I am not afraid, I've had people point guns at me. ~ Rep. Dave Reichert
"He desecrated the victims. The public ought to know that." Tomás Guillén is describing Republican 8th District Congressman Dave Reichert and his manipulation of the Green River murder investigation and the arrest of Gary Ridgway to climb up into party politics.
Guillén's no political firebrand, he's a respected Seattle University journalism and criminal justice professor. As a Seattle Times reporter, he covered the Green River story from its beginnings and has written two books on the subject.
His academic text, Serial Killers: Issues Explored Through the Green River Murders, and Ridgway attorney Mark Prothero's Defending Gary, both written after Reichert's 2004 election, tell a starkly different story than does Reichert's ghost-written autohagiography, Chasing the Devil, My Twenty-Year Quest to Capture the Green River Killer.
Reichert's record as sheriff was exposed in last week's devastating reporting by the P-I's Lewis Kamb who found plenty of former colleagues who'd reveal him to be "an ambitious self-promoter, an inexperienced manager prone to poor decisions, even a close-minded detective more obstacle than asset to a serial murder investigation."
Reichert refused to be interviewed in person for the P-I's piece, preferring to answer the reporter's questions in writing.
(The written material, and people we've talked to use some strong adjectives to describe the former Sheriff's professional behavior: manipulative, self-serving, amateurish, ambitious, creepy, bungling, inappropriate, opportunistic, egotistical, voyeuristic, and stubborn. These are quite different from the descriptives we've been hearing for years: heroic, gracious, sensitive, muscular, chivalrous, well-mannered, brave, clean and reverent. You decide).
Sheriff Reichert became the public face of the sensational arrest of the serial killer by elbowing his way in front of the cameras on November 30, 2001 when the sensational collar was announced.
Everyone knows Reichert is the guy who caught the Green River killer, because he reminds us in every introduction; every speech, interview, and on his website.
It helped get him elected in 2004 in his race against KIRO radio host, Dave Ross; and he still flogs it every time he opens his mouth in his race against Darcy Burner.
Recently, on KUOW's Weekday with Steve Scher, (in a rare appearance in a venue where he might be seriously questioned) he referenced serial killers no fewer than three times in one hour on the local NPR talk show despite being asked no questions on the subject by Scher, who's unused to politicians who drop blood instead of names.
Here's an example: Why is Reichert against abortion? He told a interviewer recently, "I have a great respect for life. I've seen a lot of death in my career, worked Green River, seen lots of dead bodies."
Back in Washington, the Honorable Mr. Reichert is known as the Man from Green River- his longest speech on the House floor during his lackluster first term was about "capturing" Gary Ridgway.
The release of Chasing the Devil, in late July, 2004 was exquisitely synched-up with his primary campaign which was difficult with a crowded Republican field anxious to replace the retiring Jennifer Dunn.
Bolstered by both his publisher's marketing and his own political campaign, it was a perfect PR storm. Reichert's face was thrust onto the front pages of local papers. He was interviewed on CNN and Court TV in full dress uniform (and every hair present and accounted for) talking about "capturing" the killer.
"Reichert used the serial murder case to move forward," Guillén told BlatherWatch. "It was a travesty." Photos released when Ridgway was arrested show Reichert in a suit posing in the bottom of a ravine near the Des Moines Highway.
"He used the grave site of a murder victim for personal ambition," he says.
Meanwhile, his opponents, Bellevue Councilman Conrad Lee, State Sen. Luke Esser and (now GOP State Chairman) Diane Tebelius were lucky if they made page B-1 with their little coffee klatches, blah-blah press releases, and cheesy meet & greets.
(Chasing the Devil was neither a literary nor a popular success. P-I books critic, John Marshall wrote that Reichert painted himself as "muscular, charismatic, devoutly Christian, a dogged mix of Dudley Do-Right and the Lone Ranger." Not exactly a bestseller: you can now buy a like new copy on Amazon for $1.74.)
Although otherwise a failure, his book as a political instrument was inspired. Media was flooded with pictures of the sheriff in a hunky muscle shirt sifting for bones at a body dump site, or in full Sheriffian regalia sternly leaning into and staring down the cowering serial killer from across a table. Reichert won the primary easily and got a tremendous knee-up in the November election.
(There's his hair. It's magnificent. Dave Ross told us: "He's got great hair, he's acknowledged he's got great hair." He's known in legal circles as "Sheriff Hairspray." [Reichert's hair]... is always ready for the next photo opportunity," says Prothero).
"My standing orders were that we were going to campaign on issues," says Dave Ross. "Rumors I got about Dave or the Green River killer or the release of the book- we weren't going to touch them."
But there's more than a little résumé inflation going on in Chasing the Devil. There's some obfuscatin'. Reichert had been "lead detective" in 1982 as the first bodies surfaced in and around the Green River. His book, however, would let you believe he held the title until 1990, never mentioning that several other detectives led in later murders.
The book is more than three quarters done before he makes passing reference to the fact that the task force had commanders over the "lead detectives." Former Detective Bob Keppel told the P-I, Reichert was "one detective among many," and never led discussions about the direction of the task force as a true leader would have.
Actually, he had little to do with the investigation having left the task force in 1990 to climb the bureaucratic ladder in the Sheriff's Department. What's more, these new accounts show how Reichert's tremendous ego was responsible for early police blunders that stalled the investigation and let Gary Ridgway continue killing for decades.
But great hair or not, "He got elected based on Green River, when in fact, he didn't solve it and he didn't win against Gary Ridgway," says Guillén."
The fact is: technology caught the killer, not Detective Reichert's dogged shoe-leather sleuthing as his press so dramatically implies. Even then, on Sheriff Reichert's watch, the saliva sample that could have busted Ridgway as early as 1996 when the DNA technology became available, was not tested until 2001.
Women died in that interim.
Read the creepiest parts in the next installment here.