"It's one thing to write a hero [for a movie]. It's different to be a real hero. That's what David Reichert is. It's slightly intimidating to play him when you know the breadth of his accomplishments, but we had a great group of people to help bring it to life. We knew we had to live up to Congressman Reichert's actions. We knew what a hero he was. The real challenge was trying to live up to that." ~~ actor Tom Cavanagh (above right)
"[Dave Reichert] desecrated the victims. The public ought to know that," says Seattle University journalism and criminal justice Professor Tomás Guillén.
The pristinely coiffed sheriff (above left with the actor who plays him) is portrayed as the dogged cop who got the Green River killer in The Capture of the Green River Killer, airing Sunday and Monday nights on the Lifetime Movie Network.
Guillen is describing Republican 8th District Congressman Reichert, known in local law enforcement as 'Sheriff Hairspray' -- and for his manipulation of the Green River murder investigation in order to climb up into party politics.
The movie will keep alive the Reichert-stoked myth that his police work and determination was responsible for the arrest of Gary Ridgway.
Many argue the opposite is true.
Coincidentally, as this TV movie potboiler is released, Reichert is in political trouble. His 2006 challenger, Darcy Burner came from nowhere to within a few points of beating him despite millions raised national Republicans and visits by President Bush, Laura, Bush, John McCain and Karl Rove.
(And glory be! We just found out that $5000 donated to Sheriff Dave's campaign this cycle from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association is where, we're told, the executives at the Lifetime Network donated tons of money this year).
Burner's running again, and despite another visit by Bush, has has out-fundraised him for the last three quarters.
But this ain't the first time the myth has been massaged to coincide with Reichert's career advancement or a political campaign.
The movie is based on his self-reverential book, Chasing the Devil, the release of which in late July, 2004 was exquisitely synched-up with his primary campaign in a crowded Republican field anxious to replace the retiring Jennifer Dunn.
Bolstered by his publisher's marketing and his own political campaign, the book made for 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 (every hair present and accounted for) talking about "capturing" the killer.
Although Chasing the Devil was a great political instrument, it
was neither a literary nor a popular success. Not exactly a bestseller: you can now buy a like-new copy on
Amazon for $1.74. (We did, and wouldn't recommend it.)
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."
"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," says Guillén.
Although the Sheriff told the P-I's Vanessa Ho last week he's troubled about the potential artistic license of the movie, and worried about how it would tell "such a personal, complex and horrific story, which culminated with Ridgway pleading guilty to killing 48 women and girls."
Reichert told Ho he was paid "less than six figures -- much of it went to charity." Jeez, those are mightily carefully chosen words to describe the amount he was paid for what is a mighty piece of slobbering, free, campaign media. Hell, it coulda been $99,999.99! And "much" to charity? not all or even most for -- if you believe his hype -- simply doing his job as a paid public servant?
(We hope he gave a little to detectives like Randy Mullinax, who arrested Ridgway,and is barely mentioned in the movie; or to Tom Jensen, the cop who actually submitted the DNA evidence in 2001 leading to the arrest. He's left out completely).
Reichert hasn't always been so modest when portraying himself; nor has he been so troubled about how his campaign has portrayed his role in the case. Known in Congress as "The Man from Green River," he 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 proclaims it every time he opens his mouth in public.
Why is Reichert against choice for women? When asked, he's told an interviewer: "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."
"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 who covered the Green River story for the Seattle Times from its beginnings and has written two books on the subject.
Fact is: technology caught the killer, not Detective Reichert's
dogged shoe-leather sleuthing as this movie and 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.
His 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, published 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.
Women died in the interim.
As a political instrument, his book was inspired. Media was flooded with pictures of the sheriff in a 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 2004 general election.
(His hair will never not be a big part of his political persona.
It's magnificent. KIRO talk host Dave Ross who lost to Reichert in 2004
told us: "He's got great hair, he's acknowledged he's got great hair."
"[Reichert's] hair, says Mark Prothero, the killer's attorney who wrote, Defending Gary) "is always ready for the next
"My standing orders were that we were going to campaign on issues," says 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', too. 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.
Reichert's record as sheriff was exposed in devastating reporting by the P-I's Lewis Kamb in 2006 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 piece, preferring to answer the reporter's questions in writing.
The people around the case use strong adjectives to describe the former Sheriff's professional behavior: manipulative, self-serving, amateurish, ambitious, creepy, bungling, inappropriate, opportunistic, egotistical, voyeuristic, and stubborn. Very different from the descriptives we've been hearing for years from him: heroic, gracious, sensitive, muscular, chivalrous, well-mannered, brave, clean and reverent. We would add: dishonest.
Voters will have another chance to decide in November.