5 Things You May Not Know About “The Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway
Authorities believe the prolific serial killer may have murdered over 90 women.
After preying on females in Washington’s King County from the 1980s through the ’90s, Gary Leon Ridgway was caught and convicted for the deaths of 49 victims. Nicknamed “The Green River Killer,” Ridgway confessed to 71 murders, but investigators believe he may have slayed over 90 women. He is now considered one of America’s most prolific serial killers.
Photo: Gary Ridgway during his arraignment on charges of murder in the 1982 death of Rebecca "Becky" Marrero, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, at the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent., Wash. [Elaine Thompson - Associated Press]
Ridgway Was A Troubled Child
After Ridgway’s 2001 arrest, he revealed disturbing details about his early years. The serial killer told a forensic psychologist that as a teen he harbored fantasies about murdering his mother, Mary, because of his sexual attraction to her, the Washington Post reported. "I thought about stabbing her in the chest or in the heart…maybe…cut her face and chest," he said.
Ridgway also told the expert that when he was about 16, his violent thoughts led him to stab a 6-year-old boy in the ribs to experience what it was like.
Gail Manuel, the mother of April Dawn Buttram, one of Ridgway’s first victims, was unmoved by the serial killer’s stories of his troubled youth, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2003. “The last thing I want to hear is how hard his childhood was,” she said.
Photo: Gary Ridgway 1982 Mugshot [King County Sheriff's Office]
He Used His Small Stature To Deceive Vulnerable Women
Ridgway often preyed upon sex workers, runaways, addicts and other women he considered vulnerable targets since they likely wouldn’t be reported missing right away, if ever.
“I do not have a good memory of their faces. I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight,” Ridgway said in a statement that prosecutors read at the killer’s 2003 plea deal hearing, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Ridgway added: “I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex.”
After he was caught, Ridgway admitted to detectives he often had to tell sex workers that he was not “The Green River Killer” in order to gain their trust. Ridgway, who was smaller in stature, said he convinced as many as 50 women that the true killer must be a big, strong man because of the violent nature of the murders.
"I look like an ordinary person," he told authorities, according to the Washington Post. "Here's a guy, he's not really muscle-bound. [He doesn’t] look like a fighter. Just an ordinary john and that was their downfall. My appearance was different from what I really was."
Ridgway was able to overpower and strangle most of his victims. "Choking is what I did, and I was pretty good at it," he said.
Photo: Ridgway sits in court during his arraignment on charges of murder in the 1982 death of Rebecca "Becky" Marrero, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, at the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent., Wash. [AP Photo/Elaine Thompson]
The Serial Killer Was Obsessive About Not Getting Caught
Ridgway was meticulous about how he found, murdered and disposed of his victims. He reportedly would only pick up women who were alone. He wore gloves during many of the murders, and he frequently changed the tires on his truck so that his vehicle couldn’t be traced to body dump sites. Ridgway never chewed gum or smoked, but he revealed he would sometimes leave gum wrappers and cigarette butts near the bodies of the women he killed in order to throw off detectives.
Investigators began calling the still-unknown murderer “The Green River Killer” after they discovered five of Ridgway’s victims around King County’s 65-mile-long Green River. He also left bodies in forested or overgrown areas throughout the region.
Ridgway exercised so much care in not getting caught that his third wife had no clue she was in a relationship with a violent murderer during their 17 years together. “He treated me like a newlywed,” she told one of Ridgway’s defense lawyers, according to the Washington Post.
Despite his attention to detail, Ridgway’s name came up on several occasions over the years, including shortly after he began killing. In 1983, the boyfriend of one of his victims, Marie M. Malvar, told authorities he had last seen her when she was getting into the serial killer’s truck. Ridgway denied he knew Malvar and authorities eventually moved on to other leads. The killer later took a polygraph test and passed after police questioned him if he had murdered anyone.
Photo: Members of the Green River task force comb a steep hillside in an unincorporated area near Kent, Wash., in search of one of Ridgway's victims, Nov. 12, 2003. [Elaine Thompson - Associated Press]
Ridgway’s True Motive For The Murders Remains A Mystery
Exactly why Ridgway became a serial killer is still up for debate. Ridgway said he often killed because he hated sex workers, but prosecutors said they believed he committed murder “to satisfy his evil and unfathomable desires,” the Washington Post reported.
According to the Los Angeles Times, defense attorney Anthony Savage believed his client killed out of rage. He also noted something with the serial killer was “clearly out of whack.”
Photo: Gary Ridgway with investigators at one of the sights where he said he allegedly buried one of his victims. [Getty/Police Handout]
Advances In DNA Testing Helped Capture The Killer
On Nov. 30, 2001, Ridgway was leaving his job at Kenworth Truck Co. in Renton, Washington, when police arrested him. Ridgway was finally linked to several murders thanks to advances in DNA testing technology. Investigators were able to use a saliva swab the serial killer submitted in the 1980s to match his DNA with semen found in four of his victims’ bodies.
Ridgway avoided the death penalty by striking a plea deal with prosecutors that required him to reveal the locations of the women he killed. On Dec. 18, 2003, he was sentenced to 48 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. A 49th body was found in 2011, and Ridgway received an additional life sentence.
The serial killer, who turns 71 on Feb. 18, 2020, is currently incarcerated in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Read more: CrimeFeed
Photo: Ridgway breaks down as he listens to Robert Rule, the father of victim Linda rule during the sentencing in King County Washington Superior Court December 18, 2003 in Seattle. [Pool photo/Getty]