Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Green River Killer: River of Death

Stream of Tears

On 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.

The Search for the Green River Killer by Smith and Guillen
The Search for the Green
River Killer
by Smith
and Guillen

He asked the older man if he had caught anything. The man replied that he had not. According to Smith and Guillen's book, The Search for the Green River Killer, 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.

As he peered into the clear waters his gaze was met by staring eyes. A young black woman's face was floating just beneath the surface of the water, her body swaying beneath her with the current. Believing it might be a mannequin, Ainsworth attempted to snag the figure with a pole. Accidentally, the raft overturned as he tried to dislodge the figure from a rock and Ainsworth fell into the river. To his horror, he realized that the figure was not a mannequin, but a dead woman. Seconds later he saw another floating corpse of a half nude black woman, partially submerged in the water.

Opal Mills, victim of the Green River Killer
Opal Mills, victim of the
Green River Killer

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.

Soon 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.

Marcia Chapman and Cynthia Hinds, victims of the Green River Killer
Marcia Chapman and Cynthia Hinds,
victims of the Green River Killer

Following 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 the water.

Reay 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.  

Deborah Bonner, victim of the Green River Killer
Deborah Bonner, victim of
the Green River Killer

The 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 death.

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.

Wendy Coffield, victim of the Green River Killer
Wendy Coffield, victim of
the Green River Killer

Within 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.


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