I lived next door to the Green River Killer, and eventually befriended him, so I could turn him in for the reward. He was actually a nice guy, albeit a little strange.
As a kid growing up in the early eighties and living very near the Sea-Tac strip where most of the murders took place, I worried the Green River Killer would kill me, but my mother told me he only targeted women, and I had nothing to be afraid of.
I was safe, but I still had concerns like: what about my mom? She dropped me off at the Lewis and Clark Bowling Alley every Saturday morning for youth bowling league, he could get her there. As luck would have it my mom wasn’t a prostitute so the odds of her being a victim were low.
When I was nineteen-years old, and after the killings seemed to have stopped, my daughter Jessica was born. I moved my new family in with my mom. The Green River Killer didn’t scare her, but having a newborn in the house did. When I graduated from high school her gifts to me were things like a microwave and flat ware, so I could get out of her house permanently. My new family didn’t stay long.
My mom helped find me a slummy apartment just off of the strip not far from where a lot of the Green River victims were picked up. The place was a remodeled hotel to use the term “remodeled” loosely. I’m not sure when it was built; I’m assuming in the forties. It kind of looked like war-time tract housing. The foundation was sliding down the hillside it was built on, so much so, there was a space between the wall and the floor. Light would shine through the gap. Without going into too much detail, the place was a shit-hole. Actually, shit-holes would take offence at being compared to that place.
Some people would be depressed about life in my situation. Being a teenage under-employed parent in a loveless marriage isn’t the most glamorous thing, but I had my health and the hair on my head, for a few more years anyway. It could’ve been worse, at least, I wasn’t the middle-aged, one legged, alcoholic man, who lived next door spending what disposable income he had on cracked-out hookers. Oh and he didn’t have any hair on the top of his head.
The year was 1993 although I was a dad; it was not father knows best around the Flett household that’s for sure.
From the time I was a baby I spent most of my Saturday nights at the local racetrack (cars, not horses). My mom raced and was very good. My “uncle” Harold had raced cars since the nineteen-sixties. All I ever wanted to be was a racecar driver like them.
I bought my first race car in 1992 just before Jessica was born. I’m not proud when I say I used a welfare check for the down payment on the 1968 Chevelle. I’ve never done drugs or been addicted to anything in my life, unless you count auto racing
I’ve always been what people call a “Ford Guy”. Obviously this means I prefer Ford cars over other brands. I always told myself I would enter my first race by the time I was eighteen. The only car available to me at the time happened to be the Chevrolet Chevelle, and the only money I had was the welfare check. You can see the dilemma I faced.
July fourth 1992 ten days before my nineteenth birthday I raced in my first race. I think I finished eighth in my main event. It was awesome. Getting to the track took a lot of hard work, donated parts and hours of labor volunteered by my good friends. I made one more race that year before the engine blew up in my hodge podged car, and I ran out of money. I worked at Herman Cain’s Godfathers Pizza in Issaquah, as a delivery driver. It seemed an appropriate job.
When I moved to my apartment I could not take my racer with me, it was stowed away at a friend’s house. I had a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 as my daily driver. It was a cool car I could be proud of—unlike the Chevelle. I noticed my next door neighbor (not the one who was hiring prostitutes) had a pretty sweet primer black Ford truck with a tunnel ram intake.
I’ve never been the type to bring cake or cookies to introduce myself to people in my neighborhood. At the most, I’d give a head nod or a, “’sup?”
I first met the man, when my car wouldn’t start; I had no idea he was a suspect in a murder investigation, let alone the Green River Killings. We’ll call him “Gary”. He walked up to me while I leaned over the engine bay of my Galaxie. I don’t remember what he said or why the car wouldn’t start. I just know he helped me get it running. We had a strong friendship that lasted almost a decade. We don’t talk anymore, but I’d still consider him a friend today if he called.
It turned out my new friend was not only a car guy, but also a Ford Guy. We spent hours talking about Ford engines. Sometimes the conversations would turn to non-motorsports related topics like, religion, women, politics and fishing. He loved to fish. He knew where all the best fishing holes were in the area, places I didn’t even know existed.
My daughter Jessica did not like to go to sleep. For several months she had screaming fits when we laid her down in her crib. I guess several neighbors contemplated calling Child Protective Services on us because it was so bad. Gary told me he talked them out of it.
The thing about living in a slummy apartment is your neighbors probably have warrants or thankfully, at the very least, a blatant distrust of the authorities so they’re not big fans of calling the police. The cops rarely came down the driveway, and when they did we never asked why. We’d just see who they were taking away and speculate on what the charges were.
I never went to jail, I was odd man out. It was weird being so poor and young but being the pillar of our community of misfits. My teen bride, daughter and I didn’t live in that apartment for very long. When the landlord gave me a bucket to fix the leak under my sink, I couldn’t take anymore. I had a fulltime job at a body shop and a part time job at a gas station. I brought in at least three hundred dollars a week. Baller!
I moved to a much nicer and larger apartment, not to say it wasn’t still a shit-hole, because it was. I stayed in contact with Gary; I thought he was normal, boy was I wrong.
My marriage at this point, was not normal. Things got weird when I didn’t want to go to my wife’s high school senior prom. I was twenty, it would have been strange, plus who was going to baby-sit?
The wife went to the prom without me. She took two boys from one of her classes as her date. What could go wrong, right? It turned out a lot could go wrong, starting with a pregnancy and not knowing which one of the two was the father. She didn’t come clean and tell me this of course. I found a note she wrote to the boy she wanted the father to be, professing her love to him. On the lighter side of this story, because she didn’t know which one knocked her up, she took both of the boy’s last names and combined them.
When I told Gary about what happened, I saw a new side of him. He told me about how that’s why he didn’t date white women. A lot of pent up anger about women came out of during that time. He told me about an old Ford truck he had in the early eighties he graffitied with slogans such as, “Fuck women.” and, “Women are whores.”
Gary said the cops would hassle him all the time because of the truck. He told me he had to take the truck to Airport Auto Wrecking and have it crushed because the harassment got so bad.
Then Gary dropped a bombshell on me. He said he had been taken to jail and interrogated about the Green River Murders. The way he brought it up was so matter-of-fact, it almost seemed normal. “It was no big deal. They were bringing every guy my age back then.”
My wife and I split up. I took a part time job selling Kirby vacuums at night. I moved out of our shitty apartment when it got too complicated trying to avoid my wife’s two boyfriends.
In my true co-dependent style I met a girl at Kirby, her name was Meghan. We hit it off pretty well. Jessica and I started staying at her house in Kent, just a few blocks from the Green River where the first three bodies were found. Meghan was eighteen and one of the most mature girls I’d ever met, even though she didn’t have a driver’s license or know how to drive a car. She told me she ran away from home and been on her owns since age fifteen. Meghan lived in a mobile home park with a lady named Barbra Kubiak Patten (her real name) and her adult son. I was sitting on Barbra’s couch one day watching a daytime talk show with her. The subject was serial killers.
After watching the TV and taking notes Barbra picked up her phone and called her “friend” Dave Riechert (his real name too). He was head of the Green River Task Force at the time. He is now King County Sherriff. I asked why she was taking notes and calling Dave Riechert. The thing I forgot to tell you about Barbra is, she said she was psychic. She told me it was her life’s mission to catch the Green River Killer and she had been helping the police track down potential suspects since the early eighties when a psychic vision guided her to one of the victims’ bodies in a wooded area off of the side of highway 18.
Barbra handed me a tattered paperback book about the GRK. In the middle of the book there were pictures of major players in the murders, suspects, law enforcement, victims and Barbra Kubiak Patten.
I began reading the book and almost immediately became suspicious of my new friend and old neighbor Gary. I told Barbra about him. She said she wanted to meet Gary so she could get a “reading” on him.
I couldn’t just call Gary up and say, “Hey, can you come over so the crazy lady I’m staying with can do a psychic reading on you, to see if you’re the Green River Killer?”
I put an ad in the Little Nickel to try and sell my Galaxie. I asked Gary to come over and give it a once over before a guy came by to look at it. He agreed. When he showed up Barbra looked as excited as an old lady with unlimited bingo cards and dobbers for fingers to talk to him.
I told Barbra not to be too obvious when asking him things. I didn’t want him to catch on to what we were doing, for a few reasons: The most obvious, if he was the GRK, he might kill us. Murdering Barbra and I wouldn’t be shit to him. He strangled, stabbed and raped up to seventy-one women for Christ’s-sake. If he didn’t kill/ stab/ rape us, he might flee, and then we’d lose out on the reward money.
Gary helped me sell my car, and survived Barbra’s psychic grilling. She said he wasn’t the killer. She didn’t even call Dave Riechert. Part of me felt relieved my creepy, socially un-balanced friend was exonerated, but honestly another part of me, my bank account and the need for fame part wanted him to be the killer. Plus it would have meant the killer was caught and not only would victim’s families have closure it would mean he couldn’t harm anyone else, but mostly it was the bank account, fame thing.
Things at home with Barbra and Meghan were not going well. It turned out Barbra was a racist, and Meghan was fifteen. I got Meghan and I kicked out of the house when I went off on Barbra saying things like, “You’re a bigo`t and a bitch” plus a few other choice words. I was willing to pal around with a potential serial killer but I’d be damned if I was going to sleep under the same roof as an old racist, psychic lady.
It was at this time my awesome math skills kicked in too, I figured out the dates of events in Meghan’s life didn’t jibe with the age of her sister and mother. She eventually confessed she had lied about her age. I didn’t take the news well and broke up with her. I went from trying to jail my friend for rape and murder to trying to not end up in jail myself, for statutory rape.
My relationship with Meghan and Barbra ended, but the one with Gary was strong as ever. Despite his weirdness and professed dis-like for the Caucasian opposite sex, we spent more time hanging out over the next few years.
I still had strong suspicions Gary was the Green River Killer even though Barbra disqualified him from her list of suspects. After all I’m an atheist and a strong un-believer in most things voodoo, including psychic powers.
Gary never drove on the freeway. He only took surface streets and even then he chose the back roads. It was pretty annoying actually. A trip that should have taken fifteen minutes he would stretch in to thirty-five easily. On one of these strips, we drove down by the South Center Mall along the Duwamish River. I casually brought up the topic of the Green River Murders, as I often did. It surprised me he never caught on. I started the conversation with, “As a kid, I remember hearing about a body being found in the Duwamish River, down by the old drive-in.”
Gary corrected me on some of the details I had wrong. He then took me on a sightseeing tour. We drove to where some victims were found. He told me he did a lot of fishing in the area during the eighties and he saw the police pull dead bodies out of the river, some of them weighted down. I didn’t feel like I’d be in danger anymore. Even if he thought I knew, I didn’t think he’d do anything about it. I had the feeling Gary was a different person than he was in the early eighties. There hadn’t been in killings for quite some time, maybe he was reformed?
I continued to race cars when I had the money, which was almost never. I bounced from job to job, and girlfriend to girlfriend. I maintained a close friendship with Gary. I even did some side jobs with him for some not-so-extra cash. Eventually at twenty-three years old I bought a collision center with the help of my mom and her in-laws.
Whenever I take on a new adventure in life I like to have people I know and trust around. After being in business for a couple of years I hired my best friend Jason to help me out in the office. Since I was thirteen years old Jason has been the one constant sane thing in my life. He is the most grounded and logical person I know.
For years, Jason listened to my stories about Gary and even met him on several occasions. He was a little skeptical Gary was the Green River Killer, but he wasn’t sure he wasn’t the killer either. I doubt you could live in the Seattle area in the eighties and not be curious about the murders. If Gary was the person responsible for the deaths of those girls we were going to find out, and of course collect the reward. We wondered aloud on a few occasions, “Should we visit him in prison? I mean, if he doesn’t get the chair that is.”
I hired Gary to detail cars, clean the shop and do any mechanical work we needed. They say keep you friends close and your enemies’ closer, Gary was both.
Life went on pretty normal for quite some time. I raced cars, went through girlfriends and we still thought Gary was the Green River Killer.
After a while it was too hard to come up with ways to ask Gary about the murders in a nonchalant sort of way. I don’t remember how we asked him, or if it was Jason, or I who finally did. Probably Jason said, “Gar, Feet here (they called me Feet) thinks you are the Green River Killer.”
Gary would just sigh, smile and say, “Naw, I couldn’t do it. They thought I did, but I couldn’t.”
That was it. Our cards were on the table and we didn’t get stabbed or anything. It felt good to get it off my chest.
Jason brought a video camera to work and we would record us interviewing Gary about things like being a killer. We had a window between my office and Gary’s “office”, Gary’s office, being the break room next to the employee bathroom. Gary stuck his head through the hole and Jason would press record on his camera. We asked him any and everything. He never confessed on camera, or off camera for that matter.
At first I think Gary enjoyed the questioning, but then he started to get irritated with it. He would snap at us on occasion, “I’m not the Green River Killer!”
He was very convincing; I started to doubt myself for the first time in years, and then came a clue. An old lady with thick bright red lipstick and white hair crashed her 1992 Thunderbird, causing her to smack her nose into the steering wheel and bleed all over the interior of her car.
I asked Gary to pull the damaged car into the shop so I could write an estimate. In the car for a few seconds, he leaned out the door and puked all over the driveway. He came into the office spitting and coughing, tears in his eyes.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.
“There is blood all over inside that car.”
“So, with all the blood you’ve seen it can’t be that bad.” I said, through a giggle.
“Fuck you, I hate blood, I’m not the killer!”
I think Jason started to side with him too, “It would be hard to be one of the most prolific serial killers of all time and be squeamish around other people’s blood.” He made a pretty good point, but I wasn’t convinced; it could have been PTSD.
My relationship with Gary started to strain under my relentless allegations. It didn’t help the marriage to his second wife started to fall apart too.
We had our best year in business in 2000, with nearly a million dollars in sales. 2001 looked as if it would be even better. I became single again, got a new racecar, and of all people, Gary helped me with a lot of my co-dependency issues. Life was good; nothing was going to stop me now.
I woke up one morning like a lot of other people. I turned the TV on while getting ready for work. The news showed a smoking building in New York. I lived with Jason at the time so I could save money to buy a house. He walked into the living room. Both of us were still a little groggy. “Weren’t there two of those?” I said, pointing at the TV.
“Yeah, I think so.” He said.
Life was going to be different from now on. Two and a half months later another bombshell would be dropped on America. This event would turn out to be morbidly positive however.
Gary Leon Ridgeway was arrested outside of his work for the murders of four women and later admitted to at least seventy-one killings. I was in shock at the news.
The next morning “Gary” came to work with a TV under his arm. He plopped it down on the counter plugged it in, and turned on news coverage of the capture of the Green River Killer. “See, I told you assholes I wasn’t the killer.” He said triumphantly.
I guess I was wrong. There was no monetary reward, just the solace in knowing my good friend didn’t rape and kill any prostitutes or run-aways in the eighties. Looking back, I may have tried to fit a few square pegs in to a lot of round holes. I suppose if our “Gary” Killed those girls, this story would have been a lot longer and probably written by Anne Rule or some shit.
*Aaron is a Tacoma resident. He owns a Collision Center and was one of the owners of Tacoma Comedy Club and Grit City Comedy Club as well as being a comedian himself.