As a longtime Northwesterner, I’m not sure whether I can adequately communicate to nonresidents (or, indeed, recently arrived transplants) just how much of a bombshell this is.
I was just entering junior high when the bodies started turning up. It kept going through my teenage years, until the Green River Killer had become this looming, leering, invisible but unmistakably malevolent presence in all of our lives. Eventually the killings stopped – or, perhaps, moved to Vancouver – but the fact that they remained unsolved was like an unwashed bloodstain on our collective unconscious.
And now they may have caught the guy. I emphasize may, because we’ve lived with this boogeyman for so long it’s almost impossible to believe the nightmare might have ended. But based on the evidence that has been released, it’s fair to say the police think they’ve broken this thing wide open.
To answer your question, carnivorous plant, they took the saliva sample back in 1987 before there really was such a thing as DNA testing. Initially, they were talking about a blood type, but the refrain in the local reporting has been that they took a biological sample with the primary intention of storing it away and hoping the testing and matching technology would improve over the years. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. They did some DNA testing of other samples from other suspects back a couple of years ago, trying to match it to trace amounts of semen lifted from three of the victims, but got nothing conclusive. It’s only very recently that DNA technology has improved to the point that the saliva sample taken fourteen years ago could be reliably tested.
According to the reports, they got a conclusive semen-saliva match for not just one of the victims, but for three. In forensics, I assume, that qualifies as a home run. You hope for one match and cross your fingers for two, but then unexpectedly you get three solid matches, and all of a sudden the case goes from a lurking, insoluble horror to a near-certainty of impending closure. They immediately put the guy under surveillance, and have been watching him for the last couple of months. They didn’t want to rush things; they kept their bases covered. If this guy was in fact the Green River Killer, and they screwed it up – either by leaping to conclusions and making an erroneous arrest, or by messing up on procedure and letting the guy walk away – they knew they’d never be able to face themselves in the mirror again.
And then, two weeks ago, while the suspect was under surveillance, he was arrested for soliciting an undercover officer posing as a prostitute. In other words, the guy they thought was the notorious prostitute murderer was still out there, trolling the strip. One of the cops was quoted on TV last night, saying something to the effect that “this understandably caused us to acclerate our timetable.” Yeah, I bet it did.
Anyway, I’m rambling, because this is so momentous. Being a longtime resident of the Northwest, this has been part of me for so long I wasn’t even conscious of it until yesterday. (My wife, who grew up in Chicago, says she had similar feelings about John Wayne Gacy.) And now, all of a sudden, it’s as though I’ve had a knife pulled out of me, a knife that’s been stuck in my heart for years and years without my really knowing it was there. I never had any connection to any of the victims, but just living here for as long as I have, I’ve been sharing with other longtimers some sort of generalized dread, a fear of some mysterious and almost preternaturally evasive demonic force. This really is an incredible development.
I fervently hope the police have gotten this right, and that they have, indeed, after all this time, caught the one responsible. We in the Northwest have had an extraordinarily rough couple of years, with WTO and Mardi Gras riots, a major earthquake, the departure of Boeing, ad nauseum. It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that an event of this magnitude might, all by itself, be responsible for changing the mood of the region. Maybe not permanently, but certainly noticeably.