Dark Horse Books has published a very unique read with “GREEN RIVER KILLER: A TRUE DETECTIVE STORY.” Here you will find an in-depth look at a case that would seem too shocking for explanation. When words seem to fail, that’s when you need them most. This book is a compelling arrangement of words by Jeff Jensen and pictures by Jonathan Case that take you to unexpected places in one of the most horrific crime stories of our time. This is the story of the author’s father, Tom Jensen, the detective who doggedly pursued the Green River Killer for twenty years and gathered the evidence to secure his conviction. This is also, remarkably, the story of the killer, Gary Ridgway.
We begin with a chilling vignette. It is 1965. Gary Ridgway is a slow-witted twenty-year-old trying to make friends with a boy half his age. The little boy, in his cowboy gear, invites Ridgway to play. Just as they begin to build a fort, Ridgway stabs him. The boy is left to bleed to death. He calls out, “Why did you do that?” Ridgway stares out and says, “I wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.” That scene would be hard enough to take in fiction but this really happened. In a crisp drawing style, with high contrast, Case coolly depicts the scene. Case has already locked in for us a window into Ridgway’s soul. There seems to be no soul, only that dull blank stare. We repeatedly must confront that empty response. It is that response, that same stupid inert look that Detective Jensen must try to understand and even accept.
Then we have another scene from 1965. This is Tom Jensen, a young man of eighteen, full of joy and promise. In short order, we see him join the Navy, marry his high school sweetheart and decide on career in police work. We jump to early ‘80s Seattle, Tom Jensen has gone from patrol work to detective work. A very strange case is emerging: a Jack the Ripper is loose. We see a cocky Jensen predict a swift capture. Another jump, and twenty years have passed. The panels show an older, still determined, Jensen finally down for the start of the most important interview of his life, the long series of talks with Gary Ridgway.
Two men’s lives: One is a sort of square good guy detective; the other is a killing machine. We go back and forth in each of their lives and how the two intersect. At the heart of it are a series of passages that show Ridgway in 2003, already a rat caught in a trap, cooperating with police in a plea arrangement. In order to avoid the death penalty, Ridgway is supposed to show where the bodies of his victims are buried. But he repeatedly leads Jensen and his men down dead ends. One man kills. The other investigates. One man agonizes over the deaths. The other seems immune to feeling anything. But, with some poetic license, mixed with the actual interviews, we see what might bring even Gary Ridgway to tears. It seems like his fuzzy memory, when it comes to helping the police, is pretty clear when he must answer to himself.
Was it worth it to the detective? Did Tom Jensen spend the better part of his career on a worthless lump of a human being? The bitter pill for Jensen to swallow was the fact that there would never be a full articulation from Ridgway on anything, let alone his soul. That realization must have been Jensen’s breaking point. When Ridgway seems to confront a basic truth about himself, it hits Jensen like a punch to the gut. Tom Jensen seemed more in tune to the reality of Gary Ridgway than Gary Ridgway. Jensen knew what mattered: finally finding the killer, finding the bodies, notifying the families, giving them closure and even, most ironic of all, giving Gary Ridgway some closure.