Murder in Spokane: Catching a Serial Killer
by Mark Fuhrman
(HarperCollins) $25

Murder in Spokane is the third book by ex-LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman, who became famous in the mid-'90s for his forensic testimony and racist remarks during the O. J. Simpson trial. In recent years, Fuhrman has refashioned himself from a perjuring Satan into a sleuthing Good Samaritan, who pushes controversial cases toward closure. He's more likable these days, with his bad reputation, like a competent cop who drinks.

Although the book is about Spokane's serial murderer, Robert Lee Yates Jr., Fuhrman offers us a great lens to view and analyze the timely, recent discovery of the Green River Killer. By timely, I strongly suggest an underlying political intent behind the December unearthing of a serial killer.

Think about it. Is it any coincidence that Gary Leon Ridgway was apprehended just weeks before county budgets were finalized, with Washington's economy about to fall headlong into a deep hole? On November 24, Sheriff Dave Reichert complained that his domestic security budget had been "hijacked" when faced with $2.5 million in cuts by the King County Council. Three weeks later, inspired by public sentiment over the November 30 Ridgway arrest, the council increased its law-and-order budget by approving a new tax levy of $1.4 million toward the Green River investigation. (The current search for 50 missing women on Robert William Pickton's pig farm on the outskirts of Vancouver B.C. also has underlying political and economic motives.)

Ridgway, seemingly a stereotypical pervert, will provide the public with a great diversion. His arrest played out like a choreographed media event. His trial will rival war casualties, rising unemployment, and corporate disappearances for our attention. But will it deliver women who work the streets from violent crimes? Very unlikely.

In the opening pages of Murder in Spokane, Fuhrman quotes John Douglas (the FBI profiler of the Green River Killer), who refers to the Pacific Northwest as "America's Killing Fields," poised as we are at the edge of the giant continent, pent-up, hidden in creepy shadows and rain. With his hard-boiled judgments and cynicism, Fuhrman guides us through the political labyrinth of hunting serial killer Yates.

In succinct fashion, Fuhrman gives us a behind-the-scenes view of what really happens in a police task force: "Police departments approach a serial killer case differently from any other. After several victims are discovered and apparently linked, the police form a task force. Subsequent publicity and political pressure create the demand for new and different methods of detection, which often just confuses and overburdens investigators, leading them further from a possible solution. Soon they're so buried in minutiae that they can't even imagine solving the case."

These days Fuhrman lives in rural Idaho in semi-retirement. He drives to Spokane twice weekly to cohost a true-crime radio talk show on KXLY 920 AM. That's how his interest in the Spokane murders got piqued. Fuhrman began critiquing the Spokane Police Department's investigation of the deaths of young prostitutes, which ended in the sentencing of Yates to 408 years in prison on October 26, 2000. Mind you, Fuhrman didn't exactly solve the crime, but he did push and annoy the police enough to keep them on top of the case. Then he wrote this book. He's obviously an adept opportunist.

Murder in Spokane is worth a read as a decent late-winter distraction. As a true-crime fan, I found it a good pause between requisite re-readings of Truman Capote's masterpiece, In Cold Blood (in which every sentence is a gift). There are no literary gifts in Fuhrman's book and it's unclear how much of it he actually penned, but Murder in Spokane has the virtues of being well-organized and clear.

What's ultimately best about Murder In Spokane is Fuhrman's ability to show us the politics of solving crimes that occur in America's moral shadowlands. Fuhrman's insights might be useful as we embark on the media circus and major expense of the Ridgway trial--which will probably outlast the recession, but not the mean streets.

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