Those missing included Mary Meehan, Debra Estes, Denise Bush, Shawnda Summers, Shirley Sherrill, Rebecca Marrero, Colleen Brockman, Alma Smith, Delores Williams, Gail Matthews, Andrea Childers, Sandra Gabbert, Kimi-Kai Pitsor and Marie Malvar. Most of the girls, ages ranging from between 15 and 23 years old, were known prostitutes who frequented the strip.
The Green River Task Force's attention was temporarily drawn to one possible suspect, allegedly involved in the disappearance of the last girl to go missing, Marie Malvar. On April 30, 1983, Malvar's boyfriend saw her talking with a potential customer in a dark-colored truck as she was soliciting on the strip. The boyfriend claimed that he saw Malvar get into the truck before it sped away. According to Smith and Guillen, Malvar's boyfriend stated that Malvar and the unknown man seemed to be engaged in an argument.
Suspicious of the driver of the truck, the boyfriend followed them. Before long, the truck with his girlfriend in it gave chase and eventually disappeared when the boyfriend was held up by a stoplight. It was the last time he ever saw his girlfriend. He later notified the police of Malvar's disappearance.
Less than a week after the incident, he, along with Malvar's father and brother, spotted the suspicious truck near the place where he initially lost sight of it days earlier. They followed the truck to a house located on South 348th Street and called the police. The police eventually arrived at the house and spoke with the owner, Gary Ridgway, who denied having ever seen Malvar. Satisfied, the police left the residence and failed to pursue the matter any further.
A similar truck to that owned by Ridgway was also involved in the April disappearance of a young prostitute named Kimi Kai Pitsor. While in the process of turning a trick, Pitsor's pimp saw her getting into a dark green pick-up truck with an attached camper. He described the driver of the vehicle as having a pockmarked face. He watched as the two drove off and he never saw Pitsor again. He later informed police, but the information concerning Pitsor's disappearance and Malvar's was never fully connected.
the spring of 1983, the investigation into the Green River Killer and
related murders was collapsing. The task force detectives realized that
the probability of the taxi driver being the killer was low, yet they
continued to keep him as a prime suspect. They had no new leads and
prostitutes continued to rapidly disappear throughout the city.
Inundated with an avalanche of tips, the task force was unable to keep
up with the massive influx of information. They enlisted the help of
Bob Keppel to help organize the mountain of information.
late April, Keppel spent three weeks going through all the information
available pertaining to the murders believed to have been attributed to
the Green River Killer. Upon completion of his analysis, he compiled a
report for the sheriff of King County, Vern Thomas. To the task force's
dismay, the report was highly critical of the ongoing investigation.
According to Keppel in his book, The Riverman, if the killer were to be found, many changes needed to be made. The report compiled by Keppel stated that most of the data, including evidence, files and witness accounts connected with the crimes were in total disarray. The first thing that was needed was a complete reorganization and accurate categorization of all the data. Then, once that was completed, similarities and dissimilarities among the cases needed to be identified in order to find common threads possibly connecting the murders to one or more killers.
was no doubt that a successful and thorough investigation would cost
the county a lot more time and money than they previously expected.
Already the investigation was the largest operation in the history of
the country. The amount of money needed to implement Keppel's
suggestions would far exceed the estimated $2 million dollars. However,
something needed to be done in an effort to stop the murderous rampages
of the killer.
Carol Ann Christensen
On May 8, 1983, another body was discovered that was later identified as Carol Ann Christensen, 21. Her remains were found by a family hunting for mushrooms in a wooded area near Maple Valley. When Christensen's body was found, the killer displayed her corpse in an unusually gruesome way.
was found with her head covered by a brown paper bag. When it was
removed, it was found that she had a fish carefully placed on top of
her neck. Smith and Guillen state that the killer also placed another
fish on her left breast and a bottle between her legs. Her hands were
placed crossed over her stomach and freshly ground beef was placed on
top of her left hand. Further examination revealed that she was
strangled with a cord. Intriguingly, she also showed signs of having
been in water at some point, even though the river was miles away. The
task force speculated that she was yet another victim of the Green
Authorlee, Antosh, Rois, Naon, Liles, McGuiness, Thompson and Buttram
During the spring and summer of 1983, nine more young women, many of whom were prostitutes, disappeared. Those missing included Martina Authorlee and Cheryl Lee Wims, 18, Yvonne Antosh, 19. Carrie Rois, 15, Constance Naon, 21, Tammie Liles,16, Keli McGuiness, 18, Tina Thompson, 22, and April Buttram, 17. A majority of the girls were placed on the ever-growing list of possible Green River Killer murders. However, there were some who did not make the list because they were found outside of the parameters where the Green River Killer was known to dump many of the bodies.
summer, several more bodies were discovered. In June, the unidentified
remains, which were believed to be of a 17 to 19-year-old white woman
was found on SW Tualatin Road. On August 11, the body of missing
Shawnda Summers was discovered near the Sea-Tac Airport. One day later
the remains of another body, which remained unidentified, was found at
the Sea-Tac Airport North site. The fall and winter of 1983 would also
yield as many disappearances and even more corpses.
Abernathy, Feeney, Osborn, Yates, Bello, Avent, Plager and Nelson,
Between September and December of 1983, nine more women went missing and seven bodies were discovered, all of whom were believed to have been abducted and murdered by the Green River Killer. The missing women, who were mostly prostitutes, included Debbie Abernathy,26, Tracy Ann Winston, 19, Patricia Osborn and Maureen Feeney, Mary Sue Bello, 25, Pammy Avent, 16, Delise Plager, 22, Kim Nelson, 26, and Lisa Lorraine Yates.
Those whose bodies were discovered included Delores Williams, 17, who had gone missing March 8, 1983. Her remains were discovered on September 18 at Star Lake. That same day, the remains of Gail Matthews, 23, were also discovered at Star Lake.
Over the next few months, the bodies of five more women were discovered.
October 15, the skeletal remains of Yvonne Antosh, who was last seen on
May 31, was found near Soos Creek on Auburn-Black Diamond Road. She was
one of the few victims to have had a missing person's report filed on
her. Twelve days later, the partially buried skeleton of Constance Naon
was found in an area south of Sea-Tac Airport.
The task force investigators believed that there were probably more bodies to be found in that area, so they decided to conduct a search with the assistance of a team of teenaged Explorer Boy Scouts. On October 29, during a sweep of the empty lots surrounding the airport, one of the scouts found a skeleton covered with trash beneath some bushes. The remains were later identified as Kelly Ware, 22.
The killer's deadly rampage claimed two more victims whose bodies were discovered before the New Year. On November 13, following an extensive search of several lots surrounding an area south of Sea-Tac near South 192nd Street, the badly decomposed remains of Mary Meehan and her unborn baby were found. , Meehan and her child were the only victims attributed to the Green River Killer, who were fully buried. Several unexplainable items were found on or close to the body, including two small pieces of plastic, a large clump of hair near the pubic region of the body, a patch of skin attached to the skull, which contained fibers on it, three small bones, two halved yellow pencils and clear plastic tubing.
One month later, on December 15, the skull of Kimi-Kai Pitsor was found in Auburn, Washington, near Mountain View Cemetery. It seemed as if the killer found a new burial site to place his victims. It would be the fifth known "dumping ground" used for the disposal of the bodies.
Two weeks following Pitsor's discovery, the Green River Task Force increased by more than half, due to the increasing number of murders in the area. It was feared many more murders would occur in the coming months. Their predictions would prove to be correct.
the "official" count of Green River victims was estimated at this time
to be 11 or 12, the number has been and continues to be challenged. The
precise number to this day remains unclear and it is believed to be
much higher than initially estimated. Near the final months of 1983,
there were approximately 18 bodies discovered in the Seattle region.
Many victims were not included on the list, even though they were
killed in very nearly the same fashion as the other victims. There was
no explanation given as to why the women were excluded from the list.
In January 1984, the Green River Task Force came under new leadership headed by Captain Frank Adamson, who previously headed the police department's internal affairs unit. During the first few months of Adamson's assignment, drastic changes took place. He first decided that it would be in the investigation's best interest to relocate the task force headquarters to the Burien County precinct, which was near the airport and closer to where the crimes were occurring.
Following Keppel's advice, Adamson divided up various tasks and assigned them to individuals within the team. It was believed that this method would facilitate a more thorough organization, integration and assemblage of the vast amounts of information and lead to more successful results in the case. Smith and Guillen stated that one team composed of seven investigators and one sergeant/team leader was assigned to handle the victims of the Green River Killer. Another team of similar construction was assigned to information pertaining to probable suspects.
Adamson then assigned three detectives to a newly-constructed crime analysis section, whose duties involved the follow-up of leads and analysis of possible trends and methodologies utilized by the killer, as well as other pertinent information relevant to the case. Twenty-two police officers were also assigned to the task force's proactive squad, which developed new strategies to monitor prostitute activities on The Strip and any unusual events or dealings in the area.
Moreover, a new strategy was imposed by Keppel that changed the investigators' focus from a suspect's possible guilt to the suspect's possible innocence. The implication of this strategy allowed investigators to quickly eliminate people under suspicion who had alibis and instead concentrate on more probable suspects.
The suspects that remained were prioritized according to their threat: those who were most closely linked to victims, fit the profile of the killer and his movements were put in category "A"; those who were less closely linked with the crimes were assigned to categories "B" or "C" before being eventually eliminated. Just when it seemed as if the newly revised task force was better prepared to capture the Green River Killer, the inevitable occurred.
On February 14, 1984, the skeletal remains of a woman, who was later identified as Denise Louise Plager, were discovered 40 miles from the city close to interstate 90. She was the first victim to be found that year, but not the last. Over the next two months approximately nine more bodies would be found.
Sandra Gabbert and Alma Smith
Some of those found included those of Cheryl Wims, 18, Lisa Yates, 26, Debbie Abernathy, Terry Milligan, 16, Sandra Gabbert, 17, and Alma Smith, 22. The other victims remained unidentified. Most of the girls had one primary thing in common, a history of prostitution.
Although it appeared as if the Green River Task Force was making few advances in the investigation, distinct patterns began to emerge that allowed the team to create a more accurate profile of the killer and his movements. The killer seemed to have several dumping grounds where he would dispose of the bodies of his victims. With the exception of Meehan, the bodies that were discovered were found partially buried or covered with garbage or foliage. Most of the bodies had been found off of isolated roads in or near illegal waste dumping areas. The FBI's profiler John Douglas concluded that the bodies were dumped in the areas because the killer thought of the women as "human garbage."
During 1983 dumping grounds moved away from the river and concentrated mostly around the Sea-Tac Airport and Star Lake. In 1984, the victims' remains were concentrated in the areas of Mountain View Cemetery and North Bend off of or near to Interstate 90. The victims were also disappearing from two primary areas, the strip and the downtown area of Seattle.
The task force worked under the assumption that the killer worked or lived close to the area where he was disposing the bodies. The task force determined that the areas where the bodies were found, when plotted on a map, roughly formed a triangular shape. It was believed that the killer might live somewhere within that triangle.
An important discovery was also made in April when the skeletal remains of some of the victims were found. Shoe impressions, possibly that of the killer, were revealed when investigators removed the brush that partially concealed the bodies. Upon examination of the prints, investigators learned that they were made by a size 10 or 11 man's walking shoe. It was a vital piece of evidence that could connect the killer with his victims.
In mid April, a volunteer task force worker and psychic, Barbara Kubik-Pattern, had a vision that another woman's body would be found close to Interstate 90. Kubik-Pattern immediately contacted the police and told them about her vision, but became increasingly frustrated when they failed to act on the new information. Taking matters into her own hand, she and her daughter set out to find the woman.
Following the leads revealed by her vision, Kubik-Pattern and her daughter eventually came across another body. Immediately after the discovery, the two women drove to a nearby search area that was patrolled by the police. When she informed one of the officers of her discovery, she was rebuffed and even threatened with arrest for obstruction of the guarded perimeter.
Angered, Kubik-Pattern informed reporters that were stationed nearby of her discovery. Finally, members of the task force approached her as she talked with the reporters and asked her to show them the body. Shortly thereafter the police were confronted with the gruesome discovery.
The decomposing remains were that of Amina Agisheff, 36. She was last seen on July 7, 1982 walking home from her work at a restaurant in downtown Seattle. Agisheff did not fit the description of many of the other victims.
She was older than the other victims and a waitress, not a prostitute. Agisheff was also in a stable relationship at the time of her disappearance and was a mother of two. Although there were obvious differences between Agisheff's lifestyle and those of the other victims and the location of where her body was disposed, investigators believed that she was the victim of the Green River Killer. Moreover, she was listed as one of the killer's first victims, even though several murders prior to her disappearance matched the M.O. of the killer.
May 26, two children playing on Jovita Road in Pierce County were
shocked when they discovered a skeleton. The police and task force were
immediately alerted to the new finding. Following a medical
examination, it was discovered that the remains were that of
fifteen-year-old runaway Colleen Brockman. Investigators still had no
new leads to the identity of the killer, apart from the location of the
bodies and the shoe print. After almost three years, the murderous
killing spree continued.
the discovery of Brockman, the rash of murders seemed to be
diminishing. However, the desire to catch the killer remained a top
priority for the task force. In August 1984 investigators believed
their big break in the case arrived when two criminals in a San
Francisco jail confessed to the Green River murders. After extensive
interviews with the two prisoners, the confessions were determined to
be a hoax.
months later, the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy offered from his
prison cell on death row to assist Keppel and the task force in finding
their man. Bundy offered his old antagonist a rare glimpse into the
mind of a serial killer, an offer that Keppel could not refuse. The two
men conversed mostly via letters, where Keppel asked detailed questions
that he hoped Bundy could answer.
Much of the information that Keppel received greatly interested Keppel and the task force investigators. Bundy suggested that the killer knew his victims, probably even befriending them before he lured them to their deaths. According to Keppel's book The Riverman, Bundy suggested that the killer likely disposed of even more bodies where they found the more recent ones. Moreover, he believed the disposal pattern of the bodies led closer to the killer's home.
was able to give unusual insight from a killer's prospective, much of
which was helpful to the case. The information received from Bundy
assisted the detectives in their general understanding of serial killer
behavior. In fact, Bundy became one of the primary consultants, next to
Douglas and Keppel that contributed to the build-up of the killer's
profile. Despite this unusual advice, the task force remained stymied
as to the identity of the Green River Killer.
Although the murders seemed to have slowly diminished, they did not cease altogether. Between October and December 1984, two more bodies, identified as Mary Sue Bello, 25, and Martina Authorlee, 18, were discovered. Both bodies were found off of Highway 410. The total body count had climbed to 31, although only 28 of the victims actually made it on the ever-growing "official" Green River murder list. Fourteen women were still believed to be missing.
On March 10, 1985, another partially buried body was found near Star Lake Road. The victim was eventually identified as Carrie Rois, 15. She disappeared during the summer of 1983.
In mid June, a man bulldozing a patch of land in Tigard, Oregon, discovered the skeletal remains of two more women. The remains were later identified as Denise Bush, 23, and Shirley Sherrill, 19. Both girls were known prostitutes in Seattle. The discovery of the two women confirmed the fact that the Green River Killer's parameters had extended out of state. It seemed as if a new dumping ground had been revealed.
Meanwhile, FBI profiler John Douglas re-evaluated the previous profile of the killer and came to a new conclusion, that there were two separate killers. Douglas suggested that, although the profiles of both killers were similar in many ways, the way in which they disposed of the bodies slightly differed. To Douglas, it seemed as if one of the killers went to greater effort to conceal the bodies than the other. Whereas some of the bodies were partially covered or buried in isolated areas, other bodies lay openly exposed to detection, such as those found in the Green River.
Although the theory seemed to be plausible, there were no suspects available that could support his theory. The case had run cold and no likely suspects could be connected with any of the murders. Pressure mounted on the task force for its inability to capture the killer(s) after more than three years.
It was not until the winter that the skeletal remains of yet three more victims were found. The first remains were identified as those belonging to Mary West, which were found in a wooded area in Seward Park in Seattle. The other two remains were that of Kimi-Kai Pitsor and another unidentified white female between 14 and 19 years old. The unusual aspect of this more recent discovery was that Pitsor's remains had been located in two different locations. In December 1983 her skull was discovered in Mountain View Cemetery and two years later the remainder of her body was found a short distance away in a ravine.
It could have been possible that an animal dragged the skull from the body sometime after death, however there was no evidence that this occurred. The police believed it was the work of the killer. Investigators were uncertain as to the killer's motive for dividing the body between two different locations. They speculated that it was done to taunt the police or confuse the investigation.
In February 1986, the Green River Task Force seemed to get the break it had been hoping for. A man described by investigators as a "person of interest" was brought in to the police station and searched. The event received a great deal of media attention.
An FBI agent and Detective Jim Doyon of the task force extensively questioned the new suspect. However, before long they realized he was not the man they were looking for. Shortly thereafter the man was released.
this time, the public became increasingly aware of the task force's
lack of results. Thus far there had been several suspects taken into
custody and each one proved to have no connection with the murders.
Public anger and fear reached a boiling point. The media referred to
the Green River Task Force as a joke.
Maureen Feeney and Kim Nelson
make matters worse, that summer the skeletal remains of three more
women were discovered off of I-90, east of Seattle. The remains were
those of Maureen Feeney, 19, Kim Nelson, 26, and another unidentifiable
young woman. Feeney was the only one of the three that investigators
were able to link to a career in prostitution. The number of victims
was quickly climbing toward a staggering 40.
By the end of 1986, the staff had been reduced by 40 percent and Adamson was reassigned to another project. Captain James Pompey became the new leader of the Green River Task Force. Pompey immediately began to reorganize the team and the data related to the investigation.
Just as Pompey was beginning to get started, two more bodies were discovered in December. This time the bodies were found much further away than expected in an area north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Yet again, the killer seemed to be taunting investigators. Even more intriguing was that the partial remains of several other women had been scattered along side the bodies of the two women. Even though the bodies were located a great distance from the others, there was no doubt in the investigators' minds that the work was that of the Green River Killer.
In the beginning months of 1987, investigators had a new suspect in relation to the Green River murders. Previously known to police, the newest suspect had been picked up for attempting to solicit an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute in May 1984. However, the man was released after he successfully passed a lie detector test. When investigators looked deeper into the man's past, they discovered that he had been accused of choking a prostitute in 1980 near the Sea-Tac International Airport. Yet, the man pleaded self-defense after claiming the woman bit him and he was soon after released from police custody.
of the task force detectives, Matt Haney, was highly suspicious of this
suspect and decided to dive even further into the man's history. He
discovered that the police had at one time stopped and questioned the
man back in 1982 while he was in his truck with a prostitute. The
investigator learned that the prostitute he was with was one of the
women on the Green River murder list, Keli McGinness.
Moreover, the police approached the man again in 1983 in connection with the kidnapping of murder victim Marie Malvar. A witness, Malvar's boyfriend followed the truck to the suspect's house after recognizing it as the one that he last saw his girlfriend in. Haney believed he might be on to the Green River Killer.
Haney learned from the man's ex-wife that he often frequented the dumpsites, where many of the bodies had been discovered. Also, several prostitutes claimed to have seen a man matching the suspect's description regularly cruising the strip between 1982 and 1983. It turned out that the man passed the strip almost daily on his way to work. Some of the most damaging evidence discovered was that the man, who worked as a truck painter, was found to have been absent or off duty on every occasion a victim disappeared.
Finally, on April 8, 1987, the police obtained a warrant and searched the man's house. According to the Seattle Times, the police also took "bodily samples" of the suspect so that they could compare them with the evidence they had from the Green River victims. However, there was insufficient evidence to arrest him and the man was released from police custody. The suspect was identified as Gary Ridgway.
Several weeks following Ridgway's release, Captain Pompey died from a massive heart attack related to a scuba-diving accident. The unfortunate event was picked up by the media and sensationalized. It was suggested that the Green River Killer was actually a police officer that murdered Pompey, regardless of the fact that there was absolutely no substantiating evidence to support the theory. One newspaper even called for an official investigation into the death of Pompey. It seemed as if the public's nerves had become raw after so much death in the city.
task force, which was now led by a Captain Greg Boyle, was called once
again in June. Three boys stumbled across the partially buried skeletal
remains of a young woman, while searching for aluminum cans. The girl,
who was identified as Cindy Ann Smith, 17, was found in a ravine behind
the Green River Community College. She had been missing for
approximately three years before her discovery.
More bodies of missing young women were discovered in the year that followed. Some of which included, that of missing runaway Debbie Gonzales, 14, and Debra Estes, 15, who disappeared six years earlier. Their deaths were attributed to the Green River Killer. Although there were still bodies being discovered, there were no recent killings attributed to the Green River Killer in the Seattle region.
In 1988, the discovery of more than 20 bodies of prostitutes in San Diego led to the belief that the Green River Killer moved and continued his murderous rampage in California. Detective Reichert and the new task force commander Bob Evans temporarily joined forces with the San Diego police department in an effort to find the killer. In December 1988, investigators had a new suspect.
A man named William J. Stevens caught the attention of the police after several callers phoned him in as a potential suspect during the airing of the popular true crime detective show "Crime Stoppers." Stevens was a prison escapee who was on the run for eight years, after a two-year stint behind bars for burglary. At the time he was rediscovered by police, he was enrolled at the University of Washington as a pharmacology student.
As task force investigators delved into Stevens' past, they learned that he was already a suspect in the Green River killings. It was also learned that Stevens had a blatant contempt for prostitutes and was known to have on several occasions talked about murdering them. When police searched his home they found masses of firearms, several drivers licenses, credit cards in assumed names and sexually explicit nude photos of prostitutes. Stevens was highly involved in robbery and credit card fraud, which he used to survive.
Task force investigators exhaustively interviewed Stevens about the Green River murders and searched the premises of his home throughout the summer and fall of 1989. Investigators even searched Stevens' father's home for clues tying him to any of the murders. However, nothing was found linking him to the murders.
credit card records and photographs produced by Stevens' brother
provided a tight alibi against his involvement with the crimes.
According to the numerous records and receipts, Stevens was traveling
across the country during the summer months of 1982, when many of the
murders occurred. Eventually, Stevens was cleared of all involvement in
the Green River murders.
Andrea Childers and Denise Bush
In October 1989, two more skeletal remains of young women were found. One of the victims, identified as Andrea Childers, was found in a vacant lot near Star Lake and 55th Ave. South. Like many of the young women found before her, the cause of death remained unclear due to the state of decomposition. In early February 1990, the skull of Denise Bush was found in a wooded area in Southgate Park in Tukwila, Washington. The remainder of Bush's body was located in Oregon five years earlier.
Once again, it seemed as if the killer was purposely moving the bones around in an effort to confuse investigators. Task force investigators were beginning to believe that the killer had defeated them. Morale among the officers was at an all-time low.
to the Seattle Times, in July 1991 the task force was reduced
to just one investigator named Tom Jensen. After nine years, roughly 49
victims and $15 million dollars, the task force still had not caught
the Green River Killer. The investigation became known as the country's
largest unsolved murder case. The case remained dormant for 10 years.
In April 2001, almost 20 years after the first known Green River murder, Detective Reichert, who had become the sheriff of King County, began renewed investigations into the murders. It was a case he refused to let go of and he remained determined to find the killer. This time the task force had technology on their side.
Reichert formed a new task force team initially consisting of six members, including DNA and forensic experts and a couple of detectives. It wasn't long before the force grew to more than 30 people. All the evidence from the murder examination was re-examined and some of the forensic samples were sent to the labs.
first samples to be sent to the lab were found with three victims that
were murdered between 1982 and 1983, Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman and
Carol Christensen. The samples consisted of semen supposedly taken from
the killer. The semen samples underwent a newly-developed DNA testing
method and were compared with samples taken from Ridgway in April 1987.
Gary Leon Ridgway
On September 10, 2001, Reichert received news from the labs that reduced the hardened detective to tears. There was a match found between the semen samples taken from the victims and Ridgway. On November 30, Ridgway was intercepted by investigators on his way home from work and arrested on four counts of aggravated murder.
The charges included that of the three girls and also Cynthia Hinds, in which circumstantial evidence was also found connecting him with her death. The man that investigators had sought for 20 years was finally in police custody. This time they wouldn't let him go.
Ridgway, originally born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February 18, 1949, worked for a computer company at the time of his arrest. During the time of the murders, he was employed as a truck painter for 30 years at the Kentworth truck factory in Renton, Washington. Ridgway owned many trucks during that time, one of which was of special interest to investigators. According to Seattle's KING5 television station, a 1977 black Ford F-150 owned by the suspect, allegedly was connected with some of the victims. Today, the truck remains under investigation.
According to Time Magazine's Terry McCarthy, Ridgway had an unusual sexual appetite. His three ex-wives and several old girlfriends told the reporter that he was sexually insatiable, demanding sex several times a day. Often times, he would want to have sex in a public area or in the woods, even in the areas where some of the bodies had been discovered.
Ridgway was also known to have been obsessed with prostitutes, a fixation that bordered on a love hate relationship. Neighbors knew him to constantly complain about prostitutes conducting business in his neighborhood, but at the same time he frequently took advantages of their favors. It was possible that he was torn by his uncontrollable lusts and his staunch religious beliefs. McCarthy states that according to one of his wives, he became a religious fanatic, often times crying following sermons and reading the bible.
evidence continues to be gathered from Ridgway in connection with the
Green River murder case. Although he has pleaded not guilty on all
counts in the preliminary hearings, it is suspected that evidence will
prove otherwise. Ridgway's attorney Tony Savage expects a trial
sometime in the year 2004. Prosecutors intend to seek the death
penalty. Ridgway remains interned in jail awaiting his fate. Millions
around the world wait for one question to be answered: Is Ridgway the
only Green River Killer?
because some of the victims were buried and possibly killed in
of the victims are angry. They had been led to believe that the
prosecutors would seek the death penalty, but instead, capital
punishment was plea bargained away. Also, legal scholars are wondering
about whether this case signals the end of the death penalty in
A typical psychopath, Ridgway forgot his victims, had a "hard time keeping them straight," never learned their names, and wrote them off as vicarious thrills, never personalizing them at all. They were throwaways to Ridgway: disposable women.
killed some of them outside. I remember leaving each woman's body in
the place where she was found," he said. "I killed most of them in my
Ridgway's contempt for women in general and prostitutes in particular was clear in his plea bargain statement:
"I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."
Ridgway exhibited typical serial killer behavior when he expressed his interest in reliving the murder experience which gave him the sense of empowerment that he lacked in his everyday life. He buried his victims in clusters so that he could drive by and remember the cluster and the pleasure he experienced in the murder of those victims.
King County officials want to create the impression that this plea bargain brings closure to this case. But, it does not. There is something a bit fishy here: we are led to believe that Ridgway went into a killing frenzy in the 1982-84 period and then stopped completely, until he murdered once more 1990 and then once again in 1998. Unfortunately, that is not usually what happens in the world of a serial killer. They can slow down, especially when there is a great deal of police activity, but not really stop. Are we to believe that he really went so long without killing after 1984 when he killed some 46 women in just a few years?
Our expectation is that there are many more victims buried within and outside of King County. It took many years to find the bodies that were part of this plea bargain. It may take many years to find the rest of them. It's not really over yet.
Ridgway admitted to killing: