The predator among us

Boulder Weekly investigation into identity of Jessica Ridgeway killer spot-on | by Boulder Weekly staff, October 2012

Boulder Weekly Staff | Boulder Weekly

The week leading up to Oct. 18, 2012, was a tense one for Boulder Weekly journalists. The grisly murder of Jessica Ridgeway was dominating media coverage and conversation around the state, and a choice had to be made: Continue to cover news that the staff had planned weeks in advance, or drop everything, start from scratch and work to contribute something new and useful to the coverage of the Jessica Ridgeway case.

The staff chose the latter, even though it was likely they would be scooped by daily newspapers before press time. But there was plenty to investigate.

Things didn’t look good from the start. Jessica left her house to go meet a friend at a nearby park; from there the two were to walk to school together. But Jessica never showed up. Sometime between leaving her house and the five-minute walk to meet her friend, she was taken. That no one saw her being abducted was tragic, bad luck.

From the get-go, police threw all their resources into canvassing the neighborhood and the surrounding areas, which indicated they feared for the girl’s life. And then there was the absolute lack of evidence and clues — the girl was taken in the middle of the morning during a short walk down the street on which she lived. When searchers found her body on Oct. 10, police were mum on the condition, but it turned out her body wasn’t intact. The killer had dismembered her.

The entire BW editorial staff contributed to a package of stories about the murder that broke new information about the case and created a profile about the killer that turned out to be very accurate.

Boulder Weekly was the first outlet in the country to point out similarities between the daring Ridgeway kidnapping and a brazen set of attempted assaults at nearby Ketner Lake. (Five days after BW reported it, Westminster Police confirmed that it was a “definite link.”) Joel Dyer and Jefferson Dodge applied the criminological concept of “awareness space” to the clues left by the killer and determined he most likely lived in the neighborhood. They linked the location of her dismembered body and the spot where her backpack was left — both of which were not far from her house — to the transportation corridors nearby. David Accomazzo and Elizabeth Miller talked to criminal profilers and pulled sociological studies on convicted child killers and found that Jessica was most likely targeted at random the day of the attack, and that the killer probably had carefully planned how to dispose of the body before the attack, preferably in a nearby area. Profilers broke down the reasons why a killer might dismember the body and pointed out that dismemberment is difficult and risky. After all, the more time the killer spends with the victim’s body, the higher the probability of dropping some identifying DNA onto it. The dismemberment added to the growing evidence that the killer lived somewhere near Jessica’s house.

The last-minute scrambling paid off. Much of Boulder Weekly’s profile of the unknown killer turned out to match the suspect who was arrested. The accused lived in the same neighborhood and is suspected of being involved in the previous attacks on women at Ketner Lake.

“We were a step ahead of everyone else covering the case,” Dyer says.