‘Green River Killer’ Graphic Novel Review
Green River Killer: A True Detective Story is a non-fiction crime piece that allows readers to view the well-known murder investigation from the perspective of Detective Tom Jensen. It provides this unique perspective while also acknowledging the broader issue of human trafficking.
For those who may not be familiar with the Green River killings, the horrific acts occurred in King County, Washington between the 1980’s and late 1990’s. The culprit behind the murders would remain nameless for twenty years. It was not until DNA technology finally gave detectives forensic evidence against Gary Leon Ridgway that forty-eight murder cases came to a close.
The story opens in 1965. A six-year-old boy is playing outside when an adolescent boy approaches him. The adolescent tells the young boy that he has to be careful when playing away from home. The teenager also warns the younger boy that the highway nearby “brings a lot of bad people to the area.” His warning turns out to be true as he later stabs the younger boy and confesses he “wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.”
This event begins Gary Leon Ridgway’s ascension into his dark urges to kill and engage in necrophilia. Fortunately, Ridgway was unsuccessful in his attempt to kill the boy, but he would try killing again. In his later crimes, he targets young, female prostitutes with devastating results.
The graphic novel may inform readers about Ridgway’s terrible crimes, but, more importantly, the work tells the story of the women and girls taken too soon. It does this in a way that does not trivialize their deaths. The murders could have been portrayed as fantastical details in the serial killer’s own narrative; instead, writer Jeff Jensen makes sure the focus is on those who were in need of justice and those who sought to find it.
Sadly, incidents similar to the Green River murders are not unheard of. For instance, on October 15th of this year, Homer Lee Jackson of Oregon was arrested for the deaths of four young women that also occurred in the 1980’s. Jackson murdering like Ridgway is not what is important, it is the fact that he targeted the same demographic.
The graphic novel states that the victims of the Green River Killer “stand for a larger group of woman and children victimized through sex and labor exploitation, brought into prostitution by force, fraud, and coercion.” This is what makes this piece so valuable. The story is not just “entertainment;” it is a tool to reach out to the community and acknowledge a crime that plagues every country: human trafficking.
To be clear, human trafficking is “the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others.” While it is a major issue all over the globe, it almost seems invisible to the general public. Many people do not realize that the numerous men and women involved in sex work are forced into the industry via human trafficking.
Some people have a tendency to forget that those in the sex industry are victims, even when tragedy strikes upon them; however, this attitude is no better than that of Gary Ridgway, who thought he was doing society a favor by killing prostitutes. What he and many others do not understand is that the people providing sexual services are not the bad guys; it is the people who kidnap and enslave them who are the true criminals.
The graphic novel realizes this fact and attempts to correct the perceptions people may have about the victims. Those who lost their lives to Ridgway are not defined by the trade they found themselves within.“To their families, they were daughters, sisters, and mothers,” Jeff Jensen reminds readers.
Green River Killer: A True Detective Story is a graphic novel that unfolds an interesting story, but it is also commendable because of its attempt to bring attention to the international issue of human trafficking. The men and women within this modern form of slavery should not be demonized on top of the multiple injustices done to them by their traffickers, and the graphic novel serves as a reminder of this.
For that, I applaud the novel. I encourage comic fans to read it, and I also encourage them to familiarize themselves with the signs of human trafficking and the ways in which to report it. As Jensen mentions at the end of the novel, The Polaris Project and The Nest Foundation are two of many organizations that can be used to report suspicious activity.