Gary Ridgway

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Gary Ridgway
Ridgway's mugshot, November 2001
BornGary Leon Ridgway
(1949-02-18) February 18, 1949
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Other namesThe Green River Killer
Spouses
Claudia Kraig Barrows ​ ​(m. 1970; div. 1972)​
Marcia Lorene Brown ​ ​(m. 1973; div. 1981)​
Judith Lorraine Lynch ​ ​(m. 1988; div. 2002)​
Children1
Conviction(s)
Criminal penalty49 life sentences without the possibility of parole
Details
Victims49 convicted, 71–90+ confessed and suspected
Span of crimes1982–1998 confirmed (possibly as recent as 2001)
CountryUnited States
State(s)Washington, Oregon
Date apprehendedNovember 30, 2001
Imprisoned atWashington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, Washington

Gary Leon Ridgway (born February 18, 1949) is an American serial killer known as the Green River Killer. He was initially convicted of 48 separate murders committed between the early 1980s and late 1990s. As part of his plea bargain, another conviction was added, bringing the total number of convictions to 49, making him the second-most prolific serial killer in United States history according to confirmed murders.

Most of Ridgway's victims were alleged to be sex workers and other women in vulnerable circumstances, including underage runaways. Before his identity was known, the media gave him his nickname after the first five victims were found in the Green River. He strangled his victims, usually by hand but sometimes using ligatures. After strangling them, he would dump their bodies in forested and overgrown areas in King County, often returning to the bodies to engage in acts of necrophilia.

Ridgway had been a suspect in the murders since 1982; however, investigators were unable to link him to the murders at that time. Later advances in DNA profiling allowed investigators to definitively link Ridgway to the murders, and he was arrested on November 30, 2001, as he was leaving the Kenworth truck factory where he worked in Renton, Washington. As part of a plea bargain wherein he agreed to disclose the locations of still-missing women, he was spared the death penalty and received a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Early life

Gary Leon Ridgway was born on February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the second of Mary and Thomas Ridgway's three sons. His home life was somewhat troubled; relatives have described his mother as domineering and have said that, while young, he witnessed more than one violent argument between his parents. His father was a bus driver who would often complain about the presence of sex workers.

Ridgway had a bed-wetting problem until he was 13, and his mother would forcefully wash his genitals after every episode. He would later tell defense psychologists that, as an adolescent, he had conflicting feelings of anger and sexual attraction toward his mother, and fantasized about killing her.

Ridgway is dyslexic, and was held back a year in high school. When he was 16, he stabbed a six-year-old boy who survived the attack. Ridgway had led the boy into the woods and then stabbed him through the ribs into his liver.

Ridgway's IQ was recorded as being in the "low eighties".

Adult life

Ridgway graduated from Tyee High School in 1969 and married his 19-year-old high school girlfriend, Claudia Kraig. He joined the United States Navy and was sent to Vietnam, where he served on board a supply ship and saw combat. During his time in the military, Ridgway had frequent sexual intercourse with sex workers and contracted gonorrhea; although angered by this, he continued this activity without protection. The marriage ended within a year.

When questioned about Ridgway after his arrest, friends and family described him as friendly but strange. His first two marriages resulted in divorce because of infidelities by both partners. His second wife, Marcia Winslow, claimed that he had placed her in a chokehold. He became religious during his second marriage, proselytizing door-to-door, reading the Bible aloud at work and at home, and insisting that his wife follow the strict teachings of their pastor. Ridgway would also frequently cry after sermons or reading the Bible. Despite his beliefs, Ridgway continued to solicit the services of sex workers and wanted his wife to participate in sex in public and inappropriate places, sometimes even in areas where his victims' bodies were later discovered.

According to women in his life, Ridgway had an insatiable sexual appetite. His three ex-wives and several ex-girlfriends reported that he demanded sex from them several times a day. Often, he would want to have sex in a public area or in the woods. Ridgway himself admitted to having a fixation with sex workers, with whom he had a love/hate relationship. He frequently complained about their presence in his neighborhood, but he also took advantage of their services regularly. In a statement read at his plea hearing, Gary Ridgway said he hated prostitutes and didn't want to pay them for sex. Some have speculated that Ridgway was torn between his lusts and his staunch religious beliefs.

With his second wife Marcia, Ridgway had a son.

Murders

Ridgway after a 1982 booking

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ridgway is believed to have murdered at least 71 teenage girls and women near Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. In court statements, Ridgway later reported that he had killed so many that he lost count. A majority of the murders occurred between 1982 and 1984. The victims were believed to be either sex workers or runaways, whom he picked up along Pacific Highway South. Ridgway sometimes showed the women a picture of his son, to trick them into trusting him. They would engage in sexual activity, and after minutes of intercourse from behind, Ridgway would wrap his forearm around the front of their necks and use the other arm to pull back as tightly as he could, strangling them. He killed most victims in his home, his truck, or a secluded area. Most of their bodies were dumped in wooded areas around the Green River, Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, and other "dump sites" within South King County.

There were also two confirmed and another two suspected victims found in the Portland, Oregon, area. The bodies were often left in clusters, sometimes posed, usually nude. He would sometimes return to the victims' bodies and engage in necrophilia with their bodies. Ridgway later explained that he did not find necrophilia more sexually satisfying, but having sex with the deceased reduced his need to obtain a living victim and thus limited his exposure to being caught. Ridgway occasionally contaminated the dump sites with gum, cigarettes, and written materials belonging to others, and he even transported a few victims' remains across state lines into Oregon, to confuse the police.

1982–1984: First known victims

The body of Ridgway's first known victim was found in July 1982. A unique kind of spray paint was found on clothing wrapped around the victim's neck, but the paint was not tested for 20 years. If it had been tested at the time, it would have been easier to link the murder to Ridgway. After four more victims were found, the King County Sheriff's Office formed the Green River Task Force to investigate the murders. Task force members included Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert, who periodically interviewed incarcerated serial killer Ted Bundy in 1984. Bundy offered his opinions on the psychology, motivations, and behavior of the killer. He suggested that the killer was revisiting the dump sites to have sex with his victims, which turned out to be true, and if police found a fresh grave, they should stake it out and wait for him to come back. Also contributing to the investigation was FBI Special Agent John E. Douglas, who developed a profile of the suspect.

Ridgway was arrested in 1982 and 2001 on charges related to prostitution. He became a suspect in the Green River killings in 1983, when 18-year-old Marie Malvar disappeared. Her boyfriend and her pimp later found a truck in front of Ridgway's house which they thought was the same one she had boarded the day she went missing. Ridgway was interviewed in conjunction with that event, and police received several other tips that mentioned him. In 1984, he passed a polygraph test.

1985–2001: Marriage with Judith Mawson, arrest for murder

Around 1985, Ridgway began dating Judith Mawson, who became his third wife in 1988. Mawson claimed in a 2010 television interview that when she moved into his house while they were dating, there was no carpet. Detectives later told her he had probably wrapped a body in the carpet. In the same interview, she described how he would leave for work early in the morning some days, ostensibly for the overtime pay. Mawson speculated that he must have committed some of the murders while supposedly working these early morning shifts. She claimed that she had not suspected Ridgway's crimes before she was contacted by authorities in 1987, and had not even heard of the Green River Killer before that time because she did not watch the news. Ridgway said that while he was in the relationship with Mawson, his kill rate went down and that he truly loved her. Of his 49 known victims, only three were killed after he married Mawson. Mawson told a local television reporter, "I feel I have saved lives ... by being his wife and making him happy."

On April 7, 1987, police took hair and saliva samples from Ridgway. The samples collected in 1987 were later subjected to DNA profiling, providing the evidence for his arrest warrant. On November 30, 2001, he was at the Kenworth truck factory, where he worked as a spray painter, when police arrived to arrest him. Ridgway was arrested on suspicion of murdering four women nearly 20 years earlier 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 a forensic scientist identified microscopic spray paint spheres as a specific brand and composition of paint used at the Kenworth factory during the specific time frame when these victims were killed.

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 Airway Heights Minimum-Medium Security Level Tank. 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 he had killed all of his victims 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 A. Jones sentenced Ridgway to 48 life sentences without the possibility of parole 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. Later he was given another life sentence after the remains of his 49th victim were found.

Ridgway led prosecutors to three bodies in 2003. On August 16 of that year, the remains of a 16-year-old girl 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 2003.

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 another victim, Tracy Winston, who was 19 when she disappeared from Northgate Mall on September 12, 1983, was found on November 20, 2005, by a man hiking in a wooded area near Highway 18 near Issaquah, southeast of Seattle. This was the find that led to Ridgway's 49th life sentence. In 2023, remains formerly known as Bones 17 discovered in 1985 were identified as belonging to murder victim Lori Anne Razpotnik, who had disappeared from Seattle in 1982.

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. On February 9, 2004, county prosecutors began to release the videotaped records of Ridgway's confessions. In one taped interview, he initially told investigators that he was responsible for the deaths of 65 women. 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 before killing them, a detail which he did not reveal until after his sentencing.

In his confession, he acknowledged that he targeted prostitutes because they were "easy to pick up" and that he "hated most of them." He confessed that he had sex with his victims' bodies after he murdered them, but claimed he began burying the later victims so that he could resist the urge to commit necrophilia.

Incarceration

Ridgway was placed in solitary confinement at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla in January 2004. On May 14, 2015, he was transferred to the USP Florence High, a high-security federal prison east of Cañon City, Colorado. In September 2015, after a public outcry and discussions with Governor Jay Inslee, Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner announced that Ridgway would be transferred back to Washington to be "easily accessible" for open murder investigations. Ridgway was returned by chartered plane to Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla from USP Florence High, on October 24, 2015.

Victims

Before Ridgway's confession, authorities had attributed 49 murders to the Green River Killer. Ridgway confessed to murdering at least 71 victims. Ridgway's victims were not of any specific race or ethnicity; rather, they were all financially poor, and except for three of them, were all younger women and girls between the ages of 14 and 26 whom he found in vulnerable circumstances, often working as prostitutes or having run away from home.

Confirmed killings

At the time of Ridgway's December 18, 2003, sentencing, authorities had been able to find at least 48 sets of remains, including victims not originally attributed to the Green River Killer. Ridgway was sentenced for the deaths of each of these 48 victims, with a plea agreement that he would "plead guilty to any and all future cases (in King County) where his confession could be corroborated by reliable evidence."

# Name Age Disappeared Body found
1 Wendy Lee Coffield 16 July 8, 1982 July 15, 1982
2 Gisele Ann Lovvorn 17 July 17, 1982 September 25, 1982
3 Debra Lynn Bonner 23 July 25, 1982 August 12, 1982
4 Marcia Fay Chapman 31 August 1, 1982 August 15, 1982
5 Cynthia Jean Hinds 17 August 11, 1982 August 15, 1982
6 Opal Charmaine Mills 16 August 12, 1982 August 15, 1982
7 Terry Rene Milligan 16 August 29, 1982 April 1, 1984
8 Mary Bridget Meehan 18 September 15, 1982 November 13, 1983
9 Debra Lorraine Estes 15 September 20, 1982 May 30, 1988
10 Linda Jane Rule 16 September 26, 1982 January 31, 1983
11 Denise Darcel Bush 23 October 8, 1982 June 12, 1985
12 Shawnda Leea Summers 16 October 9, 1982 August 11, 1983
13 Shirley Marie Sherrill 18 October 20–22, 1982 June 14, 1985
14 Rebecca "Becky" Marrero 20 December 3, 1982 December 21, 2010
15 Colleen Renee Brockman 15 December 24, 1982 May 26, 1984
16 Sandra Denise Major 20 December 24, 1982 December 30, 1985
17 Wendy Stephens 14 Died circa spring 1983 March 21, 1984
18 Alma Ann Smith 18 March 3, 1983 April 2, 1984
19 Delores LaVerne Williams 17 March 8–14, 1983 March 31, 1984
20 Lori Anne Razpotnik 15–16 Died spring or summer 1983 December 1985
21 Gail Lynn Mathews 23 April 10, 1983 September 18, 1983
22 Andrea Marion Childers 19 April 14, 1983 October 11, 1989
23 Sandra Kay Gabbert 17 April 17, 1983 April 1, 1984
24 Kimi-Kai Ryks Pitsor 16 April 17, 1983 December 15, 1983
25 Mary-Jane "Marie" Malvar 18 April 30, 1983 September 26, 2003
26 Carol Ann Christensen 21 May 3, 1983 May 8, 1983
27 Martina Theresa Authorlee 18 May 22, 1983 November 14, 1984
28 Cheryl Lee Wims 18 May 23, 1983 March 22, 1984
29 Yvonne "Shelly" Antosh 19 May 31, 1983 October 15, 1983
30 Carrie Ann Rois 15 May 31 – June 13, 1983 March 10, 1985
31 Constance Elizabeth Naon 19 June 8, 1983 October 27, 1983
32 Tammie Charlene Liles 16 June 9, 1983 April 23, 1985
33 Kelly Marie Ware 22 July 18, 1983 October 29, 1983
34 Tina Marie Thompson 21 July 25, 1983 April 20, 1984
35 April Dawn Buttram 16 August 18, 1983 August 30, 2003
36 Debbie May Abernathy 26 September 5, 1983 March 31, 1984
37 Tracy Ann Winston 19 September 12, 1983 March 27, 1986
38 Maureen Sue Feeney 19 September 28, 1983 May 2, 1986
39 Mary Sue Bello 25 October 11, 1983 October 12, 1984
40 Pammy Annette Avent 15 October 26, 1983 August 16, 2003
41 Delise Louise Plager 22 October 30, 1983 February 14, 1984
42 Kimberly L. Nelson 21 November 1, 1983 June 14, 1986
43 Lisa Lorraine Yates 19 December 23, 1983 March 13, 1984
44 Mary Exzetta West 16 February 6, 1984 September 8, 1985
45 Cindy Anne Smith 17 March 21, 1984 June 27, 1987
46 Patricia Michelle Barczak 19 October 17, 1986 February 3, 1993
47 Roberta Joseph Hayes 21 February 7, 1987 September 11, 1991
48 Marta Reeves 36 March 5, 1990 September 20, 1990
49 Patricia Ann Yellowrobe 38 January 1998 August 6, 1998
Facial approximation of Jane Doe B-17, who was identified as Lori Anne Razpotnik after DNA testing in 2023

Task force victims list

Ridgway is suspected of—but not charged with—murdering the remaining six victims of the original list attributed to the Green River Killer. In each case, either Ridgway did not confess to the victim's death, or authorities have not been able to corroborate their suspicion with reliable evidence.

Name Age Disappeared Body found
Amina Agisheff 35 July 7, 1982 April 18, 1984
Kasee Ann Lee (née Woods) 16 August 28, 1982 Undiscovered
Kelly Kay McGinniss 18 June 28, 1983 Undiscovered
Angela Marie Girdner 16 July 1983 April 22, 1985
Patricia Osborn 19 October 20, 1983 Undiscovered

Suspected

Ridgway has been considered a suspect in the disappearances/murders of several other women not attributed at the time to the Green River Killer. No charges have been filed.

Name Age Disappeared Body found
Unidentified black female (possibly named Michelle) Unknown December 1980 Undiscovered
Kristi Lynn Vorak 13 October 31, 1982 Undiscovered
Patricia Ann Leblanc 15 August 12, 1983 Undiscovered
Rose Marie Kurran 16 August 26, 1987 August 31, 1987
Darci Warde 16 April 24, 1990 Undiscovered
Cora McGuirk 22 July 12, 1991 Undiscovered

In artwork

In documentaries and films (fiction and non-fiction)

In print (non-fiction)

In print (fiction)

In music

In television (fiction)

See also

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ In addition to his confirmed murders, Ridgway has been linked to at least 22 other murders. Samuel Little has the highest number of confirmed murders (50), has been linked to eleven more and claimed to have murdered more than 90 people. Some people, most notably Ted Bundy, are widely thought to have murdered more people than they were convicted of; Bundy was convicted of 30 murders but some believe he may have murdered more than a hundred people.
  2. ^ Stephens was reported missing in 1983. Investigators believe her remains had lain undiscovered for one year or more prior to their March 1984 discovery.
  3. ^ Various spellings exist of McGinniss's name, such as "Keli/Kelli" and "McGinness".
  4. ^ Kurran's name is alternatively spelled as "Curran" in the media.

References

  1. ^ Hucks, Karen (December 23, 2003). "Gary Ridgway's son holds memories of regular soccer dad". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington.
  2. ^ Bell, Rachel. "Green River Killer: River of Death". Crime Library. Archived from the original on May 30, 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
  3. ^ Haglund, WD; Reichert, DG; Reay, DT (1990). "Recovery of decomposed and skeletal human remains in the "Green River Murder" Investigation. Implications for medical examiner/coroner and police". The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. 11 (1). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins: 35–43. doi:10.1097/00000433-199003000-00004. PMID 2305751. S2CID 27268528.
  4. ^ a b c Prothero, Mark; Smith, Carlton (2006). Defending Gary: Unraveling the Mind of the Green River Killer. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass. pp. 264–265, 317. ISBN 978-0-7879-9548-5.
  5. ^ a b c d e f McCarthy, Terry; Thornburgh, Nathan (June 3, 2002). "River Of Death". Time. New York City: Time, Inc. Archived from the original on October 18, 2008. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Rivers, Ray (November 6, 2003). "Ridgway went from having sex with prostitutes 'to just plain killing 'em'". The Seattle Times. Seattle, Washington: The Seattle Times Company. Archived from the original on September 24, 2018. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
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Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gary Ridgway.
External videos
video icon "This Interview Strategy Led a Serial Killer to Confess". Smithsonian Channel. May 13, 2013. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021.