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Thursday, November 21, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Green River Killer Back? -- New Murders Show Some Similarities

Editor's note Tomas Guillen, along with former Seattle Times reporter Carlton Smith, is the author of a best-selling book, "The Search for the Green River Killer." He has been a Times reporter since 1980 and has covered the Green River murders case since the beginning.

At least 40 unsolved murders in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in the past eight years raise the strong possibility that the Green River killer or one or more other serial killers are slaying people here.

For years, King County police have contended that the Green River killer stopped killing here in early 1984. In King County alone, the bodies of 18 murder victims have since been found, six of them this year.

All but two of the 40 victims were women; many of them prostitutes or familiar with street life. Most of the bodies were left in wooded areas. All the Green River killer's victims were women, many of them prostitutes or wise to street life, and their remains often were also found in wooded areas.

The possibility that a serial killer or killers could be at work took on added significance two weeks ago when the body of a young woman arrested for prostitution was discovered near North Bend, not far from where three victims of the Green River killer were found in the 1980s.

In September, the remains of two women were found off Highway 410 near Enumclaw, where three other Green River victims were found in the mid-1980s.

Some of the 40 murders since the Green River killer is said to have stopped in 1984 are eerily similar to those of the early 1980s when the serial murderer was killing four or five women a month and disposing of their bodies in wooded areas as far away as Portland.

The Green River killer is believed responsible for the deaths of 49 young women between the summer of 1982 and early 1984. The remains of 41 of the women have been found. Eight are on a list of missing and presumed dead.

Perhaps the most disturbing sign a serial killer is at work, particularly in King County, is that none of the slayings - including a handful dating to 1986, 1987 and 1988 - have been solved and the body count continues to go up. That was the case with the Green River murders.

Other signals:

-- Several bodies have been found at one location, known as clustering in the Green River case. The Green River killer left his victims in clusters of as many as six bodies. That's the pattern beginning to emerge near Highway 410 east of Enumclaw and off Interstate 90 near North Bend. In Snohomish County, the clusters are near Gold Bar and Index off Highway 2 and southwest of Monroe near the High Bridge. Two of the victims found near each other at a Highway 410 scene - Anna Chebetnoy, 14, found Sept. 17, and Kimberly DeLange, 15, found Aug. 20, 1988 - lived in neighboring communities, Chebetnoy in Puyallup and DeLange in Sumner.

-- In most of the cases in King County, the killer or killers have taken the time to drive many miles to hide the victims in wooded areas. That indicates an organized individual, not an impetuous killer or first-time offender.

-- Many of the victims have been arrested for prostitution, including 17-year-old Sarah Habakangas, who was found strangled Nov. 5, 1991 off I-90 just east of North Bend, and 37-year-old Marta Reeves of Bothell, who was found Sept. 20, 1990 off Highway 410 eight miles east of Enumclaw. An autopsy failed to determine how she died.

King County Sheriff James Montgomery said he doesn't think a serial killer is stalking women in the county. He acknowledges, however, that authorities have always been reluctant to admit a serial killer is at work.

GREEN RIVER COPYCAT?

"Everybody working these cases has wondered if the Green River killer has returned or if there is a copycat," the sheriff said. "We don't know. There isn't a homicide detective who doesn't think: `I wonder if there is a connection.' To start with, there are some obvious similarities. They are outdoor scenes. The character of the land is certainly a thread that runs through the cases. They are females. Some are prostitutes.

"But I would be very reluctant to suggest there is a common link among any of the victims."

Some investigators privately wonder if the Green River killer is back and using the same dump sites to taunt them. Yet, no one has bothered to visit the old sites to find out whether other women have been placed there.

Asked if he thought the Green River killer was back, serial-killer expert Bob Keppel of the state Attorney General's Office initially said: "Did he ever leave?"

Then he added: "Some other person could be doing the same thing. It would be unbelievable to me that the Green River killer would risk detection by starting over again. He has spent his life trying to avoid detection."

In Snohomish County, where detectives are investigating 11 murders, including several mutilations, law-enforcement officials and Keppel say a serial killer or two is responsible for some of the murders.

That sort of talk isn't common.

HESITANT AUTHORITIES

When women began disappearing from college campuses in Washington in 1973, investigators said they were unaware that the disappearances might be linked. Even when human remains began to be found near Issaquah, detectives discouraged anyone from drawing any conclusions.

As time passed, however, authorities admitted they suspected a serial killer. That killer turned out to be Ted Bundy - who was executed Jan. 24, 1989, in Florida.

When bodies were found in the Green River in 1982, King County police denied the deaths were linked. It was not until the Green River killer had slain 49 women that police fully discussed the scope of the killings and acknowledged they were linked.

In the summer of 1990, when the bodies of three women in three separate slayings were found in grotesque poses on the Eastside, police were hesitant to say a serial killer was responsible. But a few weeks ago, George Russell, charged as a serial killer in all three slayings, was convicted of the crimes.

MISINFORMATION

Earlier this year, when mutilated body parts were found in Snohomish County, sheriff's deputies at first denied a serial killer was at work. In fact, they passed out misinformation about the circumstances surrounding the death of one victim to throw the public off.

King County Sheriff Montgomery says he sees no advantage in suggesting that some of the slayings are being committed by the same person.

Keppel says that although nothing in particularly jumps out at him, that doesn't mean some of the unsolved murders in King County aren't related.

"The lack of information is one of the reasons people don't put together serials right away," Keppel said.

"If my gut is telling me anything, it's telling me to be awake, very awake. There is a murder problem out there . . . something unusual. When that happens, that's kind of a forerunner to a serial case. I can't really say for sure there is a serial going on, but it would be stupid not to investigate it like that."

Investigators have so little information about these murders, it's difficult for them to say flatly that they have a serial case on their hands.

Keppel cites the Green River case as an example of how a lack of information can adversely affect the judgment of investigators. When the multi-agency Green River Task Force was formed in 1984, investigators believed the killer had slain only 13 women. In fact, he already had murdered 47 of his 49 victims. Their bodies just hadn't been discovered yet.

King County authorities were unaware of the magnitude of the case, in part, because little attention was given to missing-persons cases - particularly when it came to prostitutes and teenage runaways. Missing-persons reports clearly revealed the extent of the killer's abductions of women on Pacific Highway South near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Aurora Avenue North in North Seattle and Rainier Valley in southeastern Seattle.

Recently, King County police compiled a list of people killed or reported missing, and linked to prostitution, drug use or the street life. The list included eight women who disappeared in 1990 and 1991. Six of the women - some of whom disappeared from Aurora Avenue or the Sea-Tac strip - were said to be involved in prostitution, according to police.

One unanswered question is whether any of the murders in the three counties are connected.

Authorities believe the mutilation murders in Snohomish County are the work of one killer. A second serial killer may be behind some of the other slayings in that county, but officials won't speculate whether either of the Snohomish County killers also may be responsible for bodies found in King or Snohomish counties.

Several of the women found in Snohomish County essentially lived in the Seattle-Tacoma area. One woman from Bothell in north King County was found dead in Snohomish County. Another woman who lived in Bothell and frequented downtown Seattle was discovered east of Enumclaw. The bodies of two teenagers from Pierce County were found east of Enumclaw.

Serial killers are known to move about, claiming victims in a wide-ranging geographic area.

The first victim police find probably is not the killer's first victim. Some investigators feel that's what occurred in the Green River murders. They believe the deaths of several young women in early 1982 in King and Snohomish counties are related to the Green River slayings, but were never declared part of the serial-murder case.

Those unsolved murders - six in King County and one in Snohomish County - occurred between January and June of 1982, just before the discovery of five women in or near the Green River in July and August of 1982, which officially kicked off the Green River case.

Whether the Green River killer is back, whether there is a new serial killer covering old ground, or whether there simply is "a murder problem," King County police are not making any adjustments to deal with it.

"We have not reassigned any additional detectives to work the cases," Montgomery said.

-- Times information specialist Sandy Freeman contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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