William J. Stevens, once a suspect in the Green River serial killings, has died of pancreatic cancer at age 40.
Mr. Stevens died Monday night at a Spokane hospital, according to the Spokane County coroner's office. He had been ill much of the past year and was living with his father in Spokane since his December release from prison.
Although he was cleared from any involvement in the nation's worst unsolved serial-murder case, he was convicted of a series of other offenses that kept him incarcerated for almost two years.
Seattle attorney Craig Beles, who taught him at Gonzaga Law School and later represented him when King County's Green River Task Force was investigating him, said Mr. Stevens became ill in prison and had lost a significant amount of weight.
"Since he got out of prison, he had struggled to stay active," said Beles. "He was very sick but continued to take care of his father and buy and sell merchandise at auctions."
It was partially Mr. Stevens' collection of police equipment, handcuffs and badges that led police to consider him a suspect. One theory has been that the killer posed as an authority figure to get compliance from his victims, many of whom were prostitutes.
Police were also interested because he lived in areas near the murders, had traveled extensively near the areas where victims were found, held several aliases and fake identification, and had allegedly made comments to friends that he wanted to hurt prostitutes.
The task force said that after examining dozens of boxes of evidence, interviewing acquaintances and tracing his whereabouts, it found nothing to tie Mr. Stevens to the crimes.
He refused to cooperate with investigators and never spoke publicly about his situation or feelings other than to maintain his innocence through a single written message.
After pleading guilty to charges that included possession of stolen property and weapons possession, Mr. Stevens told a Spokane County Superior Court Judge through a written statement that he was doing so "in the hope that this all may end. And that my family and I will be left alone."
He was attending Gonzaga Law School when he was arrested in January 1989. Someone who watched a television program on the serial case alerted the task force about him.
Mr. Stevens was arrested on charges that he escaped in 1981 from a King County work-release center, where he had been serving time on a burglary conviction. That conviction and escape were taken into consideration in his Spokane County sentence.
Police maintained that Mr. Stevens' unwillingness to speak to investigators prolonged their interest in him. There have been 41 confirmed deaths attributed to the Green River killer, who stalked women in the Seattle area between 1982 and 1984. Eight more women are missing and presumed to be his victims. No one was charged with the crimes.