Gary Ridgway: The Gruesome Story Of The Green River Killer


Biography: Who Was The Green River Killer?

Gary Leon Ridgway was born in 1949 in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to relatives, he came from a troubled home where his parents had frequent violent arguments. His mother was said to be overbearing. His father, a bus driver, frequently complained about prostitutes in his city.

Ridgway wet his bed until age 13. His mother would allegedly wash his genitals after every bed-wetting episode, which instilled him with warring feelings of hatred and sexual desire for his mother. He claimed later that he often fantasized about killing her. Like many other serial killers, he was known for setting fires and torturing animals.

At age 16 he committed his first serious violent act when he led a six-yeads-old boy into the woods and stabbed him in his liver. He later said he did it because he wanted to see what it felt like to kill somebody.

Like his father, Ridgway developed an intense hatred for prostitutes, despite the fact that he frequently used their services. A fanatical Christian who was said to cry after church sermons and Bible readings, Ridgway simultaneously saw sex workers as sinful, but this didn’t stop him from not only having sex with them, but with violating the biblical admonition “Thou shalt not kill.”

After his conviction, Ridgway boasted that he’d made a “career” out of murdering young women. He confessed why he preyed upon sex workers: “I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex.”

Ridgway goes on why he liked to kill prostitutes: “I knew prostitutes would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I would talk to her…and get her mind off of the, sex, anything she was nervous about. And think, you know, she thinks, ‘Oh, this guy cares‘…which I didn’t. I just want to, uh, get her in the vehicle and eventually kill her.”

Gary Ridgway’s Wife — Judith Ridgway

Gary Ridgway was married to Judith Ridgway. In the interview above, Judith describes her life with Gary as normal and filled with love. When Gary Ridgway was arrested, his wife Judith was completely and 100% stunned to discover Gary was a serial killer and never believed he was capable of violently murdering so many people. Today she refuses to talk to him and has never visited him in prison. 

The Green River Killer and His Methods of Murder

In 1982 a man rafting in the Green River near Seattle made a shocking discovery: He found three dead bodies floating in the river within thirty feet of one another. After he contacted police, an investigation was launched. They had all died of strangulation. All three of them had rocks placed within their vaginas to make them sink in the water. Within six months, a total of six corpses of young females, all of them known prostitutes or runaways, had been found in the Green River.

Police knew they had a serial killer on their hands. He was dubbed “The Green River Killer.”

Thus began an investigation that would last around a decade, cost taxpayers an estimated $15 million, and would yield no killer.

Ridgway preyed upon prostitutes who worked along the Sea-Tac strip between Seattle and Tacoma near the airport. He would win their confidence by showing them a picture of his son, figuring it would make him appear safe.

6 Sinister Facts about Gary Ridgway the Green River Killer

1. Gary justified his murder of prostitutes by telling police, “you guys can’t control them, but I can.”

2. He often returned to his dumping grounds to have sex with his victims’ corpses. He claimed he’d sometimes return to have sex with them “for two or three days…’til the flies came.” It became such a compulsion that he began burying their bodies rather than risk arrest.

3. Gary once stated that he killed so many women, he lost count.

4. TV reporter Charlie Harger, who interviewed Ridgway, said that he described a victim’s head falling off her decaying body with the nonchalance of someone talking about taking their dog for a walk: “He has not emotion about it: For him, it’s like talking about what he had for dinner last night. There is no connection there.”

5. He once said he avoided killing family members only because it would have been easier to get caught.

6. His second wife told police that Ridgway would often take her to have sex where the Green River Killer’s bodies had been found.

At first he tended to strangle them them to death with his hands after violently raping them from behind, later moving on to ligatures as a strangulation technique because he found it easier and less messy. After initially dumping their bodies in the river, he switched to disposing of their corpses in forested and abandoned places. Since, according to an FBI profiler, he viewed his victims as “human garbage,” he would dump their bodies in wooded and overgrown areas near the murder scene, often returning to have sex with their corpses. According to Ridgway: “I killed some of them outside. I remember leaving each woman’s body in the place where she was found. I killed most of them in my house near Military Road, and I killed a lot of them in my truck not far from where I picked them up.”

Green River Killer Investigation And Capture

In 1982 after the original discovery of the bodies found in the Green River, Washington police began an investigation that would last nine years, cost $15 million, and yield no killer.

Frighteningly, Ridgway had been arrested in 1982 on prostitution-related charges and became a suspect in the Green River killings the next year. In 1984 he was administered a polygraph test that he was thought to have passed, but a later investigation found that due to police negligence, Ridgway had actually failed the lie detector—and if he’d been arrested and convicted then, at least half of his murder victims would have been spared. In 1987 police again apprehended Ridgway and took hair samples from him but failed to connect him to the serial murders.

Much of the nine-year investigation was a textbook case in bungling. In 1984 a pair of cellmates in San Francisco confessed to the killings, but it turned out to be a hoax. Other suspects came and went but were all eventually cleared. As the police continued to bungle the case, the bodies continued to pile up.

Fascinatingly, infamous serial killer Ted Bundy offered his help in finding the killer. He told investigators that the killer likely knew his victims and that he also probably returned to his dumping sites to have sex with the bodies. He also suggested that the killer’s dumping sites were close to his home.

But by 1991, what was once a formidable statewide task force had withered down to a single investigator. The case had grown cold.

It wasn’t until a decade later that, aided by DNA technology, police revitalized the investigation and put more than 30 people on the case. Semen samples from the first three victims found in the Green River were sent to a lab. They matched with DNA samples that had been taken from Gary Ridgway’s hair in 1987. On November 30, 2001, Gary Ridgway was arrested after leaving work at a truck factory in Renton, WA.

Interview with Serial Killer Gary Ridgway
Fifteen-minute interview with Ridgway from behind bars where he sullenly and dispassionately discusses his record-setting string of murders.

Green River Killer Trial

Ridgway was originally tried on only seven murders because prosecutors were only confident they could achieve convictions in those cases.

In an extremely controversial decision, the District Attorney allowed Ridgway to avoid the death penalty and plea-bargain to life imprisonment if he agreed to confess to an additional 41 murders. King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng explained that the decision was for the benefit of the families of the other 41 victims:

“We could have gone forward with seven counts, but that is all we could have ever hoped to solve. At the end of that trial, whatever the outcome, there would have been lingering doubts about the rest of these crimes. This agreement was the avenue to the truth. And in the end, the search for the truth is still why we have a criminal justice system…Gary Ridgway does not deserve our mercy. He does not deserve to live. The mercy provided by today’s resolution is directed not at Ridgway, but toward the families who have suffered so much.” — Norm Maleng

Ridgway’s plea bargain included a conviction for a 49th murder, this of an unidentified victim, bringing his total to 49 and making him the most prolific serial killer in American history. Forget about Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy and Richard Ramirez and Jeffrey Dahmer, many of whom were admittedly more brutal in their tactics than Ridgway—when it comes to the body count, no one killed more than the Green River Killer.

Watch Gary Ridgway cry and confess in court

During the trial as a series of victims’ family members came forth to condemn Ridgway, one older man told him that even though it was difficult, he forgave him as God told him to do. It was at this point that the normally stone-faced Ridgway began crying.

In December 2003, a judge sentenced Ridgway to 48 life sentences with no possibility of parole and basic life sentenced, all to be served consecutively. He received an additional 480 years in sentences due to the fact that he tampered with evidence.

In an unexpectedly poignant twist, Ridgway’s third wife, Judith Mawson, described him as a sweet and loving man. She had married him in 1985 after he’d committed most of his killings. Of Ridgway’s 49 victims, he only killed three after meeting Mawson. She told a reporter, “I feel I have saved lives…by being his wife and making him happy.”

Mawson described her infamous ex-husband as a good provider and a sensitive man. She had such a positive opinion that at first she didn’t believe he was capable of murdering anyone. She eventually helped write a book about Ridgway that she dedicated to “those who have had their futures stolen by deceitful lovers.”

TV reporter Charlie Harger echoed Mawson’s sentiments and described Ridgway as unsettlingly normal: The strange thing about Gary Ridgway is if you didn’t know the depravity, if you didn’t know the evil that this man committed, you would have no clue when you talked on the phone with him. This man sounds like he would be a perfect neighbor.”

Gary Ridgway Pleads Guilty to 49th Murder

Courtroom footage of Ridgway finally confessing to the murder of a woman whose family had been plagued by uncertainty for three decades after slaying.

Gary Ridgway’s Life In Prison

After his conviction, Ridgway lived in “virtual isolation” at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Many privileges common to prisoners were denied him due to his notoriety and the risk of being murdered by other inmates.

In May 2015 he was transferred to a maximum-security federal prison in Florence, CO, where he was less recognizable to inmates. In Colorado, Ridgway is less isolated and has more freedom to move among the general population.

Former King County Sheriff Dave Reichart, who helmed the Green River Task Force, called the decision to move Ridgway—which cost nearly $20,000 for the private plane used to transfer him—“unbelievable and absolutely intolerable…Ridgway should feel fortunate to spend the remainder of his life in solitary confinement.”

Due to the public outcry about Ridgway’s new privilege and relatively easier confinement, he was moved back to Walla Walla in October 2016.

The Victims of Gary Ridgway

Documentary about Ridgway’s victims that includes all the confirmed murders as well as speculation that he may have killed as many as 90 women.The following is a list of the 49 victims Gary Ridgway was convicted of murdering, making him the most prolific serial killer in American history.

  1. Wendy Lee Coffield, 16, body found July 15, 1982
  2. Gisele Ann Lovvorn, 17, body found September 25, 1982
  3. Debra Lynn Bonner, 23, body found August 12, 1982
  4. Marcia Fay Chapman, 31, body found August 15, 1982
  5. Cynthia Jean Hinds, 17, body found August 15, 1982
  6. Opal Charmaine Mills, 16, body found August 15, 1982
  7. Terry Rene Milligan, 16, body found April 1, 1984
  8. Mary Bridget Meehan, 18, body found November 13, 1983
  9. Debra Lorraine Estes, 15, body found May 30, 1988
  10. Linda Jane Rule, 16, body found January 31, 1983
  11. Denise Darcel Bush, 23, body found June 12, 1985
  12. Shawnda Leea Summers, 16, body found August 11, 1983
  13. Shirley Marie Sherrill, 18, body found June 14, 1985
  14. Rebecca “Becky” Marrero, 20, body found December 21, 2010
  15.  Colleen Renee Brockman, 15, body found May 26, 1984
  16.  Sandra Denise Major, 20, body found December 30, 1985
  17. Alma Ann Smith, 18, body found April 2, 1984
  18. Delores LaVerne Williams, 17, body found March 31, 1984
  19.  Gail Lynn Mathews, 23, body found September 18, 1983
  20. Andrea M. Childers, 19, body found October 11, 1989
  21. Sandra Kay Gabbert, 17, body found April 1, 1984
  22. Kimi-Kai Pitsor, 16, body found December 15, 1983
  23. Marie M. Malvar, 18, body found September 26, 2003
  24.  Carol Ann Christensen, 21, body found May 8, 1983
  25.  Martina Theresa Authorlee, 18, body found November 14, 1984
  26.  Cheryl Lee Wims, 18, body found March 22, 1984
  27.  Yvonne “Shelly” Antosh, 19, body found October 15, 1983
  28. Carrie Ann Rois, 15, body found March 10, 1985
  29.  Constance Elizabeth Naon, 19, body found October 27, 1983
  30. Kelly Marie Ware, 22, body found October 29, 1983
  31.  Tina Marie Thompson, 21, body found April 20, 1984
  32. April Dawn Buttram, 16, body found August 30, 2003
  33. Debbie May Abernathy, 26, body found March 31, 1984
  34.  Tracy Ann Winston, 19, body found March 27, 1986
  35. Maureen Sue Feeney, 19, body found May 2, 1986
  36. Mary Sue Bello, 25, body found October 12, 1984
  37.  Pammy Annette Avent, 15, body found August 16, 2003
  38. Delise Louise Plager, 22, body found February 14, 1984
  39. Kimberly L. Nelson, 21, body found June 14, 1986
  40. Lisa Yates, 19, body found March 13, 1984
  41. Mary Exzetta West, 16, body found September 8, 1985
  42.  Cindy Anne Smith, 17, body found June 27, 1987
  43.  Patricia Michelle Barczak, 19, body found February 3, 1993
  44. Roberta Joseph Hayes, 21, body found September 11, 1991
  45. Marta Reeves, 36, body found September 20, 1990
  46. Patricia Yellowrobe, 38, body found August 6, 1998
  47. Unidentified White Female (Jane Doe B-10), 12–18, body found March 21, 1984
  48. Unidentified White Female (Jane Doe B-17), 14–18, body found January 2, 1986
  49.  Unidentified Female (Jane Doe B-20), 13–24, body found August 21, 2003
  • Suspected but unconfirmed victims:
  • Tammy Vincent, 17, disappeared August 1979
  • Amina Agisheff, 35, disappeared July 7, 1982
  • Kase Ann Lee (née Woods), 16, disappeared August 28, 1982
  • Tammie Liles, 16, disappeared June 9, 1983
  • Kelly Kay McGinniss, 18, disappeared June 28, 1983
  • Angela Marie Girdner, 16, disappeared July 1983
  • Patricia Osborn, 19, disappeared October 20, 1983
  • Martha Morrison, 17, disappeared September 1, 1974
  • Unidentified Black Female, Unknown, disappeared December 1980
  • Kristi Lynn Vorak, 13, disappeared October 31, 1982
  • Patricia Ann Leblanc, 15, disappeared August 12, 1983
  • Rose Marie Kurran, 16, disappeared August 26, 1987
  • Darci Warde, 16, disappeared April 24, 1990
  • Cora McGuirk, 22, disappeared July 12, 1991