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6 terrifying facts about Gary Ridgway 'The Green River Killer'

Gary Ridgway
Image: Public Domain

Gary Ridgway, nicknamed the Green River Killer, terrorised the USA with his horrifying murders and uncanny ability to evade police. His first victims were believed to be three young sex workers in the Seattle area. Their bodies were found in the nearby Green River, thus giving this prolific murderer his memorable moniker.

Many more sex workers lost their lives to the Green River Killer. He continued to evade the authorities despite all the resources that were committed to cracking the case and finding him.

It wasn’t until 2001 that new DNA technology shone new light on old evidence, thus eventually leading the police to the killer. He was ultimately spared the death penalty as part of a plea bargain and is currently serving a life imprisonment sentence with no possibility of parole.

Here are some of the most terrifying facts about Gary Ridgway.

1. Police initially believed Ridgway’s story

The police first ran into Ridgway in 1983 after reports that 17-year-old Marie Malvar had gone missing. She was a young sex worker that reportedly got into a fight with a driver before she was kidnapped and murdered.

Initial investigations led the authorities directly to Ridgway’s house by tracking the pickup that she was seen entering. However, when police questioned Ridgway, he denied knowing Marie and the police stopped their investigation there.

2. Lie detector tests weren’t effective on Ridgway

Ridgway was subjected to a lie detector test in 1984 but ultimately passed it with no suspicion. When asked if he had ever caused the death of a prostitute, Ridgway answered ‘No’ and the machine did not suspect that he was lying. Despite all the other evidence, it was difficult to link Ridgway to the murders due to the lack of DNA testing at the time.

3. Ted Bundy was consulted by police to help them find the Green River Killer

When police had trouble locating the Green River Killer, they sought Ted Bundy’s help while he was in a Florida prison. Bundy advised that the disposal site for the dead bodies was likely closer to the killer’s home. This led police to mark a triangle area around the locations of the discovered bodies. Gary Ridgway’s home was located within this area.

4. Ridgway had an unusual upbringing

Ridgway didn’t have the best upbringing and many people believe that it was what led him to become a serial killer. He admitted to both hating and being sexually attracted to his mother, and his father often told him about prostitutes and how Ridgway should stay away from them.

He also attempted murder at age 14 when he tried to stab a six-year-old boy to death. He even claimed that his first murder was at 18 when he drowned a young boy.

5. Ridgway had evil confessions

There were a number of disgusting and evil confessions that Ridgway made after he was caught. He claimed that he was able to kill as many prostitutes as we wanted without getting caught because they wouldn’t be reported missing right away.

He also confessed to having sex with dead victims and had to bury the bodies to stop himself from having sex with them endlessly. While he confessed to killing up to 80 women, police could only confirm that he had killed 49.

6. Ridgway was meticulous about covering his tracks

Despite his poor academic record, Ridgway understood forensics and how to throw the investigators off his scent. For example, Ridgway chose to strangle his victims instead of using weapons because he thought it was cleaner. He even said: ‘Choking is what I did and I was pretty good at it.’

Ridgway also hid evidence, such as clipping his victim’s nails if they scratched him or buying new tyres to literally hide his tracks. He even placed bogus clues at crime scenes and occasionally moved his victims’ remains to make it harder to find them.

Gary Ridgway Biography

‘If you did not know what he had done, you would like him. The monster within him was well hidden.’ That’s how his own defence attorney described Gary Ridgway, the unassuming, bespectacled blue-collar worker unmasked as one of the most prolific murderers in American history.

The troubled teenager

Gary Ridgway was born on 18th February 1949 in Salt Lake City, Utah. His family moved around during his early years, eventually settling in Washington state, close to the highway where he later picked out his victims.

Ridgway’s parents both had a malign influence on the boy as he was growing up. His father, a bus and truck driver, would openly condemn the many kerbside sex workers in the area as filthy degenerates, yet would also solicit their services – sometimes with young Ridgway made to wait in the vehicle. His father’s toxic ‘love/hate’ relationship with sex workers was instilled in his son, to a catastrophic degree.

Meanwhile, Ridgway’s mother was a strikingly glamorous woman known for wearing heavy makeup and revealing outfits which, as a childhood friend of Ridgway’s later said, was ‘not really the style in those days, especially for a mom’. Ridgway recounted how he developed conflicted, lustful feelings for his mother. This was worsened by the fact that he was a bedwetter until well into his teens, and his mother would bathe his genitals after these incidents.

His fixation with his mother took on a homicidal edge, and when he was in his mid-teens, he led a local six-year-old boy to the woods and stabbed him, almost killing him. Ridgway later said that he had been transferring the urge to stab his own mother.

The Green River Killer is born

Ridgway married his high school girlfriend, then joined the Navy and saw action in the Vietnam War. While he was away, his wife had an affair and the marriage fell apart. A second marriage, which yielded a son, also collapsed. By this point, Ridgway was working as a commercial vehicle painter and had become highly religious, given to reading the Bible out loud and weeping at church services.

His emotional intensity may have stemmed from feelings of guilt over his sex addiction and his use of local sex workers. Like his father before him, he was vocally critical of their presence in the area around Sea-Tac Airport, Washington, but was hooked on seeing them whenever he could.

Eventually, the murderous impulses which had been welling within Ridgway since the stabbing of the boy could no longer be resisted, and he began to target the sex workers he was so familiar with.

In the summer of 1982, two boys cycling by Washington’s Green River spotted the body of a woman snagged beneath a bridge. She was a teenage runaway and the discovery heralded the start of the Green River Killer investigation, which went on for almost two decades.

A desperate hunt

Ridgway stalked a section of State Route 99 which ran close to the airport. Known as ‘The Strip’, it was dotted with bars, strip clubs and sleazy motels, and was a magnet for runaways, drifters, sex workers and johns. Ridgway trawled the area and picked up women who saw no reason to fear the mousy, polite family man who, on at least one occasion, had his young son in the back seat.

He would then drive them to his home or a quiet location, have sex with them, and murder them – typically by strangulation. Police swiftly recognised the killer’s MO, yet were still unable to pick him out from the bustle of The Strip. Despite the creation of a dedicated Green River Task Force, the effort proved monumental, with tens of thousands of leads requiring investigation.

Newspapers mocked the slow progress of the police, while none other than serial killer Ted Bundy offered his assistance. Bundy correctly advised detectives that their man would be ‘low-key and inoffensive’ and that he would feel an irresistible desire to revisit the locations where he dumped victims. Ridgway would indeed do this and had sex with the corpses until decay made it impossible.

Breakthrough at last

Ridgway was known to police as a client of sex workers and was even questioned after one victim was seen getting into his pickup on the day of her disappearance. Ridgway was also questioned about allegedly attempting to strangle another sex worker. However, he nonchalantly denied everything and even passed a polygraph test.

His killing spree slowed down after he married his third wife in 1988, and it seems he made a concerted effort to live a normal life before succumbing to his lethal desires again. It wasn’t until 2001 that advances in forensic analysis allowed detectives to cross-reference fluids left on some of the victims with a DNA sample taken from Ridgway back in the 1980s. This finally provided hard evidence that Ridgway, long a prime suspect, was indeed the serial killer. Two of the lead detectives literally wept with relief when the match was made.

Ridgway entered a plea bargain, agreeing to admit his guilt and cooperate with the authorities on the condition that he wouldn’t face the death penalty. The man who said he considered killing women his ‘career’ is known to have ended the lives of 49 people, but is believed to have murdered many more, making him one of the worst serial killers in American history.

Read more:

Gary Ridgway: Crime File