Chasing the Devil

My Twenty-Year Quest to Capture the Green River Killer


By Sheriff David Reichert

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Chasing the Devil is the gripping firsthand account of Sheriff David Reichert’s relentless pursuit of the Green River Killer — a 21-year odyssey full of near-misses and startling revelations.

For eight years, Sheriff David Reichert devoted his days and nights to capturing the Green River Killer. He was the first detective on the case in 1982, doggedly pursuing clues as the body count climbed to 49 and it became the most infamous unsolved case in the nation.

Frantically following all of his leads, Sheriff Reichert befriended the victims families, publicly challenged the killer, and risked his own safety — and the endurance and love of his family — before he found his madman. But Reichert’s hunt didn’t end when he finally cornered a truck painter named Gary Ridgway. It would be yet another 11 haunting years before forensic science could prove Ridgway’s guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. Told in vivid detail by the man who knows the whole story, this is a real life suspense story of unparalleled heroism.


This book is dedicated to the victims of the Green River killer.
It is my hope that the tragedy they suffered will inspire
a greater effort to prevent young women from being
caught up in a life of desperation and danger on the streets.
May we all remember these young women
and the lives they should have been able to lead.



THE GREEN RIVER'S SOURCE is one mile high in the Snoqualmie National Forest and just south of a spot on the map called Stampede Pass. From one small spring it trickles westward, gathering strength from dozens of mountain creeks with names like Champion, Wolf, and Cougar. By the time it reaches flat land, it is a steady flowing stream that in the springtime, when the snow melts in the Cascades, can run twenty feet deep in some places.

The people who live in the mountain valley carved by the Green River have always had a close relationship with its waters. It was a source of fish and drinking water for Native Americans, who also used it as a highway to Puget Sound. Early settlers depended on the river in the same way, and in modern times it provides irrigation for farms and pleasure to sport fishermen, rafters, swimmers, and anyone else who loves the outdoors.

But even as it brings life to people on the shore, the river has long been a site for tragedy. In the middle of the nineteenth century, white settlers battled Indians along the river, and men, women, and children died on both sides. In more recent years, the river periodically claimed drowning victims or gave up bodies that had been dumped by those who hoped the evidence of their crimes might be swept out to sea.

My own connection to the Green River goes back to the early 1960s, when, as a boy growing up in the city of Kent, I earned money picking fruits and vegetables at farms that nestled up to its banks. Later, when I was in high school, the riverside became a haven from my long-running battles with my father. We had good times, but I was always aware of the pressures my parents felt raising seven kids on limited wages. On weekends my dad might drink a little too much and get into a fight with my mother. When I was young, I would hide. When I got older, I tried to intervene. After one especially bad fight, I left home and lived for two months in a 1956 Mercury, which I had recently bought with money from my after-school jobs. I parked in a deserted spot beside the river, went to school and work during the day, and slept in the car every night.

I knew all the isolated and hidden corners of Kent where a kid on the run might hide away. But I wasn't the type who got in a lot of trouble. In fact, I was the opposite. I was a kid who lived in the tough neighborhoods, dealt with bullies and bad guys on a daily basis, and felt it was my duty to defend myself and my fellow underdogs from them. Part of this attitude came from the tough example my father set. He never backed down and was always ready to fight for what he thought was right. But while he always seemed to try to impose his will and his judgment on others, I developed a near obsession with keeping myself and others safe.

Childhood had brought me plenty of experiences with danger. I was seven or eight on the day when, as I was shooting marbles with a friend, a man pulled up in a station wagon and tried to abduct me. An escapee from a state mental hospital, he had me halfway into the car when my mother ran up and grabbed me by the feet. She tore me out of his hands, saving me from God knows what he might have done. At around the same time, I was kidnapped by three older kids who blamed me for something I hadn't done and tied me to a tree out in the woods. I escaped, but the lesson of that experience and others was clear: We share this world with bad people, and you have to stand up to them.

With all the violence and drama I faced inside my family home and outside on the street, it's little wonder that I had an early fascination with cops and firefighters, who, after all, are officially charged with keeping us safe. As a boy, one of my favorite games was called Rescue 8, after a TV show by that name. I would get my brothers and sisters and cousins to stage emergencies—some kids would hang from tree limbs or pretend to be trapped somewhere—and then the rest of us would come racing to their rescue. Bikes served as police cars. We made our throats sore trying to scream like sirens.

When I was old enough, I stopped playing rescue and started jumping into bad situations whenever someone asked for help or I saw the need. When a Peeping Tom was bothering the women at my future wife Julie's college dorm, I raced after the guy and jumped on the running board of his VW. (He dislodged me by crashing into a telephone pole.) On the football field, where I played quarterback, I got into the middle of a fight that broke out after we had won a game. I didn't like it that one of our smaller players was taking a beating from a giant lineman. I broke up the fight, but the lineman cracked me between the eyes with his helmet and I wound up in the hospital.

For some reason, my early interest in keeping the peace didn't move me immediately into law enforcement. In college I considered teaching, coaching, social work, and the ministry. My grandfather, whom I loved and admired, was a Lutheran pastor, and faith was, and is, the center of my life. I thought about it a lot as I served seven months of active duty in the air force. All along my girlfriend, then fiancée, then wife, Julie, said I would make a good cop and encouraged me to consider that option. We discussed it often and decided the time was right when I left the air force and transferred into the reserves and returned to the Seattle area. In 1971 I took the test to join the King County Sheriff's Department and scored high enough—number 82—to get one of 110 deputy positions. I started work in 1972 and would stay on the job for more than thirty-two years as Julie and I established a home and made a family that included our children, Angela, Tabitha, and Daniel.

On my very first evaluation my supervisor wrote: "Officer Reichert has the ability to be quite a good policeman. Although he seems very quiet, his actions indicate that he will do a good job."

I was a quiet young man, and action was far more interesting to me than any conversation. But I could empathize with those in need, and that made me a good fit in a profession that still harbored a certain Wild West mentality. Thirty years ago, before training was upgraded and the department established more specific procedures, individual officers were expected to be creative and assertive. You raced to every scene at high speed with the siren wailing, and you called for backup only as a last resort. (One reason for this was that your fellow cops were probably miles away.)

Sometimes the results of this macho approach were a little less than perfect. Take the time I answered a call to a domestic dispute where a man was holding a knife to his wife's throat. A more senior officer arrived and suggested I sneak in an open window. I took off my shoes and managed to get into the house. I distracted the man. He turned away from his wife, she ran to me, and I helped her escape through a window. I then went to the living room to see if I could prevent the man from killing himself. But as I entered the room, the man saw my reflection in a window. In the fight that ensued, he slashed my throat from my right ear to my esophagus, barely missing the jugular vein.

When I tell this story, some people are shocked. Today we have negotiating techniques and special teams that handle these kinds of situations. But people are often more surprised to hear that my wife, Julie, wasn't hysterical over that incident. She was alarmed when someone called the house and said, "Dave's on TV, he's been hurt." But once she knew I was going to be okay, her attitude was, "There's nothing you can say. That's Dave." And she was right. I would always see myself as a competitor and a protector, and I preferred to play offense whenever possible.

Fortunately, a cop can be assertive without risking his life every day. In those early patrol years, I learned some subtler strategies, like developing sources on the street and using my imagination on every call I answered. Sometimes the results were even amusing. I'll always remember the teenager who broke into a suburban home and stole from the liquor cabinet and the candy drawer. I went to the backyard and followed candy wrappers to a power line right-of-way. Eventually I found a school absence note next to one of the wrappers. It must have fallen out of his pocket. That gave me the burglar's name, and soon I was speaking with his mother, who led me to his room and a cache of items he had taken from houses all over the neighborhood.

Then there was the night when I surprised a burglar who had broken into a gas station. He leaped out of a broken window and ran into the woods behind the station. I followed but quickly lost him in the darkness. (A rookie mistake: I forgot to bring a flashlight.) I could hear branches breaking, heavy breathing, and footsteps as I chased him. Finally there was a loud thunk and a cry of pain. Although we didn't catch him that night, we returned in the morning to follow the trail of blood from the tree the man had run into to the nearby trailer where he lived.

Besides the challenge of solving crimes and the rewards that come from helping people, one of the main benefits of police work is the camaraderie you feel with fellow officers. You might bicker and complain about some of them, but the bonds you form are unbreakable. I felt this was especially true when it came to the person who influenced me the most during my years of patrol—Sam Hicks.

Seven years my senior, Sam had been on the force for about three years when I arrived. A big man with curly red hair, he enjoyed the job and was part of a new generation bringing a smarter, more professional attitude to the work. Sam was gung ho, but he also had more common sense than anyone I had ever met. And he never lost his sense of humor, especially when it came to himself. One night we went to a robbery suspect's house and were attacked by a snarling dog that charged out of the darkness. Sam whipped out his mace but pointed it in the wrong direction. He sprayed himself in the face, and we went running for our police cars. With his eyes swollen and red from the spray, Sam laughed as hard as I did.

Although I never forgot what Sam showed me about keeping my cool and staying alert, the most important lessons he taught me were about persistence and thoroughness. Both were on display the night we responded to a call from some fishermen who had spotted a man's boot, complete with a foot and a piece of leg bone, on the bottom of an isolated mountain lake. Months earlier someone had reported a missing hiker in the same area. The man had had a few enemies, so we were looking at a possible murder.

Sam and I arrived at the edge of the forest before dawn. Detective Bob LaMoria joined us. We grabbed our flashlights, hoisted packs onto our shoulders, and began a nine-mile hike to the lake in pouring rain. Sam never slowed down, and when we got there, we quickly inflated a rubber raft and paddled out to recover the leg and foot with a grappling hook. While we were in the raft, I looked up to see a human rib cage resting on the side of a mountain five hundred feet above us. Under Sam's direction, I scaled the mountain, recovered what bones I could find, and then packed them out. In the end, the death was ruled a suicide, but at least the man's family could lay him to rest. For Sam, an eighteen-mile hike in the wilderness to solve the mystery of a foot found at the bottom of a lake was all in a day's work.

Sam became my closest friend, and his example of intelligent, dogged pursuit became my template for effective investigations when I joined him on the homicide and robbery detective unit. Sam always pushed his cases, and he didn't like to wait. On June 24, 1982, when he was ready to arrest a murder suspect, he called my house, looking for me. I was out, but rather than wait for me, Sam grabbed another detective, Leo Hursch, and went after his man.

Leo and Sam spotted their suspect, Bobby Hughes, riding in the passenger side of a truck driven by his brother. They followed him along the country roads of rural southwest King County until the brother turned down the long driveway of a big, isolated farm. The brother dropped Bobby near a line of trees and split. As Sam and Leo drove up, a shot fired from the trees smashed the windshield of their car. They got out and ran behind a barn.

On that fateful day, Sam and Leo were unable to determine where their suspect had gone. While Leo carefully scanned the area, Sam slowly crept around the corner of the barn. In the split second that his body was exposed to the tree line, a shot was fired. The bullet hit Sam in the chest, and he fell to the ground. Leo ran to Sam and radioed for help, and the shooter fled into nearby Flaming Geyser State Park, a large wooded area bisected by the waters of the Green River.

My friend and mentor Sam Hicks was airlifted to Harbor View Hospital, but he wouldn't survive. The shot from a high-powered rifle had caused too much damage. But before we knew he was dead, while the doctors still worked on him, the sheriff's office responded to the shooting with a massive manhunt. Every available cop raced to the scene. Dogs were put on Hughes's trail. Helicopters crisscrossed the sky. Patrol cars cruised every mile of road.

At first my supervisors held me out of the hunt. They said I was too close to Sam and that emotion would cloud my judgment. But when they needed someone to deliver photos of the suspect to the scene, I volunteered, roaring down there with the lights on and the siren screaming. The delivery was just an excuse for me to get involved. I think they knew that when they sent me on the errand.

When I arrived at the farm, deputies and detectives were streaming in from all over. One of the first I saw was Fabienne "Fae" Brooks. The first black woman detective in the sheriff's office, Fae was usually assigned to sex crimes. But like everyone else, she had turned out for the manhunt. Fae must have seen the shock and sadness on my face, because even before we talked, she gave me a strong hug.

The search for Bobby Hughes would go on for three days and nights, with hundreds of people scouring the countryside on both sides of the river. I was part of the effort, putting in long hours on the hunt and returning home just once to see my family, weep over my friend's death, and struggle for a few hours of sleep.

Finally, on that third day, a motorist reported seeing a haggard-looking man scrambling up from the riverbank and then crossing a road. Detective Bill Henne and I were among the officers who responded to the call. A police dog got the scent and began chasing Hughes. We raced to position our car along a gravel road that was right in Hughes's path. Bill and I both grabbed shotguns. I lay on the hood of the car, facing the woods with my finger on the trigger. Bill positioned himself on the trunk, facing in the same direction.

While we lay in wait, we could hear the dog in the woods and the cracking of branches. But neither Hughes nor the searchers ever broke through. He had stopped and tried to hide under a fallen tree. The dog caught him, and the officers trailing behind apprehended him. I was the only homicide detective on the scene, so I was enlisted to ride with Hughes to the Auburn station, advise him of his rights, and take his statement. I later took him to King County jail in downtown Seattle. Through it all, I forced myself to stay calm as he told some bullshit story about how he thought Sam and Leo were bad guys out to kill him. He had fired in self-defense, he claimed. All I could think of was how this guy had killed my best friend, a husband and a father and one of the best cops I ever knew, with the twitch of his index finger.

My daughter Angela's ninth birthday fell seven weeks after Sam's death. About forty members of our extended family were coming to our house to celebrate her birthday and all the others that occur in August. Because our family is so big, we had long ago agreed to have one giant party every month. For Angela's big day, Julie had made sure there would be cake and ice cream and plenty of other food. The presents had been bought and wrapped, and more would arrive with our guests. With a crowd of this size, the monthly birthday bash was almost as exciting as Christmas.

Angela was barely able to contain her excitement as she waited for the guests to arrive. She was sitting at our kitchen table, a big oak hand-me-down from my parents, when the phone rang. The call was for me, and if Angela was watching my face as I listened to the voice on the other end, she knew what was about to happen. It was an emergency call from the King County Sheriff's Office, and Dad, the homicide detective, would have to go, again.

So much would flow from that single phone call—decades of struggle, worry, danger, and obsession—that I almost forgot that it all started on Angela's birthday. But many years later, she reminded me of this and recalled how she had cried and then felt ashamed because she had thought of herself, not the murder victim I was summoned to examine. "I thought it was so unfair," she told me. "But we knew you had no choice."

Everyone understood that I had to respond without hesitation. And they knew that this was more than a job to me. I believed that I had been entrusted with the responsibility to resolve the worst kinds of tragedies and bring some sort of justice to the victims and their families. It was a serious business, and given how deep my Christian faith runs, I considered it to be a calling.

But even though I answered calls to murder scenes with almost automatic calm and efficiency, this one did strike a few emotional chords. First, it tore me away from Angela's party. I regretted that. Second, it involved multiple victims, and that always made things more challenging. And third, this call was bringing me back again to the Green River.

On June 24, the river had been the backdrop for events that had brought me to my knees with grief when Sam was killed. Now the Green River held even more tragedy. The bodies of two young women had been found submerged near the shore. It would fall to me to lead the investigation to discover who they were, how they got there, and who was to blame.



IT MAY BE HARD TO BELIEVE that every time I took an emergency call at my home, my mind shifted smoothly from family life to murder, but that's the way it works for most experienced detectives. We have the usual human desire for peace and comfort when the workday is done. And like most people, we try to move between home and work without much cross-contamination. The only difference is that homicide is one of the most disturbing acts that human beings commit, and homicide detectives have to deal with it every day.

On August 15, 1982, I received a call about a double homicide—two female victims. I knew that the site where the bodies had been found—a spot on the Green River in the Seattle suburb of Kent—was going to be difficult to search. Sinewy blackberry plants sprout on both sides of the river. Covered with thorns and almost impossible to snap, the vines are six feet and higher, and they grow amid reeds and grasses that are just as tall. Besides the thick brush, the river is banked by steep slopes of rocks, placed there by the Army Corps of Engineers to contain the river as it rises every spring with the runoff from melting snow in the mountains.

In Kent, access to the river is along a winding, two-lane country highway called Frager Road. For an area that's just twenty miles from downtown Seattle, it's a remarkably rural place, just farms, nurseries, and a few private homes. The only substantial business around there was a slaughterhouse called PD&J Meat Company, which overlooked the river just south of the Peck Bridge.

What bothered me most as I drove down Frager Road in my unmarked car was that I had been there just three days earlier—to PD&J Meats, in fact—to investigate the death of another young woman. In that case, a slaughterhouse worker had gone outside to smoke a cigar. He had looked down at the river, to a place where a spit of sand broke the surface of the water and a few logs had become stuck. Up against the logs he saw what he took to be a large animal carcass. Curious, he followed a path used by fishermen to the water's edge. As soon as he broke through the blackberry vines, he realized that the sandbar had captured not an animal, but a human being.

In that case, I had photographed the scene, called divers to collect the body, and helped bring it up the bank for the medical examiner. For me, dead bodies were a normal part of my work, and I was trained to regard them as evidence. I also treated them with deep respect. A body represents a person who was once loved, who once looked forward to the future, and who was robbed of the experiences and feelings that future promised. And sometimes the body can speak to us, offering clues and evidence that might bring justice to the person who once lived inside. For that reason, I take extreme care with the remains we find.

In this case, the sun had beaten down on the body's exposed skin with such intensity that parts of it were charred. Other portions of the body had been submerged and were beginning to bloat. Worst of all, egg-laying insects had been especially active, and larvae were crawling all over it. I paused for a moment to steel myself and then, like the other officers on the scene, did what was necessary to gently rescue the corpse and carry it to shore.

Once we had the body on the riverbank, we could see that though the young woman was unclothed, she was offering us some clues to her identity. She wore a ring and an earring. She also had a few tattoos. The most notable was the word "Duby" inside a heart tattooed on her right shoulder.

The official cause of death would be determined by an autopsy, which I would attend the next day. But on the scene, the medical examiner was able to estimate that the body had been in the river for at least two weeks. He found no water in her lungs—which meant she was dead before she reached the river—and no significant wounds or trauma.

During the investigation, I contacted a local tattoo artist named Joe Yates, who had once helped identify another body via the victim's tattoos, but in this case he was stumped. However, checks with area police departments, which record key features whenever they arrest someone, eventually turned up the name Debra Lynn Bonner. Twenty-four years old, she was the same height and weight as the woman found in the river, and she had the same tattoos. She had been arrested for prostitution at least eight times while using several different names.

All the facts of the Bonner case raced through my mind as I approached PD&J Meats on Sunday, August 15, but my most troubling thoughts were not of the body, but of Debra's mother. Just twenty-four hours earlier I had gone to one of the roughest neighborhoods in Tacoma and knocked on the door of her tumbledown house. Inside, the house was a monument to poverty and dysfunction. The furniture, what little there was, was beat-up and stained. Mice ran across the floor. Everything about the place said, "Here are people who have struggled through life." When we sat down and Mrs. Shirley Bonner heard me say her daughter had been murdered, tears filled her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. You might say that this woman had never been equipped to raise a child, and you might be right. But her grief was real and her sorrow was deep, and she cried a mother's tears. "I will not give up," I had told her. "I promise you, I will not give up."

Now I was headed back to the river, where two more young women, two more daughters of mothers who would weep when they got the news, waited to be recovered and examined. As the lead detective on the scene, I would take on these cases, too. That meant that I would be responsible for the crime scene, for identifying the bodies, and for every other aspect of the investigation, including making contact with grieving families. It was going to be a very long day.

The parking lot at PD&J was jammed with official vehicles, so I parked on the roadside. I grabbed the big, bulky Mamiya camera I used for crime scene photos, along with its huge battery pack and a logbook to record each shot. As soon as I got out of the car, some of the officers who stood on the roadside began filling me in on the scene: Robert Ainsworth, a rafter who collected old bottles and other junk that had been tossed into the river, had been drifting through the shallow water, poking at the bottom with a homemade hook. Whenever Ainsworth found something he couldn't bring up with his tool, he'd slip into the water and muck around in the silt and sand.

On this Sunday afternoon, Ainsworth had seen a man on the riverbank as he rounded a bend near PD&J. The two spoke briefly about an outboard motor submerged at that spot. Ainsworth also saw a man in a pickup truck on Frager Road, above the river. Moments later, after the two men departed, the rafter saw what he believed was a mannequin of a woman submerged in the water. He poked it with his hook and noticed that it was pinned to the riverbed by a large rock. Then, as he maneuvered the raft, he saw another female form lying submerged about ten feet away. Her limbs, hair, and hands were so perfectly formed, so lifelike, that he realized these were not mannequins at all but, rather, the bodies of young women.

In order to avoid contaminating evidence that may have been dropped by whoever put these women in the water, the officers already on the scene had made a fresh path through the blackberry vines and tall grass. Before I plunged ahead, I looked for one of them to take my photo logbook and accompany me to record each picture that I would take, noting the time, location, and other details. The duty fell to a rookie who had hung back while other, older officers had briefed me.

Officer Sue Peters had the good or bad luck (depending on how you look at it) to have been assigned to patrol this corner of King County. Barely five feet tall with brown hair and a youthful appearance, Peters looked more like a grade school teacher than a cop. About to have her first encounter with dead bodies, she was quiet as we climbed down the bank and walked north along the rocks to the spot where the bodies looked to be shadows in the shallows.

The first body we reached was lying facedown, unclothed, in three feet of water. She was weighted down with rocks that had been laid on her foot, knee, buttocks, and shoulder. The silt that had begun to cover her up made it impossible to determine her race. I snapped pictures and called out the details to Sue, who managed to stay calm and composed by keeping her focus on the task at hand.

The second body, submerged ten feet farther upstream in water that was a little deeper, was lying faceup and was nude except for a front-closure bra that had been opened. This body had been secured with rocks on her right leg and hip, left ankle, and shoulder. But nothing held down her right arm, and as the water flowed around her, it raised her arm and made her hand flutter back and forth. Her mouth and eyes were open. She looked like she was waving to us and saying, "Here I am. Help me."


On Sale
Jul 28, 2004
Page Count
320 pages

Sheriff David Reichert

About the Author

Congressman David Reichert was a sheriff in King County, Washington, for more than thirty years. He currently serves as Representative for the Eighth Congressional District of Washington and was first elected to the position in 2004.

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