Like minds: Bundy figured Ridgway out

November 16, 2003 

Ted Bundy knew the Green River Killer like the back of his hand.

Almost 20 years before Gary Leon Ridgway admitted killing 48 women, Bundy etched a portrait of the killer from a death row prison cell in Florida. He shared his impressions with Bob Keppel, then chief criminal investigator for the Washington attorney general, and Dave Reichert, a King County detective destined to become sheriff.

At that time, the Green River Killer seemed to slay at will. Young women vanished from the Sea-Tac strip every week, never to return. Scores of detectives followed the killer's trail in vain.

That was when Bundy - a Tacoma native who killed at least 36 women and possibly more - wrote a 22-page letter to Keppel, who had investigated Bundy's killings only a few years earlier. From Florida, Bundy said he had information that might help investigators.

After long discussions, Keppel and Reichert caught a plane.

The scene mirrored the fictional waltz of serial killer Hannibal Lecter and FBI agent Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs" - except the interviews with Bundy were real, and took place before the film was made.

During interviews, Bundy devised an eerily accurate profile of a murderer he would never know. He was executed in 1989.

His guesses, outlined in Keppel's book, "The Riverman," show it takes a killer to know one.

"I think Bundy was right on the money all the way around," said Keppel, who continues to follow the Green River case from Texas, where he is an associate professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.

Some of Bundy's observations were obvious, Keppel says - predictions investigators already made. Others were sharper, and more precise than a profile developed by the FBI in the early 1980s, when the Green River killings were at their height.

"I think he knew what to expect out of this guy," Keppel says. "That's the experience of a real killer."

Alone

"He lives alone," Bundy said of the killer he called the Riverman. "Not married."

He added that the then-unknown predator failed in relationships with women.

Bundy was right. By 1984, when Keppel and Reichert began interviewing Bundy, Ridgway had been divorced twice and split from a pair of girlfriends.

From 1982 to 1984, the height of Ridgway's killing spree, he lived alone in a house near Sea-Tac Airport, though his young son visited on alternate weekends.

Bundy said the killer was a white male between 20 and 30, possibly working at a low-paying job. In 1982, when Ridgway's first victim was discovered, he was 33 and in his 11th year as a painter at the Kenworth Trucking company.

Not a Green River victim?

Bundy suggested that Ridgway did not kill Amina Agisheff, a victim long attributed to the Green River Killer.

He based his opinion on Agisheff's age - she was 36 - compared to other victims, and the narrow window of time between her disappearance and that of another victim, Wendy Coffield.

"It seems to me those circumstances, but not necessarily, eliminate Agisheff as a victim of the Riverman," Bundy said.

Almost two decades later, after agreeing to provide information about all his murders, Ridgway told prosecutors he did not kill Agisheff. Prosecutors remain skeptical, but they note that Ridgway refused to take credit for some unsolved homicides in King County.

"Why if it isn't mine?" he told investigators. "Because I have pride in ... what I do, I don't wanna take it from anybody else."

Necrophilia

"I think he might be ... intending to return to the scene," Bundy said, "to either view his victim, or in fact, interact with the body in some way."

Bundy knew, Keppel said, because he had done the same thing with his victims. He danced around the issue during interviews. Four days before his execution in 1989, he finally discussed it with Keppel.

Bundy's reluctance stemmed from a sense of self-preservation, according to Keppel - in 1984, Bundy still hoped to avoid the death penalty. Even in 1989, he provided scanty information to Keppel, fearing that ugly details would ruin his chances to delay execution.

At the time, the two investigators knew the Green River Killer might have molested corpses - a secret kept for 20 years, until Ridgway confessed to it.

They did not share those details with Bundy but could tell he recognized it.

"He knew from looking into our eyes that we knew this killer was doing something with these bodies," Keppel said.

Unlike Bundy, Ridgway avoided the death penalty by agreeing to tell prosecutors the truth about his murders. That included disturbing revelations about his activities with the bodies of victims. On one occasion, he admitted visiting a body while his son slept in his truck.

Prior contact with police

Bundy said police already knew the killer.

"There's an excellent chance this guy has already been reported," he said. "Field card here, arrested there, reported over here, car license plate shows up over here."

By late 1984, at the time of Bundy's interview with Keppel and Reichert, court documents show local police and task force investigators had spoken with Ridgway at least six times and recorded the license plate on his truck.

Some contacts were routine stops for prostitution. Others were connected to the disappearances of Green River victims.

By the end of the 1980s, local police and the Green River Task Force had contacted Ridgway at least 10 times.

Parking and watching

"Do you think that he parks his vehicle?" Reichert asked during the Bundy interview.

"Oh sure," Bundy replied. "And just watches."

Ridgway told investigators he sometimes backed his truck into a convenience store parking lot on Pacific Highway South, and watched "the traffic," meaning prostitutes as well as cars. Sometimes he raised the hood of his truck, to make it appear that he was working on it while he watched the highway.

He "patrolled" for victims, learning a few key areas near the airport and South Seattle so well that he developed an instinct for when police were in the area.

That fit Bundy's description of "Riverman" as a "fish in water," thoroughly comfortable in the area. He could blend in.

"My feeling about the guy is he's very low-key and inoffensive," Bundy said.

Ridgway told investigators he took pains to project a nonthreatening image, using his slight build and ordinary appearance.

"The women, they underestimate me for ... I look like an ordinary person," Ridgway said. "That was their downfall. ... My appearance was different from what I really was."

Building trust

Bundy suggested Ridgway might have released potential victims.

"I think there's an excellent chance that he has picked up a number of prostitutes that he has later released, for any number of reasons," he said.

Ridgway dated prostitutes regularly. To investigators, he admitted that he often gave them rides or completed a sexual encounter without killing them as a way to gain their trust, "to get 'em used to me."

Bundy predicted additional methods Ridgway would use to gain the trust of victims.

"He knows what these girls are like and what they need," Bundy said, suggesting that the killer would offer "employment, money or drugs," and call some victims on the phone.

Ridgway told investigators he offered prostitutes extra money and promised to help them find jobs. He kept contact with a few victims by phone.

He added that he never worried about keeping promises; his victims "were already dead."

Slowing down

"Some time or another, you might have a break," Bundy said to Keppel and Reichert.

Bundy said the killer could slow down, or appear to slow down, for a number of reasons, including fear of discovery.

Ridgway and the woman who would become his third wife began living together in 1985. The rate of his killing slowed, according to available evidence. Forty-five of the 48 victims Ridgway admitted killing disappeared between 1982 and 1984. The three remaining victims were killed in 1986, 1990 and 1998.

At first Ridgway said he stopped killing entirely in 1985. Prosecutors confronted him with evidence of additional victims, and he gradually admitted additional murders.

At one point he told investigators the last killing occurred near the time of his arrest in 2001, but he later said he could remember nothing about it.

Keppel, who has read the evidence in the Ridgway case gathered by prosecutors, doesn't believe it.

"Absolute, unadulterated b.s.," the veteran investigator says. "He doesn't want to talk about his last murder, probably because it's in some other county where the death penalty's hanging over his head."

Keppel adds the Green River Killer's final slaying might hold special meaning for Ridgway - another reason to cloak it in a dubious claim of forgetfulness.

Prosecutors suspect Ridgway in other homicides. He told them he killed more than 60 women. Among those victims are three women who were on the original Green River list. They were not included in the 48 charges filed by prosecutors, even though Ridgway claimed responsibility. To date, investigators have not found their remains.

Without evidence, prosecutors will not charge Ridgway for additional deaths. They say they refuse to take him at his word.

Keppel believes Ridgway is responsible for other deaths, but might never admit to them - partly to avoid a possible death penalty in another county, partly because serial killers never reveal everything.

"They've got secrets," he says. "They keep secrets just for their own well-being."

Catching the killer

Bundy repeatedly suggested that investigators could catch the killer by staking out the sites where he dumped bodies.

"We'd already tried that and then were pretty much crushed by the media," Keppel said, remembering the way news helicopters hovered over the task force wherever it went.

Ultimately, DNA evidence and microscopic specks of paint led to Ridgway's capture - technology unavailable to investigators at the time Bundy was interviewed.

During his talks with Bundy, Keppel noticed what looked like jealousy. Bundy saw himself as the king of serial killers. Sometimes he sniffed at what he saw as poor decisions by his unknown counterpart from the Sea-Tac strip, and questioned his intelligence.

In hindsight, Keppel doesn't agree.

"Our man Ridgway is as clever or maybe even cleverer than Bundy ever thought he was," he says. "Because this guy has a methodology to him that is unprecedented anywhere.

"Try and find a killer that's gone on as long as he had, as intense as he did, with apparent ability to turn the faucet on and off for any length of time that he wants."

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486
sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com

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