Sunday, December 26, 2010

Discovery of Green River victim a time to re-evaluate Reichert's resume

A few days ago the headlines in the local newspapers announced the discovery of the remains of Rebecca Marrero, who disappeared in 1982. The discovery managed to get Green River killer Gary Ridgway back in the news, and by default Dave Reichert. Reichert, of course, was the self-proclaimed “lead” detective on the Green River case, and to hear him and the media talk, solely responsible for bringing the serial killer to justice. Reichert, who later became King County Sheriff and thus less active in this pursuit, used his sudden fame to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Reichert can use all the helpful publicity he can get these days; his image as a “law and order” type, chasing down WTO protesters while the cameras are rolling, has been sufficient to titillate Eastside residents, but on the wider scale, even fellow Republicans see him as little more than another chalk mark on the party blackboard. Reichert has “great hair” of course, but underneath it is a rather surprising lack of comprehension of basic issues of public concern, repeatedly exposed by rambling, incomprehensible speeches in Congress. Reichert was once considered a possible candidate for governor, before he opened his mind; but even state Republican leaders knew that it’s a lot harder to fool people statewide than in right-wing 8th District’s Bellevue, Suburbia and rural areas.

Reichert isn’t as extreme as many of his Republican colleagues, but on the other hand he isn’t the “independent” he touted himself as when he tried to ride Barack Obama’s coat-tails in the 2008 election. In Congress he either votes against major legislation (the stimulus package, health care reform) or crosses party lines on “safe” issues like extending unemployment insurance when passage is a foregone conclusion. For this incoming Congress and its new Republican majority, one suspects that Reichert will be under more pressure to tow the anti-Obama line.

However, whenever anyone is on the verge of passing-out during one of his speeches or reading his legislative record, Reichert can be counted on to bring-up, ad nauseam, his “fame” as the hero of the Green River saga. In debates and interviews, Reichert can’t help but mention his connection to the case even when not asked. He was once asked why he is against abortion. “I have a great respect for life. I’ve seen a lot of death in career, worked Green River, seen lots of dead bodies.” And your point is??? Everyone likes a good crime story—except if it is a made-for-TV movie like Lifetime Channel’s “The Capture of the Green River Killer,” based (very loosely) on Reichert’s book “Chasing the Devil;” typical for Lifetime, it featured cheap fictionalized emotional detours intermixed with Reichert’s self-serving view of the proceedings, and received mostly bad reviews. Reichert’s book itself is mostly political propaganda, propping himself up while blaming others for the failure to capture Ridgway during the height of his murderous activities.

During the 2004 state primaries, few Republicans politicians supported Reichert’s run to replace the retiring Jennifer Dunn; just hearing him mish-mash the issues was enough. But Reichert had name recognition, the “great” hair, and a largely undeserved reputation. He went on to defeat his Democratic opponent Dave Ross, a man who made a career of examining the issues of the day and clearly superior intellectually than Reichert. But, as an ex-Republican politician was quoted in a 2006 Post-Intelligencer story said, the voters in the 8th District went with the “rock star.”

So we are left with the lingering question: “Is the basis for Dave Reichert’s stature a fraud?” The reason why one would dare pose such a question is why it took so long to nab Gary Ridgway when he was a tagged as a suspect a year into his killing spree. Today, law enforcement claims that they didn’t have the proper “technology” at the time, although that didn’t stop the apprehension of other serial killers like Ted Bundy. Perhaps a more significant issue was one that detective Frank Atchley brought up in the P-I story: Reichert "actually was more of an impediment to the investigation. He was probably the worst detective I've ever worked with.” It has been pointed out that Atchley did have an ax to grind with Reichert, who as sheriff denied Atchley promotion; Reichert, however, was no doubt aware of Atchley’ criticisms, and was perhaps being vindictive himself.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be mentioned in his book (or the movie) is that Reichert’s fellow detectives were frustrated by his refusal to take seriously the possibility that Ridgway should be a suspect at all. In his book, Reichert admits that most of the members of the Green River task force had strong suspicions of Ridgway; he just neglects to say that he wasn’t one of them. Although Ridgway passed a lie detector test, detectives other than Reichert didn’t place much credence in it; given Ridgway’s obvious substandard intellect (he had an IQ of 82), he probably didn’t understand the questions that were asked. Reichert, on the other hand, was fixated on a cab driver named Melvyn Foster. Reichert had received “positive” ratings for his work on the case, but those ratings were based on his ability to bond with victim’s families and their pain, not for his investigative abilities; he would blame a television news helicopter for foiling a stakeout in 1982, but in fact Reichert had wasted three days after the discovery of Debra Bonner’s body (the second to be found), before attempting the stakeout—too late to catch Ridgway dumping the body of Opal Mills. However, he was the perfect law enforcement “PR” man for grieving families while the murders were continuing--and a trait that suggests why Reichert targeted Foster and not Ridgway; Foster apparently offended Reichert’s sensitivities, since he was described as “ornery” and uncooperative in questioning. Ridgway, on the other hand, was “cooperative” and just seemed like a dumb nobody who was completely harmless—at least to Reichert. The original task force wasted considerable effort on Foster because of Reichert’s stubbornness, and eventually the force was disbanded since it had spent considerable manpower and funds with little to show for it.

Why should have Ridgway been the primary suspect? There are apparently at least two police reports that detail complaints from prostitutes that Ridgway either used choke-holds or tried to strangle them. A Port of Seattle police report in 1982 found Ridgway and a woman parked in a pick-up truck adjacent to a baseball field; the remains of the woman would be found only yards away. One detective, Matt Haney, noted that in 1983, another victim boarded a pick-up truck, which happened to catch the attention of her boyfriend, who followed the truck until he lost it at a stop light. The next day, he and his girlfriend’s father searched the area for the pick-up—and found it in Ridgway’s drive way. The woman, Maria Malvar, was never seen again. Her body was one of only four that were found with Ridgway’s “cooperation” after he pleaded guilty in exchange for avoiding a death sentence. Ridgway claims to have killed two-dozen other women beyond the current count—for a total of 71—although he hasn’t proved particularly helpful in finding their bodies. Reichert’s much ballyhooed “interview” with post-capture Ridgway was as justly criticized for its transparent grandstanding as it was for the lack of insight it elicited.

And this is the basis for Reichert’s notoriety, enough to convince just enough right-wing Eastside voters that he wasn’t just an empty suit with “great hair.” If people really looked at the facts, he would have been fortunate to be elected dog catcher.

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