I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it around these parts, but I have a slight obsession with reading about serial killers. A pastime of mine, especially when I’m sick and confined to bed, is to alternate watching Law & Order: SVU on Netflix and choosing random articles from Wikipedia’s list of American serial killers.
Fellow serial killer book reader Lazy first drew my attention to Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer, by Ann Rule. Being that I hadn’t heard of the Green River Killer (or GRK) before, but also wasn’t sure I wanted to have a book about a serial killer prominently displayed on my bookshelf, I requested it from my university library. (I’m now probably on a government watchlist somewhere.)
So, the GRK (Gary Ridgway) was active in the 1980s in the Seattle and Tacoma areas of Washington. He murdered over 70 women, possibly as many as 90, and targeted women working as prostitutes. He was caught and arrested in 2001, thanks to the use of DNA evidence. The actual story is much more drawn out—Rule writes about the ongoing, frustrating police investigation, as well as the lives of some of the women killed and Ridgway’s child- and adulthood.
Rule herself is a well-known true crime writer, who has published tons of books and short stories. She’s probably best known for “The Stranger Beside Me,” as she was co-workers and friends with Ted Bundy, another prolific serial killer.
I think, in this book, I would have liked for her to downplay her involvement. (However, this could be my bias against memoirs speaking.) Though it would have made sense to detail her interactions with Bundy, her involvement in the GRK case was limited and fairly ineffectual—so additions like Ridgeway having attended one of her book signings seemed to be grasping and didn’t enhance my understanding of the case or Ridgway.
In contrast, I wanted more about GRK himself. I’m not sure if they just couldn’t get enough reliable information out of him to construct viable diagnoses, but I didn’t feel that the police came any closer to understand Ridgway. The transcripts of police interrogations of Ridgway were helpful in giving us a glimpse inside the mind of a serial killer, but never went so far as to provide answers to the “how” and “why” questions. I also didn’t think that the period of latency after his third marriage was explained well enough. As Rule herself states, serial killers don’t just “stop.” Their behavior usually escalates the longer they remain free. So how and why did Ridgeway go from murdering multiple women—sometimes in the same week—to potentially murdering no one for years?
While Rule’s writing isn’t what I would call extremely masterful, the twists and turns of the story was enough to keep me reading. The fact that Ridgway is portrayed as being unintelligent but manages to elude the police for so long was interesting in and of itself. I did appreciate that Rule dedicated space to the victims of GRK, and told many of their stories in the book. Almost all of GRK’s victims were women—girls, really—who had been abused, abandoned, forced to the fringes of society, and forgotten. Learning more about them as they had been, and reading the words of their families, felt like a fitting tribute.
Bookwanderer Rating: Three out of five stars