There is no comparison between a ghost story that is meant to thrill and a true monster. Those monsters don’t live under the bed or in the closet; they aren’t waiting to make you scream in a darkened movie theater. The real monsters may include the mild mannered, unassuming man driving in the car next to yours. They may include the quiet neighbor that smiles and waves to you as you simultaneously pick up the morning paper. You may never suspect who they are–a fact they are very aware of and play to their advantage. This was certainly the case with Gary Ridgway, who outwardly appeared as harmless as they come. It was a deceptive facade for a depraved, cold blooded killer. Although originally convicted of 48 murders in 2003, with an additional charge of murder added in 2011, his death rate was likely much higher. He has confessed to more murders since his conviction and eluded to others, putting the number closer to 71. Who really knows the number of women that lost their lives to this pathetic yet ruthless excuse for a human being, for even Ridgway has claimed to have ‘lost count’.
Gary Leon Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City Utah in February of 1949. The family moved to Washington State while Gary was young and those who knew him as a child have said he was quiet and other than a few incidents was largely ‘forgettable’. His home life was one of arguments and abuse, most often at the hands of his domineering mother. She seemed to take great pleasure in humiliating him, especially when he experienced bedwetting. Her punishments of intense scrub-downs concentrating on his most private areas of his body are believed to have contributed toward his twisted view of women and sexuality.
Intellectually, Ridgway was of below average intelligence, however he saw there were ways he could feel superior to others. When he was sixteen, he convinced a six year old boy to go into the woods with him. Once there, he pulled a knife on the frightened child and stabbed him. The boy was seriously wounded but survived–with the memory of Ridgway’s laughter likely set for life. With that action, a killer was awakened, although it would be several years before his murderous spree began in earnest.
After he graduated high school, he enlisted in the military and was stationed in Vietnam. It was here that he began pursuing prostitutes, one of whom gave him a venereal disease. This didn’t stop him from using their services, nor did his first marriage. After he and his first wife divorced, he met the woman that would give him his only known child, born in 1975. It was a few years after that marriage ended when Gary Ridgway’s fury and sadism peaked–and he began to kill the prostitutes he was picking up.
From the early 1980’s until well into the 1990’s, women’s strangled and abused remains were found in the wooded and secluded areas of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. The first of these bodies along with several others were found close to the Green River, earning Ridgway a place in criminal history before his name was even known as the Green River Killer.
What is ironic–during the years that he was at his murderous peak (1982-1984)–he was in the system. Ridgway was charged with picking up prostitutes in 1982 and was questioned for the Green River killings in 1984, even taking and passing a polygraph. In 1987, when he along with several other suspects had to give DNA samples, Ridgway had married a third time. He and his wife were living a relatively quiet and peaceful existence, and she never suspected that her husband was responsible for for the missing and murdered women.
He had curbed his sadistic instincts to a degree by this time, but by no means did he stop killing. More women died and the Green River Task Force, formed in Kings County Washington in the mid-1980’s, had come no closer to finding their culprit. Two names that were well known for being a part of the task force that was set up specifically to target the killer are Robert Keppel and Dave Reichart. Both of these men worked tirelessly to capture the unknown murderer, employing a rather controversial criminal profiler in the process–another serial killer and Tacoma native.
Ted Bundy wrote Robert Keppel, offering to assist in profiling the then unknown serial murderer. In a series of interviews conducted by Keppel and Reichart in 1984, they listened as Bundy, who was serving his own sentence for serial murder, outlined a rather accurate profile. He said the killer lived alone (in 1984, he was indeed unmarried); somewhere between 20-30 (at the time he was 33); was of below average intelligence (Ridgway has scored consistently low in intelligence quotient testing), was employed but not in a high paying job (he was a painter for a manufacturing company making a modest salary); he was already on the police radar (he had been questioned by law enforcement in connection with the murders earlier that year); and that he was dumping the bodies in places outside of his usual areas to throw law enforcement off track (he had hidden some of the bodies across state lines in Oregon). Most horrific of all was Bundy’s opinion that he was revisiting the bodies to violate them yet again. When Ridgway was arrested, he confessed to going back to the dumping sites and molesting the bodies.
Bundy saw something that even the most expert FBI profilers had missed…that the killer was right under their noses and was bland enough to slip right by them. The detectives noted during the interviews that Bundy seemed almost envious. The Green River Killer (or “Riverman” as Bundy referred to him) was nowhere near the level this narcissistic sociopath imagined himself to be–and yet he was locked up while this man was still free and able to kill. Bundy’s profiling really did not have any impact on the capture of Gary Ridgway, but it did provide an interesting look into how one evil mind can understand another one.
Indeed, the arrest of Ridgway finally came in 2001 when the grand jury had enough evidence to indict him due to DNA evidence that matched in his last known victim. He was convicted of 48 counts of murder in December of 2003. In 2011, a 49th victim was added to the charges he already faced and he has periodically confessed to as many as 22 more. In exchange for his information leading to the remains of most of the women that hadn’t been found, he was given life in prison without the possibility of parole.
One of the most interesting things to note about all of this has to do with the fact that egos were everyone’s enemy in this case. Gary’s pride in being able to get away with it for so long; the detectives who were always so sure they had their guy when the wrong ones were held; the FBI ‘experts’ who were off on the profile and dismissed a letter submitted to them by the Seattle Post Intelligencer from Ridgway that was a road map of his victims as a ‘ploy’ of the task force to draw attention to the case; and the attitude of many about the victims themselves. So many believe that prostitutes are ‘asking’ for it and should expect something horrible to happen to them. No one should expect to die, and what a person is doing for a living does not necessarily reflect the human being that they are. These women were society’s forgotten..the homeless, the drug addicts, the hookers that roamed the Strip. Too many times women went missing for years simply because no one cared to look for them. And a psychopathic sadist took advantage of that for years.
To the Green River Victims…there are no words to express the sorrow for the loss of what your lives should have been. May you forever rest in peace.