Skip to content

Green River Running Red by Ann Rule: true crime book review

22 April 2011

This is not my favorite Ann Rule book. In fact, it was a bit of a chore to finish it, and I confess to skimming parts. At 665 pages, Green River, Running Red is a hefty and comprehensive compendium. Perhaps the task of telling so many morbid tales – Gary Ridgway confessed to 71 murders and was convicted of 48, but is suspected in many more – belies good old-fashioned story telling, but c’mon, this is Ann Rule! Arguably the queen of true crime, I beg you, Ann: please tell me a great story!

This book is the tale of the infamous Green River Killer, perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history. Gary Ridgway chalked up a twenty-two year murderous reign of terror over the Seattle and Tacoma, Washington areas (and possibly in Oregon as well) during the 1980s and ‘90s. The vast majority of his killings occurred during a three-year period in the early 1980s. Almost of all his victims were prostitutes, drug addicts, or runaways whom he strangled to death with his bare hands or by using a ligature. When asked why he choked them during his eventual videotaped confession, Ridgway responded that choking “was more personal and more rewarding than to shoot [them]” (p. 587).

The term serial killer was coined in the 1970s by former FBI Special Agent Robert Ressler who, incidentally, has since written his own expert books on the topic. The definition has undergone several revisions over the years and, in 1998, the U.S. Congress passed a federal law titled: Protection of Children from Sexual Predator Act of 1998 which included a formal definition of serial killer:

The term ‘serial killings’ means a series of three or more killings, not less than one of which was committed within the United States, having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors.

 Additionally, the FBI held a symposium in 2005 titled “Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators.” There was extant comprehensive debates over an accurate definition of serial killer. Different discussion groups comprised of experts in the field ultimately reached a consensus as to the factors that needed to be included in the definition. Per the FBI’s Web-site, those factors are:
  • One or more offenders;
  • Two or more murdered victims;
  • Incidents should be occurring in separate events, at different times; and
  • The time period between murders separates serial murder from mass murder.

Ergo, the symposium members created the following definition of serial murder: The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.

Of course Ridgway fits this description to a T: he killed as many as 71+ ladies and young girls. Can you imagine? That is akin to a mini-one-man-war! Furthermore, Ridgway was arguably predisposed to violence and possessed this despicable character trait at an early age: he stabbed a six-year-old boy when he [Ridgway] was 16, simply because he “wanted to see what it felt like to kill someone” (p. 610). Fortunately, the boy lived, though how badly he was scarred emotionally from the event we can only presume.

What some might perceive as a slight – his second wife’s infidelity – Ridgway obviously took total affront to and applied his skewed conclusion to all women (or did he just enjoy killing for killing’s sake?). His goal, he explained to investigators in his videotaped confession, was to release all that pent-up anger. Ridgway described feeling so angry that “everything was blurry” as well, leading to speculation that perhaps biological forces could also be at play (p. 582). 

Regardless, he was able to function normally in society for much of his time, and even held down a job. He also was married to his third wife, Judith, at the time of his arrest. He did not appear to others to be extraordinarily dangerous, though he obviously was.

Arrested on November 30, 2001, Ridgway later claimed 71 slayings, though he was convicted of 48 charges of aggravated first-degree murder, with sentences to run consecutively — that’s 48 life sentences to be exact. Ridgway ultimately copped to a plea bargain, thereby avoiding the death penalty and earning him a life sentence with no chance for parole (p. 651).

I have a special affinity for Ann Rule as she is the author who got me stuck on this whole true crime genre. I recall a time in the early 1990s when I was at my parents’ house. Bored, I went into their garage in search of a book to read as I knew they stored many books there. I came across a book titled The Stranger Beside Me and thought I’d give it a try (you can read part of that frighteningly excellent book here). After that, I was hooked. So, thank you Ann Rule for introducing me to stories that demand to be told.

On the plus side for this book, the narrative of the videotaped confession at the end is both compelling and chilling. It’s not often, thankfully, that we get to peer into the mind of such a killer.

There’s no doubt Ann Rule is an excellent writer – no literary complaints here – and an excellent investigator. That she lives for her books is apparent when one reads the copious amounts of information typically contained within them. She’s also a great story teller. Usually. This one, however, struck me as tedious and even overwhelming. I recommend this book only to die-hard Ann Rule fans, and to those particularly interested in the Green River Killer case. To its credit, the book is a definitive compendium of the Green River Killer case; it’s just not a well-told story. Especially given Ann Rule’s great storytelling talents, which are noticeably (regretfully) absent here.

This is a crime – many crimes – that will continue to reverberate for years to come. Much sympathy to the victims and their families. It is absolutely astounding how many people were adversely affected by this one single man…er, monster.

Grade: * ½
Status: Recommended only for die-hard Ann Rule fans or those particularly interested in the Green River Killer case

Please see other reviews:

The Darkest Night by Ron Franscell 

For more info:
Ready to read? Buy Ann Rule’s book on Amazon
Ann Rule’s Website  
Author bio
Try instead: The Stranger Beside Me (about Ted Bundy) by Ann Rule (*****)

Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators (FBI) 

Sami Hartsfield


LegallyBlog® on Facebook

Protected by Copyscape Unique Content Check

 Copyright 2011 Sami K. Hartsfield – All Rights Reserved

  1. Hello your site has what i was looking for . Excellent work with your blog by the way .

  2. Hi there, You’ve done a great job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: