- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

KENT, Wash. (AP) — Police in Washington state are hoping recent advances in DNA testing will help them track down one of America's deadliest unidentified serial killers, the Green River killer.

The King County Sheriff's Office has been looking for the killer since 1982, when the first of his 49 victims in the Pacific Northwest was discovered.

Now, encouraged by DNA advances that allow testing of even flakes of skin, investigators are bringing in lab technicians from the FBI and other agencies to help identify promising evidence.

"It's too bad that we didn't have this technology back when it was going on, because the case would have been better handled, probably solved," said sheriff's Detective Tom Jensen, who has worked the case since 1984, the year the last-known Green River victim disappeared.

The Green River killer abducted most of his victims — young women who were prostitutes and runaways — in a red-light district south of Seattle.

The victims' bodies were found in or next to the nearby Green River, and in densely wooded areas near Seattle and Portland, Ore.

The bodies had all been reduced to skeletal remains by the time they were found, probably having decayed for several months.

When Detective Jensen started working on the case, a task force of dozens of investigators was following thousands of leads, interviewing victims' friends, witnesses and possible suspects.

But in the end, virtually all the group could conclude was that the killer might be driving a primer paint-spotted pickup truck with a canopy, and might look like one of several composite drawings. An FBI profiler concluded only that the killer was probably a white man in his 30s or 40s who had issues with women and spent a lot of time in the woods.

Detective Jensen is unsure what might be learned from DNA testing on samples nearly 20 years old. He notes, however, that a number of recent cases have been solved with the aid of the testing techniques developed in the past few years. One double murder case at a Seattle shipyard was cracked after flakes of skin on a holster were matched to a suspect.

If DNA is found and can be linked to a suspect, it would be the first real break in a case as baffling as it is horrific.

"Green River was so difficult because it had no timely suspect data that the police could go on. They'd find out that some prostitute was identified from the bones, and go back and interview the people who last saw her, six or eight months later," said Bob Keppel, a state investigator on the case and author of "Riverman," a book about the killer.

The investigation was further complicated by the nature of the victims: people who frequently relocated without telling relatives and who were reluctant to work with police.

Victims' remains were discovered for years after the last disappearance linked to the killer, but budget pressures and the lack of success forced cutbacks in the task force.

By the early 1990s, Detective Jensen was the lone investigator.

The Sheriff's Office has long been criticized by victims' families and advocacy groups for waiting until relatively late to form a task force, and then for not devoting enough resources to the investigation.

Kris Nyrop, executive director of Street Outreach Services in Seattle, argued that the closure of the task force may have had something to do with the types of people the Green River Killer preyed on.

"The argument was made, and I think there's a fair amount of truth to it, that if middle-aged businessmen had been disappearing at this rate, we would have had an enormous investigation that never would have closed," Mr. Nyrop said.


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