Marcia Chapman's hand seemed to be waving in the river's current when Detective David Reichert first saw her partly clothed body on that Sunday afternoon, Aug. 15, 1982. It was a gruesome welcome to what would turn out to be the most harrowing case of the Seattle cop's career. In the water, beside the body of 31-year-old Chapman, was another body, that of 17-year-old Cynthia Hinds. She was naked, and like Chapman, she had been strangled. An hour earlier, Reichert had been coming home from church with his wife Julie and three small children. Now he was standing on the bank of the Green River thinking out the first steps in a murder investigation, trying to ignore the flies biting his skin.
Reichert tried to imagine the killer's movements. Where had the murderer dragged the bodies from? The grass beside the river grew up to six feet high; as Reichert searched the bank for the killer's route to the water, he seemed to make out a faint trail. He pushed through the undergrowth, looking for any bit of evidence that might have dropped on the ground, and suddenly found himself looking at a third body, that of Opal Mills, 16. She was lying face down, a pair of blue slacks knotted around her neck. Her bra had been pulled up to expose her breasts; there were bruises all along her arms and legs. "I've got another one!" Reichert shouted to the other cops by the river. When the medical examiner arrived, he estimated that Chapman had been in the river about a week, Hinds several days. The body of Mills barely had traces of rigor mortis, suggesting she had been dead only a day or so; rigor mortis generally starts to wear off after 24 hours.
For the next two decades, investigating these deaths would become Reichert's life. The man whom cops would call the Green River Killer was to murder at least 49 women. Some investigators think he killed as many as 90, which, if true, would make him the biggest serial murderer in U.S. history. At his peak in '83, he was murdering as many as five women a month.
Catching the Green River Killer became an obsessive personal quest for Reichert. For nearly 20 years, not a day went by when he didn't think of his adversary, out there somewhere, watching, tracking the investigation, taunting the cops with his macabre theatrical positioning of the bodies, growing more self-confident the longer Reichert couldn't find him. For the deeply religious detective, it was like a long journey through hell. Says Reichert: "I would come home after finding a 15-year-old girl, melting flesh off her face, body falling apart, the stench of rotting flesh--these are the memories that float to the top."
Last month Reichert's journey through hell seemed to come to an end. On April 15, King County prosecutor Norm Maleng announced that he will seek the death penalty in the prosecution of Gary Leon Ridgway, 53, a married man who worked in a local truck-manufacturing plant. He was arrested last November for four of the Green River murders. He is accused of killing Chapman, Hinds and Mills, as well as Carol Christensen, whose body was discovered in 1983.