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'Catching Killers' Asks What Haunts The Investigators Who Solved The Green River Killer Case?
In the new Netflix series, 'Catching Killers,' investigators share how they caught one of America's most notorious serial killers.
In a new true crime docuseries, detectives describe the obstacles and emotional turmoil they went through while trying to identify the Green River Killer.
Netflix’s “Catching Killers” documents the investigators behind some of the most notorious serial killer cases, revealing “the harrowing, chilling details of their extraordinary efforts,” says Netflix. Each episode highlights a different set of murders, starting with the ones carried out by the infamous Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway.
Gary Ridgway was convicted of murdering 49 women in Washington state in the early 1980s, as previously reported. As body after body turned up around the Green River, investigators were haunted by the elusive killer for nearly 20 years.
Featured in the new series are three former Green River Task Force members: Detectives Dave Reichert, Fae Brooks, and Tom Jensen.
“These were daughters, granddaughters, sisters,” said Reichert. “They were human beings. I mean, that’s the bottom line.”
Fae Brooks, a sex crimes detective with the King County Sheriff’s Office, had a heartfelt and personal connection to her work.
“I’m a survivor of sex abuse,” said Brooks. “When I became a sex crimes detective, it was sort of like therapy because I was able to arrest people who were misusing, abusing people. So that drove me to want to catch the killer.”
As the body count rose, Reichert said, “It created an atmosphere of fear.”
The series highlights the work of investigators and focuses on suspects before Gary Ridgway, including Dan Smith and Melvyn Foster. It also covers law enforcement’s work on ‘The Strip,’ an area between Seattle and Tacoma known for sex trafficking, where many of the victims worked.
Investigators describe how they also struggled with pressure from the public to find one of the country’s most prolific killers. Citizens formed a protest, demanding to know why law enforcement hadn’t made an arrest, claiming authorities were dismissive because the victims were in a high-risk line of work.
“That hurt the detectives,” said Brooks. “Because we were committed to solving this investigation.”
After airing a PSA in 1984 titled “Someone Out There Knows Something,” a woman named Rebecca came forward to report a sexual assault, noting that her assailant worked at Kenworth Trucking. Another detective on the task force stumbled on a file of a man who had been arrested for soliciting a prostitute, remembered that he worked at the same place of business. In a photo lineup, Rebecca identified Gary Ridgway as her attacker.
However, DNA science, not as sophisticated in the 1980s, could not definitively connect him to the Green River murders. Though he continued to be a suspect in the case, police found nothing incriminating at his home, and no arrests were made for years.
In time, budgeting issues forced the 60-person task force to disband, and detectives returned to their regular duties.
“I refused to be taken away from my primary job being Green River,” said Jensen, the last man standing in the task force.
In 1997, Reichert was elected Sheriff of King County, and as soon as he entered office, he called detectives back to the Green River case, including Brooks and Jensen. Shortly after, with the advancements in technology, they ran Ridgway’s DNA against the 1982 semen samples. Jensen brought the results to Reichert.
“Before he opened it, he said, ‘It’s Gary Ridgway, isn’t it?’” said a tearful Jensen.
Gary Ridgway pleaded guilty to all 49 counts of murder.
With Ridgway behind bars, Reichert, Brooks, and Jensen continue working on the Green River Killer case. In their emotional interviews, they vow to work until every victim is identified.
Jensen, who officially retired in 2012, signed up as a volunteer at the King County Sheriff’s Office. He was there in 2020 when authorities identified Ridgway’s youngest victim, 14-year-old Wendy Stephens.
“The investigation keeps going because we have unidentified victims,” said Jensen. “As long as we have unidentified victims, we’re not done.”
Gary Ridgway is currently serving life at Washington Penitentiary in Walla Walla.