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The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer
by Robert Keppel
July 15, 1982: 3 woman's strangled body was filed, caught on the pilings of Washington state's Green River. Before long, the "Green River Killer" would be suspected in at least 49 homicides, with no end in sight. Then authorities received a letter from Bundy -- on death row -- offering to help catch the Green River Killer. But he would only talk to Robert Keppel, the former homicide detective who helped track Bundy's cross-county killing spree.

The Search for the Green River Killer by Carlton Smith, Tomas Guillen
This reckoning of the deaths of almost 50 women in Seattle is distressing not only for the gruesomeness of the crimes but also for reasons probably not intended by Smith and Guillen, who reported on the murders for the Seattle Times.

In the beginning, police focused on the "strip" most victims disappeared from. They took license numbers of customers, gathered information from prostitutes and pimps and warned women they were in danger.

Bob Keppel, retired WA State Investigator even sought help from Ted Bundy in trying to understand this killer. Keppel had also been active in the Bundy case.

In the investigation's early days public perception was the victims, many prostitutes or runaways, were not important. The sheriff's office was criticized for waiting so long to form a task force, and for not devoting more resources to capturing the killer.

Tomas Guillen, associate professor of journalism at Seattle University and co-author of "The Search for the Green River Killer," said "They probably should have emphasized the strip more with decoys, undercover officers ... I was there when they went after him many years ago. They could have charged him back then, but they were missing some real evidence."

The Green River Task Force's internal investigative tool, unknown to the public was an FBI psychological profile of the Green River killer, written by John Douglas, in the summer of 1982, revised in 1984.

The original detectives, including lead investigator Dave Reichert, now King County sheriff, worked out of a small office in the downtown courthouse before moving in the community room at the sheriff's precinct in Burien closer to the action on SeaTac Strip. "It gave us more constant day to day contact with the detectives working the street 24-7," said Capt. Bruce Kalin, commander of Green River Team, and member of the Green River Task From April 1983 to November 1987. "There were a lot of good reasons to be close to where the action was." In the mid 1980's, the 27 detectives worked with computer and phone lines dropped from the ceiling at the Burien precinct. "2 people couldn't get up from their desks at the same time," Kalin said. There were no windows, no air conditioning and many of the detectives smoked. "We don't want to do that again," he said. "We have enough stress."

There is now a new city named "SeaTac" covering the area most victims were abducted from. It is where the Seattle Tacoma International Airport is located.

Officers staked out the river. Investigators know killers "always come back." That investigation was hampered by a news helicopter, which blew their cover. One man considered a strong "person of interest" drove in the midst of a TV crew.

"The ladies working the strip didn't seem to take it serious, " Kraske, a retired police major said. (Kraske investigated the Ted Bundy serial killings in the 1970s.)

When the bodies of Chapman, Hinds and Mills turned up, Kraske attempted to quiet the discovery to protect the scene. "I tried to keep radio silence. When people drove by, I told them it was a training exercise. I didn't want to screw it up."

Gary Ridgway was suspect for years. Investigators feared that if they tried Ridgway without enough evidence he could be acquitted, he would then be free under double jeopardy laws. So they waited.

Evidence including semen samples, was circumstantial. Semen samples were only used to determine blood types. Test results could only narrow down to one in millions, not identify a specific individual, like the DNA technology today can.

Late in 1982, detectives focused on another suspect, Melvin Wayne Foster, 44, unemployed cabdriver from Lacey, Thurston County and searched his house. He was not arrested.

Copyright Kari Sable 1994-2006

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