In the 1980s and 1990s, forty-nine women in the Seattle area were brutally murdered, their bodies dumped along the Green River and Pacific Highway South in Washington State. Despite an exhaustive investigation—even serial killer Ted Bundy was consulted to assist with psychological profiling—the sadistic killer continued to elude authorities for nearly twenty years.
Then, in 2001, after mounting suspicion and with DNA evidence finally in hand, King County police charged a fifty-two-year-old truck painter, Gary Ridgway, with the murders. His confession and the horrific details of his crimes only added fuel to the notoriety of the Green River Killer.
Journalists Carlton Smith and Tomas Guillen covered the murders for the Seattle Times from day one, receiving a Pulitzer Prize nomination for their work. They wrote the first edition of this book before the police had their man. Revised after Ridgway’s conviction and featuring chilling photographs from the case, The Search for the Green River Killer is the ultimate authoritative account of the Pacific Northwest killing spree that held a nation spellbound—and continues to horrify and fascinate, spawning dramatizations and documentaries of a demented killer who seemed unstoppable for decades.
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About the Author
Tomas Guillen is a professor in the communication department at Seattle University and the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Search for the Green River Killer (1991). Raised in El Paso, Texas, Guillen graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism and began his career as a reporter for the Tucson Citizen. He joined the staff of the Seattle Times in 1980 and spent more than a decade covering the Green River Killer case with Carlton Smith. They were Pulitzer Prize finalists for investigative reporting in 1988 and published The Search for the Green River Killer a decade before investigators arrested Gary Ridgway for the murders. In 1995, Guillen’s articles on crime laboratories won the Silver Gavel award from the American Bar Association. He is the author of Toxic Love (1995) and Serial Killers: Issues Explored Through the Green River Murders (2006), and often is asked to discuss law enforcement and criminal justice issues on CNN, Fox, and Good Morning America. To learn more about the author, please visit www.tomasguillen.org
Read an Excerpt
August 12, 1982
At a quarter after one on a cool, dark, drizzling Thursday, a man named Frank Linard climbed on top of a truck parked behind the PD&J Meat Company slaughterhouse near Kent, Washington, and fired up his first cigar of the day.
Over the noise of the truck's engine, Linard could hear the rattle of the chains inside the slaughterhouse as they carried off the steaming, fresh-killed meat, and the laughter and shouts of the men with their saws.
Linard liked smoking cigars; most of all he liked digging one out from under his gore-splattered rubber apron, lighting it up, then feeling the relaxation that came with the first draw of smoke. The cigar was a good escape.
After four months at the slaughterhouse, Linard had learned to ignore much of what went on around him: the cows in their chute, bawling and moaning as they were prodded forward to their fate; the quick death that came from the air-driven bolt to the brain, followed by the practiced slash of the neck that spilled all the blood. Then came the hooks and the chains that carted the carcasses away to the butchers with their high-pitched, whining saws.
It was part of Linard's job to clean up the mess that remained after the cows were cut into parts. Wearing galoshes and his rubber apron, Linard usually hosed the blood and small bits of flesh off the slaughterhouse floor and into the underground septic tank. Unless Linard emptied the septic tank into the truck each day, for transport to a nearby rendering plant, the bloody glop would back up in the tank and shut the slaughterhouse down.
As he smoked his cigar, Linard looked down into the river behind the building, the jurisdictional boundary between the Seattle suburb of Kent and the unincorporated area that contained the slaughterhouse. The river began high up on the flanks of Washington state's largest mountain, Mt. Rainier, and wound its way down through a series of valleys before emptying into Puget Sound just south of the city of Seattle. A century before it had been named the Green River, although, from what Linard could see, for most of the year it was gray or brown, not green.
In the summer, however, the river was clear and slow, placid, curving sinuously back and forth through the valleys as it piled up sandbars, occasional boulders, and waterlogged tree trunks. One hundred years earlier the river had served as a pioneer thoroughfare and rubbish disposal system, and as recently as twenty years before this day in 1982 the bloody water from the slaughterhouse had just been emptied into the river, where it carried downstream to the harbor a few miles to the north.
Right where the slow-moving current swept past the slaughterhouse, Linard saw a gravel hump poking up from the water. A few logs stuck out of the mud and weeds. A large mass of foam clung to one of the logs. As he gazed, the foam seemed strange to Linard: too much foam for too little current, he thought. Drawing on his cigar, Linard guessed it wasn't foam he was seeing, at all, but maybe a dead animal. Sometimes the carcasses of wildlife washed down the river from the mountains. Sometimes their pelts were worth money. Linard jumped down from the truck, telling himself he had some time before the tank filled to take a closer look.
Linard went to a small trail the fishermen had beaten down through the blackberry bushes fringing the channel and worked his way down the bank. When he came out of the tall bushes, Linard saw that the foam was really a naked woman.
Linard saw she was hung up on a large log, bent over with her naked buttocks raised. He stepped into the shallow water for a closer look. The woman's arms dangled below her, swaying in the slow-moving current. Her hair floated on the water. She was very white, bleached from long immersion. A purplish heart tattoo marked one arm. Linard could see the woman's face staring down at the shallow riverbed under the water. Her eyes appeared to have no pupils, and Linard knew the woman was very dead.
Linard's brain at first refused to function. His first thought was to get away. He raced back up the bank to the slaughterhouse, where there was a telephone mounted on the wall. He called the operator and asked for the police. While he waited for them to come on the line, Linard told the slaughterhouse workers about the dead woman. The building emptied as the slaughterers and meatcutters stampeded to the embankment and gaped at the riverbed, all of them jabbering at once. The cattle bawled in their wooden chute, temporarily reprieved.
About an hour after Linard made his discovery, a plain sedan driven by a young man with jet-black hair, a mustache, and a network of scars across his neck drove up to the slaughterhouse and parked in front. King County Police Department major crimes detective David Reichert had arrived to begin an investigation of the death. Reichert's first task was to determine whether murder had been committed.
Reichert's most important task at this point was to make sure nothing that might explain the death was overlooked. He went down the bank to the river and looked at the dead woman, then came back and talked quietly to uniformed police, telling them to search the river banks for anything that might explain how the woman had come to be there.
Soon a nondescript gray van from the medical examiner's office arrived. Someone produced a folded blue plastic bag. Police and medical examiners went to the river and returned with the blue bag sagging heavily in their hands. They put the bag down on the concrete apron near the truck, behind the slaughterhouse, out of the view of the television news crews now already setting up on the road, and gave the victim a quick inspection. Linard put down his hose and went over to watch.
It all seems so quiet, so ordinary to them, Linard thought, just like the body was an old piece of meat, not a dead woman. The medical examiner's pathologist unzipped the plastic bag and pulled it away. He watched as the pathologist rolled the body around, viewing it, looking for an indication of the cause of death. There was no blood, no obvious wound, just water-bloated white flesh. Linard now saw that the woman's body actually had numerous tattoos. The whites of her eyes bugged out, and he saw again that the pupils had disappeared. It was clear to the pathologist that the woman had been dead for at least several weeks, maybe even longer. The skin of the fingers was already beginning to slough off from long immersion in the water. Fingerprints would be difficult, maybe even impossible. The putrefaction of the corpse and the number of small insect larvae present on the exposed skin surfaces indicated that the woman had died long before that day. The pathologist put the body back into the bag, and then the bulging sack was put onto the collapsible gurney for the trip to the gray van. The television cameras dutifully recorded the event. Overhead a television helicopter hovered, preparing for a live feed for the evening news.
Meanwhile, the uniformed police, assisted by police from the city of Kent, continued searching both banks of the river, looking for the woman's clothing or anything that might suggest how she had come to be there. One by one the uniformed cops returned to tell Reichert that the search of the riverbank had produced nothing: no clothes, no identification, not a shred of evidence to indicate how the woman had died. Reichert nodded. As things later turned out, believing there was no more evidence to be found was the first mistake, and probably the biggest.
August 12, 1982
Reichert drove back to the county detectives' squad room on the first floor of the King County Courthouse in Seattle. There Reichert told his sergeant the details of the discovery. The sergeant, in turn, went off to report to his superior, the lieutenant in charge of the investigation of major crimes. The lieutenant, in turn, reported to the major in charge of all criminal investigations, and later, the major would brief the King County sheriff himself, Bernard Winckoski. Police work had nothing if not a chain of command.
Reichert sat down behind his gray metal desk, surrounded by other desks with their detectives, the bookshelves, filing cabinets, coffee machines, and bulletin boards. This was the nerve center of life in "the dicks," as the cops in the county department informally called their detectives. Around Reichert the other detectives made telephone calls, typed reports, laughed, argued, drank coffee, and got ready to go home. The dead woman in the river occasioned little comment. It was just another routine tragedy in a job where someone's misfortune was a daily event.
Reichert had been in the county's twelve-cop major crimes unit for less than two years. His fellow detectives weren't much more experienced than he was. Most of the top hands in homicide had left the department over the last few years. Now Reichert's six-cop homicide-robbery unit included Bob LaMoria, a veteran police officer with comparatively little homicide experience; Frank Atchley, who was waiting for a promotion to sergeant; Ben Colwell, another veteran detective light on homicide experience; Earl Tripp, a productive narcotics investigator getting his first crack at major crimes; and Larry Peterson, a quiet, steady detective who had a reputation for solid if unimaginative work.
Not far away in the bullpen was the county's two-person Sex Crimes unit, which handled sexual assaults. Here, too, the experience was short. The team included Fabienne Brooks, a woman who sometimes doubled as a police artist; and Spencer Nelson, who had just come in from the warrants section, located down the hall, where investigators searched for those wanted for arrest. Still in the warrants section was Detective Larry Gross, a streetwise veteran. Like Brooks, Gross was one of the few blacks in the department; he was also a man who was very good at finding people who did not want to be found.
Despite his relative lack of experience with murder, Detective Reichert was considered one of the brightest young stars of the county's department. Most saw him as certain to rise rapidly on the career ladder. Six feet tall, solidly built at 190 pounds, the thirty-one-year-old Reichert was a former small-college quarterback who still moved with an athlete's coiled grace. His hazel eyes and boyish grin made him seem younger than he was. Reichert's personable nature, his neat appearance, good looks, and demonstrated courage had marked him as one of the department's comers.
The scars on his neck were a visible reminder of both his initiative and his courage. Reichert got the scars when he climbed in the rear window of a house in which a woman was being held hostage by a man who had gone berserk. After getting the woman out through the same window, Reichert had gone through the darkened house looking for the hostage-taker to arrest him. The man saw Reichert's image reflected in a window. As Reichert came forward, the man attacked, leaping on Reichert and slashing his neck with a knife. An inch either way, Reichert was told later, he would have been dead. But as Reichert struggled with the man, other police broke down the front door and managed to pull the man off. In the King County Department, such bold, unilateral actions were a mark of distinction, and Reichert had the scars to prove it.
Reichert was also deeply religious, and not shy about expressing those views. His grandfather had been a minister, and at first Reichert had wanted to be one also. He had gone to a small college in Minnesota in pursuit of a divinity degree, but had to give up when his wife had gotten pregnant and money had run short. Maybe it was for the best. "I couldn't handle the Greek and Latin anyway," he later joked. Still, Reichert had continued to teach Sunday School every week at a church near his home in south King County. Becoming a cop was a good second choice, Reichert often thought. The job gave him a chance to get involved in people's lives, to really help. That meant a lot to Reichert, who wanted very much to make a real difference in people's lives.
It was one of Reichert's more engaging traits that he saw his cases in terms of athletic competition. Crime and detection still seemed something of a game to Reichert, a contest of both wits and endurance. In Reichert's book, quitting was only for losers. "This guy's not gonna beat me," Reichert would tell fellow detectives whenever he found himself stumped. For Reichert, solving crimes was personal, not merely something he was paid to do. More experienced detectives thought this attitude on Reichert's part was a bit silly or naive, or possibly even dangerous. Sometimes, they knew, taking crimes personally could lead to tunnel vision, and tunnel vision could lead to some bad, even fatal misjudgments.
Now, as he sat behind his desk, Reichert considered the dead woman who had been found in the river behind the slaughterhouse. If the woman had been murdered — as seemed likely, given the absence of any clothing — the killing would be the second in less than a month involving the river.
A month earlier, another woman had been found in the river, not a half mile from this latest discovery. Sixteen-year-old Wendy Coffield had been strangled with her own pants. Like this latest woman, Wendy Coffield had tattoos. Because the victim had been discovered inside the Kent city limits, that suburban police department was investigating the Coffield crime.
The question was: Were the two discoveries related? Reichert thought that might be a possibility, but not a certainty. While at the river, Reichert had talked with a Kent policeman assigned to investigate the Wendy Coffield case, and while R. D. Kellams of the Kent department felt the two cases were connected, Reichert wasn't so sure. The river, he knew, was a place for dumping things, and there was no reason to assume that just because a murderer had used the river in July, the same man would have returned in August.
But until he knew who the new dead woman was, Reichert could not rule out a possible connection. He had another possible connection as well.
Six months earlier, Reichert had investigated the death of a third young woman, someone who had been a friend of Wendy Coffield. Like Wendy Coffield, Leann Wilcox had been strangled. Although the body of Leann Wilcox was found miles away from the Green River, both girls had been involved in street prostitution. Now there was this third woman. Who was to say that all three deaths weren't connected? If the third woman also had a background in prostitution, it would be time to give serious consideration to the possibility that a single murderer was using the Green River as a place to dispose of victims.
But first, Reichert had to find out who the latest dead woman was, and how she had died. To do that, Reichert would have to go to a medical examiner's autopsy the following day.
August 13, 1982
Attending autopsies was perhaps one of the most disagreeable aspects of being a homicide detective. Dead bodies were taken from cold storage, rolled onto a stainless steel operating table, and inspected, prodded, photographed, and cut with a thoroughness that shocked the uninitiated. Otherwise hardened police officers were known to grow faint. Homicide detectives either got used to it or got out of the business.
The autopsy began around 9:00 A.M. Photos were first taken of the dead woman's tattoos, which were crudely done. One on the arm was mottled, but appeared to be a heart around the the word "Dubi." A technician manipulated the dead woman's hands to obtain a blurred set of finger- and palmprints. After x-rays, the cutting began.
A surgical inspection of the dead woman's lungs showed the absence of water; therefore she had not drowned. But while the length of time between her death and the discovery of her body made it impossible to say with certainty what had caused her death, it appeared that the woman had been suffocated, perhaps strangled, just like Wendy Coffield and Leann Wilcox.
One by one, all of the internal organs were removed, weighed, and inspected; so was the brain. Samples were taken of blood and bile for laboratory testing. Teeth were x-rayed, and fingernails were carefully preserved. Hair samples were taken. A surgeon's knife performed the most thorough sort of gynecological examination possible. Forty-five minutes after the autopsy began, the eviscerated body was photographed again, sewn back up, and returned to the cold room.
Excerpted from "The Search for the Green River Killer"
Copyright © 1991 Carlton Smith and Tomas Guillen.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Authors' Note and Acknowledgments,
Notes on an Investigation,
BOOK ONE: KRASKE, 1982–83,
1. The Slaughterhouse,
5. The Major,
7. Family Ties,
9. The Strip,
11. Sick Tricks,
17. Going Public,
18. Closing In,
19. The Search,
23. The Assessment,
24. Out of Control,
25. Hell's Highway,
27. The Monster,
28. "Fear is Torment",
29. The Selling,
30. One Black Shoe,
BOOK TWO: ADAMSON, 1984–86,
32. The Motivator,
33. The Task Force,
34. Data Control,
35. On the Streets,
36. More Bones,
38. The Triangle,
39. Star Lake,
44. Eyewitness News,
45. Ted Again,
47. Going South,
51. The Blue Taxi,
52. Pierce Brooks,
54. Optimistically Speaking,
55. The Circus,
58. Blake's Man,
60. Cut to the Bone,
BOOK THREE: POMPEY, 1986–87,
61. Pompey's Run,
62. Breathing Room,
BOOK FOUR: EVANS, 1988–90,
64. Father Bob,
67. San Diego,
68. Pink Glass,
69. The Movie,
70. The Law Student,
71. Ted is Dead,
72. The Last Dance,
75. Head Games,
A Further Word,
The Killer Found,
About the Authors,