HateGeorge Russell's psyche gorged on grudges. Spending most of his pre-adolescent life as a roaming cat burglar in the Seattle, Washington suburbs, he stole to get even, not with the people he ripped off, but with the world. Petty robbery, however, was not enough. The indelible mark of hate that he felt he needed to impress on the surface of mankind or, rather, womankind could not flush up until he found the outlet to do so. All his life he had been looking for a spigot to vent, whether he realized it or not. At the age of consent, when the singles bars opened their doors to him, and when he was able to "blend" with the people whom he realized were symbols of his loathing, George Russell crossed the danger line.
"Russell, convicted of murdering three women in Bellevue (Washington State) in a two-month span...killed his first victim in an alley, but the next two in their homes," writes Richard Seven, a Seattle Times reporter. "The MO or modus operandi changed, but each woman's body was found grotesquely posed, an obvious and rare signature that revealed his distinct compulsion."
Signature killers, driven by something erratic, erotic and lethal, become assassins warring against their own mania. Their battleground is often the most unsuspecting place in urban or rural America, often where the killer grew up. Figures of pent-up frustration, predominantly sexual, they reach an age, or encounter an incident, that pushes them across what signature killer authority Robert Keppel calls "the comfort zone the edge of normalcy and the borderline of criminality".
Dr. Robert Keppel, author of Signature Killers and former chief investigator for the Washington State Attorney General's Office, personally studied and took part in the trials of landmark killers Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and George Russell. His knowledge of anger-driven prototypes who leave their "personal mark" upon their crime scenes is vast. Russell is one of his most interesting "signature killers" in that Russell's entire existence followed a course set at an early age when a mother, and then a stepmother, abandoned him. These women came to represent, to Russell, Womanhood Total. What they did to him, abandoned him in life, needed to be repaid through death. While they were not to be touched, he nevertheless unleashed his vengeance on others in female form whom he considered as he considered his mother and stepmother heartless and promiscuous.
As Ted Bundy (whom Russell idolized) was able to navigate unsuspectingly "normal" in his world, so did Russell in his. A black man in his thirties in an upper-echelon yuppie community, he brought with him to the singles bars a good-looking face, a flashing smile, verbosity and a great personality that camouflaged a lethal under-self. He picked up women, black and white, with the ease of Lothario, but with the intention of Bluebeard.
"The fury (George Russell) expended at the crime scenes (and) the obvious lengths he went to show whomever found his victims' bodies the contempt he felt for those women...bespeak a kind of deep-residing cauldron of anger that's way beyond normality," writes Dr. Keppel.
As is typical with many serial killers, Russell's anger eventually overtook him.
The following article detailing what has been since called "The Bellevue Yuppie Murders" is based on the determinations and hypotheses of Dr. Keppel and the findings of the Bellevue/Seattle area police who took part in the investigation. Because no one was present when George Walterfield Russell, Jr. committed his necrophiliac murders, much remains in conjecture what exactly went through the murderer's mind, for instance. In attempting to re-enact those scenes, as well as digging into the killer's brain while he stalked his victims, I referred to the latter scrutiny of the subject painstakingly studied and addressed by experts.
With this story I also intended and hopefully succeeded to step deeper into the recesses of signature killings, an examination I had begun with my previous story of Harvey Glatman, the sexual necrophile who killed then posed his female victims. Several other Crime Library articles touch on this subject (see stories on Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer) and this profile of Russell aims to take that exploration a step further.
DefilementThere was nothing to indicate this being a different day than any other in beautiful Bellevue. Nothing very exciting happened in Bellevue, if you were to ask most of its citizens that Saturday morning of June 23, 1990. As for Jimmy the counter clerk at McDonald's, life was too serene. He might even say that the Pacific Ocean, upon which Washington State sits, was aptly named, pacifico being a Spanish word meaning peaceful. The sun had barely risen, and the restaurant would open in a half-hour; inside, the manager was yelling about last night's trash not being tossed before the crew went home. So, here was Jimmy, yanking the heavy plastic gray gurney to the Dumpster in the back.
Heaving the gurney over the back door threshold, Jimmy didn't know what that thing was ahead of him, lying halfway between him and the Dumpster, dead center in the alley. The early morning shadows hazed his view. It looked white and long and twisted just like a tree branch. Or was it something that fell out of the Black Angus' trashcans adjacent to theirs? McDonald's and the steakhouse shared the same refuse area.
Jimmy paused and squinted. If it was a wounded animal of some sort, no way was he going to touch it. He tippy-toed a few feet closer. It was a mannequin...wasn't it? A mannequin of a woman. Wait, though, it...she...looked too real, and quite naked, and quite still. Drunk, maybe? Injured? Yeah, but no human being can contort her body like that, whispered Jimmy. Leaning over this spectacle, this time for a real look, he caught all the glimpse he cared to get. And it scared the hell out of him.
Vaulting back through McDonald's alley door, he raced for the phone and screamed into the receiver for the police.
Within minutes, the alleyway was alive with blue uniforms and squad cars, their cherry lights bouncing across the rear walls of the buildings and the faces of gathering pedestrians the cops were trying to keep away. Of the body, the corpse was a grotesque picture of a young nude woman, wearing nothing but small articles of jewelry and bent into shapes unthinkable to the human form. The word that came to mind with the experts who inspected her was degradation.
"The victim was left lying on her back, with her left foot crossed over the instep of her right ankle," reads Dr. Robert Keppel's chapter on the Bellevue Yuppie Murders in his clinical study of Signature Killers. "Her head was turned to the left and a Frito-Lay dip container rested on top of her right eye...In one hand, detectives found a startling piece of evidence: a Douglas fir cone."
Keppel, who would become intrinsically involved as consultant in the case and the subsequent trial of the murderer, would go on to diagnose the pine cone as being a stark and frightening phallic symbol of something sexually predominant in the killer's mind. It was fairly obvious in the way the woman had been molested that the murder was a product of a deviant fantasy. The autopsy examination revealed apart from a number of vicious wounds indicating that she had been severely punched and kicked that the victim had been brutally raped. Besides the clinical sign of vaginal penetration, her anus had been savagely stabbed with an unknown foreign object.
Estimated time of death was between 2:30 and 5:20 a.m., but the latter time seems to have been more realistic as the night crew from the Black Angus Restaurant katty-corner had dumped its garbage at approximately 3:15 a.m. and had seen nothing. As the body had been left on the asphalt-paved garbage area in the path of the Dumpster, there could have been no way that anyone would have passed over the pavement without encountering it.
Cause of death was trauma to the right side of the head delivered by a blunt instrument heavy enough to crack the skull. The woman had also suffered a ruptured liver from what must have been a horrendous blow. But, most of her other injuries and bruises, even signs of her having been garroted, appeared to have been delivered after death, which added an even stranger dementia to the case. Whoever killed her had taken his/her time to perform a kind of ritual, enjoying the handiwork, climaxed with the act of posing the body into a specified contour. In fact, it seemed that the killer had taken great pains to leave the body in a state that would beget two results:
1) to shock whomever found it, and
2) to send a message to the police that said, in its own macabre, silent way, "See what I've done come and get me!"
As it would turn out, the posing meant more than a perverted joke. It had deeper meaning. Accordingly, the killer had truly and instinctively gratified his/her own instincts, similar to a waxworks artist creating a specific emotion in the face of his figure.
Officials worried that this slaying might be the first of more to come; it had all the earmarks of someone with a warped psychological chip on the shoulder. There were traces of spontaneity, but, in all, the butcher job performed on the victim reeked of a long pent-up anxiety that had finally broken loose. For one, the fact that the killer spent so much time arranging the body indicated a fantasy, a vision, of something he or she had prefabricated in his or her mind and long yearned to play out. What bothered the experts more than anything was that they knew from experience dealing with other psycho-homicides, that as their killing progresses they become more and more violent.
Bellevue was a very peacaeble community until that night murders were and are to this day a rarity so the local police had very little experience handling a murder case. Rap sheets in their files amounted to petty thieves and miscreants.
However, once the victim was identified, clues at least solid presumptions began to materialize. Through dental records, a name was given to the corpse: Mary Ann Pohlreich. In life, she was a pretty, talkative woman of 27 years who stood 5'7" with gray eyes and shoulder-length light brown hair. She was last seen on Friday evening, June 22, in one of Bellevue's favorite weekend habitats not far from where she was found dead, a popular singles bar and "meet market" called Papagayo's Cantina. Her 1984 Chevrolet Camaro was found still parked in the adjoining lot, telling police that she may have left the place with her killer. While investigators interviewed several who remembered seeing Miss Pohlreich there, none could recall when she left the bar nor with whom.
Because her purse was also left behind in the cloakroom, this reinforced the investigators' belief that she had left with a male headed for a rush of casual sex, intending to return to the bar afterwards. Perhaps her killer had suggested they make love in his car in the parking lot, or that they cruise to one of the nearby dark corners within the vicinity. Leaving Papagayo's, the victim thought she would be back.
Conjecture, the point at which any successful criminal investigation begins, caused a picture to start emerging on a blank canvas. Pohlreich was picked up at Papagayo's by or maybe had set a date to meet someone who fit into the singles bar scene, someone matching the common milieux. (Ted Bundy wore his tangible world like a glove.) She had had a few drinks on an empty stomach the coroner's report confirmed that and was easy prey. Not promiscuous but nevertheless not one either to turn down a little innocent sex, she fell prey to her pickup.
Some investigators, including Keppel, believed that the woman's killer may not have initially intended to murder her, but had lost control. It seemed quite probable that Pohlreich, having been the first of more victims to come, may have inadvertantly triggered not only her own annihilation but a long-caged frustration that would set the psychopath off on a killing spree. Maybe he wanted more than she cared to offer in terms of sex. When she objected to his physical advances in his automobile, he angered. The more she fought, the more he worked himself into a frenzy, ultimately beating her until she was unconscious.
Even if the murder had not been premeditated, the slaughter showed signs of a deranged mind, the type of killing that, once fulfilled, would lead to others. In short, the killer had tasted blood, had released perhaps years of psychosexual dreaming, and in the act of letting the fantasy explode realized he reveled in it with complete satisfaction a heightened sexual climax.
If that were the case, reasoned the authorities, the murderer would strike again. Quite soon.
A Growing AppetiteOn August 9, 1990, a little more than a month after the Pohlreich murder, Carol Ann Beethe returned home from the Keg Restaurant to be exterminated before sunrise.
Like Papagayo's, the Keg was another "in" spot for Bellevue's young professionals, many of who worked in nearby Seattle across Lake Washington and mingled in each other's company after work. Bathed in lavender light, Liz Claiborne perfume, calmed by soft keyboard and their favorite mixed drink, they came together in AKA Joe sportswear or in Armani and Versace linens to chat, to laugh and to make out. It didn't matter how long or if they knew each other.
Pretty, blonde-haired, svelte Carol Beethe slotted well with her crowd, trading sexual innuendoes, teasing the men, inviting their flirtations, and most often dropping them cold. It was a game and great for the ego. On the evening of August 9, however, she concentrated on the bartender, turning her back to all the other males who watched her swivel temptingly on the barstool. She hadn't realized that one pair of eyes paid her extra special attention from behind the quivering flame of a table candle in the corner of the lounge.
Beethe left the Keg a little past 2 a.m. and drove straight home. A neighbor out walking his dog later told police that he had seen Beethe unlock the front door of her ranch-style home, then enter about 2:30. She was alone, and she looked a little tipsy. There was neither anyone with her or near her, on foot or cruising the block in an automobile.
Inside her home, Beethe, a divorcee, peeked in on her two daughters, a nine- and a 13-year-old, and was glad to see that they both looked peacefully asleep. Taking a quick shower, she prepared for bed. Tomorrow was a workday and she was scheduled to work the late shift; she tended bar at Cucina Cucina, one more of Bellevue's trendy drinking dens. She didn't like leaving her kids alone so often at night, but they were responsible, and she knew that her ex often checked in on them.
The neighborhood where she resided was a quiet community comprised of varied house styles, all of them in good order, boasting spacious front lawns and larger backyards. It lay two miles from Bellevue's downtown thoroughfare and a mile and a half from the McDonald's and Black Angus restaurants from whose connecting alley Miss Pohlreich's body turned up. That homicide had upset this neighborhood, as it did all of Bellevue. But now, after forty days of resumed tranquility and order, general concensus was that the murderer had been a transient passing through and had put Bellevue, probably even Washington State, far behind him.
Beethe, exhausted, rested her head on her pillow not long after 3 a.m. The moon was especially bright that night, so she turned her eyes from the open French glass doors that shone translucently in lunar light. She rarely bothered to draw their drapes, even though they opened into her yard. She figured that because her yard was private it did not draw public access. She never locked the doors either, and it was through them that the killer had found easy entrance.
Whether he entered before or after she went to bed is not known, but the woman had had only a brief warning of any intruder as indicated by two defense wounds on her palms. As her trespasser had done with Pohlreich, he slammed his fists into Beethe's ribcage to stifle an outcry, then continued to punch her about her face and chest until she was winded and then unconscious. With her now silenced, he went about his business, preparing to lay her "in state" in such a way that the world would know just what he thought about Carol Ann Beethe.
To make sure she would never wake up, he whacked her skull several times with a blunt and heavy object that left large Y-shaped impressions across her cranium and face. (The weapon would never be identified.) She was dead, but he couldn't stand her two eyes staring at him through the dimness of the room. Though emotionless now, they seemed to follow him wherever he crossed like his own guilt confronting him. He would put an end to that, he told himself, and from across her bureau he grabbed a plastic bag, the kind cleaners use to wrap newly pressed garments, and slipped it over her head. Doubling it over twice thick, he then secured it around her throat with a belt. But...that was not enough. The moonlight still caught those eyes and they still met his, pupil to pupil. Groaning, he clutched the pillow from beneath her and shoved it over her face. She could not see him now nor could he be intimidated.
Now he could enjoy the rest of his ritual...
Carol Beethe's oldest daughter Kelly found her mother the following morning. When the police arrived, they found something more revolting to the eyes than the savagery performed on Pohlreich. Beethe's naked body was sprawled sideways on the bed, her feet towards the door. At first the cops thought she had been suffocated by the pillow until they lifted it to find her head sealed in the plastic bag, which was tied around her neck. Her skull was cracked open and multiple bruises swelled her face. Her nightgown lay crumpled and torn on the floor.
She wore only red high-heeled shoes. These, the police determined, were rudely stuffed on her feet by her killer after death. The middle finger of one hand was nearly severed. Her legs were pried open and the barrel of a shotgun, which Kelly Beethe said belonged to her mother for protection, was shoved far up her vagina. Her ribcage, stomach and chest displayed marks of abuse.
What the killer had done, taking care to pose her in this fashion, took no little effort. Investigators judged that the slayer had been methodical and expended much time. The Beethe children had heard nothing during the night although they slept immediately in the connecting room; this meant that the intruder must have operated stealthily. Evidence in the house suggested that he had wandered through it before he left, perhaps looking for money or valuables. At one point, Kelly had caught a glimpse of a man passing her bedroom door, but wrote him off as one of her mother's boyfriends. She couldn't describe him.
As the police began investigating, they interviewed the neighbor who had seen her return home the previous night, but he could provide them with nothing substantial. They also spoke with some neighborhood children who had been camping out next door. They said she seemed to be in a hurry, as if afraid of someone or something outside.
Questioning John Comfort, the bartender she had stopped to see at the Keg, the police learned Beethe helped him close up, then went with him to his car where they made love. He had seen no signs of life in the parking lot, nor any suspicious characters hanging about the restaurant at closing time. There had been a few last-minute stragglers, but all were gone by the time they locked up.
Comfort was detained, let go, then placed under surveillance. Bellevue authorities refused to believe at this point that they had a serial killer on their hands. They argued that the modus operandi of the Pohlreich and Beethe crimes differed. Pohlreich, they said, had been the victim of a spontaneous date rape gone awry; Beethe had died at the hands of a housebreaker who might have had a personal vendetta against her.
They failed to recognize four important psychological elements:
1) that both crimes bore signs of graphic sexual deviancy;
2) that both women's bodies had been treated with sheer contempt by the killer;
3) that both corpses were posed to laugh at and malign the law; and
4) that even though the MO had altered, the signature (the other three elements) had not.
Of Hate and LustThose who had denied the presence of a serial killer in their midst changed their minds when victim number three, another pretty young woman, was found on the third of September in her apartment in nearby Kirkland. It had been a mere 24 days since the discovery of Carol Ann Beethe's mutilated corpse. Now, just when King County's citizens were beginning to wonder what was happening to their usually mild landscape and when the Seattle Times and other newspapers were demanding to know why the police couldn't nab this individual the killer struck again.
This time, the calling card he left could not be refuted. He was, no doubt, one and the same person who had killed the other two women. His "signature" was explicit.
Andrea Levine known to friends and co-workers alike as Randi was a 24-year-old redhead last seen in the lounge of the Maple Gardens Restaurant on August 30, four days before her landlord discovered her body. The lounge was located in Kirkland, Washington, four miles north of Bellevue, and was one of her hangouts. Like the two women slain previously, Levine frequented these so-called "yuppie bars" in the area and was well liked by others who often met at these places. She was known for her sarcastic wit and, as was Carol Ann Beethe, for urging on then shutting down interested males.
The night she died she had met several of her girlfriends for a social drink but, according to her company, left the bar alone. Of suspects, there was no one. None of her acquaintances could recall Levine chatting with or teasing any man that night. She hadn't been there that long and hadnt been in her usual high spirits. She departed the Maple Gardens not long after midnight, they surmised, saying she was tired after a long day. As far as anyone knew, she drove home in her favorite vehicle, a pickup truck, and went straight home to her small ground-floor apartment across town.
The following morning before sunrise, at approximately 5 a.m., August 31, her landlord spotted what appeared to be a prowler roaming along the exterior wall near Levine's rear window. The landlord, whose name was Bob Hayes, threw on his robe, leashed his dog and slipped out a back door to confront what he anticipated to be a thief. But the silhouette, definitely a male, heard the yelps of the dog and darted away before Hayes could catch up to him. Satisfied that he had scared off the encroacher, the landlord checked his property for the possibility of broken windows or jimmied locks. Everything seemed in place; evidently he had chased the burglar off before damage was done. Checking the window closest to where he had spotted the fellow, he inadvertantly realized it was his tenant Randi Levine's bedroom window. He could see her asleep on her bed. Blushing, he stepped back and returned to his own place where he rewarded his prowler-chasing dog with a snack.
Hayes was glad to have routed that fellow. Lately there had been break-ins in his building only a couple days earlier, for that matter, Levine had told him there had been a number of things missing from her flat. Since then, he had made it a habit to keep an eye out. Maybe this morning's incident scared the SOB off for good.
Unfortunately, he hadn't gotten close enough to be able to see the man's face. But, as he would later tell police, the fellow was thin, young and quite agile, judging by the way he bolted at the first bark of the mutt.
Because Hayes had made a mental note to tell Levine about the prowler he had seen near her window, he began wondering why he didn't see her coming and going back and forth across the yard. She was an active person, rarely staying indoors.
On September 3, he decided to check in on her. And that is when he found the most ungodly thing he'd ever seen in his life.
When the police arrived they understood why Hayes had been hardly able to talk. His tenant's body stretched across her mattress, covered by a bloody sheet. Everything was bloody. Levine's head, literally busted in at the back of the skull, was topped by a pillow soaking in red. An electric sex toy was shoved far down the well of her throat.
Drawing back Levine's top sheet, they found her nude, her legs spread, and a book, More Joy of Sex, wedged into her left hand. No less than 250 slash marks from a table knife etched her body, from her forehead to the soles of her feet. Since investigators could detect no defense wounds, they believed she was killed while she slept.
Again, no murder weapon was found. And again the killer had spent a lot of time with his victim. He had once more felt in control, his latest posing techniques matching the audacity he emanated.
The autopsy report dealt the police something interesting to consider. Bruise marks on one of the dead woman's fingers suggested that a ring had been pried from it. If the police could get a description of that ring from her friends, and if the killer tried to pawn or sell it, they might be able to trace it back to the possessor.
John Comfort, Carol Beethe's bar-tending boyfriend, was taken off surveillance. Not only had he a sustainable alibi for his whereabouts at the time of Levine's slaughter, but investigators doubted that he, knowing he was under watch, would have attempted another crime so close to the other and with the self-assurance so strongly indicated here.
In the meantime, Bellevue, Kirkland and King County detectives had been working overtime, tracking down all leads, interviewing friends and family members of the deceased, diving into the girls' recent histories in an attempt to unearth anything that might lead to a common denominator. The closest they could come to was that each of the females frequented the same social bars. The killer was starting to appear as a habitue of those bars it was the only linking factor the police could muster at the moment.
After the Beethe murder, ex-convicts and anyone with a record of violent crime from around King County and the Seattle area had been hustled in for questioning. None had been near Bellevue during the murders. Some remained suspects nevertheless and were closely watched. But, as was the bartender John Comfort, all were cleared after the Levine bloodletting.
The police were stumped.
The Seattle Times, which had dubbed the phantom "The Eastside Killer," referring to the geographic placement of his crimes, began wondering what exactly was going on across the river with the fine upholders of the law. One local paper asked, "Since when do lunatics have their field day?" A cartoon analogized the Bellevue freak to London's notorious Jack the Ripper. One ribald commentator remarked that Ted Bundy, though in his grave almost two years, had ressurected and gone to Bellevue.
Though confounded, the police were not giving up. They knew that sooner or later the killer would make a mistake or that the loose ends would meet and their hunch was right. Investigators, working separately to collect information on the dead girls friends and lifestyles, soon came together with what they had been looking for that common denominator.
They had all known one George Walterfield Russell.
In fact, Russell was no stranger to the police, either. He had been a sneak thief, a cat burglar and a drug peddler.
Perhaps now they might be able to add mutilator to that list.
Arrest and ConvictionWith three unsolved murders and a homicidal maniac running amok in the Seattle suburbs, local police were in no mood to take chances. So, when the call came into the precinct dispatcher on September12, 1990, that a night prowler was lurking in someone's backyard they pulled out all stops. Squads cordoned off the targeted area and criss-crossed its streets, beam lights flooding sidewalks and alleys. That is when they spotted a young black man nonchalantly strolling along a residential thoroughfare with no good reason for being there. He neither lived nor worked in this section of town, nor could he claim any friends here. When the police wired in to the Records Bureau for an ID on him, they learned that this George Walterfield Russell had quite a lengthy rap sheet, including burglary. They arrested him on a misdemeanor.
But, back at the station house, it didn't take the police long to begin wondering if this Russell's nocturnal activities suggested perhaps more than a misdemeanor. The woman who placed the call about a prowler on her premises that night was, it turned out, a personal friend of the recently murdered Andrea Levine and, like all the slain women, a regular patron of the late night bar scene. When given the name of the man they arrested, she said she knew of Russell, for he too was a constant customer of Papagayo's Cantina, the Keg Restaurant, the Maple Gardens and others.
Investigators wondered: Is this the man who killed Pohlreich, Beethe and Levine, nabbed in the process of stalking his next victim?
Simultaneous to Russell's September 12 arrest, a Seattle detective named Rick Burland had been investigating him on suspicion of possessing stolen merchandise from a home robbery in the Kirkland area. Because Russell, who was known by the Seattle police as a cat burglar and fence, had been suspected of breaking into other homes in the same vicinity of the murders, Burland now contacted various detectives in Bellevue working in the Homicide Department. He told them that Russell had recently been arrested on charges of impersonating a police officer. When frisked, arresting patrolmen found a handgun on his person. The gun, Burland said, had been traced by its serial number to a residence that had been recently robbed, not far from where Andrea Levine had lived.
From that point, everything started congealing until George Russell proved to be the elusive Yuppie Murderer of Bellevue.
Throughout the investigation of George Russell, a dark figure slowly emerged. What the police had on their hands was a young man in his thirties whose life had been one of dysfunction and deceit.
From one angle, Russell appeared to have lived a charming life. "He was a young black man from an educated middle-class family who grew up in the exclusive white neighborhood of Mercer Island, Washington, and socialized easily in the Seattle yuppie singles community," says Robert Keppel in Signature Killers. "Russell could almost be called the Six Degrees of Separation killer who recognized no racial distinction."
But, the role he played that of a jock sailing on high esteem was a fa�ade. Born in 1958 in Florida, his parents separated when he was six months old. His mother Joyce, who had married only after she became pregnant with her son, was not about to let motherhood interfere with a previous goal of obtaining a college degree. One day her husband returned from his job with a funeral parlor to find tiny George home alone and a note on the kitchen table from his wife bidding him farewell. George Russell, Sr., panicking at the thought of single fatherhood, turned the boy over to relatives to raise. The child was shifted back and forth between Grandmother Russell and an array of aunts.
Joyce reappeared out of nowhere with a new husband, a dentist named Wonzel Mobley, when Russell was six years old; she took him with them, moving from city to city, eventually settling on Mercer Island, just east of Seattle. Family life remained somewhat normal for the boy until his early high school years when his mother once again pulled up stakes by herself. She left the dentist and, for a second time, her son. The boy was devastated, having been abandoned by his mother twice before he was sixteen.
For a while after her departure, the teenage Russell teetered on the brink. He eventually quit school, despite protests from his stepfather, to spend his days lingering with his friends on the beach. Nights were spent with these same pals breaking into houses within the upper-crust community, many of which belonged to neighbors, then selling all stolen merchandise at black market prices. In no time, this bunch built up quite an operation and reputation. The police got to know the boys well.
Russell caused his stepfather more headaches than the latter could handle. Many pre-dawns, Mobley was forced to roll out of bed to drive to the Mercer Island lockup to bail out his son who had been picked up for another infraction. It was always choose one breaking and entry, trespassing or vandalism, except for the time he had been pinched on suspicion of selling drugs. A night in jail here, a court appearance there, over and over again.
The breaking point came when Mobley remarried. His new wife was a white woman, only a dozen years Russell's senior, and the relationship at the start was rocky. Tiffs turned into rages until the stepmother presented Mobley with an ultimatum: One of us goes, me or the boy!
Russell, at 17 years old, found himself on the streets, this time for good, his life shattered one more time by a woman.
Tired of his past life, of being harassed by a stepmother and by the police, George Russell left Mercer Island, crossing the East Island Bridge over Lake Washington into Bellevue. There, he continued to run into trouble with the law, having never changed his burglarizing ways. But, he always seemed to be able to beat the rap. While the police would usually find him in the vicinity of a latest break-in, they found his pockets empty and his expression innocent. The best thing that could be said for George Russell is that although he was a thief, he proved to be a good one. He rarely worked, but continuously had cash.
Charming when he wanted to be, he had many friends, black and white, willing to give him free room and board. Sometimes opting for a park bench during temperate seasons, there was no end to the number of doors he could knock on for a roof when rain or ice was expected. For the entire time he drifted throughout Bellevue, fifteen years, he existed on the kindness of those he rarely knew and the unlocked windows of those he never knew at all.
After he turned 21, Russell became a familiar face in many of the gin mills and piano bars in Bellevue and its neighboring burghs, Kirkland, Redmond and Bothell. With the rise of the Reagan-era yuppies, some of these establishments changed their mode d'appeal to draw that younger, fast-income crowd. With this fresh generation came freer spending and later nights.
In these places Russell met some new people to whom he could play the chic and worldly playboy.
In these places Russell met women.
Bellevue detectives Marv Skeen and Dale Foote, heading up the Pohlreich and Beethe investigations, along with King County detective Larry Peterson who led the investigation on the Levine murder, had earlier formed an ad hoc task force. Now, with Russell in tow, the committee realized that much of the information it was getting back from its investigative team which was conducting interviews to hone in on a central suspect involved one name replayed through each report, that of George W. Russell.
People who knew Russell were now talking, airing strange tales about him. Friend Smitty McClain came forward telling how he had lent his pickup truck to Russell on the night that Mary Ann Pohlreich was killed. Russell had told him that he needed it to move some personal belongings, but when he returned the truck, Smitty noticed a foul odor and a series of unidentified stains on his front seat that he had to wash out. He hadn't considered anything suspicious until he learned the police were asking up and down the streets about George Russell.
Police removed the upholstery from McClain's truck to cut samples of what appeared to be blood stains from the inner padding. When tested, the stains proved to be blood matching Pohlreich's type.
One patron of Papagayo's Cantina remembered how Pohlreich had teased Russell on the dance floor the night of her murder, leading him on. She explained that it was the woman's style to tempt-then-turn-off. By all appearances, that is exactly what she had done to George Russell on Friday night, June 22.
A net began to close around George Russell.
Gretchen Coffin, a waitress at the Black Angus steakhouse, was a mutual acquaintance of George Russell and victim Carol Beethe. Fond of Beethe, she did not like Russell at all. According to Coffin, Russell used to dine at the Black Angus quite often, until she refused his offer for a date. After that, he would pop in only occasionally, throwing her angry stares. One night, Coffin recalled, he chanced in at the same time Beethe was eating and, while the two girlfriends conversed, Russell unabashedly glared at them. He looked very menacing. That incident took place right before Beethe died.
In the days following Russell's arrest, detectives located many people who not only remembered him as a strange character, but claimed he had made insulting and even threatening remarks about each of the murdered women prior to their deaths. He referred to them as whores and loudly chastised their promiscuity to anyone who listened.
But, evidence was not only verbal. Several members of the nightclub clique presented pieces of jewelry that they had bought at a discounted price from George Russell. Detectives were able to trace these items back to the victims. Detective Peterson even tracked down a ring that had been purchased by one club-goer and had made its way all the way to Florida.
The net was tightening.
At the time of his arrest, Russell was staying with three college girls who knew nothing of his activities. When their apartment was raided, they led the police to Russell's trappings, where they found in his knapsack clusters of hair that were scientifically identified as Randi Levine's.
Then came the final and most conclusive link. Results from an earlier DNA testing on first victim Mary Ann Pohlreich's body came back, connecting Russell to that murder through sperm analysis.
The net closed over George Russell. There was no way out.
In a resulting trial, the suspect was found guilty of killing all three people through gathered evidence and a pattern-murder profile presented by then Chief Criminal Investigator Robert Keppel. Says Keppel, "The killer's personal expression was etched on the bodies of Pohlreich, Beethe and Levine. When I analyzed the murders by type and frequency of injuries and other unique characteristics...I drew one conclusion: They were all committed by the same person."
Upon his conviction, George Russell was sent to Walla Walla Prison in the county of the same name. There he sits for life, alive only because the death penalty did not exist in Washington State at the time of his trial.
The Mark of a NecrophileOf serial killers, subject expert Robert Keppel told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that many leave a signature: "They enjoy it. It's one of their favorite pastimes." And accordingly, their signature displays "what their hangup is...what their sexual enhancement is."
While other scholars, such as Northeastern University's noted Criminal Justice Professor James Fox, say that only rarely do serial killers leave specific calling cards, Keppel believes that many times the indications are indeed there, but overlooked by the investigators handling the cases. In the above-mentioned Post-Intelligencer article by staff reporter Scott Sunde, both men cite Ted Bundy to illustrate their respective points of view.
Fox sees Bundy's atrocities as cases of "basically rape and murder" with no definite signature to define a Bundy killing. Keppel answers by explaining that, while this is true, the very fact that Bundy went "over and beyond what's necessary to commit murder" is in itself a very significant signature.
Pertaining to George Russell, however, both luminaries would agree that he was no doubt a true representative of that strange class of murderers who leave a mark. As Sunde summarizes, "What the serial killer leaves behind may explain what gives him some perverse pleasure." Such was Russell.
A violent necrophile, Russell justified his killings by convincing himself that the three women he slew deserved to die. Pohlreich may have insulted him, Beethe could have taunted him, Levine perhaps rejected him with sarcasm. In his eyes, they were vile and misused their sexuality in the same vein as his mother and stepmother had done. His victims became surrogates to the women who had snubbed him as a boy.
Because they were what he told himself they were, they needed to suffer. Pleasure came when he was able to deliver it with the whacks of a baseball bat or an iron rod or whatever he used to smash their skulls. Even though they all had died almost instantly, the physical act of killing had sparked such a paroxysm of fury within him that he reached a form of sexual satisfaction releasable only through prolonged violence. That is why, although he knew they had succumbed, he continued hammering, punching, kicking and slashing them.
Of course, in his warped sense of justice, the murders wouldn't have been successes unless he could tell the world what sluts they were. Posing them into erotically kinetic shapes, then degrading them with something cheaply phallic, he left his overarching message.
Summoned by King County Prosecutor Rebecca Roe to testify at George Russell's trial, Keppel described the aspects of a signature killing and successfully tied them to the defendant's murders. The aspects, seven in all, comprise a standard pattern that fits George Russell's case:
- He left the victims in a place where they would be easily discovered in order to stun those who found them.
- He posed the victims in a sexually degrading and vulnerable manner.
- Reinforcing the concept of degradation, he placed in and on the victims sex toys and sexual propaganda (such as the More Joy of Sex manual that he put into Levine's hand after death).
- His crimes were committed within a small geographic area of which he was familiar.
- He showed a steadily increasing ability to kill swiftly, without pause. This was indicated by the defense wounds or lack thereof on the victims. Pohlreich had actually been given time to struggle before she died; Beethe had only enough time to try to ward off the killing blow; Levine was murdered while she slept, given no time for defense.
- He displayed a steadily increasing guile and confidence factor, spending more time with each victim as his killing spree progressed.
- His attacks indicated a steadily increasing ferocity unleashed upon each victim.