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Gary Ridgway

Notable Quotable
“I killed so many women I can’t keep straight how many.”
— Gary Ridgway

Gary Ridgway, Green River Killer
Gary Ridgway, Green River Killer
One of the most notorious and frustrating serial killers in American history was the Green River Killer, so called because more than a few of his victims were fished out of the Green River near Seattle. It was years before he was caught, and over those years an astonishing number of bodies showed up. For example, between August 11, 1982, and March 21, 1983, forty bodies were found.

The police department demonstrated absolute incompetence when it came to investigating the cases. For example, in 1983 the driver’s license of one of the victims, Marie Malvar, was found at an airport, and police did not even pick it up to check for fingerprints. Bob Keppel, the brilliant Washington detective who did such outstanding work on the Ted Bundy case, was eventually called in to evaluate the quality of the investigation; he cited hundreds of errors. Another mistake was made in 1982: The policeman Dave Reichert came across the body of sixteen-year-old African American Opal Mills. Her body was not yet in full rigor mortis, which meant she had died only recently. Hence, if the police had surveyed the river they might have caught the killer in action—and prevented untold deaths. But they didn’t, and that chance was lost forever the next day when a local television station announced to the world that the police were going to start surveillance at Green River.

As mentioned in other sections of this blog, often police bring in the real killer for questioning — among a number of suspects — but he or she somehow slides though the net. This happed with Ridgway, a small, mousy-looking man who had, one writer pointed out, lips like a fish. He was interviewed because he liked picking up prostitutes and said he choked one once because she bit him.

But science marches on, and in September 2001, almost twenty years since the Green River killings had started, DNA analysis in the Washington State Crime Laboratory took a major leap forward. With the short tandem repeat (STR) procedure, they could replicate a very small sample of evidence into a sample that was large enough to test. They did, and when they tested semen found on the bodies of three early victims, Marcia Chapman, Carol Christensen, and Opal Mills, they linked them to a man named Gary Ridgway, who worked at the Kenworth Truck Plant.

They linked Ridgway to another victim, and then arrested him on November 30, 2001, and charged him with four murders. As it turned out, his body count would be astronomically higher.

Early Life
Gary Ridgway had a typical serial killer background. He wet the bed, and his mother, instead of nurturing and loving him, would march him out, nude, in front of his brothers and make him stand in a tub of cold water. In a confession he said that he killed a young boy when he was a teenager. While they were swimming, he wrapped his legs around the little boy and forcefully held him under the water until he died. He was also extremely cruel to animals, once locking a cat in a refrigerator until it died.

Under questioning by investigators, to avoid the death penalty, Ridgway spoke about his compulsion to kill prostitutes, something he had first been aware of when stationed in the military in the Philippines. He had sex with prostitutes before he killed them, but after a while he started having sex with dead ones, too. Not that bodies were new to him. His father was a funeral director, and one detective said that he wouldn’t bet against the fact that Ridgway had sex with some of the deceased who passed through the mortuary.

On May 5, 2003, Ridgway pled guilty to forty-eight murders and received forty-eight life sentences. But according to his calculations, he may well have killed up to ninety women.

Kill His Own Son?
Once Ridgway took a prostitute to a deserted area in his pickup, and his son accompanied him. Ridgway took the prostitute into the woods and killed her. When he returned to his truck, his son asked him where the woman was, and Ridgway said she lived nearby and walked home. When asked if he would have killed his son if the boy had happened upon his father when he was killing the prostitute, Ridgway responded, “I don’t know.”
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