Crime scene investigators know him best: Gary Ridgway (born Gary Leon Ridgway February 18, 1949) murdered numerous women in Washington during the 1980s and 1990s, earning his nickname (Green River Killer)when the first five victims were found in the Green River. He strangled them, usually with his arm, but sometimes using ligatures. After strangling the women, he would dump their bodies throughout forested and overgrown areas in King County.
On November 30, 2001, as he was leaving the Renton Truck factory where he worked, he was arrested for the murders of four women whose cases were linked to him through DNA sampling. As part of a plea bargain, wherein he agreed to disclose the whereabouts of still missing women, he was spared the death penalty and received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.
Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, to Mary Rita Steinman and Thomas Newton Ridgway. He had two brothers and was raised in the McMicken Heights neighborhood of Sea Tech, Washington.
His homelife was somewhat troubled, as he witnessed more than one fight between his parents. As a boy, he had the habit of wetting the bed, and his mother was always the one to discover this. She would immediately bathe him and then humiliate him in front of the family, which had a deep impact on the young Gary Ridgway. From a young age he had conflicting feelings of sexual attraction and anger towards her, which will define him later as the Green River Killer.
As a young child, he was tested with the IQ of 82, signifying low intelligence (criminal investigators often point out that murderers are not always criminal masterminds), and had trouble in school, having to repeat a single year twice in order to pass. While in high school, he joined the navy and was sent to Vietnam, serving onboard a supply ship.
His friends and family described him as friendly but strange. His first two marriages resulted in divorce because of infidelities by both partners. Both wives claimed that he had placed them in chokeholds. In 1975, his second wife gave birth to his son, Matthew.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, he is believed to have killed 71 victims, according to hi testimony, some as young as 12 years. The victims are believed to be either prostitutes or runaways, picked up along Pacific Highway South. Most of the bodies were dumped in wooden areas around the Green River (Washington). The bodies were often left in clusters, sometimes posed, usually nude. He sometimes would return to have sexual intercourse with them (necrophilia). Because of the advanced decomposition, four bodies are still unidentified. Ridgway would sometimes contaminate the scene with gum, cigarettes and written material belonging to others, and he even transported some victims’ remains across state line to Oregon to confuse the police.
In the early 1980s, the King County Sheriff’s Office formed the Green River Task Force to investigate the murders. The most important crime scene investigators amongst them were Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert, who periodically interviewed incarcerated serial killer Ted Bundy. The interviews were of little help in solving the case.
Gary Ridgway was first arrested in 1982 on charges related to prostitution but became a suspect in 1983. In 1984 he passed the polygraph test which seems to indicate some form of sociopathy. It wasn’t until 2001 that DNA linked semen collected by forensics from the victims to saliva collected by the police from Ridgway. Some other victims were added to the list after investigators found microscopic spray paint spheres on the victims, being a specific brand used in the factory at Kenworth during the specific time frame.
In 2003 the now imprisoned Green River Killer made a plea bargain so he would not be executed and led the crime scene investigators to 42 victims and confessed for another 29. He confessed to more confirmed murders than any other American serial killer. On December 18 he was sentenced to 48 life sentences with no possibility of parole and another 480 years for tampering with evidence (10 for each victim).