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Washington Voices

CV star Bob Keppel found success on track, life

Sat., Sept. 15, 2012


As a high school track star, Bob Keppel set the bar high and then set about clearing it.

The former Central Valley High School high jump standout did the same in his professional life. And the heights he reached in both aspects of his life make the 1962 graduate a member of the school’s Wall of Fame class of 2012.

He is one of nine members, along with the school’s 1982 girls state championship cross country team, who were enshrined during ceremonies at halftime of last night’s Central Valley home football game.

Keppel long held the school’s high jump record, clearing a Spokane City League record 6-feet, 5½ inch jump. At Washington State University, he won the Pacific 8 title as a senior in 1966 with a jump of 6-9, but saved his best height for a post-graduation all-comers meet at Shadle Park High School in 1969: 7-0.

His professional accomplishments in law enforcement are equally legendary. As a King County homicide detective, he helped track serial killers Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway. His contributions to the fields of criminology and forensic science, especially in pursuit of serial murderers, are substantial – and on-going as he teaches criminal justice to a new generation.

Keppel wasn’t initially drawn to track and field. In fact, if his eyesight had been better, he might have never taken the sport up.

“I played baseball with my friends,” he said. “But didn’t see all that well and didn’t know it. I was in the third grade and we were running out to practice one day when the coach pointed to the track area and told me to give that sport a try.”

Keppel found the high jump to be a perfect fit, even at that early age. Despite being just 4-10 at the start of his career at North Pines Junior High, he was already jumping almost a full foot higher than his height, clearing 5-9.

“I was good at jumping over my head,” he said. “I wasn’t all that tall in those days, but I figured if I ever grew up to be 6 feet tall, I could really do something with the high jump. And I did make it to 6 feet tall.”

With an assist from his grandfather, who bought the school a state-of-the-art takeoff area on the track for his senior season, Keppel had a record-breaking spring after earning first-team all-league honors in basketball, helping the coach Ray Thacker’s Bears to an undefeated regular season and a sixth-place state trophy.

“Before my senior year, the takeoff area was just dirt and grass,” Keppel said. “If it rained it was muddy and slippery. My grandfather purchased a new takeoff for us. It was a rubberized asphalt – it was the first of its kind in the area.”

Armed with sure footing on his home field, Keppel set school and league records in his event, winning the state title by clearing 6-3.

Keppel refined his technique at WSU, where he cleared 6-10 in competition before winning the conference championship as a senior.

“We didn’t go over the bar backwards the way they do today,” he said. “That didn’t come along until I was in college. I jumped using what we called the “straddle roll,” where you go up and roll yourself over the bar.”

During Keppel’s time as a Cougar, he jumped against Oregon’s Dick Fosbury, the pre-eminent jumper to use the new backward jumping style – a technique that still bears his name: the Fosbury Flop.

“I jumped against him several times,” Keppel said. “And I never lost to him. Of course, he went on to win the Olympics in 1968.”

His personal best jump is particularly impressive because of his jumping technique. The first high jumper to officially clear 7-feet was American Charles Dumas, who accomplished that height at the 1956 Olympic Trials.

A career in law enforcement was pretty much set early, Keppel recalled.

“My dad had been a deputy sheriff and a store detective and a number of other jobs in law enforcement,” he said. “It just seemed pretty natural for me to go that direction.

“I think high jumping did help. For one thing, the bad guys couldn’t run away from me. My partner and I had a guy try to run away from us one day. I took off, leaped over a 6-foot fence and was waiting for him when he came over the fence. He couldn’t believe that a cop could do that.”

In his first week as a homicide detective for the King County Sheriff’s Department, Keppel found himself investigating the “Ted Murders.” Keppel and Bundy corresponded, and the detective interviewed Bundy extensively before his execution, in part to help prepare a profile of the Green River killer. Keppel got Bundy to admit to several additional murders prior to his death.

In addition to writing numerous papers and textbooks, Keppel’s book, “The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer,” was later made into a 2004 TV movie.

Since retiring as chief criminal investigator for the Washington state attorney general’s office, Keppel, who earned his Ph.D in criminal justice from the University of Washington, has taught at several universities, telecommuting from his home in Bellevue. He currently teaches at the University of New Haven.

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