Along the Green River
Lord Orsam recently watched a four part crime documentary on the Channel 4 Player called 'Green River Killer: Hunting the Monster' and he wanted me to share some thoughts about it.
Within a one month period during the summer of 1982, five bodies of naked or barely clothed women were found in and around the Green River in King County, Washington.
All five of the murdered women were young, suspected of prostitution and were all known to frequent "the strip", a stretch of road between Tacoma and Seattle. They had all been strangled.
According to Patty Eakes, former King County Prosecutor, who was interviewed for the documentary:
"At that point you had five victims, all young women within a very short distance of each other and I think it was pretty clear at that point that there was a serial killer".
Lord Orsam thought that was an interesting statement which, if you switch the word 'young' for 'middle-aged', could apply to the victims of 'Jack the Ripper'. If it was 'pretty clear' from the discovery of these five victims in the 1980s that there was a serial killer at large in the Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington (and I don't doubt that Ms Eakes is correct in saying that this was the belief at the time), it would have been pretty clear to everyone on the 1880s that there was a serial killer at large in the Whitechapel area of London. Neither could be proved absolutely but it would have seemed like a good bet in both cases.
Lord Orsam said this as someone who has been reading Simon Wood's latest book, something he will be discussing in much more detail in a future blog post.
As to that, it is interesting to note that there was no consensus amongst the detectives in the Murder Squad investigating the Green River murders as to who the murderer was. Dead bodies continued to be found in the area (it is believed that the Green River Killer murdered more than 50 women) and there were three prime suspects during the years, two of whom passed 'lie detector' tests (the guy who failed was innocent!).
One of those who passed was Gary Ridgway, and for most detectives on the squad, this meant he was innocent. One of the detectives, however, thought that too many circumstances pointed towards him and, in 1987, five years after the first dead body had been discovered, a search of his property was carried out and hair and saliva samples were taken. Nothing was found in the search which could be connected to the bodies and no match was found to any of the victims. Hence no charges were brought. Some in the Murder Squad remained convinced that Ridgway was innocent. The detective who thought that Ridgway was the serial killer was accused by some of his colleagues of harassing him.
Had it ended there, the identity of the Green River Killer would be another mystery, like Jack the Ripper. Even 100 years after the Ripper murders, it was clearly still very difficult to acquire enough evidence to identify and charge a serial killer, even though by now there had been so many murders (some of the failings of the Green River investigation, and comparison with the Ripper murders, are discussed in an article by John Holliday on Casebook here with some archive forum discussion here). That the Green River Murder Squad detectives disagreed amongst themselves about who was committing all the murders shows that the lack of consensus amongst those at Scotland Yard and the City Police in 1888 and onwards as to who the killer was is not very surprising, nor is it unique.
In the end, the mystery was solved by advances in DNA analysis but only in the next century. In 2001, semen samples found on three of the dead bodies were matched with Ridgway's DNA. Some other microscopic paint samples on other victims could now also be matched to Ridgway. After being arrested on 30 November 2001, Ridgway confessed to all the unsolved murders in the Green River area.
In doing so, Ridgeway appears to have helped to solve a curious puzzle relating to one of the victims, Carol Christensen. Her dead body had been found in an isolated wooded area on 8 May 1983 with her clothes on, although from the fact that her bra was on the wrong way round, it was known to police that she had been dressed by her killer after having been murdered. Unlike the other victims, she was found with a paper bag over her head. Bizarrely she also had two fishes placed on her neck and chest at right angles to each other. She also had meat (sausage) in her hands and a wine bottle in her lap. She had been strangled but not with an item of her own clothing like many of the other Green River victims. So different were the circumstances of the disposition scene from other Green River Killer murders that detectives suspected a different killer was involved. The circumstances of the way the body had been posed struck some as relating to the Eucharist or the Last Supper.
In his confession, Ridgway explained that Carol Christensen was different from all his other victims because he was a regular user of Carol's services and had fallen in love with her. On the day he killed her, she was in a hurry to finish their appointment because she had to meet her boyfriend. This annoyed Ridgway who strangled her with his arm or a towel during sexual intercourse. According to the documentary, he then dressed her before disposing of her body because he didn't want others to see her naked. He put a bag over her head 'to protect her pretty face' and covered her with meat and fish so animals would find her sooner, by which he seems to have meant an animal such as a dog, with its owner, rather than an animal who would eat her body.
Lord Orsam thought this was interesting, especially the bit about the purpose of the meat and fish being to attract animals because it suggests that what seemed like a bizarre ritual had a practical purpose. The other differences from the other victims relating to the fact that Ridgway thought he was in a relationship with Christensen are also rather interesting.
Having carried out some online searches (e.g. here and here), suspicions remain that he dressed Carol not because he cared about others seeing her naked body but to throw the police off the scent because the other victims had been found naked. Those sources also reveal that Ridgway said that he wanted Carol to be found quickly since she was pregnant and that he had taken a bottle of wine with him to the woods when disposing of the body to drink in order to calm him down and he just it left it with the body.
This does, of course, all rely on Ridgway's own confession. He might not have been telling the truth. He was a purportedly religious person, who went to church and read the Bible aloud at work, so the elements of Christianity connected with the way he left Christensen's body might not have been coincidental. Or perhaps he just wanted to dispose of uneaten food.
Another mystery was apparently solved in his confession as to why he started burying the bodies of his victims rather than leaving them above ground or in rivers. While it seemed to police that he was attempting to hide his murders, he said it was because he was a necrophiliac and, if he left the body where it was accessible, he wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to return to have sex with it. Burying the body put it out of temptation. This was interesting because, during the investigation, in a series of events which apparently inspired the film 'Silence of the Lambs', Ted Bundy had given advice to the police as to how to catch the killer which included keeping watch over any bodies found (and not announcing their discovery) because he was sure the killer would return to it. He might have been right.
One final thing of interest is that, in 1984, Ridgway appears to have written an anonymous letter to a Seattle newspaper, signed 'callmefred', to offer suggestions as to how to catch the killer, which was designed to throw police off the scent.
Returning to the Simon Wood theme, one could ask if the Green River Killer actually existed bearing in mind that he didn't give himself this name, and it was assigned to him by others. Given that Gary Ridgway was convicted of the murders, I think we can safely say he did!
On behalf of LORD ORSAM 7 November 2023