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TODAY’S FOCUS: Investigators Hope to Arrest Serial Killer This Year

January 24, 1986

SEATTLE (AP) _ Capt. Frank Adamson says he doesn’t know the name of the Green River killer, but he’s certain the nation’s worst current serial murder case will be solved and he hopes 1986 will be the year.

In the 3 1/2 years since the first bodies were found in the Green River south of here, the unknown killer has slain 34 young women, mainly prostitutes or street people. Another 11 missing women are feared slain.

Many of the victims were strangled; a cause of death cannot be established for all. Their remains have been found dumped in remote areas south and east of Seattle and in a suburb of Portland, Ore.

″By this time next year I’m fairly optimistic we will have him in jail,″ Adamson told a reporter early this month, while surveying a rural ravine where the skeletons of two long-dead victims had just been found.

Predictions like that make Adamson’s boss, King County Sheriff Vern Thomas, a little nervous, and Adamson later hedged his outlook.

Praising his detectives, he said, ″I’m very optimistic their work will pay off sometime in the indefinite future - and I would suggest a prediction of this year is not too bad.″

″There’s no doubt in my mind we will solve this case,″ the 44-year-old Adamson says. ″I continually go back to the belief (the killer) is somewhere in our files.″

Through 1986 some $8.5 million in county, federal and state dollars have been committed to the case.

The apparent two-year lull in the killing has allowed Adamson’s investigators to eliminate 200 to 300 suspects, many of them men convicted of other murders, and to locate 573 missing or runaway women and girls.

Adamson says the Green River Task Force is concentrating these days on checking more than 50 ″category A″ suspects, men deemed worthy of immediate investigation.

Adamson has headed the King County-funded task force since January 1984, when it was expanded from the small group that first wrestled with the case.

In recent developments:

- A 15-year-old Seattle girl abducted last September from a Portland, Ore., street and left for dead 30 miles outside the city provided a detailed description of her attacker. The girl, who was raped and stabbed, told police the attacker drove a dark-colored station wagon, outfitted like a taxi.

The attack resembled the Green River slayings, fueling hopes the killer had finally made a mistake. The task force termed the case ″a particularly strong lead.″

Sgt. Walt Wagner of the Oregon State Police said news accounts generated more than 100 tips, but neither the attacker nor his vehicle has been found despite exhaustive checks of cab companies.

The victim described her attacker as a white male aged 25 to 30, 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1 with long sandy hair, blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. The girl’s description resembled one of four different composite sketches police have released of men seen with various victims shortly before they disappeared. All four sketches showed white males in their late 20s or early 30s.

- Fourteen FBI agents have joined the case, bringing the size of the task force to 55. The agents, all veterans, are checking potential killers, Adamson says.

The FBI formally joined the hunt last September after deciding two Seattle women whose bones were found last summer in a field in Oregon were Green River victims, making the killer an interstate criminal.

- King County has approved a $2.5 million 1986 budget to maintain the task force at roughly the same level as 1984 and 1985.

- Pierce Brooks, a former Los Angeles homicide detective who served as a consultant in the Atlanta child killing probe and the Chicago Tylenol poisoning investigation, gave the task force a glowing report last September. Brooks, who was paid $3,000 for his review, said the investigation was well- organized and its staff size should not be reduced.

The addition of the FBI agents ″was a big plus,″ he said in a recent telephone interview from his Vida, Ore., home.

- A $1 million federal grant will be used to hire nine people full-time to finish transferring the task force files into a $200,000 computer. The computer came on line a year ago, but it will take at least another year before all the data is loaded.

To date, more than 11,000 ″tip sheets″ have been loaded and all the investigators trained to use the computer.

The grant also will buy increased computer capacity and a laser device to help lift fingerprints from difficult surfaces.

The last confirmed victim, 16-year-old Mary West, disappeared in February 1984, shortly after the task force was expanded. Her bones were found last September in a Seattle city park.

The last disappearance linked to the case was 17-year-old Cindy Smith, who left her mother’s house in south Seattle in March 1984, planning to hitch a ride to her sister’s home.

Despite the apparent lull, Adamson refuses to say the Green River slayings are finished. Unless the killer is caught, jailed or incapacitated, he will kill again, the captain warns.