Friday, September 10, 2004

The Riverman

"People will say we're in love..."  -Hannibal Lecter.

In the mid-80's King County sheriff's detective Dave Reichert is given the responsibility of leading the investigation into a series of homicides that come to be known as the Green River murders.  As part of his investigation, Reichert enlists help from the former lead investigator of the "Ted" murders in Seattle, Bob Keppel, who has since gone on to become a criminology professor at the University of Washington.  When Bundy left Seattle for Utah his name was at the top of Keppel's list of suspects, and Keppel has always regretted not "getting his man."  As the body count in the Green River investigation grows, so does media interest.  Far away in Stark, Florida, Ted Bundy, now on death row for the murders of several Florida women, writes to Keppel offering his insights into "the Riverman" as Bundy calls him.

Keppel decides to take Bundy up on his offer.  Both men have ulterior motives, Bundy to stay the executioner's hand, and Keppel, to close the books on eight unsolved Seattle murders attributed to Ted, but for which Bundy has never confessed.  Thus begins a mano-a-mano battle of wits between the professor and the psychopath to get what they both desire.  History records that Keppel succeeded and Bundy did not.  The meeting of these two minds is so explosive that it's no wonder it inspired the novel and film "the Silence of the Lambs."

The A&E production, based on Dr. Keppel's book, is a grim, dark television experience, with little humor (mostly at Dave Reichart's expense); a peeling away of the layers of psychopathology and game playing of a serial killer.  Cary Elwes is a good actor, and his transformation into Bundy is complete.  He has Bundy's speech pattern down pat, his slight lisp and manic charm.  Veteran Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood plays Bob Keppel with just the right mix of heart and revolted obsession.  British Director Bill Eagles has crafted a finely tuned work of psychological horror well worth a two hour viewing.  This movie will fascinate those who enjoy police procedurals and the history of crime.

I regret never having taken Keppel's legendary murder class at the University of Washington, and he has since moved on to Sam Houston University in Texas.  However, his insights into the minds of serial killers can be found in two exceptional books on the subject,  The Riverman, and Signature Killers.  Both are currently in print.

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