What is a serial killer? Even the nation's leading experts don't agree. The most general definition is based on numbers and patterns: Two or more unrelated victims in distinctly separate incidents. The Northwest has a notorious history of these "prototype" killers -- among them are Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer, who are synonymous with the term "serial killer."
Yet other, less infamous killers have claimed scores of lives across the state. Some have been convicted of only one or two murders, but are suspected of many more. Four remain only suspects, pending trial.
Following general definitions provided by the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, criminal profilers and other experts, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer compiled this list of the state's modern-day serial killers.
It's impossible to know if the list is comprehensive. There's no national database of serial killers. It's also true that some are better than others in hiding their morbid harvest. But it does show that killers often roam our state for years, exploiting holes in a law enforcement system that often fails to protect the missing or bring justice for the dead.
John R. Gasser
Seattle/Olympia Student/state employee,
A Seattle University student in 1948, Gasser raped and strangled a 22-year-old carhop and dumped her body near the Sand Point Naval Station. Years after his release from prison, he raped and strangled a 49-year-old woman and dumped her body in a ditch outside Olympia in 1982. Status: In prison in Washington.
The Want Ad Killer:
Harvy L. Carignan
Gas station manager Seattle/Minneapolis: Suspected in dozens of sex-slayings spanning four decades and several Western states and provinces, Carignan is thought to have killed at least two women in Washington. He was convicted of two murders in Minnesota. He met some victims by placing newspaper help wanted ads. A map found in his Minnesota home had at least 180 areas circled -- including 18 in Washington -- where some bodies have been found. Status: In prison in Minnesota.
James Dwight Canady
Seattle City water department employee, abducted, raped and strangled two women, then dumped their bodies near Stevens Pass. Canady later attacked two other women and was being held in King County Jail on rape, assault and kidnapping charges when he confessed to the murders, leading detectives to one body. Status: In prison in Washington.
Clark County parks employee, Vancouver: Suspected of kidnapping, raping and strangling six women near Vancouver. Convicted of killing one and abducting, raping and attempting to kill two others, after serving seven years in a state mental hospital. Status: In prison in Washington.
Gary G. Grant
Navy enlistee, Renton: Confessed to four sex-slayings, including the murders of two 6-year-old boys and two teenage girls. All victims stabbed, strangled or both, then dumped in wooded areas near a Renton trailer park where he lived with his parents. Status: In prison in Washington.
Law student, Tacoma: One of the most infamous serial killers of modern time, the former Tacoma man and University of Washington law student is thought to have killed at least 36 young women and girls in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado and Florida. Status: Executed in Florida in 1989.
Part-time church janitor, Lynnwood: Attacked at least four women over 33-year span, killing two. Crimes include a 1966 robbery/kidnapping in Albuquerque, N.M.; a 1974 bludgeoning murder in Seattle; and the1998 fatal stabbing of one woman and sexual assault of another in a Lynnwood church. Status: Executed in Washington in 2001.
James Edward Ruzicka
Stable cleaner, Redmond: Deemed a "sexual psychopath" after attacking two Seattle women, he escaped Western State Hospital, then raped and strangled two teenagers in West Seattle. He hung the body of one victim from a tree and hid the other in a field. He was arrested in Oregon after raping a 13-year-old girl. Status: In prison in Washington.
The Phantom Sniper:
Gary A. Taylor
Escaped mental patient, Burien: Abducted, shot and buried a Burien housewife. Suspected of killing as many as three women in Michigan, where he spent 15 years in mental hospitals. Texas authorities suspect him of killing at least one woman and sexually assaulting four others, and at one time questioned him about 16 sniper shootings on Texas freeways. Status: In prison in Washington.
Car lot worker, Aberdeen: Committed to state psychiatric hospital as a "sexual psychopath" following child molestations in 1967. Stabbed two teenage hitchhikers to death near Moclips in 1975. He remains a suspect in the 1969 disappearance of a woman he had dated. Status: In prison in Washington.
Robert Lee Yates Jr.
Aluminum plant worker and Army Reserve helicopter pilot, Spokane. Killed a string of prostitutes in Spokane and Pierce County since 1996. Admitted to 16 murders, convicted of 15. Typically would pick up prostitutes, shoot them and engage in post-mortem sex. Grew up on Whidbey Island and lived in several Washington cities. Status: On death row in Washington.
The Hillside Strangler:
Security-alarm installer, Bellingham: Strangled at least seven women and left their bodies on hillsides in Los Angeles. Also killed two Western Washington University students in Bellingham in 1979. He worked with an adopted "cousin" convicted of nine similar murders in Los Angeles. Status: In prison in Washington.
Sprinkler system installer, Seattle: Beat to death a Seattle prostitute, then dumped her body near the South Park marina. Also convicted of assaulting two other Seattle prostitutes and acquitted of killing another. Status: In prison in Washington.
Produce salesman, Spokane Suspected of killing up to 30 Northwest women, Bernson stabbed a 15-year-old girl to death and buried her in a shallow grave in Richland. Authorities in Oregon also charged him for the 1978 murder of a Umatilla teenager, whose body was found in 1985. Status: In prison in Washington.
Lewiston Valley Killer
Identity unknown: Believed responsible for five murders and disappearances in the Clarkston, Wash.- Lewiston, Idaho, area from 1979-82. Some victims were dismembered and dumped in a river. Two bodies have never been found. Victims include three young women, a girl and a man. Status: Investigators have a suspect, but have never made an arrest.
The I-5 Killer:
Bartender, Eugene/Portland, Ore. Suspect in at least 13 homicides, including three in Washington. Best known for robbing, raping andkilling women in communities along Interstate 5 from Bellevue to Redding, Calif. Often wore a false beard and hooded sweat shirt during his attacks. Status: In prison in Oregon.
Martin Lee Sanders
Long-haul trucker, Spokane: Convicted of raping and killing two teenagers in Spokane in 1983. He also killed two teenage female hitchhikers in Grant County in 1980. Avoided prosecution in those murders by later pleading guilty to the Spokane homicides. Status: In prison in Washington.
Coin Shop Killer:
Transient, Deming: Suspected in six murders in Washington state, including the killings of an elderly couple whose bodies have not been found. Robbed, raped and killed across several other Western states, including two suspected murders in Montana, two in California and one attempted murder in Utah. Sinclair often preyed on coin shops and their employees. Status: Died in jail in Alaska.
The .22 Caliber Killer
Identity unknown, Spokane: The same killer is believed to be responsible for three slayings of women found dumped near the Spokane River in 1990. All of the victims were known prostitutes shot with the same .22 caliber gun. Investigators once looked at the crimes in relation to a string of prostitute killings in Spokane that Robert Lee Yates Jr. later confessed to. But the Army helicopter pilot was later ruled out as the murderer in these cases, as he was stationed in Germany at the time of the killings.First known murder 1990. Status: Unsolved.
Army sergeant, Fort Lewis. Shot and killed one prostitute, strangled and sliced the throat of another. Elton dumped his victims near Madigan Army Hospital in 1984. The Seattle native later pleaded guilty to the killings in military court to avoid a death sentence. Status: In military prison in Kansas.
William Scott Smith
Unemployed cook, Salem, Ore.: Convicted of two counts of aggravated murder for the sex slayings of two young Salem women in separate attacks in the spring of 1984. Smith was also questioned in the 1983 unsolved murder of a 14-year-old girl in Idaho. Although not officially a suspect in any Washington murders, Green River investigators at one time looked at him in relation to serial killings in this state. Smith also has family ties to Pierce County. Status: In prison in Oregon.
Billy Ray Ballard Jr.
Truck driver, Plains, Mont.: Confessed to killing a Seattle couple who disappeared while sightseeing in the Columbia River Gorge. Their bodies were recovered at different times, dumped 30 miles apart, in rural Grant County. Ballard's arrest for the abduction, rape and torture of two women in Wyoming months later helped investigators match his fingerprint to one left on the Washington couple's abandoned car. Status: In prison in Wyoming.
Laborer, mill worker, Longview: Admits to raping and strangling two young girls in Southwest Washington -- killings more than 11 years apart. Convicted of two other rapes, he also admits to abducting a teenage store clerk at knifepoint. Suspect in dozens of disappearances, rapes and murders since 1982. Status: In prison in Washington.
Gary A. Shaw
Unemployed, Tacoma: Convicted of raping and killing two Tacoma women in separate attacks in early 1985. Shaw dumped his victim's bodies in wooded areas of Pierce County. Status: In prison in Washington.