Ted Bundy was a consultant to the Green River Task Force.
That role, in fact, provides much of the grist - and explains the odd name - for the latest book about serial killings in the Pacific Northwest.
It is called, “The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer.”
Written by Robert Keppel, a former King County homicide detective and now chief criminal investigator for the state attorney general’s office, the book gives an inside-the-investigations view of crimes that transfixed the Seattle area for two decades.
The theme is based on an unusual relationship that Keppel developed with Bundy, who was executed in Florida in 1989, but it is just one of countless head-shaking disclosures throughout the book.
“It’s a book about my life,” Keppel says. “I had a lot of fun doing it, but it was a struggle.”
Keppel started talking to Bundy in Florida in November 1984, after receiving a startling letter described on Page 198.
“One day in October 1984, I was buried in a pile of paperwork on my desk. I looked up to see Detective Ed Striedinger of the Seattle Police Department. He had retrieved a letter from a judge in Pierce County who wanted it delivered to task-force staff. It was a letter from a ‘wanna-be’ consultant and the most unlikely person I ever expected to be of assistance in the Green River murders. The letter came from a cell on death row in Florida; the sender was Theodore Robert Bundy. I was stunned,” Keppel writes.
What followed was a series of meetings with Bundy, Keppel and Dave Reichert, then a King County police detective, in which Bundy offered an unparalleled view into serial killers and his ideas on how to catch them.
The suggestions included having a “slasher film festival,” showing violent movies and watching everyone who attended and setting up surveillances, based on his own experiences: It turned out that Bundy often went back to the scenes of his crimes, picking up evidence in parking lots while police watched, decapitating victims and moving their body parts around, driving back along Highway 18 near Issaquah to retrieve things he had thrown from his Volkswagen.
The name, “The Riverman,” came from Bundy’s own label for the Green River killer.
“Ted called the whole business about when, where and how the Riverman abducted his victims the ‘front end’ process … (what) Ted called the ‘back end’ process was just the opposite … the sites were much less of a mystery and, not coincidentally, offered us the best clues and trap to catch our man red-handed,” Keppel writes.
Police did try surveillance, with disappointing results, which has been reported, although Keppel provides his own analysis.
“King County police set up surveillance vehicles in several locations along the Green River … but the vehicles were not concealed from the hovering helicopter of one of the television channels in Seattle, which quickly became the Green River killer’s eye in the sky,” Keppel writes.
That is one of the kinder remarks Keppel makes about reporters. “The press creates its own magnified image of an event. … In the throes of a high-profile case, police officials find themselves constantly in a corner, obligated to say something new every day. The feature stories are almost predictable. At first, the columns cover the known facts … when interesting facts dwindle, it’s as if someone tosses a match into a volatile mixture … ultimately, editorials criticizing an apparent lack of effort on the part of police authorities cap off the coverage.”
Keppel is just as hard on his own profession.
“Most of the homicide-behavioral theorists on the case, especially the hot dogs from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, expected that any day a crazy psycho would be found running down the street with a bloody knife in his mouth … they did not go for the subtlety of the murderer’s methods,” he writes.
Keppel tells of early computer efforts to catch Bundy, of how the names of 41,000 registered owners of Volkswagens and 3,500 names of possible suspects in the so-called “Ted killings” were used to try to solve the murders first detected in 1974.
Finally, more than 300,000 names were sorted, and in a famous incident that has been related, Bundy’s name came up as the seventh top suspect; he was arrested by a Utah highway patrolman before Seattle detectives could talk to him, but the computer had identified him.
Other disclosures include telling how the last thing Georgann Hawkins talked about before she was killed in 1974 was how she had to take a Spanish test the next day at the UW, and how she used a safety pin to hold up too-loose bell-bottoms; it was how Bundy knew about the safety pin that convinced Keppel he really was her killer.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter