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Gary Ridgway

Mugshot of Gary Ridgway from his arrest in 2001.
Background information
Birth name: Gary Leon Ridgway
Also known as: The Green River Killer
Born: February 18, 1949 (1949-02-18) (age 61)
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
Country: United States
State(s): Washington
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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[2] As part of a plea bargain, he was spared the death penalty and received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.


Early life

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.[3]

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.[3]

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.

The Murders

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.[2]

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.

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 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."[citation needed] 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 ...[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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".[8]

Later in a statement Ridgway said that murdering young women was his "career".[9]

Ridgway is incarcerated at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.

Fictional portrayals

In 2008, the Lifetime Network aired The Capture of the Green River Killer, a TV movie loosely based on his crimes. John Pielmeier portrayed Ridgway.


# Name Age Disappeared Found
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:

Name Age Disappeared
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
  • Evidence exists to suggest that Ridgway murdered Keli Kay McGinness. Shortly before her disappearance, McGinness was questioned by a Port of Seattle police officer while "dating" Ridgway near the Sea-Tac Strip. Furthermore, during the summer of 2003, Ridgway led authorities to the bodies of several of his victims. One of those bodies (which later turned out to be April Buttram) was initially identified by Ridgway as being that of Keli Kay McGinness. According to Ridgway, he often confused McGinness with Buttram because of their similar physiques.[10]
  • Although he has never been charged with her murder, Gary Ridgway did confess to killing Kase Ann Lee. During police interrogations in 2003, Ridgway stated that he strangled Lee in 1982 and left her body near a drive-in theatre off the Sea-Tac Strip. As of October 2008, law enforcement officials have been unable to locate Lee's remains at the dump site that Ridgway indicated.[11]
  • NBA player Martell Webster's mother, Cora McGuirk, disappeared when he was four years old. Her body has never been found, and Ridgway is suspected of having killed her.[12]
  • Ridgway is also a suspect in the deaths of Angela Marie Girdner and Tammie Liles. Both bodies were discovered in April 1985 within a mile of the bodies of known victims Shirley Shirell and Denise Bush. Liles remained unidentified until 1998, and Girdner remained unidentified until December 2009.[13]
  • Ridgway denied killing Amina Agisheff. Amina does not fit the profile of any of the victims of the Green River Killer considering her age, she was not a prostitute or a teenaged runaway.[14]


  1. ^ Haglund, W.D.; Reichert, M.A.; Reay, D.G. & Donald, T. (1990): Recovery of decomposed and skeletal human remains in the ‘‘Green River Murder’’ investigation. Am. J. Forensic Med. Pathol., 11: 35-43.
  2. ^ a b c Prothero, Mark; Carlton Smith (2006). Defending Gary: Unraveling the Mind of the Green River Killer. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-9548-5. 
  3. ^ a b McCarthy, Terry. "River of Death" Time Magazine, February 27, 2003.
  4. ^ Maleng, Norm (2003-11-05). "Statement of Norm Maleng on Ridgway Plea". Retrieved 2008-06-23. 
  5. ^ "Anitra Mulwee". Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  6. ^ Cold Case Files: "Obsession: Dave Reichert and the Green River Killer (Original Air Date: 12/15/2005) on A&E.
  7. ^ Ridgway Reveals Gruesome Details In Chilling Confession - Video - KIRO Seattle
  8. ^ Cold Case Files #56 A&E Network
  9. ^ Green River Killer
  10. ^ Prothero, M. and Smith, C. Defending Gary: Unraveling the Mind of the Green River Killer. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2006. Page 376
  11. ^ (Guillen, T. Serial Killers: Issues Explored Through the Green River Murders. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2007. Page 145).
  12. ^ The Portland Tribune Ι News.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  • Keppel, Robert. The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer. 2004, paperback. 624 pages, ISBN 0743463951. Updated after the arrest and confession of Gary Ridgway.
  • Rule, Ann. Green River, Running Red. Pocket, 2005, paperback. 704 pages, ISBN 0743460502.
  • Time Magazine. River of Death February 27, 2003

External links

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