Sheriff's Green River Killer quest a good story

Review: Insider's tale honest, even if not the definitive account

July 28, 2004 

Dave Reichert, King County sheriff, is running for Congress.

Six weeks before the Sept. 14 primary, three months before the general election in November, his book has arrived.

It's no political biography. Reichert never mentions his Republican candidacy. "Chasing the Devil" tells the story of his two-decade hunt for the Green River Killer.

On the back cover, Reichert faces the camera and stands like a two-by-four, muscled forearms crossed, eyes aimed at the lens in a grim don't-mess-with-me stare. His white hair is perfect.

Any reporter who's covered Reichert knows the pose. It's not phony. It's just him: the smoldering Christian cop, so clean he squeaks. He's donating all the profits from the book to charity.

The timing of the book's release makes it impossible to separate Reichert the candidate from Reichert the cop - makes it harder to evaluate the book on its own. Undeniably, it helps him look good when he needs to look good. But it's still a good story.

It begins in 1982, with Reichert almost stumbling over a dead body on a river bank, and ends in 2001, with two veteran cops crying over pieces of paper - printouts of DNA evidence that linked truck painter Gary Leon Ridgway to the murders of 48 women.

True-crime buffs expecting new, unreleased details about the Green River case will find little here. "Chasing the Devil" is a fast-paced run-through of the investigation. Reichert doesn't bother with Ann Rule-style reflection, or academic musings on the nature of serial killers.

He just wanted to catch the guy. After Ridgway's arrest in late 2001, Reichert allowed himself one moment of personal satisfaction. As deputies took Ridgway to jail for booking, Reichert watched the killer pass and said, "We gotcha, asshole."

The book is an insider account, in the sense that it reveals the persistence and passion of Reichert and his fellow investigators, who felt certain Ridgway was the killer and waited 14 years for the conclusive proof that would nail him.

Along the way, they endured the criticism of victims' families, scarred by the loss of their daughters. They would call and ask for details about the case, sometimes offering theories and help, sometimes raging at the lack of progress and berating the cops. Reichert always listened.

At times, the families and critical media accounts suggested the cops didn't care about Ridgway's victims - young prostitutes and street kids plucked from the neon corridors of the Sea-Tac Strip.

Those charges stung, and Reichert repeatedly demolishes them in his book. He and his investigators did care, he writes - so much that their personal lives suffered.

The case gnawed at him. He once told his wife, Julie, not to say "I love you" when he came home from his gruesome task.

Well, it makes sense. So many times, Reichert saw what no one should have to see - corpses left to rot, tucked in green corners of South King County. Each discovery fed his seething outrage.

"I was not indifferent," he writes. "I had become a police officer in order to catch this kind of bad guy and protect the very people who were being killed. But this devil had chosen to attack the most isolated and vulnerable women - they were practically invisible - in a place that was all darkness and shadows."

Reichert pounds a few more themes in his account. He explains the mundane nature of police work and laments the public's unrealistic expectations. He slams politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who cut money and resources for the Green River investigation. He fires a few rounds at the local press, shaking his head at reporters who swarmed over every detail of the case, exploiting the story in his mind, and sometimes blowing police work.

He discusses his moral view of the case and Ridgway: "a coward who didn't deserve to share the air we all breathe." He describes his 20-year commitment to the families of victims: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and daughters who could not forget their loss, even if the public had.

Most of all, Reichert reveals the fierce love that grew among members of the Green River task force - detectives in their prime when the case started, hardened and thickened by the years.

That love shows when Reichert describes a meeting with Detective Tom Jensen in summer 2001. Jensen, the lone detective still assigned to the Green River case at the time, brought the DNA printouts to Reichert's office, and gave the sheriff an envelope with the killer's name inside.

"I don't have to open it," Reichert said.

"What do you mean?" Jensen asked.

"I know it's Gary Ridgway."

Both men wept.

For those with lingering questions about the Green River case, "Chasing the Devil" offers few answers. The prospect of additional victims beyond the borders of King County - Ridgway never confessed to any, thus avoiding a possible death penalty in another county - goes unmentioned.

The explanation of why Ridgway roamed free for 14 years after being identified as a prime suspect also feels thin, though Reichert argues strongly that without the DNA evidence, the case would have fallen apart. Unfortunately, the delay allowed the Green River Killer to extend his murderous spree. Ridgway confessed to killing several victims in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Reichert ends his story with a dedication to the families of victims, and every member of the Green River task force. "Chasing the Devil" won't be remembered as the definitive account of the Green River case - that remains to be written. Nevertheless, it's an honest book.

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



CHASING THE DEVIL: MY TWENTY-YEAR QUEST TO CAPTURE THE GREEN RIVER KILLER

By David Reichert

Little-Brown;

314 pages;

$24.95

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