I read Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule book a while ago. The book left me a lot of questions. I was puzzled by Ann Rule’s own handling of her role in the events. There is a meta aspect to the story where as the author of the story, she considers that doesn’t have the chops to handle, nor does the entire True Crime genre have the chops to handle Gary Ridgeway’s story and the nearly epidemiological causes of the environment that gave rise to Ridgeway, the teen age runaways, and the initial reluctance of the law enforcement and community to do anything about it. Ridgeway himself was aware of his future fame as the Green River Killer and was partly a serial killer fan boy. He anticipated his notoriety. In that sense, then, Ann Rule, contributed to his crimes. She doesn’t have the answer to that, and she does focus the narrative on the stories of the children who ended up murdered by Ridgeway.
One of the puzzles of Ridgway’s story is how he settled down with his third wife and moved to Auburn and essentially stopped killing because of his happy home life. I can imagine Rule interviewing his third wife and asking about the strange bumps on the Green River Killer’s penis. Did you notice any bumps? It is this sort of tasteless, lurid, and trivial that is essential to the True Crime genre. The first season of HBOs True Detective works so well because Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle manages to infuse the closer observation of the trivial with existential angst; his rambling autodidactic musing are rooted in the trivial, and in turn the trivial is lifted and connected to the larger movements of a fictional serial killer. Rule however struggles with the banal killings of a killer who is not captured partly because the task force didn’t take Ridgeway seriously as a possible killer: he was too stupid, too ordinary. And this ends up being the enigma at the center of the narrative of Green River, Running Red, the killings are routine for the killer. Ridgeway would sometimes kill while out running an errand. At one point he picks up a victim with his young son in his truck, drives to a vacant lot off of Pacific Highway, has sex with and kills his victim, and then returns to the truck.
Rule seems obsessed with Ridgeways STIs. She frequently quotes accounts of Ridgeway’s junk that were at times covered in strange bumps. While it is an interesting detail, she returns it so frequently that I get the sense she knows something about it that we don’t. These bumps are nearly a recurring character, and she goes on to note their disappearance from the account.
Ann Rule is really tangential to Ridgeway’s story. Although I think he had a foggy notion of the magnitude of his crimes, they had become routine. He would have committed his crimes I think with or without media coverage. While he was very conscious of the coverage and the fact that he would he would end up in the book I was reading (and this in fact makes ME kind of complicit), Rule seems to shape the narrative around the idea that Ridgeway was part of her audience and she was part of his audience.
She focuses on the victims attempting to honor their lives and make it clear that each individual person was human and not an object for the killer to possess them by killing them and thereby pass them as as objects collected into the list of victims for people like me to consume as a reader of a true crime story.
While Rule seems aware of the futility of this hack — she points out that instead of a memorial to the victims at the site of the first discovery of three victims where The Reith Road runs over the Green River, the city of Kent erected a massive “Welcome to Kent” sign. The exchange between Ridgeway and Ann Rule is very present in the book and would be the type of thing that a lot of writers such as David Foster Wallace, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondatjee. AM Holmes, Mary Gaitskill, and so on would have made the focus of the book.
As a reader I was left wondering not about the veracity of the account but rather the shape it took and what Ann Rule decided to emphasize and how she tried to do certain things. For instance, she wanted to leave virtually no room to sympathize with Ridgeway. Is an entity such as Ridgeway even human? I believe that he is; he is a broken person and it makes you wonder how such breakage occurs. Does it occur in a cocktail of genetic history and environmental abuse? Or is this something that is not broken? That is, is there some kind of function encoded into behavior like this?
Rule decided before she even wrote the book that this the answer to the humanity of the serial killer is no. This creates a distorted narrative since the major figure of the book isn’t human and everyone else is. Bastard Out of Caroline is a great book, but is really flawed I think because of Dorothy Allison’s handling of the abusive father. He is merely a monster. He behaves as a monster ought to behave: monstrously.
Ridgeway however killed as a moral choice. He killed because he wanted to kill. His killing stopped when he did not want to kill. This alone makes it clear that he could choose. Murder for him was not a reflexive action like a venus fly trap closing its mouth. The difficulty to writing about the Green River Killer is for him killing was trivial. He killed as easily as picking up a carton of milk.
Perhaps Rule’s weirdest move is make David Reichart into the opposite figure of Ridgeway. In this she succumbs to the tropes of her genre. True Crime almost demands this type of flattening. She is left with evil on one hand, the white knight on the other hand and between them, the victims. From a storytelling perspective, it is hard. Milton has this problem in Paradise Lost. Santan is by far the most interesting and compelling character in the poem. Ridgeway is banal. Reichart is as well, and between them are the victims of a plague, a sequence of nearly fifty mostly children with troubled childhoods for the most part who never found their way out of the empty lots of South King County.