A True Crime Story Like You’ve Never Seen Before

In 1982, the body of a young woman was discovered in Washington’s Green River. A few weeks later, the bodies of four more young women were discovered in the same area. All of them were sex workers or runaways. And they all had the same cause of death: strangulation. Over the next 20 years, the number of victims continued to grow. It wasn’t until 2001 that an arrest was finally made. Police charged Gary Ridgway with four counts of first-degree murder but suspected he was responsible for the other murders as well.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story is a graphic novel not about a serial killer, but the detective who spent two decades piecing clues together to finally solve the case of the Green River murders. Detective Tom Jensen was the driving force behind the investigation and with the advent of DNA, he was able to apprehend the killer. But four counts of murder wasn’t enough – he knew Ridgway had a much longer list of victims. He spent over 180 hours interviewing Ridgway, hoping he would reveal more clues about his crimes. Ultimately, in a plea deal to avoid the death penalty, Ridgway confessed to a total of 48 murders and pledged to show police the locations of undiscovered victims. The story is told through different points of time: the murders as they happen, the investigation of the crime scenes and the interactions with Ridgway after the arrest.

There is also a unique window into the personal toll all of this takes on Detective Jensen, as author Jeff Jensen is none other than the detective’s own son. He shows his father as someone who kept his work close to his chest while keeping a steadfast dedication to finding justice for the victims and their families. The stigma surrounding sex workers left the public generally unsympathetic to the crimes; however, Detective Jensen always saw the victims as young women whose lives were cut short. As much as he tried to keep his family separate from the case, the distress of investigating crime scene after crime scene eventually leaks out into his personal life. His entire family feels the weight of the investigation. At one point in the story, Ridgway casually mentions how foggy his memories of the crimes are, having killed so many young women it was hard for him to keep them all straight. Meanwhile, Detective Jensen’s memories of the victims are still so clear that they haunt him until this day.

Although some parts of the story are downright horrific to read, it is really a story about an ordinary man who helped bring closure to grieving families. In the end, Ridgway was convicted of 49 counts of first-degree murder but is suspected of killing up to 71 women between 1982 and 2001. He is currently serving multiple life sentences without parole, which would not have been possible without the relentless dedication of Detective Jensen.

Lesley L.
Library Assistant, John M. Harper Branch

Lesley fell in love with books years ago when her Mom introduced her to The Littles – a story about a miniature family that lived inside the walls of a house owned by the Biggs family. After that, she read anything she could get her hands on: Ramona the Pest, Nancy Drew and of course, The Baby-Sitters Club. Now Lesley works at the John M. Harper Branch as a Library Assistant, helping introduce children to a world of reading. Her favourite part of working in a library is connecting young readers with different kinds of materials – Playaways, magazines, non-fiction – reading comes in all forms!