This true-crime graphic novel about Gary Ridgway aka the Green River Killer was surprisingly tender and an unapologetic love letter from the author to his father who was one of the lead detectives on the case. Author Jeff Jensen’s father, Detective Tom Jensen, worked the Green River case for two decades and once Ridgway was caught, he was on the task force that interviewed him for details on his crimes. Having a real-life connection to the case, similar in a way to My Friend Dahmer, made the narrative obviously more authentic and poignant.
The story begins in 1965 when a teenaged Ridgway attempts to kill a young boy just for the joy of killing. While unsuccessful, while serving in Vietnam a few years later, he begins his unhealthy fascination with prostitutes and brings that sickness home to Seattle. It is after his second divorce that he goes on his crime spree, killing most of his victims from 1982-84, although he would periodically kill for years afterward. Almost all of his dozens of victims were young prostitutes that were killed after he raped them and were dumped near the Green River.
We are introduced to Tom Jensen, who was also a soldier and joins the police force afterward, eventually becoming a respected detective. He begins investigating the case along with a large group of other detectives, but after the crimes drop off and many of the detectives are re-assigned he doggedly continues with the case. New advances in technology link several victims with a swab that was taken from Ridgway earlier, as he had been an early suspect, and he is apprehended in late 2001.
The chronology skips around in the narrative showing both Jensen and Ridgway on parallel tracks, both former soldiers and fathers, but who are polar opposites with their morality. This fresh take on the tired trope of a manhunt for a serial killer showcases Jensen’s life and work on the case, so it is more the man than the hunt we end up caring about. It is also Jonathan Case’s artwork that brings the story into focus. Done in black and white, Case’s linework is excellent, and his moody panels expertly bring you in and out of different eras in Jensen’s and Ridgway’s lives. He captures the look of Seattle with its outlying woods and the realistic aging of the characters.
While a sobering subject matter, the book was a quick read. The author is upfront that the story is not truly non-fiction as details were changed to preserve privacy for some, and it is more a story about his father than a true recounting of Ridgway’s crimes. While there is certainly graphic content and no shying away from the horror of the killings, the story is more about good persevering in the midst of evil. For a unique take on true-crime, this book can’t be beaten.