The following tale is distilled from two interviews with former Seattle police officer Michael Blackburn who was active during the search for the Green River Killer in the 1980s. Blackburn’s story is less about the search for a serial killer who murdered forty-eight prostitutes and runaways, and more about police corruption.
My personal war with the Seattle Police Department, which so far has cost me my two stepbrothers and my career as a police officer, is intertwined with the Sam Cabot case, the Green River Killer case, and a number of unsolved murders.
In 1969 I was a reserve officer working with the Seattle Police Department in Traffic Enforcement. Sam Cabot joined the department and I was given the task of breaking him into the unit. I got the feeling right away that Sam would make a good cop, because at heart he was a good person.
While I was at the Police Academy I lost track of Sam. Through the grapevine I heard that he had collapsed into unconsciousness while on duty, after stopping two Asian men on Pike Street. Did one of the men utter Sam’s trigger word?
After graduation I went to work in the University District, just in time for the anti-war riots. Just after I recovered from my riot injuries, Sam graduated from the academy and joined the street patrol.
My disabled Vietnam vet stepbrother Henry was getting his heroin from a Seattle Police Department pusher. I was caught snooping. I was looking for the pusher’s name. I lost Henry to a hot shot and over the next three days I was shot at twice. The narcs play rough. I nailed the pusher. I haven’t had a day of peace since.
My patrol partner Norton had two children. I did not want him to become an innocent victim. I asked to work with Sam Cabot. Sam was quicker than Norton and he had less to lose.
From late 1970 until early 1972 Sam and I worked the Ballard car together. I was transferred to Administration and Sam transferred to the Fremont car. One night he stopped an unmarked police sedan with four narcs inside high on Thai stick. Even though Sam walked away from the stop, the narcs never forgave him. Two nights later a shooter perforated Sam’s police cruiser windshield with a .357 magnum projectile that passed through the back of the empty passenger’s seat. The next morning I had a short pertinent talk with a local heavy. He and his group learned the hard way not to lie to me. He denied involvement in the shooting and I believed him. Sam transferred to the Georgetown District in the south end and I lost regular contact with him. In late 1973 one of his former girlfriends was found dead and buried under cardboard in an alley dumpster.
Administration assigned me to sit in on a chat between Sam and the new bomb squad technician Carl Lynch. Lynch was a retired Coast Guard explosives expert. He expressed surprise that he’d been hired. Lynch said to me as he gestured toward Sam, “Why hire me when you’ve got Sam Cabot?”
Sam served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He was trained as a sniper. During his third tour he was invited into the Phoenix Program, a joint military/C.I.A. assassination operation.
In 1968 the Viet Cong dropped the U.S. Army officers’ barracks in Saigon, killing 200 of our men. The C.I.A. moved Sam into Hong Kong where he dropped the Communist Party building, killing 300 people. It was this mission that gained him the status as a “friend of the C.I.A.”
In January of 1974, just before dawn, I was on my way to work and was hit head-on by a drunk driver. For months I was more dead than alive. While I was out, Sam left the department and headed south on special military leave. He told everyone that he was taking a job in the Southwest but I knew he went all the way to Central America.
My war with the Narcotics Unit was ongoing. In 1975 my other stepbrother Alex was shot to death by a doper named Jack Chaffin. Chaffin was an informant working for the narcs. He didn’t last long. A fisherman pulled Chaffin’s bloated body out of Puget Sound.
I started to feel like I might be better off retired, but I didn’t want to lose the advantages of working on the inside. I spent my last two years in Forensics. One sunny day I called it quits and handed the Chief my resignation.
In 1979 Sam Cabot returned to the Seattle area. I was working as an electrical inspector for the City of Seattle. Sam’s Spanish-speaking ability had improved considerably.
Sam’s Central America tour had pushed him fully into the arms of insanity. He kidnapped his ex-wife Gail and in a motel room outside Tacoma he raped her. A Pierce County sheriff’s deputy responded to the disturbance call from the motel clerk. The deputy knocked on the door of Sam’s room. Sam flung open the door, disarmed the deputy and held him at gunpoint for twelve hours. The deputy was a born-again Christian and a Vietnam vet. He talked Sam into surrendering.
Sam was convicted of kidnapping, rape and first-degree assault. He was sentenced to 7 to 20 years. He had served nine months in a minimum-security forest work camp when who should pay him a visit but a member of the parole board. Sam walked.
Sam later told me about the deal made with persons both within the Seattle Police Department and in the federal building across the street. He was pardoned, his pension was reinstated and the SPD assigned him to the Vice Squad. Sam patrolled Pacific Highway South, the seedy Sea-Tac strip, workplace and playground for almost all of the victims of the Green River Killer.
Long after I left the department, the narcs carried on their harassment. They punctured my tires. They loosened lug nuts. I received a bum speeding ticket from a state trooper who was the brother-in-law of an SPD narc.
John Versimak was the legal advisor for the Washington State Patrol. He and the State Patrol Chief ran an honest operation. I went to his office and complained about the speeding ticket. Versimak promised to plug the rat hole.
Out of the blue he asked, “Who killed Terry Dolan?”
Dolan was a retired cop who owned a gas station on Aurora Avenue.
Versimak told me that two days before Dolan was shot, he telephoned the State Patrol office and left a message.
“I did not get back to him in time.”
Did Dolan know he was a marked man? I didn’t have to snoop far to find out that he was doing a little money lending, but that was about it.
It was the summer of 1984 when I saw something in Sam Cabot’s eyes that told me that not only had he gone off the deep end, but that he was not coming back. As he had often done, Sam borrowed my truck, a 1968 International with a beat-up canopy. Sam was building a cabin in the woods. His Ranchero was not enough truck to handle heavy loads. We talked for a while and he left with my .30 Tokarev hidden under his shirttail. In hindsight I see now that Sam was in commando mode well before he stopped at my house to borrow the truck and steal the gun.
He bought .30 Mauser ammo and drove to the trailer where he and his girlfriend lived while they built the cabin.
The next morning Sam called from the Snohomish County jail. I drove there immediately and the sheriff, a former SPD patrolman, allowed me to visit Sam in his cell. Sam was withdrawn and depressed.
I asked him, “Sam, do you know why you are here?”
He changed the subject. “I killed Terry Dolan.”
That afternoon I drove to his sister’s house in Tacoma. Janet and I talked about Sam and in an instant we arrived at the same realization.
“Will the real Sam Cabot please stand up.”
Sam’s girlfriend Rikki survived the graze of a Mauser slug across her buttocks. The john survived a similar wound in another place. When the Everett detectives finished their search of Sam’s trailer, the shed and the half-built cabin, they allowed me to pick through Sam’s personal items, the family photos and the medals, then turn all of it over to his sister Janet.
In the shed I moved a file cabinet away from the wall and found taped to the back of it three phony federal ID cards, each with Sam’s picture on it. I uncovered a cache of Polaroid snapshots hidden under the false bottom of a toolbox. These I would keep and later destroy, so that Janet would never see them. There were two bundles of snapshots, each held by a rubber band. The first group was taken in the jungles of Central America. The second group was taken in a mountainous area of British Columbia. Every snapshot was a close-up of a person bound and gagged and very dead. All of the British Columbia victims were female.
I am guessing that Terry Dolan knew that Sam Cabot had murdered a young Seattle woman in 1973 and tossed her body into a dumpster. Dolan died of a shotgun wound to the chest. Sam asked me to remove his Remington 12-guage from his sister’s house. I refused.
In 1984 all forms of law enforcement had been hunting for the Green River Killer for two years. New evidence included the description of an old primer-splotched pickup truck with a beat-up canopy. Three times I dusted my truck for evidence and stored my collection in a drawer in my basement workshop. I junked the canopy and had my truck painted gray.
Janet and I agreed. Her brother Sam was in dire need of professional psychiatric care. We talked to the judge and the judge said Sam was headed for prison. The feds talked to the judge and Sam was sent to the mental ward of the Menlo ParkVA hospital in California.
In 1986 Sam Cabot walked away from the VA hospital and no one went after him. He bought a white Dodge Tradesman van and drove north to Seattle to visit me. He seemed better but I knew he wasn’t cured. I still wanted to help him.
We took the ferry to Lopez Island and stayed in my family’s cabin. One night Sam tiptoed from his bed to mine. I opened my eyes and saw Sam standing over me holding a combat knife. I am rarely without a handgun. I drew down on Sam and he laughed and said he was just going to the bathroom. I couldn’t believe he wanted to hurt me. I had stood by him for nearly twenty years.
In 1987, law enforcement in Vancouver in British Columbia reported that they were missing a number of prostitutes and runaways. Sam had a codeine habit and a rare metabolism. He could pop codeine and drive for 24 hours straight. In Canada Sam could buy ‘222’ codeine over the counter. Did two plus two plus two equal four? I called the Mounties and told them about Sam’s drug habit. The Canadian Border Patrol was ordered to bar Sam Cabot from entering Canada.
In late August Sam enjoyed his annual birthday dinner at his mother’s house in Federal Way, then he drove south and disappeared until spring.
In late August of 1988 Sam sold his white Dodge van and bought a white Toyota van. On his birthday he dined with his mother in Federal Way, then he drove south to New Mexico. A few days later I discovered I was missing a .22 Llama, a Smith & Wesson clone, and a Polaroid camera. Tara Calico, 19, went missing from Belen, New Mexico, on September 20th.
The enclosed photo is a copy of the Polaroid snapshot found in the parking lot of a mini-mart in Port St.Joe, Florida, in February of 1989. I believe the younger boy behind Tara Calico is Michael Henley, who also went missing in New Mexico in 1988. Calico and Henley are bound with rope and gagged with duct tape in the same manner that Sam trussed his victims in Central America and British Columbia. The photo was taken just outside the open cargo door of a white Toyota van. The bed constructed inside the van is the same design as the bed Sam built with my plywood in his Dodge Tradesman van.
In the spring of 1989 Sam returned to the Northwest but he steered clear of me and of Seattle. That summer four Spokane prostitutes were shot to death with a weapon that fired .22-long ammo. I used .22-long in my Llama Comanche, blue finish, serial number S715367. I would love to know where my gun is right now.
I had been told by a friend in law enforcement that Sam had grown a mustache and was working in the woods north of Seattle as a logging camp guard. The Tara Calico photo found in the Port St. Joe parking lot was published in Seattle papers on August 1st. Sam stashed his Toyota van and borrowed a vehicle from a friend.
On Thanksgiving Day an 18-year-old blonde named Amanda Stavik was jogging along the Nooksack River road near Acme ten miles east of Bellingham. Someone raped the girl, then drowned her and set her naked body adrift.
Sam likes to use cars that belong to other people. An Acme man walking his dog gave the sheriff a description of the station wagon spotted near the scene of the murder, a vehicle driven by a man with a mustache. The vehicle is similar to one owned by Sam’s Marine buddy in Anacortes. My calls to the Whatcom County Sheriff went unheeded. Sam was still under the protection of the C.I.A., whose patience with him must have been wearing thin.
Sam Cabot was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1942. His father was a lifer in the Marines. When Sam was in his mid-teens, his father died of a heart attack. With his sister and mother, he moved to Federal Way, Washington, in the Green River basin south of Seattle. Upon graduation, with blessings from both families, he married his high school sweetheart Alison. They both won scholarships to Washington State University in Pullman. Sam drove to Pullman alone and found an apartment. A week later, just outside Pullman, Alison’s car was hit head-on by a drunk driver.
As my partner on patrol, Sam was coldly efficient when processing a drunk driving arrest. We marched through booking and impound and we were back on the street in less than an hour.
After Alison’s death, Sam enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to Vietnam. He was an excellent shot with a rifle and a pistol and he ran like a cheetah. I believe that he loved Alison so much that he went to Vietnam to get himself killed.
Sam was a courageous soldier. He received the Navy Cross for leading his unit in an ambush of Viet Cong soldiers and escorting a dozen missionaries to safety. Sam did his third tour as a sniper for William Colby’s Phoenix Program, the targeted assassinations of enemy officers and sympathizers, and U.S. deserters.
Sam left the Marines and joined the Seattle Police Department. He married Gail. I worked with him in Traffic and later I was his field-training officer on patrol. Gail filed for divorce and for a while Sam had a young girlfriend who was 18 going on 30. Not long after Sam broke up with the girl, her body was found in a dumpster. Several of us were concerned that Sam might be involved. He was questioned, but there was no evidence against him.
In 1992, Sam Cabot was found dead in his white Toyota van on the shoulder of a freeway outside Bakersfield, California. The autopsy listed cause of death as a gunshot wound: close range, right temple. The slug recovered was a .22 long. One year later, long after the Marine Corps 21-gun salute, his laundered obituary appeared in the Seattle newspapers.
I believe that we can learn a lot from the case of Sam Cabot. While Sam was in the VA psych unit in Menlo Park, he found that the population in his ward were military, special forces and law enforcement personnel deemed to be too mentally ill, and in a number of cases too homicidal, to roam free.
Research indicates that we have an increase in the number of psychopaths in our society, and an increase in the severity of their crimes. As young men, a number of these psychopaths drift toward the military and law enforcement where they receive topnotch weapons and survival training. The military and law enforcement must develop strategies to deal with this ugly side effect of fighting crime and fighting wars. We are inadvertently manufacturing too many vicious bloodthirsty monsters.
Greg Leichner won the First Annual Rocky Mountain Artists/Eccentric Book Competition for his 15-postcard series “Citizens For A Poodle-Free Montana.” He is a self-employed carpenter and vagabond living in Seattle, Montana, New Mexico and Nashville. His fiction, nonfiction, poetry and editorial cartoons have appeared in numerous literary reviews, newspapers and urban weeklies.