Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Green River Killer: River of Death


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.

One 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.

The 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.

Debra Estes
Debra Estes
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.

Moreover, 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
Andrea Childers and Denise Bush, victim
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. 

According 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.


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