In February 1949, in Salt Lake City, Mary Steinman gives birth to Gary Leon Ridgway. The family move to Washington State when Gary is nine.As he grows up, Gary suffers from regular bed wetting. Whenever his mother finds out, she washes him first, and then humiliates him in front of his brothers and father. He’supset by her treatment, but also aroused.Aged 17, he stabs a six year old boy through the ribs. Gary walks away saying,‘I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone’.The boy survives. But Gary isn't held to account for his crime.Academically, Gary performs poorly and is entirely forgettable to everyone in his class though he has a girlfriend and he later marries her.
He joins the Navy and is sent to Vietnam. It’s there that he first regularly uses prostitutes. His one year marriage ends when his wife has an affair. His second marriage will produce a son but his unrelenting sexual demands will wear out many girlfriends and in total, three wives. His proclivities include outdoor sex. Even sometimes close to where some of the Green River victims are dumped.And he’s obsessed with prostitutes. The religious part of him hates them soliciting on his street. But his relentless sexual needs mean he frequently uses them.In fact, he uses everybody.His murder victims will be a logical extension of this attitude.Once he’s raped and killed them, he’ll forget they ever existed.That’s why he doesn’t make much effort to conceal or bury his victims. He doesn’t bury rubbish. He just chucks it away.“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 killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight”(Gary Ridgway)
18 February 1949 Gary Leon Ridgway is born7 July 1982 Waitress Amina Agisheff, 36, leaves work for home. But she will never see her children. Some suspect she becomes Gary Ridgway’s first victim. Others believe her stable relationship, her job, and her age mean she’s too atypical of his usual victimology. 8 July 1982 Gary Ridgway, now in his mid 30s, kills Wendy Coffield, 16, a runaway.August 1982 Debra Estes, 15, files a report with the police stating a man in a blue and white pick-up truck who offered her a lift but then pulled a pistol and forced her to give him oral sex.15 August 1982 The bodies of Opal Mills, 16, Cynthia Hinds, 17 and Marcia Chapman, 31 are discovered. All have been strangled and sexually assaulted. The hunt for a serial killer begins.30 April 1983 Marie Malvar is seen arguing with Ridgway. When police later question him, he persuades them he’s never met her. Her body will not be found till 2003.8 May 1983 The body of Carol Ann Christensen is found. Her head is covered by a brown paper bag. When removed, a fish sits arranged on her neck. DNA traces on her body will eventually tie Ridgway to her killing.10 March 1985 The body of Carrie Rois is discovered. She was just 15.1987 Ridgway takes a polygraph test and passes. His says later he passed it by simply relaxing.1990 The Green River Taskforce is disbanded.September 2001 Detective Dave Reichert is informed that Ridgway’s DNA matches that found on the bodies of the Green River Killer30 November 2001 Ridgway is arrested as he’s leaving his workplace5 December 2001 Ridgway’s formally charged with the deaths of four women.5 November 2003 Ridgway avoids the death penalty by confessing to the murder of 48 women.18 December 2003 Ridgway is sentenced to 48 life sentences with no possibility of parole.7 February 2011 Ridgway is charged with a 49th murder, that of 20 year old Rebecca Marrero in 1982, a mother who worked as a prostitute to support her family. Her sister recently buried her saying, ‘Finally my sister’s not out in the rain and the snow. She’s somewhere warm now.’POSTSCRIPT The problem with the above timeline is that it shows Ridgway had a killing spree between 1982 and 1984, and then stopped and started again in 1990 and 1998. This, while not impossible, is unlikely. What’s more probable is that Ridgway never stopped killing and that many, many more bodies are waiting to be discovered
Ridgway finally stands trial
On 15 August 1982, a fisherman in his rubber dingy on the Green River thinks he sees a submerged female mannequin. He tries to fish it out but instead, falls into the water. In a cold, sharp instant, he realises his mistake as not one, but two dead women float past him.He swims back to the safety of the riverbank and rings the police. They cordon off the area, and discover a third murdered woman in nearby grassland. A pair of blue trousers is knotted round her neck. Her name is Opal Mills and she was just 16. She has been murdered less than 24 hours ago.The other two bodies have also been strangled. Both also have pyramid shaped rocks lodged in their vaginal cavities. (The ‘reason’ this was done is still unknown)These killings were linked to another female strangle victim recently found in the Green River.Within just six months, six killings are linked together as the work of one killer.A massive taskforce is formed and specialists such as FBI profiler John Douglas are called in. But these are the early days of serial killer hunting and the vast information they process is so overwhelming that civilian volunteers have to help out. Inevitably, the results are haphazard.The police focus on prostitutes, the main profession of the victims so far.Two separate prostitutes claim a man in a blue and white truck abducted and raped them and tried to kill them. A suspect is picked up who confesses, but to these two attacks, not to the Green River killings. Then a taxi driver is investigated because he fits the profile suggested by FBI man, John Douglas.Then, on 26 September, less than two months after the first victims were found, the decomposing remains of a 17 year old prostitute named Gisele A. Lovvorn are discovered. She’s been strangled with a pair of men’s black socks. And her blonde hair has been dyed black.
Over the following nine months, 14 more females disappear, many of them prostitutes. The last of these, Marie Malvar, is last seen on 30 April 1983. Her boyfriend sees her arguing with a potential customer.It’s the last time he will ever see her.But he later identifies the truck they drove off in and follows it to a house. The police interview the owner, one Gary Ridgway. Ridgway denies ever seeing her, and the police believe him.They never connect this to reports of a pockmarked face man in a pick-up truck seen driving off a prostitute called Kimi Kai Pitsor, another victim of the Green River killer.As more women disappear, the police even engage the local Boy Scouts to help search for more bodies.One scout finds a skeleton covered with rubbish.More police are assigned to the case but this seems to only increase the discovery of more bodies. The first of 1984 is the skeletal remains of Denise Louise Plager. As a girl, Denise had been adopted and spent time in various institutions. She later attempted suicide, became a mother, and addicted to drugs, finally entering prostitution to pay for her habit. She was tragically easy prey.Nine more bodies are discovered over the next two months.But where the victims were picked up and dumped showed the police the killer’s hunting ground.The serial killer Ted Bundy offers to further profile the killer but even his insights can’t stop the death toll rising.A decade after forming, an investigation that’s accumulated four thousand pieces of physical evidence, winds up at a cost of $15m, and with no result.
‘From coyotes and wolves to bobcats and lions, creatures who prey on other, weaker animals tend to be highly territorial, confining their kills to a specific hunting ground. The same holds true for most serial killers. Like their four legged counterparts, these human predators generally commit their atrocities within a particular area.’Harold Schechter ‘The Serial Killer Files’Gary Ridgway’s first five victims are found in or near the Green River (a 65 mile length of river in Washington state), and his nickname is born.He targets mainly runaways, drug addicts and prostitutes.“I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex...I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”(Gary Ridgway)
He picks up his targets when driving and either drives them home or somewhere close to where he’ll eventually dispatch them.To place a girl or woman at her ease, so she doesn’t suspect what’s about to happen, he often reassures her by showing a photo of his son and then talks affectionately about him. Now calmed, he has sex with her. And then, when finished, he goes behind her, and strangles her.At first he just uses his arm. But too often his victim manages to inflict defensive wounds, and such regular cuts and bruises could arouse suspicion. So he starts to use whatever is to hand.“Choking is what I did and I was pretty good at it”(Gary Ridgway)He discards their bodies in ‘clusters’ so that he can return to areas and relive the experiences. This was his ‘comfort zone’.He sometimes returns to the bodies to have sex with them.
In April 2001, a new taskforce forms. Forensics, not profiling, is the new emphasis.On 30 November 2001, a married, 52 year old father, from the Seattle suburbs, Gary Ridgway, is arrested as he leaves his truck painting job.It is the end of the longest running serial killer investigation in US history.The break in the case had been connecting the DNA taken when Gary Ridgway was arrested for the relatively minor offence of ‘loitering for the purposes of soliciting prostitution’.This wasn’t the first time Ridgway’s connection to prostitutes had come to the attention of the police. In 1980, a prostitute he’d picked up accused him of driving her to the woods and trying to strangle her. Charges were dropped when Ridgway explained it away by saying she’d started to bite him while performing oral sex, and he only choked her to make her stop.
In 1982, he was stopped with a prostitute in his truck and questioned by police.A few years later he was again arrested after propositioning an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. Pleading essentially prostitution addiction, his guilty plea meant a lenient sentence.In 1987, he was a prime suspect in the disappearance of one of the Green River Killer’s victims but he passed a polygraph test and the investigation moved on.By 1988, Ridgway is again suspected and a warrant to search his house as well as a court order requiring him to give a saliva sample.It’s this sample that catches him when he’s arrested in autumn 2001 for soliciting prostitution.His saliva sample matches with that of the semen found in three of the victims of the Green River killer.His employment records are checked revealing a correlation between his absences, and victims going missing.On Wednesday 5 December 2001, Gary Ridgway is formally charged with the deaths of four women.In November 2003, as part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Ridgway admits to the murder of forty eight women.At his sentencing in December 2003, some of the victim's families say they hope he’ll be killed by his fellow inmates in jail.He breaks down as he listens to them and then reads out a note he’s prepared earlier in which he references his numerous other victims whose bodies are still missing.“I am very for sorry for the ladys (sic) that were not found. May they rest in peace. They need a better place that what I gave them.”Since his sentencing in 2003, Gary Ridgway has been in solitary confinement.