Gary Ridgeway – The Green River Killer

Birth and youth

Very interesting to see that he ticked many boxes for the ‘profile’ of a youth who may go on to become a ‘worry’ when older. Overbearing Mother who was very prudish as regards sex, and a feckless Father who added very little to the kid in terms of a positive male role model. His father also hated sex workers and saw them as subhuman – this will feature later!

His Father also told him an anecdote about working in a morgue and how a co-worker had sex with dead bodies…not the most appropriate story for a young son!!

His parents argued a lot, and he became anxious. He wet the bed and his Mum would wash his genitals by hand afterwards, even into his teens. He said later he found this sexual and also angered him, and he often day-dreamed about killing her.

His mum was a cleanliness freak, and very domineering, and the major figure in his young life. When he wet the bed she would tell his family, and show his brothers the wet sheets. He spied on her getting dressed and sunbathing and she – according to witnesses – was certainly not scared of tight clothes, and a ‘slutty look’.

Born Feb 1949…the family moved to Seatac near Seattle in 1960. Soon after he started torturing animals (Ding! Ding! Another warning sign!) – birds, mice and the family cat!! He then began to become interested in pyromania (Ding)…he also started to wank off when setting fires.

“I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone.”

Gary Ridgway

First weird story: early 1960s

He was around 14 – he claims he might have killed a boy when out swimming in a swimming lake. He claims he locked his legs around the boy and drowned him. He told Police he thinks it was true but can’t be sure as he ‘had vivid dreams’. Police found that at that time and place two possible victims were identified: a very young boy and a 10-year-old boy. However, no post mortems were done and nothing can be proven.

Second weird story: 1964

Gary is 16 and he first attempts to murder someone. He lured a 6-year-old boy into some woods and stabs him and walks off. He told the police years later it was to “see what it was like”. The kid lived. Gary’s feelings were that he had no remorse at all but had trouble sleeping as he didn’t want to get caught.

At school, he was fairly popular with the girls but the ones who weren’t interested he would stalk…the ones he couldn’t get angered him. He was certainly no ugly loner, and classmates felt he was fairly normal as he kept his behaviour under control in school. Even neighbours – who would have seen more – said he was a nice, quiet kid. He even had a steady girlfriend. He was not a bright kid though and not a ‘secret genius of crime’ and didn’t excel at school…he finished his High School diploma at 20 years old!!

He got married at 20 to High School sweetheart and got a job; now that he was out of school and man.

Early adulthood

Kenworth Trucks employed him as a trainee just after leaving school. He enlisted in the US Navy after his trainee post ended….and was stationed in the Philippines. This is where he started using prostitutes. He even contracted a serious STD which didn’t help his attitude towards sex workers. He left the Navy and found his wife had been cheating on him. He is 22, unemployed and divorced….but he catches a break and gets hired by Kenworth again and stayed there until he was caught and imprisoned.

The job was safe, steady, and he liked it. When 24 he gets remarried to Marsh and has a son – Matthew – in 1975. Things start to go wrong for him as his wife looked after their son and he found his very strong sexual desires were unmet; he had liked it 2/3 times a day every day and resented the baby and how it impacted him.

This leads to the family turning to Evangelical religion and he started quoting the Bible to co- workers. However, he also started visiting local sex workers AND started taking her to various nature spots along the Green River where he loved to have outdoor sex, or talking about dead bodies!?!?! Soon after – around 1980 – they split up and Marsha started dating….in a surely related episode he was arrested for attacking a sex worker who he claims bit him on the penis during oral sex. He got off on a self-defence plea!!??

This perhaps highlights how little was thought of prostitutes at the time. The divorce was finalised in 1981. He told Police later he wished he’d killed Marsha and that might have ‘sated his desire’ and saved many lives. This seems dubious based on what followed…

His ‘Career’ begins

His views on prostitutes were incredibly strange. He said he despised them from youth, and through his religious beliefs, but he had a very high drive and couldn’t stay away…he used them regularly but also complained bitterly about their lowering the tone of the neighbourhood! He also felt very strongly that he shouldn’t have to pay to have his sexual needs met. He was very vague when Police asked for motivation and it has been widely speculated that he simply killed them as he didn’t want to pay or become known as a ‘regular John’….he seems not to have been turned on by the killing, only the sex. The woman was then a nuisance to be tidied up.

As far as can be stated the spree began in 1982 and was when he had partial custody of his son Matthew….this seems to have given him an opportunity: an alibi, a family man background, and yet lots of time living alone. He even used photos of his son when approaching prostitutes – to put them at ease. He would usually be pretending to fix his truck, and when approached he’d show them pictures of Matthew.

Third weird story: 1982

Matthew is around 7 and his Father actually picks up a woman when Matthew is in the car!! They go to a beauty spot and Ridgeway and girl go into the woods – he returns alone. Ridgeway tells his son the nice lady walked home as it was such a nice day. Wow.

In 1982 he is ‘bust’ when using a prostitute by an undercover cop…hard to imagine now but it was very popular then to use prostitutes and be a prostitute. It was a big business. This seems to have been a trigger and during early 1982 he begins to murder the sex workers he takes from the Strip in SeaTac.

Rene Denfeld

The man looked like all the men in the cars – he looked ordinary. But ordinary men, I had discovered, could be the most dangerous of all. His eyes were hidden behind dirty glasses. He wore a jacket and plain trousers.

He drove me out of the skid row area, into the industrial area outside downtown, far away from where the men usually stopped. The streets there were empty. As the abandoned buildings passed, my fear grew. I thought of the girls who had gone missing and turned up dead.

“Please stop,” I asked him. His eyes were flat as discs behind his glasses. He kept driving.

I asked again.

Then, smiling, he delicately poked his tongue out at me. Once, twice, like a serpent.

Cold terror filled me. Living on the streets, you become numb to fear. It is hard to discern one horror-filled moment from another in such a jumbled up, red-hazed nightmare. But in that moment, I woke up to life. And because I knew I was at risk, I suddenly realized my own life had value. This had never occurred to me before….

As he slowed down at an empty intersection I lunged for the door handle, and, before I knew it, was opening it and tumbling out. I looked up – he was backing up. I saw the red lights, blinked at me, and heard his angry cursing from inside.

I ran, limping, while he drove up and down the empty streets peering through his unrolled window into the night looking for me. Weeping, I got lost. Finally, I rolled down a freeway embankment, landing in thorny bushes. As dawn rose in the sky, cold to my bones, I limped my way back downtown. Shivering, miserable, I crept to a park and wrapped myself in old cardboard and cried myself to sleep.

Rene Denfeld

July 1982 the first body is discovered

Wendy Caulfield. She was strangled and dumped in the Green River in Washington State. The Green River was long, winding and scenic and remote. In August two more bodies were found in the river by a fisherman – he thought they were showroom dummies. At this stage Police began to think ‘serial killer’ – especially after Dave Reichert and Sue Peters, who led the murder team, found a third body nearby hidden in rushes.

Four bodies – all strangled – and Police knew that shit had hit the fan. It became rare to find bodies in such good condition as time went on….many were decomposed. Groupings were common, and certain dumping grounds seemed to have been used for 5/6 women. This seems to be so he could remember the areas well and go back and sexually violate the corpses. He would move on when bodies started to badly decompose.

The police quickly became overwhelmed in the days before computer networks, DNA, and security cameras etc. After ‘sifting’ the initial sightings, calls and tip-offs they had 13,000 names or details! A ‘Profile’ was made but was vague and not exactly Mindhunter…

Melvin Foster

Police decided to narrow the search to taxi drivers, pimps and lowlives around The Strip and into the story comes a taxi driver…a 63-year-old ex-con who contacted Police to mention a potential suspect. However Police instantly became suspicious of him: he knew a lot of the victims, and admitted he used their services. Police watched him, searched his house twice, and tried to trap him….but he loved being part of the investigation and he seems to have loved the media attention. He did nothing to try and clear his name.

Police become concerned as he is their #1 candidate as the killer and yet is becoming a media star…yet in retrospect, he led them on and wasted a lot of Police time, resources and money. It drained the life out of the Task Force and it was disbanded for a while due to the money wasted on him. Some people believe he may have actually killed one or more of the victims.

Interestingly this depressing period was to be crucial as the Task Force gathered evidence such as semen, and hairs etc. With great foresight, they believed they might be useful later. But most of 1982-1984 was collecting bodies at an alarming rate. Reichert at one stage said he had no time to follow every lead as he had to attend the site of bodies being found…

Police

The case has always attracted criticism for its lack of results. From the start they had problems though: lack of technology, public indifference to the fate of sex workers, a huge amount of info phoned in by cranks, and a lot of sex workers and ‘Johns’ with pick up trucks and ‘regular features, nothing unusual’…however Ridgeway was of course arrested for soliciting sex with an undercover cop, and also for sexual battery as we heard, AND incredibly:

Fourth weird story: 1983

Marie Malvar was last season getting into a pick-up truck. Her pimp became concerned as he looked over and there appeared to be an argument going on….so he followed the truck. He lost them after the truck ran a red light and vanished. He told Police a week later but didn’t trust them, so he also contacted her Father so they could perhaps search an area where the van might have headed. He remembered the truck’s colour and markings. One night they went down a road and saw the truck…they reported it to Police who followed up. It was Gary Ridgeway’s house.

Police actually visited him but he was plausible and there was no evidence at all of the killing. The house was clean, and he had a steady job. Police left and the Father believed this and stopped the search. No one put together the van’s markings, sightings, and his previous arrests.

“I liked to drive by the clusters around the county and think about the women I placed there.”

Gary Ridgway

He became one of many suspects in 1983 and in 1984 sat and passed a polygraph test. He then vanished from the radar of Police until – crucially – the Police took hair and saliva samples from suspects in case something turned up in the future that could make these things actual evidence….foresight eh?

Family Man

“Do I look like the Green River Killer?”

Gary Ridgway

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 he was contacted by authorities in 1987, and in fact had not even heard of the Green River Killer before that time because she didn’t watch the news.

Author Pennie Morehead says that when she interviewed Ridgway in prison, he said his urge to kill was reduced while he was in a relationship with Mawson, causing him to commit fewer murders than he otherwise would have, and that he truly loved her. Mawson told a local television reporter, “I feel I have saved lives … by being his wife and making him happy.”

The Calm Before The Storm

After the 1987 searches and swabs, the Police had nowhere left to go… things were scaled down until in 1991 the Task Force was wound down. For a decade nothing happened….and events since indicate that Ridgeway made only one kill on this period. Family life seems to have suited him!

Arrest

To help with the investigation, Police began consulting with serial killer Ted Bundy while he was in a Florida prison. Bundy advised them that a disposal site was probably closer to the killer’s home. So police created a triangle around the area, and found Ridgway’s home was located within this red zone.

“I’m a murderer, not a rapist.”

Gary Ridgway
Gary Ridgway in court
Gary Ridgway in court

In 2001 this ‘cold case’ was hit hard by a temporary Task Force of 30 people and crucially DNA testing – the technology has moved on a lot since 1987. Almost immediately they got a match from samples taken from the scene of the first batch of bodies discovered in the river in 1982… Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman, and Carol Christensen. Cynthia Hinds was also linked through non-DNA evidence.

Ridgeway was arrested at work – Kenworth Trucks. His loyal employers for 30 years. Three more charges, those of Wendy Coffield, Debra Bonner, and Debra Estes, were added when the investigators found traces of a kind of spray paint Ridgway used at work on their remains. In 2003, Ridgway made a plea bargain with the prosecution, agreeing to make a full confession and help the authorities find the remains of his victims in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. In total, he was convicted of 49 murders. He confessed to a total of 71, though some estimate that he may have killed more than 90 women. At one point during the legal proceedings when the victims’ families gave testimonies,

Ridgway broke into tears and told them he was sorry. As part of his plea bargain, the investigators began driving him between dump sites, where he would direct them to bodies that hadn’t previously been found. He is currently serving his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington and is 69 years old.

Why?

As stated earlier Police and psychologists found it hard to get much out of Ridgeway as regards motivation. He seemed driven to the sex/rape part but the killing seems to have been related to a need to get rid of evidence rather than part of the ‘need’.

He didn’t like sex workers and didn’t want to pay them, and knew he couldn’t become known on The Strip as someone who ran off without paying. He also knew Police weren’t too motivated at that time, and public opinion wasn’t in favour of throwing resources at such victims.

“I killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight.”

Gary Ridgway

“In most cases, when I killed these women, I did not know their names,” Ridgway said in a statement read in court. “Most of the time I killed them the first time I met them, and I do not have a good memory of their faces. I wanted to kill as many women as I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could,” he wrote.

He wrote he strangled many of the women, mainly runaways and prostitutes, during sex, and that he left some bodies in “clusters” and enjoyed driving by the sites afterwards, thinking about what he had done. He said he sometimes stopped to have sex with the bodies “for two or three days … till the flies came. Choking is what I did and I was pretty good at it,” he wrote in his statement, adding that he killed “so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight.”

And to perhaps show the banality of evil he had this to say:

“I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex,” he said. “I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing.”

Gary Ridgway

List of The Green River Killer’s confirmed victims

1Wendy Lee CoffieldJuly 8, 1982July 15, 1982
2Gisele Ann LovvornJuly 17, 1982September 25, 1982
3Debra Lynn BonnerJuly 25, 1982August 12, 1982
4Marcia Fay ChapmanAugust 1, 1982August 15, 1982
5Cynthia Jean HindsAugust 11, 1982August 15, 1982
6Opal Charmaine MillsAugust 12, 1982August 15, 1982
7Terry Rene MilliganAugust 29, 1982April 1, 1984
8Mary Bridget MeehanSeptember 15, 1982November 13, 1983
9Debra Lorraine EstesSeptember 20, 1982May 30, 1988
10Linda Jane RuleSeptember 26, 1982January 31, 1983
11Denise Darcel BushOctober 8, 1982June 12, 1985
12Shawnda Leea SummersOctober 9, 1982August 11, 1983
13Shirley Marie SherrillOctober 20–22, 1982June 14, 1985
14Rebecca “Becky” MarreroDecember 3, 1982December 21, 2010
15Colleen Renee BrockmanDecember 24, 1982May 26, 1984
16Sandra Denise MajorDecember 24, 1982December 30, 1985
17Wendy StephensDied circa spring 1983March 21, 1984
18Alma Ann SmithMarch 3, 1983April 2, 1984
19Delores LaVerne WilliamsMarch 8–14, 1983March 31, 1984
20Gail Lynn MathewsApril 10, 1983September 18, 1983
21Andrea Marion ChildersApril 14, 1983October 11, 1989
22Sandra Kay GabbertApril 17, 1983April 1, 1984
23Kimi-Kai PitsorApril 17, 1983December 15, 1983
24Marie M. MalvarApril 30, 1983September 26, 2003
25Carol Ann ChristensenMay 3, 1983May 8, 1983
26Martina Theresa AuthorleeMay 22, 1983November 14, 1984
27Cheryl Lee WimsMay 23, 1983March 22, 1984
28Yvonne “Shelly” AntoshMay 31, 1983October 15, 1983
29Carrie Ann RoisMay 31 – June 13, 1983March 10, 1985
30Constance Elizabeth NaonJune 8, 1983October 27, 1983
31Kelly Marie WareJuly 18, 1983October 29, 1983
32Tina Marie ThompsonJuly 25, 1983April 20, 1984
33April Dawn ButtramAugust 18, 1983August 30, 2003
34Debbie May AbernathySeptember 5, 1983March 31, 1984
35Tracy Ann WinstonSeptember 12, 1983March 27, 1986
36Maureen Sue FeeneySeptember 28, 1983May 2, 1986
37Mary Sue BelloOctober 11, 1983October 12, 1984
38Pammy Annette AventOctober 26, 1983August 16, 2003
39Delise Louise PlagerOctober 30, 1983February 14, 1984
40Kimberly L. NelsonNovember 1, 1983June 14, 1986
41Lisa YatesDecember 23, 1983March 13, 1984
42Mary Exzetta WestFebruary 6, 1984September 8, 1985
43Cindy Anne SmithMarch 21, 1984June 27, 1987
44Patricia Michelle BarczakOctober 17, 1986February 3, 1993
45Roberta Joseph HayesFebruary 7, 1987September 11, 1991
46Marta ReevesMarch 5, 1990September 20, 1990
47Patricia YellowrobeJanuary 1998August 6, 1998
48Unidentified White Female (Jane Doe B-17)December 1980 – January 1984January 2, 1986
49Unidentified Female (Jane Doe B-20)1973–1993August 21, 2003
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