Washington State is a beautiful, history-rich part of the United States, with a vast surface area and a population the size of a small European country. While it might conjure up images of a bustling suburban metropolis, a large area of Washington is actually covered with dense forestry, which makes it the perfect location for a serial killer to hide a body or kill someone away from prying eyes.
Washington is home to famous universities, attracting a plethora of young students, but it’s also a state with many problems with poverty and homelessness. This has resulted in widespread crime and prostitution, the latter of which certainly aided serial killer activity over the years.
According to the Radford Serial Killer database, there have been around 75 serial killers in Washington State since 1900, including some of the most notorious murderers in known history. In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the most heinous and prolific Washington State Serial Killers to have ever lived, and even currently active killers who haven't been caught.
Ted Bundy is the absolute embodiment of evil; an archetypal serial killer whose crimes still discussed and dissected to this day.
Bundy was decent-looking, a gifted academic and boasted charisma in spades. To many women, he might be considered perfect husband material. But of course, Bundy was a disturbed individual who harboured dark secrets, and those secrets involved murder, rape and necrophilia. He was a law student, interested in politics and had a promising future ahead of him until his grim obsession took over.
It’s presumed that Bundy began killing in 1971 in his hometown of Seattle, and although his total number of victims is unknown, it is believed that he was responsible for the deaths of thirty women.
Bundy’s modus operandi was to attract unsuspecting victims by faking injury and asking passers-by for help. He exploited women’s vulnerabilities and primal desire to nurture, and when opportunity arose, Bundy struck, blitz-attacking his victims when they were unsuspecting.
He evaded being caught by moving around the country, going on to kill young women in seven different states before he was finally caught and awarded the death penalty. Just days before Bundy was executed, he confessed to a total of 30 victims. He died on the electric chair in 1989.
Gary Ridgway The Green River Killer
Gary Leon Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, is one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. He was convicted of 48 murders, but confessed to a staggering 71, spanning from 1982 to 1998.
He earned his nickname after many of his victims were discovered along Washington’s famous Green River. Most of his victims were young, vulnerable women, many of them being sex workers who Ridgway had hired. His preferred method of killing was strangulation, after which he would dump the bodies in wooded areas or the river.
Ridgway managed to evade capture for almost twenty years after his first murder, and was eventually arrested in 2001. After he was first identified as a suspect in the Green River killings, DNA evidence finally cemented his guilt.
In order to escape the death penalty, Ridgway accepted a plea bargain, confessing to 48 killings for which he received 48 consecutive life sentences.
Robert Lee Yates
The Spokane serial killer, Robert Yates, worked as a correction officer at the Washington State Penitentiary before enrolling in the US army where he gained several medals for his service.
His victims were sex workers that he would hire, do the deed with and then shoot in the head. As is the case with most serial killers, Yates’s total number of victims is unknown, but he confessed to having taken the life of 18 women between 1975 to 1998.
Yates managed to evade capture for many years, using his reputation as an army and family man, but was arrested in 2000 after evidence found in his car tied him to one of the murders. Although Yates entered a plea deal to void the death penalty, after evidence of two more murders was uncovered, he was sentenced to death, but was later changed to life imprisonment after the death penalty was abolished in 2018 in the state of Washington.
Warren Leslie Forrest
Warren Leslie Forrest is a war veteran turned serial killer from Vancouver, Washington. Although officially charged with only two murders, his body count is believed to be at least six.
In 1974, Forrest was arrested for the murder of an unnamed victim, for which he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to a mental institution. However, police believed that Forrest was responsible for several other unsolved murders throughout Washington State, including two which were originally thought to be the handiwork of Ted Bundy.
In 1979, they discovered evidence to charge Forrest with the murder of 19-year-old Krista Kay Blake, for which Forrest received a life sentence. After more than forty years, detectives found more proof connecting him to other murders for which he is still awaiting trial.
Currently Active Washing State Serial Killers
Washington state investigators have certainly had a difficult job fighting and apprehending serial killers throughout the decades. As of June 2020, there are no known active serial killers in the state, but there are still a few unsolved cases that may be attributed to them.
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The Freeway Phantom
The Freeway Phantom is an unidentified serial killer alleged to have murdered six people between 1971 and 1972. The victims were teenage girls between 10 and 18 years old who were abducted from the streets of Washington D.C., and most of them showed evidence of sexual assault upon the discovery of their bodies.
Interestingly, the Freeway Phantom would always collect his victims’ shoes, but none of them were ever discovered. One of the victims, Brenda Crockett, managed to call her home after being taken and frantically screamed that “a white man had picked her up”. She then hung up, but called again a few minutes later. This time, the man was in the room, and when Crockett’s mother’s boyfriend asked to speak to him, the phone line went dead. She was found dead the next morning.
Despite a substantial effort from the investigators involved in catching the Phantom, they never managed to make an arrest. The killer even taunted them by leaving a note with one of the victims that mentioned that if he ever got caught, he’d confess to everything he’d done.
Among the suspects were the Green Vega group, a Washington D.C. gang responsible for several rape and abductions around the city. One associate of the Green Vega group gave information to the police incriminating some of his fellow gang members, but after the police released the news to the media, he retracted his statement and nothing else came of it.
The Tube Sock Murders
The Tube Sock Murders are a series of unsolved homicides that took place in Mineral, Washington in 1985.
Two couples were killed in total, but another couple murdered in the same period are thought to be victims of the same perpetrator. The first couple, Steve Harkins and Ruth Cooper, were killed in August, 1985, and their bodies were found in a remote campsite. Harkins was discovered only four days after his initial disappearance, while Cooper wasn’t found until months later, about a mile away from her boyfriend’s body. They had both been shot, but the woman’s body displayed signs of trauma, and was found with a tube sock around her neck.
The second couple, Mike Riemer and Diana Robertson, disappeared under similar circumstances in December of the same year. Robertson’s body was discovered in February 1986, showing a total of seventeen stab wounds along with a sock around her neck. Partial remains of Rimer weren’t discovered until 2011, and up until that point, Riemer had been considered a suspect in the Tube Sock Murders.
Police had a few theories and leads, however, nothing ever came of them.