Spate of charges cause experts to mull Pacific Northwest's killer record

Canadian Press

Saturday, May 18, 2002

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - For decades, women disappeared from the streets of the Pacific Northwest's largest cities. Fifty are gone from downtown Vancouver, B.C., about the same number from Seattle and its suburbs, and nearly a dozen from the streets of Spokane. Serial killers, some authorities said, were among us. In the past 22 months, the region has seen arrests in three long-standing, but separate, investigations.

Robert L. Yates Jr., of Spokane, Gary Leon Ridgway of Auburn and Robert Pickton of Port Coquitlam, B.C., just east of Vancouver, all face charges in disappearances that perplexed authorities for years.

It's probably just a coincidence that the three arrests came so close together, experts have said.

It can seem that the region has had more than its share of serial killings, including such notorious murderers as Ted Bundy, Kenneth Bianchi and child-killer Westley Allan Dodd.

"There's something about the Pacific Northwest that seems to breed serial killers," theorized Mark Fuhrman, the former Los Angeles detective of O.J. Simpson trial fame, who is a crime book author and radio talk show host in Spokane.

Fuhrman, who grew up near Seattle, said it could be the gloomy weather, a large victim pool and the abundant forests, which are good for hiding bodies.

Many of the disappearances involved in these three cases date back to the early 1980s and there is no sign that the number of repeat killers is increasing in the region, experts said.

The three recent cases share many similarities, including the age of the suspects and the types of victims, mostly prostitutes and drug addicts.

Yates, 49, has already pleaded guilty to 13 murders, and could face the death penalty for two more killings in the Tacoma area for which he is scheduled to be tried this summer.

Ridgway, 52, was arrested last November and has been charged with aggravated first-degree murder in the deaths of four of 49 women whose deaths were linked to the Green River killer in the early 1980s. Trial for Ridgway is likely years away.

Meanwhile, across the border in Port Coquitlam, Pickton, 52, has been charged with first-degree murder in the disappearance of six of 50 women from Vancouver's drug-plagued downtown east side since 1983. Officers began searching his rural pig farm in February.

Otwin Marinen, a criminal justice professor at Washington State University, rejected any suggestion that there is something peculiar about the region that lures or breeds such killers.

"Climate or the type of people or economics or demographics are not in any way linked to serial killers," Marinen said.

Still, Marinen said his research has found only 95 recorded cases in the last century in which one person was involved in at least 10 killings. That's a special category of psychopath known as a "super killer."

What isn't unusual is the fact that prostitutes were the main targets.

Bundy, of Seattle, was handsome and articulate and could charm women on college campuses into leaving with him, Marinen said. But that is a rare quality among such predators.

"The women most accessible to serial killers, in terms of getting them to come along with you, are sex workers," Marinen said.

Skrapec said people should remember that serial killers remain extremely rare.

"Less than two per cent of all victims of homicide in the United States are victims of multiple killers," she said.

Bundy, of Tacoma, confessed to 28 murders before he was executed in Florida's electric chair in 1989. Authorities believe that he actually killed closer to 40 women.

Bianchi, of Bellingham, Wash., strangled two Western Washington University students in 1979. He eventually pleaded guilty in their deaths and in the stranglings of five of 10 young women whose bodies were left on hillsides near Los Angeles, where he lived at the time. He is in prison.

Dodd had only three known victims, the bare minimum required under the FBI's description of a serial killer, but he was a particularly vicious predator.

In late 1989, Dodd tortured and murdered three little boys in a 10-week span near Vancouver, Wash. He was in the process of abducting a fourth child when he was captured.

Dodd was hanged in 1993 at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

The ultimate fates of Yates, Ridgway and Pickton are likely years from resolution. Their cases will be on television and in newspapers for years to come, Guillen said.

"Society is looking at these cases like novels," Guillen said. "Too often we don't stop to reflect on these cases, besides the number of victims and the blood and guts and the smell of the pig farm."

"Sociologically, these cases are an indication of a lot of problems."

 Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press



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