In the 1980s, Seattle, Washington, was one of the most dangerous cities in the country. The reason? A serial murderer, dubbed the Green River Killer, had killed more than 80 women, leaving their naked bodies to rot in the woods. After a decade of work, the local police remained stymied in the investigation and, in 1990, put Tom Jensen in charge of the case.
Despite dead ends and false leads, Jensen never gave up hope in his quest to find the killer. He dedicated his career to the case, and his perseverance paid off. After a 20-year investigation, the detective finally heard Gary Leon Ridgway confess to the murder of dozens of prostitutes. Jensen sat across the table from Ridgway for 188 days in 2003, until he had the definitive proof he needed to put the Green River Killer away for life.
Jeff Jensen, senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, knows just a little bit about this case; he's the son of retired detective Tom Jensen. In Green River Killer: A True Detective Story, Jeff teams up with illustrator Jonathan Case to tell the story of Tom's journey to find the killer and give 84 families some peace and closure.
I don't know at what stage the designers or authors decided to go with the stark black-and-white drawings that make up this graphic book, but it was a brilliant move. The murders, the frustration of the police force, and the creepiness of Ridgway come across cleanly. The addition of color would have sensationalized the crimes and investigation, making it more difficult for the reader to connect emotionally. (Click the scan to see it full size; it's p. 27.)
Some of the more interesting aspects of the police work have to do with the incredible changes that have occurred in the last 30 years in terms of computers, DNA analysis, and forensics technology. Thanks to the long duration of the investigation, by the time Ridgway was caught, more than one crime scene had been transformed from woods to parking lot, the result of urban sprawl, increasing the difficulty of finding clues.
If the book has a flaw it's in the abrupt jumps in time from the present (2003) to past episodes in both the detective's and Ridgway's lives. Regardless, the story is fascinating, and it's easy to root for Tom Jensen. You'll read this illustrated history in a single sitting.
According to Jeff Jensen, The Green River Killer was "not intended as history or memoir." It is perhaps best read as a tribute to his father's career and to remind readers:
The Green River Killer's victims were prostitutes, but to their families they were daughters, sisters, and mothers.This is something that Detective Tom Jensen never forgot.
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