CANADA – APRIL 09: Crime pays: Author Ann Rule; top; is cashing in on public’s interest in true-crime and Conspiracy Of Silence miniseries; above; was a big TV hit. (Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
I’ve grown up and lived my entire life in the Pacific North West and growing up I had a rather mild obsession with serial killers. Blame it on geography, but when you’re growing up and woman are disappearing left and right in an area just four hours north of you? Even at 7 and 8 years old you pay attention. I was no longer scared of the boogieman, or the monsters in my closet – not even the creak in the floor at night outside my bedroom door. I was afraid of real monsters – Ted Bundy, Westly Allen Dodd, The Green River Killer – you name one PNW Serial Killer and I knew his name, victim count and when he was arrested by the time I was 13 – all thanks to this woman. Because, growing up in Oregon there wasn’t a camp out – or family BBQ that wasn’t full of chatter about the latest body found – or the trial and later conviction of Ted Bundy.
I’d always been a ferocious reader growing up, but around 11 years old Westley Allen Dodd – a child killer was apprehended in Washington after attempting to kidnap a young boy from a Camas Washington movie theater – the same movie theater I had been in the a few weeks before watching Look Who’s Talking with my cousins. I was completely fascinated by this, and perhaps in a way to cope with the fear I obsessed about it and sought out every book I could find on serial killers from Oregon and Washington – and this is where Ann Rule became a VERY large part of my life.
This was the first book I picked up at the local Goodwill around the corner from my house. I devoured this book in 2 days and hid it in between my mattress and box spring, knowing full well if my mom caught me reading it – she’d take it away. For no other reason than it’s graphic content and the fact that I’d end up in her bed in the middle of the night. Because that’s the Catch 22 here – I both loved and feared these creatures that I couldn’t understand. I craved more and more information and stories and needed to know every single little detail, all the while trying to wrap my mind and imagination around what made them tick. Now a days, (god I’m showing my age) if a child of 10 or 11 did that? Their parents would probably throw them into therapy. Not to mention all the news paper articles I’d cut out about Bundy’s trial – and the weekly stories that would follow. When he was finally convicted in Florida and sentenced to death I remember the front page of the Oregonian and the sheer terror across his face as he screamed at the injustice of it all. But he no longer haunted me. He was incarcerated – on death row and would one day be put to death by the state of Florida – I was only two years old when Bundy was arrested, but it wouldn’t be until a month before my 11th birthday that he’d finally meet his maker.
Elizabeth Diane Downs was a US Postal Service worker – a single mother of three children in SW Oregon – a small community outside of Eugene Oregon. Diane was convinced her children were the cause of her failed relationship with her “soulmate” a married man who had rejected her, explaining that he didn’t want to play “daddy” to her children – Diane decided to get rid of them. On May 19th 1983 Diane loaded up all three kids into the car and went for a drive – outside of Springfield Oregon she pulled over and shot all three of them, and herself in the arm. Rushing them to the hospital she tells hospital staff that a man attempted to steal her car – shooting her and all three of her children. Fortunately for two of her children Christie & Danny, the shots were not life threatening. But for her youngest daughter Cheryl Lynn, they were. Diane was arrested and convicted – with the help of her eldest daughter Christie who testified against her at just nine years old – having suffered through the most heinous of crimes at the hand of her mother, only to have a stroke in this hospital afterwards, she showed great strength and Diane was convicted of murder for Cheryl, Attempted murder of Christie & Danny and Criminal Assault of all three. Diane while on trial gave birth to a fourth child, a daughter Becky – the State of Oregon took custody of – she is now a grown woman with a son of her own – after 20/20 interviewed Becky Babcock back in 2010 it was revealed that Ann Rule was kicking around the idea of writing a sequel to Small Sacrifices and writing about Becky’s life with her adoptive family – and the affects finding out Diane Downs was her biological mother had on her growing up.
Randall Woodfield was born in Salem Oregon in 1950 – he was your typical all American boy next door. He did well in school – excelled in sports and was even picked for the 1974 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. But he started showing signs of dissociative behavior even in high school – exposing himself to woman, though his coaches helped to cover the incidents to keep him on the field. In his twenties he was arrested for vandalizing his ex-girlfriends apartment, and again exposing himself. These “flashing” incidents were what cost him his ticket to the NFL – and shortly after that in the winter of 1975 in Portland Oregon – several woman were attacked by a man with a knife – forced to perform oral sex and robbed of their handbags. Portland Police officers staked out decoy’s and Woodfield was arrested – sentenced to ten years in prison, yet he was out in four. From October 1979 to February 1981 Randall Woodfield would rape and murder 18 + woman throughout Washington, Oregon and California – all states linked by the I-5 corridor. Woodfield was arrested in connection with the shooting death of a Beaverton Oregon woman – a suburb of Portland Oregon. While in custody he was also arrested for the double murder of wife and her daughter in Redding California. Woodfield was set tried for the murder of Shari Hull and was convicted of murder – sentenced to life in prison and an additional 90 years for various other crimes. He still remains to this day at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem Oregon. Randall Woodfield actually tried to sue Ann Rule in 1987 for 12 million dollars regarding her book the I-5 Killer which illustrated his life and crimes.
In 1990 he was suspected of at east 44 homicides, and in 2001 and 2006 DNA evidence linked him to an additional two murders in Oregon during 1980 and 1981.
Every Breath You Take was about the murder of Sheila Bellush – a mother of six who was murdered in 1997. Sheila’s ex-husband, Allen Blackthorne hired a man by the name of Joey Del Toro to track his ex-wife down and kill her in a murder-for-hire plot. It’s something out of the movies for sure – but the interesting parts of this book where the stories of Blackthorne’s childhood and that he grew up in the area that I did in a large family. Blackthorne rose above his families poverty and eventually became a millionaire after developing a medical device that stimulated muscles. Allen & Sheila were married in 1982 – they had two daughters together. Five years later Sheila filed for divorce, exposing the domestic violence within their home – the divorce was volatile at best – each of them accusing one another of abusing their daughters. In 1993 Sheila met and married Jamie Bellush – the two had quadruplets naturally and moved to Sarasota Florida after Jamie had received a promotion at work.
Allen Blackthorne was still harassing her after the divorce – and when Sheila won custody of their daughters it got worse. Blackthorn tracked Sheila and her new family to Florida and slowly put his plan into action – hiring a man named Jose Luis Del Toro to help him. November 7th 1997, Del Toro traveled to Sarasota Florida, broke into Sheila’s home – finding her there with her four youngest children where were only two years old at the time. Del Toro shot Sheila Bellush in the face with a .45 caliber gun and slit her throat right in front of all four of her children – her body was not discovered until a few hours later when her thirteen year old daughter returned home from school to find the quadruplets crawling around in their mother’s blood.
Jerry Brudos was raised in many different homes throughout the Pacific NW before his family settled in Salem Oregon – his mother, wanting a daughter at the time of his birth treated him abhorrently because of his – belittling him constantly and abusing him. From the of five years old Brudos had a fetish for women’s shoes and underwear. He spent a large portion of his adolescence in and out of therapy and mental hospitals. In his mid teens his fetish turned to violence and he was now stalking woman in his town, knocking them unconscious or strangling them and running away with their shoes. In 1956, when Brudos was 17 he kidnapped and beat a young woman, threatening to kill her if she didn’t follow his sexual demands. He was arrested and taken to the a psychiatric ward at the Oregon State Hospital for nine months.
Through therapy Brudos realized his sexual fetishes and his hate of woman were revolving around his mother and women in general. While incarcerated he was diagnosed schizophrenic – after his release he graduated from high school and went on to become an electronics technician. In 1961 he married a teenage girl and fathered two children with her – he would ask her to do housework in the nude except for a pair of high heels while he photographed her. Brudos started complaining about migraine headaches and blackouts around this time. Between 1968 and 1969 Brudos murdered four young woman, most he kept hanging in a garage on his property – she was never allowed to enter it without announcing through an intercom that she was outside. Brudos liked to keep trophies of his victims – underwear, shoes and body parts that he would use as paperweights.
Probably one of the most bizarre cases I read of Ann Rule’s and a strong question whether serial killers fall into the category of nature vs nurture – can these people be made into monsters?
And now, probably the most significant serial killer that haunted me most of my childhood is Gary Leon Ridgway – The Green River Killer. From 1982 through 1998 Gary Ridgway murdered 49 known victims, but law enforcement and psychologists have both admitted that the number is more likely in the multiple hundreds. Ridgway himself has confessed to over 80. The amount and length of time he was able to get away with it is staggering, and what’s made him the most prolific serial killer on this list.
Born February 18th, 1949 – he was raised by his mother and father – with two brothers in the Sea-Tac area of Washington State. His home life was not the best – his parents often fighting, their fights often turning violent. Ridgway had a habit of wetting the bed, after his mother would find the mess she would immediately bathe him – while cleaning him she would belittle him and embarrass him about it, even in front of the rest of their family. During interviews later after his arrest Ridgway would even admit that his mother would wear a robe often when she was bathing him after his “accidents” and occasionally the robe would come loose and she would be completely nude under it – he said this is when his sexual attraction towards her started – also his anger. Ridgway was a poor student, with an IQ of 82 he was found to have significant low intelligence – even having to repeat several years of high school in order to pass his classes.
Through his teenage years his anger started to manifest and at 16 he stabbed a 6 year old boy – luckily the boy survived. But even at 16 his urges were developing. He led the young boy into the woods and stabbed him through his ribs, puncturing his liver. The little boy told authorities that Ridgway walked away after the attack laughing and said “I always wondered what it would be like to kill.”
Ridgeway married and joined the Navy at 18 – even doing a tour in Vietnam. While away his first wife Claudia, only 19 at the time started dating again and their marriage failed. Ridgway married again, but that marriage also ended in divorce – his second ex-wife claimed that he had abused her, even choking her during an altercation. Ridgway would marry again – and was still married to his third wife at the time of his arrest in 2001.
All three of Ridgway’s ex-wives and previous girlfriends admitted that he had an insatiable appetite for sex – wanting it several times a day, in public areas, out in the woods and of course he still sought out prostitutes even while he was in all three marriages. He had a love/hate relationship with prostitutes, they served to satisfy his sexual needs, but he also contracted gonorrhea more than once. During the 1980’s and 1990’s Rigeway would murder at least 71 women near Seattle and Tacoma Washington, but he’s also admitted he killed so many that he’s lost count.
In 1984 as Washington was inundated with the victims of the Green River Killer, Detective David Reichert – head of the Green River Task Force met with Robert Keppel; lead investigator during the Bundy murder’s – met with Ted Bundy in a Florida State Penitentiary where he sat on death row. Bundy thought he could help shed some light on the investigation – giving tips to Reichert & Keppel about how a serial killer things – maneuvers through society undetected. Bundy told the investigators he wouldn’t be surprised if the “Riverman” wasn’t going back and revisiting his “dumping grounds.” As Ted himself had gone back to where he buried his victims – even sometimes months later and would have sex with what was left of their decomposing corpses. Years later after Ridgway’s arrest Reichert realized all the tips Bundy had given them – were spot on.
The shock I felt when I saw the headline on the front page of The Oregonian news paper in 2001 – Green River Suspect under arrest – and what was his last name? But the same name as the street I’d grown up on. OooooEeeeeOooooo Yes, this is how my warped mind thinks. Not only the street I grew up on, but our birthday’s were very…. very close. Once he was arrested and accept a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, Ridgway took police back into the woods and uncovered the bodies more of his victims. He was officially charged and convicted of 48 murders – receiving 48 life sentences. Then, in 2010 hikers in Auburn Washington found a human skull – the remains were identified and Ridgway was formally charged with the murder in 2011 – he plead guilty and was convicted, receiving his 49th life sentence.
I’ll probably never understand this fascination I’ve had all these years – but obviously I’m not the only one, as Ann Rule was a best selling author. But having worked in an avenue of law enforcement for a number of years now – I’ll admit – The Green River Running Red was one of the last True Crime novels I read. Maybe having it part of my reality turned me onto smut? Who knows.
But if you haven’t read any of Ann Rule’s books – and have a curiosity about these types of stories, she was the ultimate encyclopedia of true crime.