Survivor’s Story Jack Olsen’s New Book Tells Of A Baffling Murder Case - Its Victims And Its Survivors
Mon., June 3, 1996
In the dictionary, next to the word “survivor,” the folks at Merriam Webster should insert a photograph of Elaine Gere.
After surviving the kidnap-murder of her daughter, the suicide of her husband, a seven-year-long struggle to bring her daughter’s killer to justice and enough financial uncertainty to sink the Federal Reserve, Gere deserves her place of honor.
Then again, the dictionary folks needn’t bother. Jack Olsen has already provided it for her.
“Salt of the Earth,” Olsen’s latest non-fiction study of contemporary crime, features Gere in a tale that the New York Times says “pulls you along irresistibly.”
The 70-year-old author of 26 books, including “Son: A Psychopath and His Victims,” “Predator” and “Cold Kill,” Olsen spent two and a half years researching and writing Gere’s story.
And forget the Times. Gere, a 50-year-old mother of two who lives in Coeur d’Alene, has paid Olsen’s book the greater compliment.
She still hasn’t read it all the way through.
“I tried for two days, and for those two days my eyes were red and my head was pounding,” she says. “I just had to put it down because it was like reliving it, just like going through it again from day one. And I couldn’t do it.”
Considering all the pain and heartbreak that occurred, once was more than enough.
“Salt of the Earth” involves nothing less than one of the most baffling murder cases ever to hit Seattle.
It began one afternoon in 1985 when 12-year-old Brenda Gere (pronounced Gary) disappeared from the rural Bothell house where she had been living with her parents and two younger brothers.
Though a search was begun within hours of her disappearance, her body wasn’t found until six years later.
But that wasn’t the most interesting aspect of the case.
“You’ve got a kid who disappears at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” Olsen says. “And by 6 o’clock in the evening, they know who did it. And by 10 o’clock in the evening, they’re talking to him. And he’s lying, and they know he’s lying.”
The suspect was one Michael Kay Green, a former University of Washington football player. Unemployed, Green had become a bodybuilder who, with the help of steroids, boasted the torso of a behemoth. It’s no surprise, then, that eyewitnesses remembered seeing him in Brenda Gere’s neighborhood.
Yet when police questioned him at the Mukilteo house he shared with his wife and her family, he told a conflicting story. When asked to show the clothes he had been wearing, he lied outright. When police checked the trunk of his car, they discovered it had been immaculately vacuumed.
“They knew,” Olsen says. “Everybody knew that Michael Green did something to Brenda and most likely killed her. And they couldn’t do anything about it.”
For Olsen, a father himself, the case struck a nerve.
“As a father, what’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?” he asks. “The murder of your child? Uh-uh, that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is the disappearance, protracted disappearance, of your child. For six years.”
It is what occurred during those six years, what transpired during the parental hell of waiting and wondering, that really interested Olsen in this particular story. For while Brenda’s mother found an inner strength that carried her through, Brenda’s father, Joe, gradually disintegrated to the point where, two and a half years after his daughter’s disappearance, he put a gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger.
“Did you ever hear that cliche, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you, strengthens you’? Well, that’s it,” Olsen says. “It killed Joe, but it strengthened Elaine.”
Ultimately, Brenda’s body was found. Green, already serving a sentence for rape, was being held at the Pine Lodge correctional facility near Medical Lake when murder charges came down.
He eventually was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life without parole. For a while, Green was serving his time at the prison in Walla Walla. Olsen says he is now being held in a psychiatric ward in Clallam Bay.
Gere, who has lived in the Northwest for the past decade, is originally a product of the West Coast’s other Inland Empire, that broad expanse of scrubland dead east of Los Angeles. Elaine grew up near Fontana - once known as the home of the Hell’s Angels.
She recalls Fontana as “an area that makes people strong.” In Olsen’s view, Gere - whom he describes as the salt of the earth of the book’s title - is an apt representative of that area.
It wasn’t until long after the crime had occurred, when Michael Green had been convicted and put away, that Olsen began looking into the case. No matter who he talked to, all fingers pointed in Gere’s direction.
The determined woman he finally met convinced him that he was onto something special.
And it convinced him to do something different with his book. Most of Olsen’s recent works are balanced efforts: Along with the respective crimes and criminals, he reports on the victims and how difficult it is for many of them to simply go on, much less resume their daily routines.
But “Salt of the Earth” is quite clearly Elaine Gere’s story. Green, Olsen’s obligatory psychopath, is treated merely as a bit player.
And if Gere is portrayed by Olsen as a unique character in the past, she continues to be one even now. In the years following her husband’s death, she has raised her two sons - Joe, 22, and Mike, 17 - working at various jobs while purchasing houses, fixing them up and selling them for profit.
Even while facing emotional obstacles that would have brought a saint to her knees, Gere never once considered giving up.
“I guess it’s the roots, you know, the family I had,” she says, searching for a way to explain the source of her strength. “It was just in the genes. And in the way I was raised. Basically, my mom was very positive. If something went wrong, she looked for the good things instead of the bad.”
She remains close with her sons. Strong family values were traits that she admired in her late husband, and they are something that she encourages with her sons. Joe, a senior in film studies at Montana State in Bozeman, plans to attend graduate school in San Diego. His mother and brother plan to move there, too.
Wherever they go, though, they’ll carry with them the Gere heart.
“I have the mental attitude that everybody should live every day as if it’s their last,” Elaine Gere says, “because none of us are immortal, and none of us know when our last day is going to be.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
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