Psychologist's New Theory on Killer Based on Religion

The Florida Times Union, September 4, 1999 | Go to article overview

Psychologist's New Theory on Killer Based on Religion


Ed Schau is a clinical psychologist in Bellevue, Wash., not a cop. He went to a Catholic seminary, not the FBI academy.

But he won't give up a seemingly quixotic mission to get police to believe his theory.

Schau thinks the Green River killer, who is believed to have killed at least 49 women and girls in the early 1980s, is a religious psychotic acting as an avenging angel, deeply versed in biblical scripture, tradition and rituals -- maybe even a Jekyll-and-Hyde clergyman.

And further: The same man killed Seattle grunge-rock singer Mia Zapata in 1993 and left behind a distinct religious signature, Schau suspects.

"I don't have a right to insist that law enforcement take it seriously, but the families of the victims have a right to know," said Schau, who presented his theory last week in Boston at the annual American Psychological Association convention.

THE THEORY

The mild-mannered counselor has talked to Green River detectives, Zapata investigators, prosecutors, even the FBI. But so far his efforts have been met with polite rebuffs or outright dismissal. To hear detectives tell it, Schau's theory is interesting but borders on tilting at windmills.

But now Schau is delivering his ideas to his colleagues and anyone else who will listen. If police won't buy it, he said, maybe the public will.

"I feel very strongly that many people will find my material fascinating," he said. "I think very few people will find it implausible."

THE SLAYINGS

Seventeen years ago this summer, the body of 16-year-old Wendy Coffield washed up on a snag in the Green River in Kent.

She was only the first of 49 women killed in two years. Most were plucked from the infamous "Sea-Tac strip" and strangled. The compulsive slayer evaded the Green River Task Force for six years before the task force was dissolved in 1990.

Six years ago this summer, 27-year-old Zapata's body was found on a sidewalk behind a Catholic Community Services building in Seattle's Central Area. Witnesses said it was positioned cruciform -- legs crossed at the ankle, arms outstretched -- under the yellow glow of a streetlamp.

The unsolved slaying of the lead singer of the grunge band The Gits evoked intense mourning from Seattle's then-hot music community and has inspired anti-violence activism ever since.

THE CASE

Schau, who practices mostly in Bellevue, attained his doctorate in psychology from the University of Washington in 1974. He specializes in treating recovering addicts and sexual abuse victims and has published more than a dozen papers on related subjects.

Before that, though, he spent six years at St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore. He excelled at scriptural studies but chose not to be ordained.

Schau stumbled into the Green River case by accident years ago, he said, while treating a rape victim whose attack reminded him of his understanding of the serial killings.

As he read published accounts of the killings, his old religious training started ringing in his mind like church bells. …

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