When Melvyn Foster became a focus of the investigation into the Green River killings in 1982, he was so adamant about his innocence that he called reporters and publicly challenged police to "lay an egg or get off the nest."
Now, with a suspect in custody in connection with four of the slayings, Foster says he feels a sense of vindication. On Friday, King County sheriff's deputies arrested truck painter Gary Leon Ridgway, saying new DNA technology definitively links Ridgway to three of the 49 deaths attributed to the Green River killer in the 1980s.
"I knew what was coming — I knew that science was going to get there," Foster, 63, said yesterday from his home in Olympia. "My refusal to bow, now they know why."
Foster, a retired taxi driver and ambulance medic, is one of several men who were publicly linked to the Green River case during the nearly 20-year investigation. While some of the men have been cleared, Foster said he is still waiting for authorities to officially exonerate him.
King County Sheriff Dave Reichert has been careful not to call Ridgway the Green River killer, stressing that his department is still investigating the other 45 deaths. Sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart yesterday said that Ridgway's arrest has not caused detectives to rule out any other suspects or persons of interest.
Foster said he's not concerned about finding himself under police scrutiny once again. He said he called a King County detective in August and volunteered to give authorities whatever they needed for a DNA sample.
He said the detective collected a saliva sample. Foster said he has since heard back from the detective and was told the sample did not match any DNA evidence tied to the killings.
Foster initially contacted police in September 1982 to tell them his suspicions about the first Green River killings.
As a taxi driver in South King County, Foster frequently came into contact with prostitutes and said he knew several of the Green River victims.
"I've never made a secret of having been acquainted with a few of them (the victims)," he said. "Cab drivers meet the seedy side of life if you drive around town."
But after talking with Foster, police thought he fit an FBI psychological profile of the killer and put him under 24-hour surveillance for several months. Authorities twice searched Foster's house in Lacey. In October 1982, Foster began calling reporters, proclaiming his innocence and saying police were harassing him. He had heated arguments with Reichert, then the county's lead detective on the case.
Sources have told The Seattle Times that in late 1985, the FBI told Green River task-force detectives that Foster was almost certainly not their man.
Foster is now retired and lives in a mobile home in Olympia. He said the Green River connection hasn't hounded him.
"People down here have just let it fade, because they know I wouldn't do anything like that," he said.
Despite their earlier battles, Foster had high praise for Reichert and his perseverance on the Green River case.
"I may never love Reichert like a brother, but I do respect him as a police officer," Foster said. "That guy is a pit bull — he sets his jaws into something and doesn't let go."
Another man who in 1986 was described by police as a "person of interest" in the Green River case won a $30,000 settlement from three local media organizations in 1989 in a defamation lawsuit.
Ernest W. "Bill" McLean filed the suit after his name surfaced in media reports following a search of his home in 1986.
Task-force detectives later said they no longer had an interest in McLean, who was unavailable for comment yesterday.
In 1989, the task force also cleared William J. Stevens II as a suspect in the case. Stevens, a former law student at Gonzaga University, was convicted of burglary in 1979 and was considered a fugitive for eight years after escaping from a King County work-release center in 1981. He died of cancer in 1991.
Stevens' adopted brother, Bob Stevens of Spokane, said yesterday that he believes the task force will re-examine his late brother's possible connections to the Green River case.
"There's a lot of people that believe there's more than one person involved in this," said Stevens, who runs a Web site featuring information that he says links his brother to the Green River killings.
Seattle Times staff reporter Ian Ith contributed to this article.
Jake Batsell can be reached at 206-464-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.