Gary Leon Ridgway, a.k.a. "The Green River Killer" or "The Green River Strangler", is a necrophilic serial killer responsible for the murders of at least 49 women. He is considered to be the most prolific American serial killer in terms of confirmed body count.
Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 18, 1949 and raised in SeaTac, Washington. His father, Thomas Newton Ridgway, worked as a bus driver who often complained about the prostitutes who frequented the streets on his route. His mother, Mary Rita Ridgway (née Steinman), ruled the household and was physically and mentally abusive towards Gary and also to his two brothers, Gregory and Thomas Jr., and even her husband. Gary was a frequent bed-wetter and also tortured animals, locking a cat into a refrigerator until it died on one occasion. He would also shoot birds with a BB gun with his brothers. Having an estimated IQ of 82, he did poorly in school; he even had to redo a single school year twice before he could get passing grades. In 1963, aged 14, Gary attempted to kill a six-year-old boy by stabbing him, but wasn't caught. He claimed to have committed his first murder when he was a teenager, drowning a young boy by wrapping his legs around him while swimming and holding him underwater until he drowned. At the age of 18, Gary enlisted with the Navy and served on board of a supply ship in Vietnam. Shortly after graduating high school and before being shipped off, he married a girlfriend named Claudia Barrows, but they divorced within only a year because both had extramarital affairs. Ridgway applied for a job as a police officer, but failed. Instead, he found work as a car painter at a truck factory in Bellingham, Washington.
Ridgway married for the second time in December, 1973, to one Marcia Winslow. Their union was also brief and ended for the same reason, though they conceived a son, Matthew, together. He was born in 1975 and maintained a relationship with his father, who was granted visitation rights after the divorce. Winslow later claimed that Gary once placed her in a choke-hold. During his second marriage, Ridgway became highly religious and spent a lot of time reading the Bible, sometimes aloud and at work, and was sometimes moved to tears by church sermons. He would also go door to door for his Pentecostal church. In a rather sharp contrast to this, he often solicited sexual favors from prostitutes and had a near-insatiable sex drive, demanding sex from his girlfriends and wives several times a day. Shortly after Winslow left him, he was arrested for trying to choke a prostitute near an airport. In April of 1982, he was also arrested for soliciting an undercover officer posing as a prostitute. Around 1985, Ridgway began dating one Judith Mawson and married her in 1988. They were still married at the time of his final arrest and shared a loving, intimate relationship; he stated in an interview that he felt less of an urge to kill while they were together, which would explain why he killed so few women after they started dating. In 1998, Thomas Ridgway passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer's. Mary Ridgway died of cancer three years later.
Killings, Arrest and IncarcerationEditRidgway committed his first confirmed serial murders in the 1980s, most of them in 1982 and 1983. He was brought in for questioning as a person of interest when the first bodies were found and took a polygraph test twice, once in 1982 and once in 1986, passing both times, and was a suspect during the entire investigation. He came close to being arrested a few times; in 1985, a woman accused him of grabbing her in a choke-hold in 1982, and in 1983, a witness saw victim Marie M. Malvar get into his car. In October of 1984, Ted Bundy, who was on death row in Florida at the time, contacted the Green River Task Force and offered his personal insights on the case and the area. He was interviewed a few times, though nothing useful came of it besides more confessions of his own murders. The police learned from several prostitutes in the Green River Killer's usual area that they had seen him driving on that strip, which was the route he took to get to work. It was also noted that he had been reported as absent from work on every single occasion that a victim had disappeared. In 1987, the police searched his house and took samples of his hair and saliva. Because there wasn't enough evidence to make an arrest, he was released. Ridgway's involvement in the investigation led his coworkers to nickname him "Green River Gary". As the years went by, more remains of his victims were found; the most recent finding was on December 21, 2010. In 1991, the Green River Task Force was reduced to a single person, Tom Jensen. For a decade afterwards, the case remained completely dormant. During that time, Ridgway is only confirmed to have committed a single murder.
It wasn't until 2001 that the big break in the case finally came when the murders were re-investigated with a task force consisting of 30 people, including forensic and DNA experts. A DNA comparison of semen found on the victims' bodies and the samples taken from Ridgway in 1987 was made using more recent technology and came back a match. Ridgway was consequently arrested, charged with the murders of Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman, Carol Christensen and Cynthia Hinds; the first three were connected to him by DNA evidence and the fourth by circumstantial evidence. Three more charges, those of Wendy Coffield, Debra Bonner and Debra Estes, were added when the investigators found traces of a kind of spray paint Ridgway used at work on their remains. In 2003, Ridgway made a plea bargain with the prosecution, agreeing to make a full confession and help the authorities find the remains of his victims in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. In total, he was convicted of 49 murders. He confessed to a total of 71, though some estimate that he may have killed more than 90 women. At one point during the legal proceedings when the victims' families gave testimonies, Ridgway broke into tears and told them he was sorry. As part of his plea bargain, the investigators began driving him between dump sites, where he would direct them to bodies which hadn't previously been found. He is currently serving his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.
"I would talk to her ... and get her mind off of the, uh, anything she was nervous about. And think, you know, she thinks, 'Oh, this guy cares,' and which I, I didn't. I just want to, uh, get her in the vehicle and eventually kill her."
Ridgway's victims were prostitutes, vagrants, or women he thought they were so. All of them were aged in their mid-teens to late thirties. He would pick them up, take them somewhere secluded, have sex with them, often from behind in order to get the drop on them, and then kill them by strangling them, usually with his arm, though he later started using various ligatures such as rope, fishing line, belts, extension cords, socks, or even T-shirts when he realized that the victims could potentially leave conspicuous defensive injuries on him. Some were killed in his home or in his truck. The bodies were then dumped in the wilderness, usually nude and sometimes posed. He had a habit of dumping them in "clusters" in different locations over a period of time, usually near some nearby landmark or in the water. He would return to the bodies to watch them decompose and change color and to engage in sexual acts with them. As a forensic counter-measure, he would scatter random trash around the crime scenes and carry some victims across the state line into Oregon to confuse the investigators.
On Criminal MindsEdit
- Season One:
- Season Two:
- "The Perfect Storm" - Ridgway was mentioned as an example of serial killers who go from manual strangulation to ligature strangulation. Gideon also states that Ridgway would take clothing or jewelry from his victims and give them to female coworkers, as the act of seeing them wear the trophies sexually aroused him.
- "Sex, Birth, Death" - While Ridgway wasn't mentioned or referenced in the episode, he seems to have provided some inspiration for Ronald Weems, the episode's unsub. Both pressured their wives into fulfilling sexual fantasies before becoming serial killers, campaigned against prostitution in their neighborhood, and lured prostitutes to kill them because they had a pathological hatred of them.
- Season Three:
- "In Name and Blood" - While Ridgway wasn't mentioned or referenced in the episode, he may have provided some partial inspiration for its unsub, Joe Smith. Both were considered loving fathers by their sons and would sometimes use them to lure women. However, Ridgway left his son Matthew in the car while he killed his victims, and never made him interact with them, whereas Joe had his own son David directly interact with his victims.
- "About Face" - Rossi and Reid bring up Ridgway's habit of dumping his bodies in the water when they visit a pond in which a victim was dumped by being weighed down. They remark that Ridgway didn't weigh his victims down because he had no personal connection to any of them, leading them to realize that the unsub did so with his victim.
- Season Four:
- "Catching Out" - When Hotch learns that the local investigators have nicknamed the unsub "The Highway 99 Killer" (after the highway near which the victims were killed), he remarks that part of the reason why the Green River case took so long to solve was that the investigators focused their investigation on the Green River area, because the first cluster of bodies was found there, and ignored other possible sites of body disposal.
- Season Five:
- "...A Thousand Words" - Ridgway was mentioned as an example of serial killers who have children.
- Season Seven:
- "Profiling 101" - While Ridgway wasn't mentioned or referenced in the episode, he may have provided some major inspiration for the episode's unsub, Thomas Yates, a.k.a. "The Womb Raider". Both were raised in turbulent households ruled by a domineering maternal figure (mother in Ridgway's case; grandmother in Yates's) who abused them as children, and both committed their first crimes as minors, which involved them stabbing a young boy (though Yates's victim died whereas Ridgway's survived). During their tenures as serial killers, both Ridgway and Yates killed women in the dozens and likely over the hundreds; targeted prostitutes, runaways, and other high-risk victims (though Yates also targeted low-risk victims); and were active in Washington state (though Yates was also active in California and Oregon). After their captures, they offered to disclose the locations of over 40 then-undiscovered victims in exchange for the judicial system upturning their death sentences.
- Season Eight:
- "The Silencer" - Ridgway was mentioned by Blake, who had worked another serial killer case in Seattle and described Ridgway as a "saint" compared to the unsub. Not unlike Ridgway, this unsub used his own child to lure in his victims.
- "The Replicator" - Ridgway was fleetingly mentioned by Blake when it turned out that the above serial killer was used as the basis for a copycat killer's first murder.
- Season Nine:
- "Mr. & Mrs. Anderson" - While Ridgway wasn't mentioned or referenced in the episode, he may have provided some inspiration for Alan Anderson, a.k.a. "The Crestview Rapist". Both were prolific serial killers who usually targeted high-risk women, killed their victims by strangulation (though Alan also killed by stabbing), and had a sexual component in their crimes (Alan raped some of his victims or would kill his victims for a sexual thrill; Ridgway engaged in sexual activities with his victims). Also, Alan giving his wife his last victim's necklace is an allusion to how Ridgway gave his victim's jewelry to his female coworkers.
- Season Ten:
- Season Eleven:
- "Inner Beauty" - Ridgway was mentioned by Rossi and JJ alongside Ted Bundy as an example of serial killers who dispose the bodies of their victims in the same spot. His tendencies to commit necrophilia on some of his victims, and the fact that Ridgway was forced to find another dumping spot after his first five victims were discovered, were also brought up in the same scene.
- Season Twelve:
- "Scarecrow" - Ridgway was mentioned when the BAU compared him to the case at hand, which also involved dozens of prostitutes being killed and disposed of in heavily forested areas, sometimes near or in a body of water.
- "Profiling 202" - In the follow-up episode to "Profiling 101", Ridgway's similarities to Thomas Yates are slightly expanded on: Yates's relationship with Jody Wilson following his escape, which temporarily motivated him to stop killing altogether, may have been an allusion to Ridgway's third marriage with Judith Mawson, which is cited as a possible reason why Ridgway's frequency of kills lowered significantly. On a side-note, Judith Mawson's name sounds interestingly similar to that of Jody Wilson. Otherwise, Ridgway isn't mentioned or referenced in this episode.
- Wikipedia's article about Ridgway
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Ridgway
- Radford University's summary of Ridgway's life
- Green River, Running Red (2004) by Ann Rule
- Evil Beyond Belief (2009)
- The Killer Book of Serial Killers (2009)
- A scan of Ridgway's letter to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- News Tribune article about Ridgway
- Find A Grave article about Ridgway's victims