Green River link to local slayings?

By Scott North

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Snohomish County detectives don’t know whether the Green River killer was ever active here, but they hope to find out soon.

The arrest of an Auburn man now charged in King County with four killings attributed to the prolific serial murderer has Snohomish County detectives dusting off dozens of unsolved murder cases here, some dating back to the early 1980s, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen said Friday.

At this point, there is no known Snohomish County link to Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, a truck painter who is now facing four counts of aggravated murder, but plans are in the works to meet with detectives assigned to his case, Jorgensen said.

"We’ve been in contact by phone, but no meetings have been set up," she said. "At this point we have no reason to believe that any of our cases are associated with Mr. Ridgway. However, we are in contact with the King County Sheriff’s Office and we do plan on discussing our cases with them. We are not going to discount any possibility."

The Green River killings get their name from the south King County watercourse where the dumping of murder victim bodies first alerted King County investigators that a serial killer was afoot. A total of 49 murders of young women were attributed to the killer between 1982 and 1984.

Snohomish County has long been a dumping ground for murder victims, many from King County.

In 1991, detectives openly discussed the possibility that some murders here could be the work of the Green River killer.

Tom Greene, then-sergeant in charge of homicide investigations for the sheriff’s office, had his detectives meet with Green River experts in April 1991 to compare notes about unsolved murders.

At the time, Greene said two killings in particular shared similarities with Green River cases: the 1988 deaths of Jennifer Anne Burnetto, 32 and Robin Maria Kenworthy, 20, whose bodies were found partially buried in remote areas near Index.

Both women lived in the Seattle-Tacoma area. They had been involved in drugs and prostitution in King County and had other aspects of their lives that fit the profile of known Green River victims.

"There are some similarities and there are some dissimilarities in our cases," Greene said at the time. "Not all of our cases should be considered potentials for the Green River killer. But some of them are."

No suspects were ever publicly identified in the Kenworthy or Burnetto killings. One of the few potential leads came in May 1990, when a couple driving along a lonely mountain road northeast of Index spotted a man near where the victims’ bodies had earlier been dumped.

The motorists said they spotted a limp woman’s hand and arm sticking out of the Jeep-type vehicle the man was driving.

The man was obviously startled. He apparently hadn’t heard the approaching car because of a fast-moving creek nearby.

The couple was disturbed enough by the encounter that they contacted police. A sheriff’s artist prepared a sketch and a search was conducted in the area of the sighting, but no evidence was found.

The man was described as white, in his late 30s to early 40s, with a stocky build and a bushy mustache.

Detectives said they suspected links between the sighting and the earlier killings, but they had no hard evidence.

Investigators say Ridgway is linked to the killings he is now charged with through DNA and alleged circumstantial evidence. A suspect in the case since 1984, Ridgway was known to have contact with several other victims on the Green River list, and investigators are looking at all 49 deaths, plus more than 40 other unsolved killings in the region.

Authorities won’t say whether they think the Green River killer is responsible for any deaths beyond 1984, but the arrest has prompted investigators in San Diego, Calif., and Vancouver, British Columbia, to review files on scores of slain women for possible links.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431

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