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Archive for September 2nd, 2015

“True Crime” vs. True Crime

September 02nd, 2015 | Category: Life,Opinions

So, my tv is pretty much always on, or music’s playing, whatever. I don’t like quiet. If it’s tv, I’m only maybe, thirty-percent paying attention, but it’s there. One of my channels of choice is ID, or as people who frequent my room call it, “the murder channel.” It’s all True Crime shows, female serial killers, American mass murders and so on. I often hear, “How can you watch all these sick murders? It’s all so disturbing!” I just don’t find it so. It’s bad actors doing re-enactments, it’s akin to watching horror movies. I know it’s about real people, factual events, but I can’t help only seeing B-actors wielding fake weapons spilling fake blood. It’s too easy to see it all as grim fiction. It’s almost completely divorced from “True Crime,” though I hadn’t really thought of it so clearly until I read a True Crime book, Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule.

Being into things macabre, I’ve known of Ann Rule forever. Rule was a close friend to a fellow who turned out to be one of America’s most devious serial killers, Ted Bundy. They worked side by side at a suicide prevention hotline, as co-workers and friends. Ted Bundy came across as kind, charismatic, a real charmer. He was good with his callers, people grasping for any tiny foothold in their lives, any reason to keep going. To Ann Rule. Being so close to a perfect killing machine without even the slightest notice, being so absolutely fooled would totally change her life. She’d join law-enforcement. She’d become a foremost expert on serial murder, giving lectures about her personal experiences. She’d also go on to write True Crime books, several books about serial killers, from their beginnings until their ends, about their victims who are all too often forgotten, and about the investigators who often spend years of their lives in pursuit of such monsters. Earlier I used the term “killing machine,” I think, after reading some of Ann Rule’s work, machine is the most apt term for describing a serial killer, it’s a term she uses in Green River, Running Red. They’re machines pretending to be human beings. Any display of kindness, compassion, is just calculated mimicry. They know what kindness looks like, they know that a well orchestrated smile can be just enough to draw a victim in for the kill. They know that fixing bikes for neighborhood kids is the wholesome sort of activity that makes people overlook odd or eccentric or even flat out suspicious behaviors. Serial killers blend in, they evade capture longer than anybody would hope.

Green River, Running Red is a book that was some twenty years in the making, as it’s Ann Rule’s policy to never start a book until the killer is caught AND convicted. In the summer of 1982 she clipped an unfortunate, but seemingly innocuos article from a local newspaper in Kent, Washington, totally unaware that it would be the start of a twenty year-long nightmare, and a book. The clipping was about the body of a young girl found snagged in some pilings under a bridge that crosses the Green River. Three more bodies would be found, again, young girls, two weighted and in the river, one on the bank, near the river’s edge, as if her killer hadn’t had the energy, or more likely, the time to dump her. Four bodies of four girls under the age of twenty found near each other in a short amount of time gave cops that feeling, a really bad feeling that the end of four lives was just the start of something dark that would only grow darker. The cops weren’t wrong, girls would keep disappearing, young prostitutes who worked the SeaTAC Strip, a stretch of road between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. Between the summer of 1982 and late 1983 girls would continually go missing, sometimes two a night. He would continue to kill, albeit less frequently. He’d come to feel safe, even proud of himself for supposedly outsmarting people who were supposed to be much smarter than him. He thought “they” gave up, and many did, but not the core investigators. The few men and women who were there from the beginning, they never forgot, never gave up. It took twenty-years for science to unlock the truth hidden in the evidence that was collected and preserved for decades, but it happened. This particular killing machine would be dubbed The Green River Killer, though, aside from those first four girls, he’d never use the Green River as a “dump site” again. He’d use lots of dump sites, he’d go on to confess to killing at least 71 victims, but the world will probably never know just how many he really took. He, the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, may not even remember himself.

The sick irony is that while Gary Ridgway totally enjoyed killing people, troubled young girls, he himself was terrified of dying. Rather than face a trial that would absolutely end with a conviction that would probably carry the death penalty, Ridgway agreed to life in prison so long as he led detectives to the girls he confessed to killing who remained unfound. After being told of the stacks of physical evidence against him, DNA left on the girls he didn’t hide well enough, he willingly, almost eagerly, confessed to everything.  He didn’t want to be caught, but seeing as that was out, he simply didn’t want to die. He wanted something he didn’t think twice about taking from others.

Now, until I read Green River, Running Red, I didn’t really see how far from True Crime channels like ID really are, how fictional they feel. Reading about each victim’s life, then reading Gary Ridgway’s confessions, his almost gleeful descriptions of killing, I felt… appalled. Disgusted. Disturbed. Scared. I actually felt scared, scared because the girls were surely scared, scared that someone could take pleasure from ending life. The way he so casually described how he would pick a girl up, then let her go safely, knowing that he’d find her again the next night to finish what he started, it was chilling. The girls were scared, being cautious about their “dates.” He liked fooling them, making them trust him, laughing that they felt safe right up until he strangled the life out of them. You don’t realize how vile people like Gary Ridgway are through re-enactments.

I think it’s important to know that true evil exists. It’s not that getting into cars with strangers was safer fifty years ago, it’s that we didn’t have people studying crime patterns, publishing case studies. We need such knowledge, but it’s far less valuable when it’s diluted and sensationalized under the guise of “True Crime” tv. It’s important to know the difference between “True Crime” and True Crime, as the former is more akin to morbid entertainment, while the latter gives us true knowledge. Writers like Ann Rule give us the stories of monsters and those lost to these monsters, so that we might not be lost in the same way. Being wary of that stranger offering a ride just down the block, being wary of meeting someone charming offering a ride on their boat, these don’t mean a loss of innocence. Such innocence never existed. That “innocence” was a lack of awareness. Now we have the tools to be aware, the tools to be safe.