GREEN RIVER, RUNNING RED begins on the inside front cover. Ann Rule, the author of this horrifying work, has laid out pictures of the Green River victims. If you look closely, you can see the hardened looks, the haunted eyes, the occasional mug shot pose chronicling a life of wrong turns. Yet the Yiddish proverb comes to mind, something about the bitterest life being preferable to the sweetest death. Just so. The death of each of these souls was anything but sweet.
GREEN RIVER, RUNNING RED is the chronicle of what came to be known as the Green River murders, a series of more than 49 horrific deaths occurring in the Seattle, Washington area during a period lasting over 20 years. It is much more than a true crime book or the tale of a murder investigation. Rule puts a human face and circumstance upon each of the victims, or at least as many of them as possible. Their stories for the most part are at once roughly similar and sadly different, chronicling how fate and circumstance put each of them on a collision course with a monster. Rule does yeoman's work here, doggedly presenting the background of each victim in the roughly chronological order of their disappearance.
The majority of the unfortunate souls who had a fateful last encounter with Gary Ridgway were street prostitutes, people whose transient lifestyles practically guaranteed that they would be missed by few, if any. The names of some of the victims may indeed never be known. But the most chilling element of GREEN RIVER, RUNNING RED, as might be expected, is Ridgway himself. Rule attempts to give Ridgway a human face as well, exploring his childhood, his family circumstances, and the facets of his personality --- not in some misguided liberal attempt to elicit sympathy for him or to excuse his deeds as the result of early trauma, but to answer the "why" of his actions. To say that she is ultimately unsuccessful in this effort is not a criticism. His actions, by any reasonable definition, are inexplicable.
But what cannot be ignored or understated is the dogged, persistent efforts of the Green River Task Force, who sought to bring the murderer to justice in a race against time, money, and occasionally the very community that they were attempting to protect. As Rule notes, the painstaking documentation of each murder performed by the early members of the task force enabled the agency to later bring Ridgway to justice. Technology ultimately caught up with Ridgway; physical evidence present at the scene of several of the murders inarguably linked him to the deaths of several women and ultimately led to his admission of many other murders. The work of the task force, however, continues; although Ridgway has been brought to justice, it is universally believed that he has murdered more individuals than he has admitted.
The most frightening aspect of the events described here is unstated. What happened to these young women can happen to anyone's daughter. To believe otherwise is a dangerous, delusional conceit. Many of the young women were in harm's way as the end result of drugs, temptations and, though it may sound trite, the evil of bad companions. A few of the victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, nothing more, nothing less. But none of them in any way deserved the harm that came to them; that is the true horror of the events recounted in GREEN RIVER, RUNNING RED.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011