Why are there so many serial killers in the Northwest?
By Kirsten Kendrick and Amelia Greim
From Ted Bundy to Gary Ridgway, some of the most notorious murderers in our nation’s history committed their crimes in the Northwest.
While we may not have the most serial killers, we’ve certainly got that reputation. And that got us to wondering: Why are there so many serial killers in the Northwest?
In the 1990s, the cult TV show “Twin Peaks” was a quirky murder mystery set in a fictional Washington town, filmed in Snoqualmie and North Bend.
These days, Seattle is in the backdrop for the cable TV drama “The Killing” on AMC. Creator Veena Sud explains why she chose this setting.
“It’s a city of contrasts: light/dark … rain/sun. So, Seattle was the perfect metaphor for every character and the theme of the story because on the surface it’s this beautiful city but underneath there’s this really, kind of, interesting seedy, dark underbelly.”
Lock your doors, Bundy said
Perhaps Seattle first became known as having that dark underbelly in the early 1970s. That’s when serial killer Ted Bundy began his multi-state crime spree.
In a case that’s stranger than fiction – long before Bundy was linked to any of the killings – true crime writer Ann Rule worked beside him. They answered phones together at Seattle’s Suicide Hotline.
“And if anyone had told me then that I’d been locked up all night alone with possibly the most dangerous man to women in America, I would’ve thought you were crazy.”
She felt safe with him.
“And he would walk me to my car when my shift was over and he would say, ‘Ann, be sure your doors are locked. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you on the way home.’ ”
Even after the crisis hotline work, they stayed friends. Then, women started disappearing. In an odd twist, Rule had a book deal to write about the murders, not knowing her friend was committing them. But eventually, she started to see similarities and called police.
“I thought up to that point that I was really good at spotting (killers). But nobody is.”
Bundy tried to help catch Ridgway
Rule detailed her relationship with Bundy in her book “The Stranger Beside Me.”
Ted Bundy confessed to 30 murders – 11 in Washington state.
Another notorious murderer also responsible for putting Washington on the “national serial killer map” was a man known for two decades only as the Green River Killer. He murdered young women – mostly prostitutes – starting in the 1980s.
Dr. Bob Keppel was a main detective on the case in King County. He actually sat down with Ted Bundy on death row to talk about how to catch this new killer.
“He definitely wanted to assist with the Green River investigation. He was giving us hints about how to investigate people like him.”
In the end, Bundy wasn’t much help. Keppel detailed his interviews with Bundy in the book “The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer.”
Serial killer capital?
It wasn’t until 2001 that Gary Ridgway was arrested for the crimes. His guilty pleas to 49 murders make him the most prolific serial killer in the nation.
There’ve been others in the Northwest, including: Robert Lee Yates, Westley Allan Dodd and pig farmer Robert Pickton in British Columbia. Even California’s Hillside Strangler, Kenneth Bianchi, ended his murder spree in Bellingham.
It may seem like we have more serial killers here but Ann Rule says, in terms of raw numbers, that’s not the case.
“People think we’re the serial killer capital of the world, but we’re not.”
Rule and Keppel point out that places like California, Texas and New York have more serial killers than we do. However, per capita, the Northwest is high. That’s according to Dr. Steven Egger, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and author of the book “The Killers Among Us.”
“I would certainly say a higher concentration, geographically.”
That serial-killer ambiance
Egger believes the Northwest has a certain attraction for serial killers.
“Basically because of all the wilderness you have up there. You know, you have so many different places where bodies could be hidden.”
Lots of ravines and dark wooded areas.
Ann Rule says it may be that serial killings in the Northwest are heard about more, because detectives here are better at identifying patterns, thanks to the high profile cases of the past. And she adds:
“Serial killers are quite competitive. They take a certain pride in having the biggest toll. And maybe because we get so much publicity, maybe they come out here to where their heroes operated. It’s an awful thought, but I think that’s one of the things we have to consider.”
Then there are all those fictional portrayals that help keep our murderous reputation alive.