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The morning of June 23, 1990 started out perfectly normal at a McDonald's in Bellevue, Washington — until an employee went to take out the trash.
"He sees something really strange and it's the body of a woman," investigative reporter Lynda Byron told Oxygen's "Mark of a Serial Killer."
The employee rushed inside and called 911. Police arrived at the scene and found the young woman dead. She had no visible gunshot wounds or stab wounds, but something else was strange: Her body had been posed.
"Somebody had taken quite some time staging the body. I had noticed there was a large size coffee cup lid covering her right eye. One foot was crossed over the other and her hands were folded over her stomach and they were holding a pine cone," Det. John Hansen with the Bellevue Police Department told producers.
It was also clear she hadn't been killed behind the McDonald's but had instead been dumped there after being brutally beaten. An autopsy found she had been kicked so hard it ruptured her liver, had sustained a severe blow to the head, and was strangled. The killer then raped her with an object after she died, which alarmed investigators.
"The postmortem injuries and spending a lot of time with the body really isn’t that common," Hansen explained.
The victim was identified as Mary Ann Pohlreich. Described as sweet and outgoing, she worked at a medical device manufacturing company. A friend told investigators she liked to go out to nightclubs, and believed she was out at a favorite of theirs the night she was killed. The nightclub owners confirmed she had indeed been at the club — and her purse and car had been left behind there.
"That tells us she wasn’t intending on leaving that place. She had left against her will," Det. Dale R. Foote with the Bellevue Police Department said.
Seven weeks later, while investigators were still working the case, another shocking murder occurred just two miles from where Pohlreich had been found.
On Aug. 9, a 13-year-old girl realized her mom hadn't woken up for work yet. When she went to check on her, she walked into a gruesome scene.
Carol Beethe, 35, was lying dead on her bed entirely naked except for a pair of red high heels A rifle had been placed inside her vagina.
“My first thought is she’s displayed so when you come through the door, it’s indeed to give you that shock value," Foote told producers.
Beethe, a mom of two who worked as a nightclub bartender, had taken numerous blows to the skull, which ultimately killed her.
Then, on Aug. 31 in Kirkland, Washington, just five miles from Bellevue, another woman was found murdered in her room.
"This young woman was lying on her back in her bed. She was stabbed many, many, many times. Folded up in her hands was a book and the book was "The Joy of Sex." There was also an item inserted in her throat. She was definitely posed," Lt. Mark Ericks with the Bellevue Police Department said.
The victim was identified as Andrea "Randi" Levine, 24. She frequented some of the same nightclubs the other two victims did. An autopsy also revealed a possible clue: She had been wearing a ring that was removed during the assault.
"I know that all of us felt if we found the ring we'll find the killer," Ericks told producers.
Police knew they had a serial killer on their hands, and they needed to find the culprit before they struck again. The killer wasn't quiet for long. On Sept.12, Bellevue resident Robyn Oldenburg was packing for a trip when she noticed a strange sound.
"All of a sudden, I heard a knock on my window. It was a very firm knock. I was really nervous, everything was going on, but my first thought was you’re being paranoid," she told producers.
Ultimately, when the noises continued, Oldenburg followed her gut and called the police. It was the right move. When they arrived, they found the screen from her door was missing. Somebody had been in the process of breaking in.
And police had their suspect: A man had been driving away when an officer showed up. He was identified as George Russell. After running his plates, they learned he had a warrant out for his arrest for impersonating a police officer and he was taken into custody.
Oldenburg, meanwhile, said she was shocked to learn the potential assailant was Russell, who she actually knew.
“The first time I met George Russell I thought he was a fun, happy-go-lucky, great guy, but things started to change and I realized there was a dark side to him," she said.
During questioning, Russell denied killing the women and refused to hand over a DNA or hair sample. Police had no physical evidence tying him to the murders, so the investigation continued.
They managed to track down a witness who saw Pohlreich at the club the night she died. They said they also saw Russell leave with a woman, but they couldn't be sure it was Pohlreich. The witness did remember Russell had come to the club that night with a friend, though.
The friend was soon tracked down, and he admitted Russell had asked to use his truck that night to take a girl home. The next morning, when Russell returned the car, he claimed he had to get it cleaned because a girl threw up clam chowder in it. The friend distinctly recalled saying it smelled like blood and as if something had been gutted in there instead of a person vomiting.
The truck was taken in and processed for evidence — and inside, they found traces of Pohlreich's blood.
Investigators had also been able to track down Levine's missing ring after interviewing Russell's associates. They learned shortly after Levine's murder, he had given it as a gift to a woman he had asked out. They were able to get the ring back and identify it as Levine's, effectively tying Russell to the murder.
Russell was charged with all three murders and found guilty on Oct. 18, 1991. He was given two life sentences plus an additional 29 years in prison.
For more on this case and others like it, watch "Mark of a Serial Killer" on Oxygen or stream episodes here.
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