Green River Killer: River of Death
A Nightmare Come True
A special task force was assembled of King County detectives to investigate the Green River murders. According to The Seattle Times, it was the largest police task force ever assembled since the Ted Bundy murders less than a decade earlier. Major Richard Kraske, the head of the Criminal Investigation Division; and Detective Dave Reichert of the King County Major Crime Squad led the team. They enlisted the help of FBI serial killer profiler John Douglas and criminal investigator Bob Keppel, who was known for his unique and successful approach of compiling evidence in the Ted Bundy case eight years earlier.
The investigation got off to a shaky start because a massive influx of information swamped the police force within a relatively short period of time. They simply did not have the means to process the ever-increasing amount of data and evidence and much of it was lost, misplaced or overlooked entirely. In fact, the situation got so bad that at one point they enlisted the help of volunteers to assist the police in the ongoing investigation.
During their investigation, detectives learned that the many of the murdered girls knew each other and shared a similar history of prostitution. Investigators decided to begin their search for the killer in the area where the girls were known to frequent. They conducted hundreds of interviews with many prostitutes who worked the main strip in Seattle, stretching from South 139th Street to South 272nd Street. Investigators tried to obtain information on any suspicious characters they might have encountered. However, many of the girls were reluctant to talk because of their blatant mistrust for the police.
One of the prostitutes who worked the strip filed a report with police, stating that a man who raped her made reference to the Green River murders. Soon after the report, the task force began to search for the assailant. On August 20, 1982, the police announced that they had him in custody as a potential suspect in the Green River murders. However, they were unable to find any plausible evidence connecting him with the crime. He was eventually released and the search resumed for the killer.
There were other prostitutes who filed reports with the police that were of special concern to the task force. It was believed that the reports could be related to the Green River murders. Interviews taken by two separate prostitutes claimed that a man in a blue and white truck abducted them and attempted to kill them.
According to one account by Susan Widmark, 21, a middle-aged man in a blue and white truck solicited her. Once Widmark was in his truck, he pointed a pistol to her head and sped off toward the highway. He took her to a desolate road, turned off the engine and proceeded to violently rape her.
Following the rape, he allowed her to dress while he began to drive away from the scene with her still in the car. While driving, he made reference to the recent river murders, while continuing to hold a gun to her head. Fearing for her life, she managed to escape from the vehicle while at a stoplight. Widmark was able to make out part of the registration number of the truck before the man sped away.
A similar incident happened to Debra Estes, 15, who filed a report with police in late August 1982, concerning a rape. Estes told police that she was walking down the highway when a man in a blue and white pick-up truck approached her and offered her a ride. She accepted and climbed into the vehicle. To her amazement, the man pulled a pistol out and pointed it at her head. He violently forced her to give him oral sex before releasing her into the woods, handcuffed and driving off. She immediately fled the scene looking for help.
Seeing an emerging pattern that could have been related to the Green River murders, the task force decided to follow the lead and search for the truck and driver. They hoped that new information concerning the man would lead them to a break in the case.
That September, a meat butcher named Charles Clinton Clark was pulled over in his blue and white truck while driving along Seattle's main strip. After a background check was conducted, it was learned that Clark owned two handguns. Investigators believed that Clark might be the man they were looking for. They obtained his driver's license photo and showed it to both Widmark and Estes. Both women positively identified Clark as their attacker.
Clark was arrested and his house and vehicle were searched. The police found the two handguns that were allegedly used in the assaults. After interrogation by police, Clark admitted to attacking the women. However, there was speculation as to whether he was the Green River Killer because he was known to release his victims following an attack. Moreover, Clark had a solid alibi during the time many of the Green River victims disappeared.
When Clark was being booked with the rape of Widmark and Estes, 19-year-old Mary Bridgett Meehan disappeared during a walk. Meehan was more than eight months pregnant and went missing near the Western Six Motel. The motel was located on the strip and was a frequent hangout and workplace for many of the prostitutes that fell victim to the Green River Killer.
Based on a hunch, Detective Reichert began to suspect that one of the volunteer civilians working on the case might be the Green River Killer. A 44-year-old out-of-work taxi driver became the focus of the investigation and was vigorously interviewed by the police. They were concerned because two weeks prior to Meehan's disappearance, two 16-year-old girls, Kase Ann Lee and Terri Rene Milligan, mysteriously disappeared. They too were thought to have had a history of prostitution. It was suspected that they had fallen victim to the Green River Killer. The taxi driver seemed to fit the profile of the killer devised by FBI agent John Douglas.
According to Douglas, the Green River Killer was a confident, yet impulsive middle-aged man who would most likely frequent the murder scenes, in order to reenact the crimes in his mind. The killer was probably familiar with the area and was likely to have deep religious convictions. Moreover, Douglas believed that he might have an active interest in police work, especially the investigation into the recent murders. The killer might even contact the police in an effort to assist in the ongoing investigation.
During most of the winter of 1982, police heavily monitored the taxi driver's movements, although he continuously denied having anything to do with the Green River murders. The taxi driver eventually became the primary suspect in the killings. He was arrested for unpaid parking tickets, because investigators had no solid evidence connecting him to the murders, except that he knew five of the victims.
On September 26, 1982, the decomposing remains of a 17-year-old prostitute named Gisele A. Lovvorn were discovered. She had gone missing for more than two months before a biker found her nude body near abandoned houses south of the Sea-Tac International Airport. She had been strangled to death by a pair of men's black socks. Intriguingly, at the time of her disappearance, she was blonde. Yet, when her body was discovered her hair was dyed black. Although her body was not found in the direct vicinity of the now infamous river, police believed that she was a victim of the Green River Killer.
Between September 1982 and April 1983, approximately 14 girls disappeared. Those missing included Mary Meehan, Debra Estes, Denise Bush, Shawnda Summers, Shirley Sherrill, Rebecca Marrero, Colleen Brockman, Alma Smith, Delores Williams, Gail Matthews, Andrea Childers, Sandra Gabbert, Kimi-Kai Pitsor and Marie Malvar. Most of the girls, ages ranging from between 15 and 23 years old, were known prostitutes who frequented the strip.
The Green River Task Force's attention was temporarily drawn to one possible suspect, allegedly involved in the disappearance of the last girl to go missing, Marie Malvar. On April 30, 1983, Malvar's boyfriend saw her talking with a potential customer in a dark-colored truck as she was soliciting on the strip. The boyfriend claimed that he saw Malvar get into the truck before it sped away. According to Smith and Guillen, Malvar's boyfriend stated that Malvar and the unknown man seemed to be engaged in an argument.
Suspicious of the driver of the truck, the boyfriend followed them. Before long, the truck with his girlfriend in it gave chase and eventually disappeared when the boyfriend was held up by a stoplight. It was the last time he ever saw his girlfriend. He later notified the police of Malvar's disappearance.
Less than a week after the incident, he, along with Malvar's father and brother, spotted the suspicious truck near the place where he initially lost sight of it days earlier. They followed the truck to a house located on South 348th Street and called the police. The police eventually arrived at the house and spoke with the owner, Gary Ridgway, who denied having ever seen Malvar. Satisfied, the police left the residence and failed to pursue the matter any further.
A similar truck to that owned by Ridgway was also involved in the April disappearance of a young prostitute named Kimi Kai Pitsor. While in the process of turning a trick, Pitsor's pimp saw her getting into a dark green pick-up truck with an attached camper. He described the driver of the vehicle as having a pockmarked face. He watched as the two drove off and he never saw Pitsor again. He later informed police, but the information concerning Pitsor's disappearance and Malvar's was never fully connected.
By the spring of 1983, the investigation into the Green River Killer and related murders was collapsing. The task force detectives realized that the probability of the taxi driver being the killer was low, yet they continued to keep him as a prime suspect. They had no new leads and prostitutes continued to rapidly disappear throughout the city. Inundated with an avalanche of tips, the task force was unable to keep up with the massive influx of information. They enlisted the help of Bob Keppel to help organize the mountain of information.