SEATTLE (AP) -- In the fall of 1985, a young detective spent days
scouring Seward Park, a hilly, forested nub of land that juts into
Lake Washington, searching for clues to a killing.
This summer, the detective -- now Sheriff Dave Reichert -- returned
there with Gary Ridgway, a man he had been chasing for two decades.
The details of the landscape came rushing back, and as Reichert
watched, Ridgway walked, stopping precisely where 16-year-old Mary
West's remains had been found 18 years earlier.
"It sent chills up my spine," Reichert said Thursday, a day after
Ridgway pleaded guilty to killing 48 women. The deal spares Ridgway
from execution for those deaths; he will be sentenced to life in
prison without parole. "It was thrilling because we knew we had him.
But it was a surreal, eerie feeling."
And Ridgway's reaction helped the sheriff realize something else: The
detectives who tried so long to catch him were now giving the Green
River Killer one more thrill.
"He enjoyed it," Reichert said. "That was hard for us. What he liked
to do was go back to the site. And we were the ones taking him back.
We provided him with the opportunity to relive that sense of pride
and joy all over again.
"Sometimes, you have to be the best friend in the world to a person
you absolutely hate and despise."
Ridgway's pleas gave him more convictions than any serial killer in
U.S. history. His murderous binge targeting runaways and prostitutes
terrorized Seattle from 1982 until 1984, when the killing apparently
stopped, but Ridgway also admitted killing as recently as 1990 and
His specialty was strangling, and he took pride in it, the
54-year-old truck painter from suburban Auburn wrote in his
confession, which was read in court by a prosecutor. He would pick up
the women and bring them back to his house, into the back of his
pickup or into the woods or tall grass. He would choke them -- often
while having sex -- and dump their bodies in clusters around the
He would then drive by the dump sites, thinking happily about what he
had done, and sometimes returned to have sex with the corpses.
He wrote that he killed because he hated prostitutes and didn't want
to pay them, and because "they were in the wrong place at the wrong
A former Sunday school teacher, Reichert was 31 years old and had
less than two years of experience with the King County Sheriff's
Major Crimes Unit when he became the first detective on the case in
July 1982. He had responded when a slaughterhouse worker found the
naked body of Debra Lynn Bonner -- the third victim Ridgway confessed
to -- swaying in the Green River near Kent.
Reichert pursued the case as the body count rose, always believing
the killer would be caught, he said.
It was tough at times: Politicians questioned whether the
investigation was worth so much time and money. One suspect
threatened Reichert's family, and police tailed his children on their
way to school for safety.
When he became sheriff in 1998, he kept a detective on the case, even
though there had been no breaks for years.
It was that detective, Tom Jensen, who gave Reichert the news in
mid-2001 that their waiting was over: Advances in DNA technology had
allowed scientists to link Ridgway, a longtime suspect who had been
seen with several victims before they disappeared, to semen found on
three of the bodies.
Ridgway was arrested Nov. 30, 2001. Microscopic spray paint particles
from his job would later link him to three more killings, and facing
such proof, he signed a plea agreement in June.
Over the next five months, he led detectives to 51 sites where he
claimed to have dumped bodies. Some of the sites were where remains
had already been found, as in the case of West. But he also led
detectives to four sets of previously undiscovered remains -- and
apparently took pleasure in knowing that investigators could not
solve the vast majority of the crimes without his help.
Reichert watched on video for the first two months as detectives
interrogated Ridgway almost daily about his crimes, and he would
suggest alternative lines of questioning. Ridgway's mood changed
little during those sessions, Reichert said, though sometimes
something as simple as giving him the meal he wanted made him more
In August, it was Reichert's turn. As he sat across from the killer
and looked him in the eyes, the sheriff could not deny the weight of
a moment two decades in the making.
Ridgway felt it too.
"There was a look in his eye, a satisfaction on his face that even
though he's been caught, he had fooled me," Reichert said. "He had
fooled the detectives."
Ultimately, Reichert said, he tried to think about the victims. It
was more important to try to get information out of Ridgway than to
focus on his own emotions.
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In describing those emotions, Reichert recalled a conversation he had
by phone recently with a relative of one of the victims. The
relative, used to being calmed by the sheriff, noticed the tension
crackling in his voice. "She said, 'Detective, it sounds to me like
you're a victim, too."'