Ten years ago this month, my dad caught a serial killer.
From 1984 to 2001, my father, Detective Tom Jensen, hunted one of the worst mass murderers in history, Seattle’s so-called Green River Killer, responsible for the strangulation slayings of over 48 women. At first, my father was a member of a task force of detectives. Eventually, and by choice, he became the only detective working the case full-time. He privately referred to the investigation as “The Quest” – the choice of words inspired by the song “The Impossible Dream” from the musical The Man of La Mancha. “Privately,” because Dad rarely talked about the case with the family, never told us what it truly meant to him – not until it was over. In September of 2001, my father, using DNA technology, put a proper name on the Green River Killer: Gary Leon Ridgway, a seemingly mild mannered painter of commercial trucks. Ridgway was arrested in December 2001, and my father and his colleagues believed they had brought the Green River Killer to justice and brought an end to a nightmare that haunted Seattle for nearly 20 years. But a bizarre endgame still awaited them.
In 2008, I asked my father if I could dramatize his story in a slightly unusual fashion. I love comic books. My father, in fact, introduced me to comics when I was kid. So I wanted to write a graphic novel. The result is called Green River Killer: A True Detective Story, published by Dark Horse Comics.
Drawn by Jonathan Case, the book chronicles my father’s “quest” by focusing on five days in particular, beginning with June 13, 2003 – the day Gary Leon Ridgway was secretly removed from jail and relocated to the headquarters of the new Green River Task Force, where he would live down the hall from my father’s cubicle for the next 188 days. Ridgway had offered to plead guilty to the 48 murders – plus bring police to even more victims that they had never found – in exchange for life in prison. Of course, Ridgway would have to substantiate his claims by providing my father and his colleagues with anecdotal and physical evidence – a process that proved more difficult than anyone expected.
The following link will take you to an excerpt from Chapter Two, which toggles back and forth between an increasingly frustrated day of field trips with Ridgway and my father’s equally frustrating first year working the case, which culminated with his decision to devote himself to “The Quest,” no matter how long it took, or where it would take him.
A couple clarifying notes: In the first panel on the first page, the caption “You’re never going to catch him!” is the final beat of a flashback scene not shown. And as for the final page: At this time in the investigation, circa 1984/1985, each member of the task force worked a specific part of the case. By becoming adept at working the computer database, my father developed a deeper, broader understanding of the entire investigation, making him an ideal choice to become the sole full-time detective on the case when the task force disbanded in 1990.