"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.
Frank Atchley, who supervised Reichert in the 1980s, told the P-I that Reichert "actually was more of an impediment to the investigation. He was probably the worst detective I've ever worked with," Atchley said. "He developed tunnel vision."
He's talking about Reichert's lock on one suspect: an ornery cab driver named Melvyn Foster. They had butted heads in an interview early on and Guillén writes, "... an acrimony developed that seemed to taint Reichert's judgment on Foster's viability as a suspect for years." He was so convinced of Foster's guilt, the task force focus disasterously excluded everyone else.
Prothero says, "Reichert was obsessed." Records given the defense show that Foster preoccupied Reichert. He had him followed, searched his property, even consulted self-proclaimed psychic Barbara Kubik-Patton, an acquaintance of Foster's who reported such minutiae as what the cabbie had eaten for breakfast- all of which was meticulously recorded in Reichert's journal.
"Foster successfully pushed Reichert's buttons," says Guillén, "in the end, his ego and stubbornness railroaded the investigation at its most critical time." When they couldn't develop a case against the cabbie, the police had no other viable suspects, so they disbanded the task force; thus crippling the investigation and leaving it seriously undermanned.
It took years to eliminate Foster, according to Guillén, and "... the damage had been done. Valuable time and resources were wasted while the killings continued."
There were more screw-ups under Reichert's lead. "It had been Reichert," writes Prothero, "who had been at the Green River the day that Debra Bonner's body had been found... [and] had discovered Opal Mills' body... three days later when it was too late to put surveillance up around the river area..."
Debra Bonner's body had been found in the Green River Aug. 12, 1982, but Reichert failed to stake out the area until too it was late to catch Ridgway who dumped Opal Mills' body there three days later. According to Prothero, the surveillance was not established until Aug.15- not three days earlier as Reichert implies in his book.
When not kissing its ass or trying to manage the news, Reichert has always been quick to scapegoat the media. Reichert blames KIRO TV for blowing that stake-out with their helicopters when actually, there was never any surveillance until after the second body was found.
"This failure, of course" writes Prothero, "opened the way for the later victimization of nearly 65 women at the hands of a killer they had failed to watch out for at a time when it might have done some good."
No small part of this was because of Reichert's insistence that Debbie Bonner's killing was not connected to the earlier murder of Wendy Coffield. This was later acknowledged by task force commanders as one of the most critical failures in the whole investigation.
"Dave Reichert," says Guillén, "has always had a big ego and an attitude of 'you do it my way or it's not going to get done.'"
After they caught Ridgway, a truck painter at PACCAR with an IQ of 82, defense attorneys made a deal with Prosecutor Norm Maleng: For Gary's giving up the locations of 47 bodies, they'd spare him from the death penalty. It was a politically brave and controversial decision on Republican Maleng's part and Reichert, to his credit, supported it.
Installed in a secret bunker, the task force began a long interrogation- difficult because a) Gary was a lying sack of shit, and b) he was stupid to boot. Prothero says he did some things from time to time to throw the task force off, but it was more luck than anything. "Wily? It's a stretch to get to that."
All manner of tactics were used, and eventually the cops and prosecutors got most of what Gary had, but it was hard work. Throughout the months, he had memory lapses, and exasperated interrogators by stonewalling them about specifics and motives behind his horrific debauchery against the women both before and after he killed them.
In one of the most craven of his political moves, Reichert, hair shining brilliantly, and resplendent in his sheriff's suit, interrogated Ridgway one on one, eyeball to eyeball; making it a point to be the last cop to question the vicious, murdering, dim-witted necrophiliac. The video was rolling.
"He was not there to gain anything substantive," says Prothero. "This was just an opportunity for Reichert to get those sound and video bites memorialized."
Reichert really hoped he might get a headline out of Gary. With cameras catching every word, he used every technique he knew- and a few he thought up on the spot to pry something new out of Gary. "We saw the whole spectrum," says Prothero, "the weird, the normal, the abnormal; the easy-going, the intense."
The sheriff used every technique except one that worked.
Ridgway is a dull chameleon-like nebbish whose life's MO was to camouflage himself by saying whatever he thought it took to please whomever he was talking to- which is one of the reasons he was so successful killing so long and prolifically without being caught. He melted into whatever landscape he inhabited, then had sex with it, strangled it, and dumped it somewhere.
Playing good cop, and bad cop often on the same day, Reichert plunged in, alternating between accusing Gary of lying and puffing him up for eluding them for so long. He tried to bond with Gary- after all, they had lots in common- both dyslexic and liked chicks; both raised in South King County by domineering mothers.
When this didn't work, Reichert incredibly tried to make Gary
jealous by saying he'd go out with Gary's wife after he was in prison.
"It was just gratuitous on Reichert's part, ridiculous," says Prothero, who watched it on live video from another room. "He was tormenting the captive by rubbing salt in the wounds."
At one memorable point, photographed for posterity and future political use, Reichert locked eyes with Gary, leaned in and tried to stare him down. Politically, it was again inspired, as an interrogation technique, it was a mistake. Ridgway had already bartered for his life; he had nothing to lose.
Guillén says: "Serial killers live inside themselves for years. They're used to staring at walls, staring at women, staring at police. Gary just sat there and went back into his personality with his horrid secrets as he'd always done. It was an amateurish approach and it was imprudent for Reichert to use it with a hardened criminal." Reichert was the one who blinked.
He tried hellfire. "... what you've done is you just sentenced yourself to eternal life in hell, he yelled. Your ass is just gonna burn the rest 'a your life... have you read Revelation? ... You ought'a read the Book a' Revelation. Not only will you be on fire, but you're gonna have sores and stuff happenin' all over your body..."
Guillén says Reichert at times seemed to be begging for just one little revelation.
When Jesus didn't work, Reichert took a lower road. It was just as unsuccessful and exposed a kinky and voyeuristic side to the born-again Christian sheriff. Trying to be "like two guys in a bar," Reichert suggested grotesque scenarios that even seemed to take America's worst serial killer by surprise. He asked Ridgway if he'd ever considered cutting anything off the bodies, and keeping them in his freezer. 'No," said Gary, "I never have." But Reichert wanted to joke about that and Gary, always agreeable, played along.
Reichert: Plus, your wife when, uh, open up a freezer and see a boob in there... Wouldn't be good?
Ridgway: Or a, or a clitoris in there, a couple of them, you know.
Reichert: You'd have a lot of explaining to do?
"The sheriff made the suggestions of things to do to the bodies, not Gary." says Guillén. "Gary was the straight man with Reichert providing very inappropriate one-liners," Guillén said.
At another low point in his very unorthodox questioning, Reichert asked Gary if he ever played doctor with the neighborhood girls growing up. Ridgway allowed that he had with a cousin, saying he gave her a penny to see her "what her vagina looked like."
"Big spender," Reichert laughs. "She was your first hooker- did you ever think of that?"
"That was a very ugly, unChristian side of Reichert," says Guillén, "he turns an innocent little girl, a victim of Gary, into a hooker."
These creepy conversations and more can be seen on videos the Seattle Weekly posted with Guillén's authoritative account of the interrogations.
Criticizing the investigation is second-guessing for sure. But Reichert, unlike the rest of the hard-working cops who did the best they could in a difficult case, based a political career on revisionist public relations images of him as being almost singlehandedly responsible for the "capture." The P-I story reveals the professional resentment over Reichert's blatant grandstanding.
"I frankly didn't see what catching the Green River killer had to do with serving in Congress," Dave Ross told us. We'd have to agree, yet that narrative, as incomplete and exaggerated as it is, served Dave Reichert well in his campaign.
If Reichert had more to offer as a public servant, had more of a record to point to after one term, this long ride he's taken on the old murder case wouldn't be of much interest, no matter how disingenuous it was.
But because he continues to use it as the centerpiece of an otherwise drab congressional record, we think the public should know the real story.