Gary Ridgway, Murderer
- Born: 18 February 1949
- Birthplace: Utah
- Best Known As: The Green River Killer
On 5 November 2003 Gary Leon Ridgway confessed to 48 murders in Seattle's King County, making him the most prolific convicted serial killer in United States history. Ridgway grew up in the Seattle area and worked as a truck painter at the time of the killings, most of which occurred in a 19-month period beginning in 1982. The victims had been strangled and their bodies dumped in ravines and near highways in the vicinity of the Green River in northwestern Washington. The so-called Green River Killer chose mostly prostitutes and runaways. Eventually law enforcement officials released a list of 49 names they believed to be victims of the same killer -- although some of those listed were missing and presumed dead. In 1984 Ridgway was identified as a suspect (he had been seen with one of the victims shortly before she went missing), but the investigation didn't turn up any hard evidence against him. In 2001 he was arrested and charged with four counts of murder after being linked by DNA evidence from a saliva sample he had provided in 1987. In March of 2003 he was charged with 3 more murders in King County, Washington. His guilty plea in November 2003 was part of a deal that spared him the death penalty and gave him a lifelong prison term. Ridgway, who after his arrest led police to four more bodies, confessed to killing 42 of the 49 victims on the list, plus six others not on the list. The Green River Killer is also suspected of murders in Oregon and British Columbia, but Ridgway's 2003 trial did not address those crimes.
At the time of his 2003 confession, Ridgway admitted that he had never known any of his victims, that he hated prostitutes and that he killed so many women he couldn't remember exactly how many.
Gary Leon Ridgway (born February 18, 1949), known as the Green River Killer, is one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. On November 30, 2001, as he was leaving a Renton, Washington factory where he worked, he was arrested for the murders of seven women whose deaths were attributed to the "Green River Killer". Four murders were linked to him through DNA and three through paint he used at his job. Two years later he pleaded guilty to 48 counts of aggravated murder, although the estimates run much higher. Ridgway has been married three times and has one son. He carried his son's photo in his wallet to lure most of his victims into his pickup truck.
Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to Mary Rita Steinman and Thomas Newton Ridgway. He was raised in a seemingly stable home in , but his mother reportedly dominated the household and was especially controlling in her behavior towards her son. Relatives remember that she was never content with him and was constantly yelling at her husband. Friends and family, questioned about Ridgway following his arrest, described him as friendly but strange; the same man who went door to door for his Pentecostal church was also obsessed with prostitutes and had dysfunctional relationships with women, his first two marriages were both riddled by infidelities by both partners. Both a prostitute and his second wife testified that, in 1982, he had placed them in choke-holds. He once claimed that prostitutes did to him "what drugs do to a junkie."
During a two-and-a-half-year period in the early 1980s, the Green River Killer is believed to have murdered as many as 50 women near the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. Most of the victims were either female prostitutes or teenage runaways picked up along Pacific Highway South (Washington State Route 99) and strangled. Most of their bodies were dumped in and around the Green River in Washington, except for two victims in the Portland, Oregon area.
In the early 1980s, the King County Sheriff Department 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 to Bundy's execution in 1989 in the hopes of both developing a profile of the killer and manipulating Bundy into confessing to some unsolved murders he was suspected of having committed.
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 took and passed a polygraph test, and on April 7, 1987, police took hair and saliva samples that were later subjected to a DNA analysis, which provided the evidence for his arrest warrant.
On November 30, 2001, nearly 20 years after first being identified as a potential suspect in the killings, Ridgway was arrested on suspicion of murder for four deaths after DNA evidence linked him to multiple victims. The four victims named in the original Ridgway indictment included Marcia Chapman, Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds and Carol Ann Christensen.
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, 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 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.
Public opinion remains divided on whether a confessed murderer of 48 people should be spared execution in a state that has the death penalty and imposes it on people who have killed far fewer victims. 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 is currently serving his sentence at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.
It is known that 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 Washington 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: Forty-two of the 48 murders on the police's list of probable Green River Killer victims and 6 more murders, including one as late as 2000. 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 Sheriff 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.
Pop Culture References
Influential Seattle grunge band, Green River, named themselves after The Green River Killer
(before Ridgway's arrest). The members of Green River later split to form Mudhoney and Pearl
- Power electronics duo released a concept album called "G.R." The lyrics on the album are supposed to be seen from Ridgway's point of view.
- American alt-country musician Neko Case, who grew up in the Green River area while the case was still unsolved, wrote a song about the murders entitled "Deep Red Bells." It appears on her album Blacklisted.
- Frank Lundy, a character in Dexter, is a fictional FBI agent who, within the show fictional universe, solved the Green River case.
- A Profile of Gary Leon Ridgway
- Prosecutor's Summary of the Evidence (PDF)
- Statement on the Ridgway Plea by King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng
- A copy of Ridgway's infamous letter to the press (PDF)
- Crime Library article on Green River Killer
- Ridgway Reveals Gruesome Details in Chilling Confession (video)
|#||Name||Age||Date of Murder||Date Body Discovered|
|1||Wendy Lee Coffield||16||July 8, 1982||July 15, 1982|
|2||Gisele Ann Lovvorn||17||July 17, 1982||Sept. 25, 1982|
|3||Debra Lynn Bonner||23||July 25, 1982||Aug. 12, 1982|
|4||Marcia Faye Chapman||31||Aug. 1, 1982||Aug. 15, 1982|
|5||Cynthia Jean Hinds||17||Aug. 11, 1982||Aug. 15, 1982|
|6||Opal Charmaine Mills||16||Aug. 12, 1982||Aug. 15, 1982|
|7||Terry Rene Milligan||16||Aug. 29, 1982||April 1, 1984|
|8||Mary Bridget Meehan||18||Sept. 15, 1982||Nov. 13, 1983|
|9||Debra Lorraine Estes||15||Sept. 20, 1982||May 30, 1988|
|10||Linda Jane Rule||16||Sept. 26, 1982||-|
|11||Denise Darcel Bush||22||Oct. 8, 1982||-|
|12||Shawnda Leea Summers||17||Oct. 9, 1982||Aug. 11, 1983|
|13||Shirley Marie Sherrill||18||between Oct. 20 and Nov. 7, 1982||-|
|14||Colleen Renee Brockman||15||about Dec. 24, 1982||May 26, 1984|
|15||Alma Ann Smith||18||March 3, 1983||April 2, 1984|
|16||Delores LaVerne Williams||17||March 8, 1983||March 31, 1984|
|17||Gail Lynn Mathews||24||April 10, 1983||Sept. 18, 1983|
|18||Andrea M. Childers||19||April 16, 1983||Oct. 11, 1989|
|19||Sandra Kay Gabbert||17||April 17, 1983||April 1, 1984|
|20||Kimi-Kai Pitsor||16||April 17, 1983||-|
|21||Marie M. Malvar||18||April 30, 1983||Sept. 29, 2003|
|22||Carol Christensen||21||May 3, 1983||May 8, 1983|
|23||Martina Theresa Authorlee||18||May 22, 1983||Nov. 14, 1984|
|24||Cheryl Lee Wims||18||May 23, 1983||March 22, 1984|
|25||Yvonne Shelly Antosh||19||May 31, 1983||Oct. 15, 1983|
|26||Carrie A. Rois||15||May 31 to June 13, 1983||March 10, 1985|
|27||Constance Elizabeth Naon||21||June 8, 1983||Oct. 27, 1983|
|28||Kelly Marie Ware||22||July 19, 1983||-|
|29||Tina Marie Thompson||22||July 25, 1983||April 20, 1984|
|30||April Dawn Buttram||17||Aug. 18, 1983||Aug. 30 and Sept. 2, 2003|
|31||Debbie May Abernathy||26||Sept. 5, 1983||March 31, 1984|
|32||Tracy Ann Winston||19||Sept. 12, 1983||March 27, 1986|
|33||Maureen Sue Feeney||19||Sept. 28, 1983||May 2, 1986|
|34||Mary Sue Bello||25||Oct. 11, 1983||Oct. 12, 1984|
|35||Pammy Avent||16||Oct. 26, 1983||Aug. 16, 2003|
|36||Delise Louise Plager||22||Oct. 30, 1983||Feb. 14, 1984|
|37||Kimberly L. Nelson||26||Nov. 1, 1983||June 14, 1986|
|38||Lisa Yates||26||Dec. 23, 1983||March 13, 1984|
|39||Mary Exzetta West||16||Feb. 6, 1984||Sept. 8, 1985|
|40||Cindy Anne Smith||17||March 21, 1984||June 27, 1987|
|41||Patricia Michelle Barczak||19||October 1986||-|
|42||Roberta Joseph Hayes||21||Last seen leaving a Portland, Ore., jail in 1987||-|
|43||Marta Reeves||37||Disappeared 1990||-|
|44||Patricia Yellow Robe||38||Disappeared 1998||Aug. 6, 1998|