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Green River Data





The Story of the Green River Collection

by Brad Hamann

Belying its serene-sounding title, the Green River Collection actually claims an indirect connection to one of the most horrific series of murders on record in American history.
Born in October of 1950, William J. Stevens II was the adopted son of a prominent Spokane drug store owner. William, or Billy as he was known, began assembling a collection of mainly Silver Age Marvels and DCs in the early 1960s. Stevens' father operated the 1,200-square-foot University United Pharmacy on a secondary road by Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and Billy and his younger brother Robert accumulated comics and boxes of trading cards from the store.  William meticulously cataloged and stored this quickly-growing collection. Whether the brothers were given permission to remove these items from the store or simpy stole them is not known.
The books first began to reach the public in the mid 1980s when Stevens, now in his thirties, began selling some of the books to Craig Barnett, a local dealer who ran a store in Spokane called The Comic Book Shop. Stevens would arrive at the store with stacks of comics packed in brown paper grocery sacks whenever he needed money. According to Barnett, Stevens was looking to raise money for a microwave receiving station to track police calls as part of his apparent fixation with law enforcement. Barnett has described Stevens as very personable, and “a really nice guy, but an incredible con man.” These transactions went on for about a year and then stopped. Later,  Barnett learned from Robert Stevens that William had died as a result of cancer. What Barnett did not know at the time of his purchases, was that William was not only a con man, but a convicted felon.
Convicted of stealing police equipment from a Seattle warehouse in 1979, Stevens served a two-year stint in prison. But in January of 1981, he simply walked out of a King County jail work-release program and dropped completely out of sight. Stevens traveled extensively under several aliases and resided in the Portland, Oregon area until May of 1985, when he returned to Spokane and enrolled at Gonzaga.
Police discovered and arrested Stevens at his parents’ home in January of 1989 after several phone tips resulting from the television program “Manhunt Live: A Chance to End a Nightmare!” At the time, Stevens was in his last year at Gonzaga University School of Law and serving as the president of the Student Bar Association. He promptly issued a statement denying any wrongdoing. “I am not the Green River killer. They have made me out to be a very bad person, and I am not,” he declared.
After a search of his parents’ home, where Stevens was then living, police found 29 handguns, and a box full of phony driver’s licenses and credit cards acquired under assumed names. Credit-card fraud and robbery were apparently a means by which Stevens had survived through the years. Also discovered were close to 150 police badges, 11 sets of car keys, a fake-identification machine and a collection of 1,000 pornographic videotapes and 50 sexually explicit Polaroids of naked women.
Stevens seemed a strong suspect in the series of murders in the Seattle-Tacoma area that began in the early 1980s. In all, the Green River Killer had tallied 48 victims between 1982 and 1984. The killer systematically left his victims, all women, near the banks of the Green River outside of Seattle. Many were prostitutes, but several runaways and hitchhikers became the unfortunate victims of the most prolific killer in American criminal history. After his arrest, Stevens was exhaustively interviewed about the Green River murders, but a series of alibis placed him on trips with his parents out of the Seattle area at the time of some of the murders. Police eventually released Stevens and took him off the list of suspects. Stevens died in a Spokane hospital of pancreatic cancer on September 30, 1991. In 2003, Gary Ridgway, another longtime suspect, confessed to all of the murders.
Craig Barnett has not kept a detailed list of the nearly eight hundred books he purchased from William J. Stevens, but after Stevens’ death in 1991, Barnett announced the as-yet-unnamed collection in one of his market reports in the Overstreet Monthly Price Guide Update.
In an April 2004 e-mail to a collector, Craig Barnett recalled some of his 1990-1991 dealings with William Stevens:
"Bill kept me on the hook as far as what other books he had and mentioned over and over that he had between five and fifteen Amazing Spider-Man #1’s and would bring them in as soon as he found them.  Considering some of the quantities of some of the books he did bring in I really had no reason to doubt him.  I don’t remember having any quantity of the major keys so it's unlikely that he sold me more than one or two of any keys that he did have, but I really don’t know which ones they might have been and in the grades they were in, they would have sold rather quickly. He did bring in quite a few annuals and specials. I remember getting several copies each of the FF and Spider-man annuals and specials early on as Bill thought they would be worth more because they were larger but I have no idea as to what quantities of each there were; most of the books were grouped together in threes and fours with an occasional grouping of five. I don’t remember getting more than five of anything."
What emerged over the course of time was that in addition to the books he sold to Barnett, William J. Stevens had bartered the sale of nearly 1,650 of his books to attorney Craig C. Beles in order to pay off some of the legal bills that had accumulated as a result of his run-ins with law enforcement. After reading through the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, Beles sent out a letter to many of the dealers who advertised in the book, notifying them that the collection was for sale.

[In November of 2007 I received the following note from Craig Beles - we appreciate the correction:

"I thought I would write you in order to correct a small misstatement on your Green River Pedigree Database site. I did not take Bill Stevens' comic books in payment for my representation of him during the Green River investigation. In fact, I was paid virtually nothing for the time I spent defending this former law student of mine. I was named Mr. Stevens' personal representative in his will. His rather extensive comic book collection had to be sold to pay his debts. It was in this capacity that I tried my hand at grading his collection and eventually selling it.]
John M. Hauser, a well-known dealer from Madison, Wisconsin was alerted to the solicitation by a fellow Wisconsin dealer, Jef Hinds. Hauser flew to Seattle and initially viewed about one hundred of the comics. “After seeing these, I knew I wanted the rest,” said Hauser. “I put in a competitive bid and won out against the crowd of dealers.”
Hauser purchased the collection in partnership with James Haack, another dealer. Each put up half of the $25,000 winning bid. The collection they acquired contained a wide selection of DCs and Marvels. “There were multiples of almost every annual I received. I think [the Stevens brothers] stole more annuals, as the cover price was higher and they thought they would be worth more. Most of the annuals have graded at 9.4 or 9.6. Sadly, all of the Flash’s I bought were water damaged,” said Hauser. The Amazing Spider-Man #1 that Hauser and Haack purchased was later graded a 7.0 by CGC.
At the time of the purchase, Hauser was unaware of Barnett’s connection to part of the collection. Later, Hauser read in one of Barnett’s market reports in the Overstreet Monthly Price Guide Update that Barnett had sold multiple copies of Fantastic Four Annual #1 and Spider-Man Annual #1. Hauser then contacted Barnett, but by then most of the DCs and Marvels had been sold. Barnett still retained a number of Gold Keys and books by other publishers.
Hauser and Haack first offered their books for sale to the public in 1993 when the two dealers ran an ad in the March 26, 1993, issue of Comics Buyer’s Guide. The books listed for sale included nearly complete runs of Silver Age X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Daredevil, Journey Into Mystery (from Issue #91 up), Sgt. Fury, and Fantastic Four (from Issue #8 up). The collection also included a large assortment of DCs and some Gold Keys, as well. Once Hauser and Haack had recouped their initial investment, they split up the remainder of the books.
According to Barnett, John Hauser coined the name for the Green River Collection. Once the name became better known, Barnett began to put a certificate explaining the collection behind each backing board, along with the shop stamp.
The collection was officially recognized as the Green River Collection by Comics Guaranty Corporation in 2001. Mark Haspel, senior grader and pedigree expert at CGC says that the collection was already well-known when John Hauser began submitting books to CGC for grading. The existence of the original sales lists made it that much easier to document and verify the books in the collection. 
In 2003, Craig Beles attempted to sell a raw copy of Daredevil #11 on eBay. The book did not meet reserve and an interested collector took the initiative and contacted Beles directly to negotiate a price for the book. When Beles told the collector that he had other books as well, a deal was struck for an additional 75 books.
The books that make up the Green River Collection number approximately 2,400,  and are among the easiest to identify of all the major pedigrees. The vast majority of these books carry a small red arrival date stamped on the front cover. The books are characterized by incredibly white pages, terrific cover gloss, great color strike, tight cover wrap and an overall unread, right-off-the-newsstand freshness. Edges and corners are razor sharp. When examined first hand, it is hard to believe that these books are forty years old.
The collection contains single copies of many of the books, but also cases of multiple copies, as mentioned; for example, the original sales manifests compiled by Beles listed six copies of Avengers #22, and nine copies each of Strange Tales #138 and Fantastic Four Annual #3.
The majority of the collection has yet to be graded by CGC, but those books that have been graded received outstanding marks, ranging generally from 8.5 to 9.6. Books graded at 9.6 include Amazing Spider-Man #29, Daredevil #11, and Tales of Suspense #83.

©2006 Brad Hamann