Two men. Same experience. Different choices. One chose the path of evil. The other chose the path of love and courage. Their lives intersected for twenty years in King County, WA. Gary Leon Ridgway became one of the most notorious serial killers, and David Reichert was the cop obsessed with capturing the Green River Killer. One of his partners in this quest was incest survivor Fabienne (Fae) Brooks.
Chasing the Devil: My Twenty-Year Quest to Capture the Green River Killer by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA) is a candid account of how child abuse imprints our character. It isn’t the experience that shapes our character. It is our response to that experience that defines our destiny.
Rep. Reichert developed empathy early in life for the teenage run-aways who became Ridgway’s victims. He lived along the Green River in his 1956 Mercury for two months to avoid the abuse at home. He tried to intervene when his father abused his mother. He took on the bullies and protected his fellow underdogs:
I developed a near obsession with keeping myself and others safe. . .When I was old enough, I stopped playing rescue and started jumping into bad situations whenever someone asked for help or I saw the need.
After leaving active duty in the Air Force Reserves, he joined the King County Sheriff’s Department in 1972. His quest to apprehend the Green River killer started on August 15, 1982, his daughter Angela’s ninth birthday. The bodies of two young women were found on the banks of the river in Kent, WA. Many of the victims were incest survivors who became prostitutes on The Strip, a sex bazaar near SeaTac airport. Their mothers failed to protect them, and they became easy prey for pedophiles who promised to protect them.
Profile of Serial Killers
Chasing the Devil is rich with information about homicides and how detectives track down perpetrators. For example, most people are killed by someone they know. The police have frequently been to the home on domestic violence calls. Most serial killers are guys who were abused, humiliated, and tortured as a child:
As an adult he would be driven to fulfill his grisly fantasies, which were all about overcoming his lack of control as a child. The urge to control and kill was too powerful for him to resist, even if he tried. . .most killers would be so lost in their need to degrade and kill women that they not only didn’t want to resist their compulsion but actually needed to fulfill it.
. . .Almost every serial killer was a bed wetter, a fire starter, and an animal abuser.
Gary Ridgway was an early suspect, but he passed his polygraph with flying colors because he was a sociopath. Although his victims were perceived by many to be expendable, Deputy Reichert was obsessed with protecting them and apprehending the Green River killer. The Green River task force set new paradigms in gathering and analyzing evidence as well as early use of computers to ascertain key matches and trends in serial murder investigations. As soon as DNA evidence became a viable tool, they finally had solid evidence to arrest Mr. Ridgway on November 30, 2001.
In the meantime, Deputy Reichert had been elected King County Sheriff. Mr. Ridgway avoided the death penalty by confessing to 53 murders and agreeing to help locate the bodies of several of his victims. He was given 48 life sentences for the murders. (He may have killed as many as 71 women. He was charged in a 49th murder on February 7, 2011.)
The Monster Speaks
In chapter 18, Rep. Reichert detailed Mr. Ridgway’s biography and the evidence against him. It is eye-popping, graphic, grisly, and informative. His father was a meek man, and his mother was abusive and “sexually provocative.” Her parenting style was “a blend of titillation, humiliation, and threats.” Young Gary Ridgway wet the bed, and he had mixed fantasies about his mother: he dreamed of having sex with her and of slitting her throat. He killed birds and the family’s cat.
He stabbed a young boy in the woods, but “the budding psychopath” was never arrested. He stalked the girls in his neighborhood and graduated from high school at age twenty, got married, and joined the Navy. His first choking victim was his second wife, Marcia Winslow. After their divorce, the murders started:
. . .the vast majority of the murders took place in his home. . .He chose the most vulnerable, powerless, and invisible women around. He was so good at posing as a harmless wimp. . .
Ridgway was shameless in his charades. When his son, Matthew, was an infant, he would ride around with him in his truck or car and then pull over to chat with prostitutes on the street. They would coo over his baby while he arranged to meet up later for sex. . .Ridgway flashed his baby pictures. . .Everything he did was calculated to put the women at ease and make them think he was just a lonesome middle-aged regular Joe. . .
After he murdered the women, he would practice necrophilia on the warm corpse. After he buried them, he would return “to rape their bodies, brushing away maggots if necessary.”
Rep. Reichert’s Anchors
Rep. Reichert’s grandfather was a Lutheran pastor, and the Reichert family has strong faith. He credits his wife Julie for being his rock and for creating a refuge for a stressed out “crabby guy.” He works out to relieve stress, and his children often joined him to give his sense of humor a workout too. His work on the Green River case caused him to become an even more “vigilant” father. Cong. and Mrs. Reichert have three children and six grandchildren.
Chasing the Devil became the 2008 Lifetime movie The Capture of the Green River Killer with Tim Cavanagh very credibly playing Dave Reichert. The movie does a good job portraying the real life of a homicide detective on a serial murder case, and it hints at Rep. Reichert’s obsession with the case. It does not, however, give the depth of insight more appropriate for a book than a movie.
Sheriff Reichert was elected a U.S. Representative in 2004 on a domestic violence prevention platform. Early in his career as a patrol officer, a domestic violence perpetrator slashed Deputy Reichert’s throat after he rescued the man’s wife.