Birth name: Gary Leon Ridgway Alias(es): The Green River Killer The Riverman Born: February 18, 1949 (1949-02-18) (age 60) Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Penalty: Life imprisonment
Number of victims: Convicted of 48, confessed to 71, presumed to be 90+ Span of killings: 1982–1998 confirmed, but could be as recent as 2001 Country: United States State(s): Washington Date apprehended: November 30, 2001
Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to Mary Rita Steinman and Thomas Newton Ridgway. He has two brothers – George Leon and Thomas Edward. He was raised in McMicken Heights neighborhood of SeaTac, Washington. His mother was a violent, domineering woman, and was especially controlling towards Ridgway. She dominated the household, and discouraged her sons from forming relationships with others. Relatives remember that she was never content with him and was constantly yelling at her husband. Well into his teenage years, Gary Ridgway was still a bed-wetter.
As a child, Ridgway was tested with an I.Q. of 82, signifying low intelligence, and his academic performance in school was so poor that at one point in high school he had to repeat a single school year twice in order to attain grades decent enough to pass. His classmates at Tyee High School describe him as congenial but largely forgettable. His teenage years, however, were troubled; when he was 16, he stabbed a six year old boy, who survived the attack. According to the victim and Ridgway himself, Ridgway walked away laughing and saying, "I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone." After graduating from high school, Ridgway joined the Navy, where he served on board a supply ship that traveled between the Philippines and Vietnam.
Friends and family, questioned about Ridgway following his arrest, described him as friendly but strange. His first two marriages resulted in divorce due to infidelities by both partners. Both a prostitute and his second wife claimed that, in 1991, he had placed them in choke-holds.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ridgway is believed to have murdered 48 (or more) women near the cities of Seattle and Tacoma in Washington State. Most of the murders took place during a two-and-a-half-year period in the early 1980s. Most of the victims were either prostitutes or teenage runaways picked up along Pacific Highway South (State Route 99) and strangled. Most of their bodies were dumped in and around the Green River in Washington, except for two victims found in the Portland, Oregon area. The bodies were often left in clusters, sometimes posed, usually nude. As most of the bodies were not discovered until only the skeletons remained, four victims are still unidentified. Ridgway would occasionally contaminate the dump sites with gum, cigarettes, and written materials that belonged to others to confuse the police.
Ridgway would begin each murder by picking up a woman, usually a prostitute. He would show the woman a picture of his son, to help them trust him. After having sex with her, Ridgway would strangle her from behind, usually with his arm. Most of the victims were killed in his truck, though some were killed in his home or in a secluded area.
In the early 1980s, the King County Sheriff's Office formed the Green River Task Force to investigate the murders. The most notable members of the task force were Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert, who periodically interviewed incarcerated serial killer Ted Bundy from 1984; their interviews with Bundy were of little help in the Green River investigations, but elicited confessions from Bundy on unsolved cases. Also contributing was John E. Douglas, who nearly died as he worked the case; during the investigation, his stressed and overworked body was unable to fight off viral encephalitis. He has since written much on the subject of the Green River Killer.
Ridgway was arrested in 1982 and 2001 for charges related to prostitution. He became a suspect in 1983 for the Green River killings. In 1984 Ridgway took and passed a polygraph test, and on April 7, 1987, police took hair and saliva samples. These were later subjected to a DNA analysis, providing the evidence for his arrest warrant.
On November 30, 2001, Ridgway was at Kenworth when police arrived to arrest him. Ridgway was arrested on suspicion of murder for four deaths, nearly 20 years after first being identified as a potential suspect, DNA evidence conclusively linked semen left in the victims to the saliva swab taken by the police. The four victims named in the original indictment were Marcia Chapman, Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds and Carol Ann Christensen. Three more victims, Wendy Coffield, Debra Bonner, and Debra Estes, were added to the indictment after forensics laboratories detected microscopic paint particles similar to those used at Ridgway's job at Kenworth.
Plea bargain, confessions, sentencing
Early in August 2003, Seattle television news reported that Ridgway had been moved from a maximum security cell at King County Jail to an undisclosed location. Other news reports stated that his lawyers, led by Brian Hochstetter, were closing a plea bargain that would spare him the death penalty in return for his confession to a number of the Green River murders.
On November 5, 2003, Ridgway entered a guilty plea to 48 charges of aggravated first degree murder as part of a plea bargain, agreed to in June, that would spare him execution in exchange for his cooperation in locating the remains of his victims and providing other details. In his statement accompanying his guilty plea, Ridgway explained that all of his victims had been killed inside King County, Washington, and that he had transported and dumped the remains of the two women near Portland to confuse the police.
Deputy prosecutor Jeffrey Baird noted in court that the deal contained "the names of 41 victims who would not be the subject of State v. Ridgway if it were not for the plea agreement." King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng explained his decision to make the deal:
On December 18, 2003, King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones sentenced Ridgway to 48 life sentences with no possibility of parole and one life sentence, to be served consecutively. He was also sentenced to an additional 10 years for tampering with evidence for each of the 48 victims, adding 480 years to his 48 life sentences.
Ridgway led prosecutors to three bodies in 2003. On August 16 of that year, remains of a 16-year-old female found near Enumclaw, Washington, 40 feet from State Route 410, were pronounced as belonging to Pammy Annette Avent, who had been believed to be a victim of the Green River Killer. The remains of Marie Malvar and April Buttram were found in September. On November 23, 2005, The Associated Press reported that a weekend hiker found the skull of one of the 48 women Ridgway admitted murdering in his 2003 plea bargain with King County prosecutors. The skull of Tracy Winston, who was 19 when she disappeared from Northgate Mall on September 12, 1983, was found by a man hiking in a wooded area near Highway 18 near Issaquah, southeast of Seattle.
Ridgway confessed to more confirmed murders than any other American serial killer. Over a period of five months of police and prosecutor interviews, he confessed to 48 murders, 42 of which were on the police's list of probable Green River Killer victims, plus six more murders. On February 9, 2004, county prosecutors began to release the videotape records of Ridgway's confessions. In one taped interview, he told investigators initially that he was responsible for the deaths of 65 women, but in another taped interview with Reichert on December 31, 2003, Ridgway claimed to have murdered 71 victims and confessed to have had sex with them prior to killing them, a detail which he did not reveal until after his sentencing. He also confessed that he had sex with his victims' bodies after he murdered them, but claimed he began burying the later victims so that he would resist the urge to revisit them.
Ridgway talked to and tried to make his victims comfortable before he committed the murders. In his own words, "I would talk to her... and get her mind off of the, sex, anything she was nervous about. And think, you know, she thinks, 'Oh, this guy cares'... which I didn't. I just want to, uh, get her in the vehicle and eventually kill her."
Later in a statement Ridgway said that murdering young women was his "career".
Ridgway is incarcerated at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.