The Green River Killer is a serial murderer whose spree of crime terrorized the area of the nation known as the Pacific Northwest. A quiet region of the United States, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the area was a mix of new urban metropolises like Seattle and traditional rural areas like the mountain, river, and shore country. Later identified as truck painter Gary Leon Ridgway, the Green River Killer killed so many women, the entire population of Washington State was forever shadowed by the very real threat he posed.
Over 90 women comprised a serial killer career so numerous even the Green River Killer, Gary Leon Ridgway, couldn’t keep track of the body count. Some experts say around 50 women at the very least can be attributed to the Green River Killer. The verdant rural area of Washington was pervaded by fear as a growing number of bodies replenished the Green River with startling and terrifying regularity. A jittery awareness of a murderer in their midst created an unwelcome and foreign atmosphere of doubt and suspicion in this formerly peaceful area.
These brutal, sexually oriented killings came to light when bodies were discovered submerged in Seattle’s Green River. Dead young women of mixed nationalities, and generally attractive, were asphyxiated and left with spiky objects lodged in their vaginal cavity. The discoveries of so many bodies disturbed the local population and unnerved people going about their daily lives. The locals began to scan roadsides for bodies and watched for police protection on roads and byways.
The Green River killer honed his methodology carefully. He didn’t hunt in the big city, but in the rural areas where his victims were procured locally. His victims were those women who didn’t follow common sense, and got into cars with an unknown assailant. The modus operandi of the Green River Killer was to capture and subdue a random woman. No elaborate masks or disguises were required. The rural trust locals enjoyed with each other, and his choice of victims, shielded him from being caught. Dumping the bodies of those he murdered into the river masked concise details about time of death and circumstances of the killings.
What was Ridgway’s compulsion to kill? Hatred of women or mere sexual desire melded to violence via strangulation assault? Born in 1949 in Utah, Ridgway was one of three sons. Gary Leon Ridgway grew up in the Seattle-Tacoma area. His background suggested possible conflict but nothing on the scale of the green River Killer body count. But later revelations about zoosadism and precocious violence would confirm the serial killer model experts promote in investigative work.
Like many serial killers operating during the 1970’s, even the most dedicated law enforcement officers could not overcome an established modus operandi that stretched resources and got through conventional investigative methods. Ridgway’s ample burden of evidence was trotted out in court and the Green River Killer would plead guilty to each of 48 counts of murder. The Green River Killer task force had performed its task, identifying a single suspect out of tens of thousands of matched possible perpetrators. Only the need for closure for many mourning families allowed Gary Leon Ridgway to evade the death penalty.
As the Green River Killer, Ridgway stuffed the Green River with bodies. Two children spotted a body in 1982, that of a sixteen year old runaway. Then Deborah Bonner was found. Then more corpses emerged. Then even more bodies were found. Soon the habitual looking over one’s shoulder and warily checking the roadside became a habit for unhappy Seattle environs residents. Wives, mothers, and sisters began to disappear as a matter of course. For years the population lived with the knowledge of a dangerous perpetrator killing in the double digits.
Soon the Green River began to harvest a grim catch of strangled bodies. In shallow water, the bodies appeared to rafters, onlookers, river dwellers, and recreational visitors who navigated it. Then Opal Mills was found. The quiet river suburbs became rife with concern not only from women fearful of being alone but anxious about onlookers, cruisers, visitors and locals. Although Ridgway cruised the red light districts in Seattle, nothing precluded a local “catch”.
The Green River Killer, later investigations would show, had grown up with a father whose bus route channeled through the same red light district of Pacific Highway South Ridgway would later mine for unsuspecting victims. Familiarity with backwoods river country allowed a checkerboard “bait and switch” of corpses, bodies, and skeletons Ridgway switched back and forth and all around. The names are so numerous even police can never be sure how many victims this famous serial killer took the lives of.
The career enjoyed by Gary Leon Ridgway as a truck detailer deflected suspicion. Since no details about the Seattle area killer were revealed (or available), Ridgway’s anonymity allowed him to cruise and operate his murder habits without distinctive notice. Sometimes the sheer number of missing women allowed lucky tips. When police officers questioned him about one disappearance, the working-class nondescript man fobbed them off.
Unlike more media-hungry serial killers, Gary Leon Ridgway was not interested in elusive clues and wild goose chase with authorities, or pursued a celebrity or notoriety from his murders. Once he was caught for the Green River killings, Ridgeway’s remorseless countenance astounded and angered the relatives of the murdered women. Ridgeway’s motivation was sexual subjectification and strangulation killing with a follow up of necrophiliac sexual relations.
Law enforcement was supplied with a task force almost equal to the number of victims suspected dead. Even the notorious Ted Bundy offered authorities an interview to solve the crime. Ted Bundy identified solidly the sexual component of sex after the life of the victims had been chased away. Bundy suggested authorities find an assault victim who’d escaped the kind of scenario the Green River Killer’s victims didn’t survive. The average looking man with no detailed features just became one degree less identifiable.
But legal conventions required more than circumstantial evidence. Ridgway mixed an army life and a marriage into his profile which threw off investigators. But the emotionally unstable Ridgeway was hanging onto sanity with a thin thread. Only sexual containment of his desire through conjugal relationships held him off from the killing spree to come later.
Ridgway is reported to have had sexual fantasies about his mother, whose contact with him may have traveled uncomfortable over some personal boundaries. Having once suffocated a cat and dabbling in arson, Ridgway had a disturbed career doing poorly in school. His aimless career path in the armed forces was tainted by a venereal disease caught while overseas. Ridgway later worked for Kenworth, making trucks during the day. His life idled between picking up women and not much else.
The fantasies about his mother and the hatred of prostitutes had yet to gel into a killing motif. Ridgway was then divorced, but was to find another wife on the singles scene. Observers report that the sex life for Gary Ridgway and the opportunistic encounters would lay a trail for the killings to come. His manner when precluding sex became one of pseudo-asphyxiation. Marcia Ridgway divorced him and took their young son.
Experts note the absence of a conscious and the constant hunt for the next victim as the most notable features of the Green River Killer’s psyche. The revisitation of the bodies for sexual purposes was evident from DNA specimens. And Gary Ridgeway was a “person of interest”, an observed frequenter of the Seattle red light district strip. But Ridgway’s sangfroid did not fit the mold of the guilty suspect. Detectives had even tracked his gas receipts.
Yet after another marriage Ridgway cruised prostitutes while maintaining a family and home life. Ridgway enjoyed the status of a husband and father while shopping for hapless victims at night. Ridgeway was a stone cold killer, only interested in victims for the sexual pleasure he might derive from their corpses. Ridgway deliberately masked his modus operandi by removing any evidence away from the crime scenes while disposing of it far away.
Some might view Ridgway’s son as an emotional lifeline that could have saved him. But the opportunity to foster one solid emotional relationship was wasted. Gary Leon Ridgway hosted visits from his young son Matthew to assure and relax victims about the ‘acceptability” of his persona. Ridgway’s obsession with killing was focused around the capture and abuse of prostitutes. Mathew Ridgeway even met some of the victims before his father “took them home”.
Ridgway enjoyed a creepy vibe at work and deliberately left trophies of jewelry from his murders to provoke co-workers. Later Ridgway would describe killing in his bedroom, and washing bed sheets before he left for the burial of the corpse. He later related that he tried burying the bodies later so he couldn’t have more sex with them. He used the detritus of others to confuse police and supplied litter and other materials to throw investigators off his trail. The extent of his killings may be anywhere from 48 to 90 dead women.
But Ridgway’s habit of revisiting corpses kept semen deposits fresh, and this coincided with the debut of DNA technology for identification of body fluids. Suddenly forensic evidence collected from crime scenes long past jumped into prominence. Further evidence came in the form of custom paint particles, which connected the Green River Killer to the truck plant paint division.
Ridgway was arrested in 2001, outside his Kenworth place of work, in Renton, Washington. Workers at the truck manufacturing plant where he detailed paint finishes on big rigs had even dubbed him “Green River Gary” because of his creepy habits and manner. Ridgway’s reign of terror had ended. But childhood acquaintances and co-workers were appalled to find their onetime colleague was the vicious Green River Killer. Ridgway pleaded down his sentence in exchange for information about his killings.
Ridgway got 48 life sentences which will keep him in Walla Walla, Washington forever.
Article by Roy Whyte. Visit his Google+ page for more.