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Originally published Friday, April 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Green River killer story to be chronicled in graphic novel

"Green River Killer" will be a 120-page graphic novel chronicling Green River Task Force detective Tom Jensen's 20-year effort to capture Gary L. Ridgway. The book will be officially announced at this weekend's Emerald City Comicon.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Information

Emerald City Comicon: For a complete schedule, prices, list of guests and events, visit www.emeraldcitycomicon.com.

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A birth announcement will be one of the highlights at this weekend's Emerald City Comicon. But not for anything cute. Remarkably ugly, in fact: an upcoming graphic novel about the Green River killer, written by the son of the detective who arrested him.

It's a gruesomely appropriate Seattle pedigree for the convention touted as the area's biggest pop-culture event — whose impressive roster of about 200 guests also includes "Battlestar Galactica" cast members, "Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola, and the writers and artists of loads of comic books from the mainstream and popular to the independent and obscure.

Now in its seventh year, the ever-growing geek-fest at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center is expected to beat last year's 10,000 attendees as easily as The Punisher could whip a shoplifter.

Scheduled for early 2010 from Portland publisher Dark Horse Comics, "Green River Killer" will be a 120-page graphic novel chronicling Green River Task Force Detective Tom Jensen's 20-year effort to capture Gary L. Ridgway, who was convicted in 2003 of murdering 48 women. He's suspected of killing many more.

Asked if he'd ever write a book about the experience, the detective had always responded, "Well, if it's ever going to happen, it'll probably be a comic book," recalled his son, Jeff Jensen, 38, an Entertainment Weekly journalist.

"There have been a lot of books written about the Green River killer, and I wanted this to be a little special," the younger Jensen said by phone from his Long Beach, Calif., home.

The graphic novel promises a behind-the-scenes look at the case, with aspects that have been little explored, from the perspective of the now-retired investigator who's avoided the limelight.

Illustrated by Ramon K. Perez, the story's framing device is five days in June 2003 when Ridgway was secretly removed from jail to be interrogated in a nondescript building at Boeing Field. The horrific, five-day emotional roller coaster culminated with Tom Jensen extracting the information that led to Ridgway's conviction.

Jeff Jensen listened to tapes of the interviews as part of his research. "You can hear it in my dad's voice. He's losing it. There is emotion, and my dad is a very reserved man, and it's creeping into his voice and he's struggling very hard to not break down."

When Ridgway admitted to his motives, "there's a long pause on that tape and my dad emotionally just says, 'Why?' And Gary answers the question, and my dad says, "You touched me, Gary." And he stands up and he walks out of the room. (He wouldn't reveal Ridgway's answer.)

"That's the story about how the five days are a microcosm of my dad's journey and Gary's killing spree and the whole investigation leading up to the ability to look this evil man in the eye and ask the question that every single detective that has ever passed through this case had wanted to ask this guy ... and the question was 'Why?'"

As a teenager during the Green River investigation, Jeff was aware of his dad's involvement but never probed him for details. "It felt unseemly to ask."

But after journalists discovered that Ridgway wasn't in his cell, Jeff Jensen's parents called him "and said 'there's something you should probably know': that Gary Ridgway was living in a small, little office just down the aisle from my dad's cubicle and he'd been living there for months, and my dad had been spending months talking to him. What was that like for my dad? That's what I couldn't get out of my head."

The interrogation lasted 103 more days, and Jeff Jensen said his comic is intended to bring that experience to life.

"Gary remains to this day a riddle — a riddle to his lawyers, a riddle to detectives, a riddle to his family. What made that man tick? This book takes a perspective on that question."

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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