Mugshot of Gary Ridgway from his arrest in 2001.
|Birth name:||Gary Leon Ridgway|
|Also known as:||The Green River Killer
|Born:||February 18, 1949
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
|Sentence:||Life imprisonment without parole|
|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|
|Date apprehended:||November 30, 2001|
Gary Leon Ridgway (born February 18, 1949), known as the "Green River Killer", is an American serial killer. Ridgway murdered numerous women in Washington during the 1980s and 1990s. He strangled them, mostly with his arm, but he would also use ligatures. After strangling the women, he would dump their bodies throughout King County.
On November 30, 2001, as he was leaving a Renton, Washington factory where he worked, he was arrested for the murders of four women whose cases were linked to him through DNA evidence. As part of a plea bargain, he was spared the death penalty and received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.
Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Mary Rita Steinman and Thomas Newton Ridgway. He has two brothers—Gregory Leon and Thomas Edward. He was raised in the McMicken Heights neighborhood of SeaTac, Washington.
Ridgway's homelife was somewhat troubled; relatives have described his mother as domineering and have said that young Ridgway witnessed more than one violent argument between his parents.
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." While in high school, Ridgway joined the Navy. After graduation, he was sent to Vietnam, where he saw combat while serving on a Navy patrol boat.
Friends and family, questioned about Ridgway after his arrest, described him as friendly but strange. His first two marriages resulted in divorce because of 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 at least 48 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 from 1982 to 1984. Most of the victims were either prostitutes or runaways picked up along Pacific Highway South (State Route 99) who he strangled. Most of their bodies were dumped in wooded areas and around the Green River in Washington, with the exception of two confirmed and another two suspected victims found in the Portland, Oregon, area. The bodies were often left in clusters, sometimes posed, usually nude. Because 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, and he even transported several victims' remains across state lines into Oregon to confuse the police.
Ridgway would begin each murder by picking up a woman, usually a prostitute. He would sometimes show the woman a picture of his son, to help her 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 home, in his truck, 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 has since written much on the subject of the Green River Killer.
Ridgway was arrested in 1982 and 2001 on charges related to prostitution. He became a suspect in 1983 in the Green River killings. In 1984, Ridgway took and passed a polygraph test, and on April 7, 1987, police took hair and saliva samples from Ridgway. These were later subjected to a DNA analysis, providing the evidence for his arrest warrant.
On November 30, 2001, Ridgway was at the Kenworth factory when police arrived to arrest him. Ridgway was arrested on suspicion of murder of four women nearly 20 years after first being identified as a potential suspect when 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.
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 Anthony Savage, 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:
|“||We could have gone forward with seven counts, but that is all we could have ever hoped to solve. At the end of that trial, whatever the outcome, there would have been lingering doubts about the rest of these crimes. This agreement was the avenue to the truth. And in the end, the search for the truth is still why we have a criminal justice system ... Gary Ridgway does not deserve our mercy. He does not deserve to live. The mercy provided by today's resolution is directed not at Ridgway, but toward the families who have suffered so much ...||”|
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 having 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".
|1||Amina Agisheff||35||July 7, 1982||April 18, 1984|
|2||Wendy Lee Coffield||16||July 8, 1982||July 15, 1982|
|3||Gisele Ann Lovvorn||17||July 17, 1982||September 25, 1982|
|4||Debra Lynn Bonner||23||July 25, 1982||August 12, 1982|
|5||Marcia Fay Chapman||31||August 1, 1982||August 15, 1982|
|6||Cynthia Jean Hinds||17||August 11, 1982||August 15, 1982|
|7||Opal Charmaine Mills||16||August 12, 1982||August 15, 1982|
|8||Terry Rene Milligan||16||August 29, 1982||April 1, 1984|
|9||Mary Bridget Meehan||18||September 15, 1982||November 13, 1983|
|10||Debra Lorraine Estes||15||September 20, 1982||May 30, 1988|
|11||Linda Jane Rule||16||September 26, 1982||January 31, 1983|
|12||Denise Darcel Bush||23||October 8, 1982||June 12, 1985|
|13||Shawnda Leea Summers||16||October 9, 1982||August 11, 1983|
|14||Shirley Marie Sherrill||18||October 20–22, 1982||June 1985|
|15||Colleen Renee Brockman||15||December 24, 1982||May 26, 1984|
|16||Alma Ann Smith||18||March 3, 1983||April 2, 1984|
|17||Delores LaVerne Williams||17||March 8–14, 1983||March 31, 1984|
|18||Gail Lynn Mathews||23||April 10, 1983||September 18, 1983|
|19||Andrea M. Childers||19||April 14, 1983||October 11, 1989|
|20||Sandra Kay Gabbert||17||April 17, 1983||April 1, 1984|
|21||Kimi-Kai Pitsor||16||April 17, 1983||December 15, 1983|
|22||Marie M. Malvar||18||April 30, 1983||September 28–29, 2003|
|23||Carol Ann Christensen||21||May 3, 1983||May 8, 1983|
|24||Angela Marie Girdner||16||May 1983||April 22, 1985|
|25||Martina Theresa Authorlee||18||May 22, 1983||November 14, 1984|
|26||Cheryl Lee Wims||18||May 23, 1983||March 22, 1984|
|27||Yvonne "Shelly" Antosh||19||May 31, 1983||October 15, 1983|
|28||Carrie Ann Rois||15||May 31–June 13, 1983||March 10, 1985|
|29||Constance Elizabeth Naon||19||June 8, 1983||October 27, 1983|
|30||Kelly Marie Ware||22||July 18, 1983||October 29, 1983|
|31||Tina Marie Thompson||21||July 25, 1983||April 20, 1984|
|32||April Dawn Buttram||16||August 18, 1983||August 30, 2003|
|33||Debbie May Abernathy||26||September 5, 1983||March 31, 1984|
|34||Tracy Ann Winston||19||September 12, 1983||March 27, 1986|
|35||Maureen Sue Feeney||19||September 28, 1983||May 2, 1986|
|36||Mary Sue Bello||25||October 11, 1983||October 12, 1984|
|37||Pammy Annette Avent||15||October 26, 1983||August 16, 2003|
|38||Delise Louise Plager||22||October 30, 1983||February 14, 1984|
|39||Kimberly L. Nelson||21||November 1, 1983||June 14, 1986|
|40||Lisa Yates||19||December 23, 1983||March 13, 1984|
|41||Mary Exzetta West||16||February 6, 1984||September 8, 1985|
|42||Cindy Anne Smith||17||March 21, 1984||June 27, 1987|
|43||Patricia Michelle Barczak||19||October 17, 1986||February 1993|
|44||Roberta Joseph Hayes||21||Last seen leaving a Portland, Oregon, jail on February 7, 1987||September 11, 1991|
|45||Marta Reeves||36||March 5, 1990||September 20, 1990|
|46||Patricia Yellowrobe||38||January 1998||August 6, 1998|
|47||Unidentified White Female||12–17||Died prior to May 1983||March 21, 1984|
|48||Unidentified Black Female||18–27||1982–1984||December 30, 1985|
|49||Unidentified White Female||14–18||December 1980 – January 1984||January 2, 1986|
Ridgway has also been considered a suspect in the following disappearances/murders, although no bodies (with the exception of Girdner and Liles) have been found and no charges have been filed:
|Kase Ann Lee||16||August 28, 1982|
|Kristi Lynn Vorak||13||October 31, 1982|
|Rebecca Marrero||20||December 3, 1982|
|Tammie Liles||16||June 9, 1983|
|Keli Kay McGinness||18||June 28, 1983|
|Patricia Ann Leblanc||15||August 12, 1983|
|Patricia Osborn||19||October 20, 1983|
|Rose Marie Kurran||16||August 26, 1987|
|Cora McGuirk||22||July 12, 1991|