On November 30, 2001, Gary Ridgway, the serial killer nicknamed the “Green River Killer” for the 65-mile stretch of river bank south of Seattle where he dumped his victims, was arrested.
Police had linked Ridgway to four victims through DNA evidence, but he was eventually convicted of the murder of 49 women in Washington State during the 1980s and 1990s — making him the most prolific serial killer in history.Over the years, he has referred to killing sex workers as his “career,” and police believe he may have killed more than 70 women. Most of his victims were prostitutes and underage runaways. Ridgway would pick the women up, have sex with them, and then strangle his victims and dump their bodies in forested areas near the Green River — sometimes returning later to have sex with their corpses.
Ridgway’s arrest shocked the community because many viewed him as a “model neighbor” and “nice guy.” He had the same job for over 30 years and was on his third marriage, which, by his wife Judith’s account, was a happy one.
Judith later said on Investigation Discovery’s Who the Bleep Did I Marry? that she had no idea that her husband, whom she fell in love with after meeting him at a Seattle bar in 1985, was a monster. “He made me smile every day. I had the perfect husband, perfect life. I absolutely adored him,” she said. But a closer look at Ridgway’s past revealed a man of many internal contradictions.Gary Leon Ridgway was born on February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, Utah and grew up near Seattle’s Pacific Highway, a deprived neighborhood near SeaTac airport.
Friends and neighbors recall that the Ridgway parents were strict and punished their children verbally and physically. A next-door neighbor, Bruce Revard, recollected that the kids were not allowed any snacks and could only eat with the permission of the parents, and were beaten if they broke this rule. Despite this strictness, otherwise, the family seemed to be a textbook, blue-collar suburban family, and the kids grew up interested in cars and sports. In general, Gary didn’t stand out to anyone as being anything other than an average guy, who even had reasonable success dating.
During a short stint overseas in the Navy after high school, court records show that Ridgway’s military doctors diagnosed him with gonorrhea. They also show that in the early 1980s, he told a girlfriend that “he especially disliked Filipino prostitutes because of his contacts with them during his cruise in the Navy.”
Ridgway came home and got a job painting trucks. According to friends, he became fanatical about religion and often quoted the Bible, but frequently used the services of prostitutes.“My plan was to kill as many prostitutes as possible,” he said in his confession statement. After his arrest, investigators found decades of entries detailing his double life of picking up “dates” and brutally killing so many women that he mixed up their names and physical details during questioning. At one point, he compared his need for prostitutes to an alcoholic’s need for booze.
Though he was a suspect in 1984, Ridgway was let go and able to elude police for over 20 years. He picked vulnerable victims that he believed no one would miss, left false clues including gum and cigarettes near the bodies, and dumped his victims in out-of-the-way places.
But by 2001, scientific advances in forensics and DNA technology finally helped lead to his capture. Ridgway was initially arrested on suspicion of murdering Marcia Chapman, Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds, and Carol Ann Christensen. Then three more victims were added to the indictment after a forensic scientist identified microscopic spray-paint spheres as a specific brand of paint used at the factory where Ridgway worked.
As part of a plea bargain wherein he agreed to disclose the locations of still-missing women, he received a sentence of life without parole and began serving his sentence at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. In 2015, Washington’s Department of Corrections officials moved Ridgway to a federal prison in Colorado.
Investigators continue to search for Ridgway’s missing victims, even as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
Main photo: Gary Ridgway mugshot from 2001 [Wikimedia Commons]