Real Life Horror: Gary Ridgway

Gary Leon Ridgway is an American serial killer known as “The Green River Killer”.

Gary Leon 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, there were times when she would break a glass plate over his father’s head. Gary was a frequent bed-wetter up until the age of 13 (he alleged that after wetting the bed – a habit that persisted into his early teens – she would wash his genitals) he would later tell defence psychologists that, as an adolescent, he had conflicting feelings of anger and sexual attraction toward his mother, and fantasized about killing her. He 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, he had led the boy into the woods and then stabbed him through the ribs into his liver 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. During his time in the military, Ridgway began to have frequent sexual intercourse with numerous sex workers and contracted gonorrhoea, although angered by this, he continued to have unprotected sex with sex workers. The couple 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 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 favours 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 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.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ridgway is believed to have murdered at least 71 women (according to Ridgway, in an interview with Sheriff Reichert in 2001) near Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. His court statements later reported that he had killed so many, he lost count. A majority of the murders occurred between 1982 and 1984. The victims were believed to be either sex workers or runaways picked up along Pacific Highway South (International Blvd. 99), whom he strangled. Most of their bodies were dumped in wooded areas around the Green River, except for two confirmed and another two suspected victims found in the Portland, Oregon area.

The bodies were often left in clusters, sometimes posed, usually nude. He would sometimes return to the victims’ bodies and have sexual intercourse with them. Because most of the bodies were not discovered until only the skeletons remained, three victims are still unidentified. Ridgway occasionally contaminated the dump sites with gum, cigarettes, and written materials belonging to others, and he even transported a few victims’ remains across state lines into Oregon to confuse the police.

Ridgway began each murder by picking up a woman, usually a sex worker. He sometimes showed the woman a picture of his son, to trick her into trusting him. After raping her, Ridgway strangled her from behind. He initially strangled them manually. However, many victims inflicted wounds and bruises on his arm while trying to defend themselves. Concerned these wounds and bruises would draw attention, Ridgway began using ligatures to strangle his victims. He killed most victims in his home, his truck, or a secluded area.

In the early 1980s, the King County Sheriff’s Office formed the Green River Task Force to investigate the murders. The most notable members of the task force were Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert, who periodically interviewed incarcerated serial killer Ted Bundy from 1984. Bundy offered his opinions on the psychology, motivations, and behaviour of the killer; he suggested that the killer was revisiting the dump sites to have sexual relations with his victims, which turned out to be true, and if police found a fresh grave, they should stake it out and wait for him to come back. Also contributing to the investigation was John E. Douglas, who has since written much on the subject of the Green River Killer.

Ridgway was arrested in 1982 and 2001 on charges related to prostitution. He became a suspect in the Green River killings in 1983. In 1984, Ridgway took and passed a polygraph test (quality control protocols later developed in the FBI after careful review determined that Ridgway actually failed his polygraph test), and on April 7, 1987, police took hair and saliva samples from Ridgway. Around 1985, Ridgway began dating Judith Mawson, who went on to become his third wife in 1988. Mawson claimed in a 2010 television interview that when she moved into his house while they were dating, there was no carpet.

Detectives later told her he had probably wrapped a body in the carpet. In the same interview, she described how he would leave for work early in the morning some days, apparently for the overtime pay. Mawson speculated that he must have committed some of the murders while supposedly working these early morning shifts. She claimed that she had not suspected Ridgway’s crimes before she was contacted by authorities in 1987, and had not even heard of the Green River Killer before that time because she did not watch the news. Author Pennie Morehead interviewed Ridgway in prison, and he said while he was in the relationship with Mawson his kill rate went down, and he truly loved her. Of his 49 known victims, only 3 were killed after he married Mawson. Mawson told a local television reporter, “I feel I have saved lives … by being his wife and making him happy.” The samples collected in 1987 were later subjected to DNA profiling, providing the evidence for his arrest warrant.

On November 30, 2001, Ridgway was at the Kenworth truck factory, where he worked as a spray painter, when police arrived to arrest him. Ridgway was arrested on suspicion of murdering four women nearly 20 years earlier after first being identified as a potential suspect, when DNA evidence conclusively linked semen left in the victims to the saliva swab taken by the police. The four victims named in the original indictment were Marcia Chapman, Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds, and Carol Ann Christensen. Three more victims – Wendy Coffield, Debra Bonner, and Debra Estes – were added to the indictment after a forensic scientist identified microscopic spray paint spheres as a specific brand and composition of paint used at the Kenworth factory during the specific time frame when these victims were killed.

Early in August 2003, Seattle television news reported that Ridgway had been moved from a maximum security cell at King County Jail to an Airway Heights Minimum-Medium Security Level Tank. Other news reports stated that his lawyers, led by Anthony Savage, were closing a plea bargain that would spare him the death penalty in return for his confession to a number of the Green River murders. On November 5, 2003, Ridgway entered a guilty plea to 48 charges of aggravated first degree murder as part of a plea bargain, agreed to in June, that would spare him execution in exchange for his cooperation in locating the remains of his victims and providing other details. In his statement accompanying his guilty plea, Ridgway explained that all of his victims had been killed inside King County, Washington, and that he had transported and dumped the remains of the two women near Portland to confuse the police. Deputy prosecutor Jeffrey Baird noted in court that the deal contained “the names of 41 victims who would not be the subject of State v. Ridgway if it were not for the plea agreement.” King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng explained his decision to make the deal:

“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 …”

On December 18, 2003, King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones sentenced Ridgway to 48 life sentences with no possibility of parole and one life sentence, to be served consecutively. He was also sentenced to an additional 10 years for tampering with evidence for each of the 48 victims, adding 480 years to his 48 life sentences.

Ridgway led prosecutors to three bodies in 2003. On August 16 of that year, the remains of a 16-year-old girl found near Enumclaw, Washington, 40 feet from State Route 410, were pronounced as belonging to Pammy Annette Avent, who had been believed to be a victim of the Green River Killer. The remains of Marie Malvar and April Buttram were found in September. On November 23, 2005, The Associated Press reported that a weekend hiker found the skull of one of the 48 women Ridgway admitted murdering in his 2003 plea bargain with King County prosecutors. The skull of Tracy Winston, who was 19 when she disappeared from Northgate Mall on September 12, 1983, was found on November 20, 2005 by a man hiking in a wooded area near Highway 18 near Issaquah, southeast of Seattle.

Ridgway confessed to more confirmed murders than any other American serial killer. Over a period of five months of police and prosecutor interviews, he confessed to 48 murders – 42 of which were on the police’s list of probable Green River Killer victims. On February 9, 2004, county prosecutors began to release the videotape records of Ridgway’s confessions. In one taped interview, he told investigators initially that he was responsible for the deaths of 65 women, but in another taped interview with Reichert on December 31, 2003, Ridgway claimed to have murdered 71 victims and confessed to having had sex with them before killing them, a detail which he did not reveal until after his sentencing. In his confession, he acknowledged that he targeted sex workers because they were “easy to pick up” and that he “hated most of them.” He confessed that he had sex with his victims’ bodies after he murdered them, but claimed he began burying the later victims so that he could resist the urge to commit necrophilia.

Ridgway talked to and tried to make his victims comfortable before he committed the murders. In his own words, “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.” Later in a statement Ridgway said that murdering young women was his “career”. Ridgway was placed in solitary confinement at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla in January 2004. Roughly around 2005, Ridgway made more pleas with the Federal government and was transferred to Airway Heights where he was put in a minimum-medium security tank. On May 14, 2015, he was transferred to the USP Florence, a high-security federal prison east of Cañon City, Colorado.

In September 2015, after a public outcry and discussions with Governor Jay Inslee, Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner announced that Ridgway would be transferred back to Washington to be “easily accessible” for open murder investigations. Ridgway was returned by chartered plane to Washington from the High Security Federal Prison in Florence, Colorado, on October 24, 2015. Before Ridgway’s confession, authorities had attributed 49 murders to the Green River Killer. Ridgway confessed to murdering at least 71 victims. At the time of his December 18, 2003 sentencing, authorities had been able to find at least 48 sets of remains, including victims not originally attributed to the Green River Killer. Ridgway was sentenced for the deaths of each of these 48 victims, with a plea agreement that he would “plead guilty to any and all future cases (in King County) where his confession could be corroborated by reliable evidence.”

1Wendy Lee Coffield16July 8, 1982July 15, 1982
2Gisele Ann Lovvorn17July 17, 1982September 25, 1982
3Debra Lynn Bonner23July 25, 1982August 12, 1982
4Marcia Fay Chapman31August 1, 1982August 15, 1982
5Cynthia Jean Hinds17August 11, 1982August 15, 1982
6Opal Charmaine Mills16August 12, 1982August 15, 1982
7Terry Rene Milligan16August 29, 1982April 1, 1984
8Mary Bridget Meehan18September 15, 1982November 13, 1983
9Debra Lorraine Estes15September 20, 1982May 30, 1988
10Linda Jane Rule16September 26, 1982January 31, 1983
11Denise Darcel Bush23October 8, 1982June 12, 1985
12Shawnda Leea Summers16October 9, 1982August 11, 1983
13Shirley Marie Sherrill18October 20–22, 1982June 14, 1985
14Rebecca “Becky” Marrero20December 3, 1982December 21, 2010
15Colleen Renee Brockman15December 24, 1982May 26, 1984
16Sandra Denise Major20December 24, 1982December 30, 1985
17Alma Ann Smith18March 3, 1983April 2, 1984
18Delores LaVerne Williams17March 8–14, 1983March 31, 1984
19Gail Lynn Mathews23April 10, 1983September 18, 1983
20Andrea M. Childers19April 14, 1983October 11, 1989
21Sandra Kay Gabbert17April 17, 1983April 1, 1984
22Kimi-Kai Pitsor16April 17, 1983December 15, 1983
23Marie M. Malvar18April 30, 1983September 26, 2003
24Carol Ann Christensen21May 3, 1983May 8, 1983
25Martina Theresa Authorlee18May 22, 1983November 14, 1984
26Cheryl Lee Wims18May 23, 1983March 22, 1984
27Yvonne “Shelly” Antosh19May 31, 1983October 15, 1983
28Carrie Ann Rois15May 31 – June 13, 1983March 10, 1985
29Constance Elizabeth Naon19June 8, 1983October 27, 1983
30Kelly Marie Ware22July 18, 1983October 29, 1983
31Tina Marie Thompson21July 25, 1983April 20, 1984
32April Dawn Buttram16August 18, 1983August 30, 2003
33Debbie May Abernathy26September 5, 1983March 31, 1984
34Tracy Ann Winston19September 12, 1983March 27, 1986
35Maureen Sue Feeney19September 28, 1983May 2, 1986
36Mary Sue Bello25October 11, 1983October 12, 1984
37Pammy Annette Avent15October 26, 1983August 16, 2003
38Delise Louise Plager22October 30, 1983February 14, 1984
39Kimberly L. Nelson21November 1, 1983June 14, 1986
40Lisa Yates19December 23, 1983March 13, 1984
41Mary Exzetta West16February 6, 1984September 8, 1985
42Cindy Anne Smith17March 21, 1984June 27, 1987
43Patricia Michelle Barczak19October 17, 1986February 3, 1993
44Roberta Joseph Hayes21February 7, 1987September 11, 1991
45Marta Reeves36March 5, 1990September 20, 1990
46Patricia Yellowrobe38January 1998August 6, 1998
47Unidentified White Female (Jane Doe B-10)12–18Died prior to May 1983March 21, 1984
48Unidentified White Female (Jane Doe B-17)14–18December 1980 – January 1984January 2, 1986
49Unidentified Female (Jane Doe B-20)13–241973–1993August 21, 2003

Before Ridgway’s confession, authorities had not attributed to the Green River Killer the deaths of victims Rule, Barczak, Hayes, Reeves, Yellowrobe and ‘victim 49’. Ridgway’s confession and directions led police search crews to find the bodies of Avent, Buttram, and Malvar in August and September 2003. On Tuesday, December 21, 2010, hikers near the West Valley Highway in Auburn, WA found a skull in the vicinity of where Marie Malvar’s remains were found in 2003. The skull was identified as belonging to Rebecca ‘Becky’ Marrero, who was last seen leaving the Western Six Motel at South 168th Street and Pacific Highway South on December 3, 1982. The King County Prosecutor confirmed that Ridgway would be formally charged with her murder on February 11, 2011. On February 18, 2011, he entered a guilty plea in the murder of Rebecca Marrero, adding a 49th life sentence to his existing 48. Ridgway confessed to murdering Marrero in his original plea bargain, but due to insufficient evidence, the charges could not be filed. Therefore, there is no change in his current incarceration status.

The remains of Tracy Winston were found, without a skull, in Kent’s Cottonwood Grove Park in March 1986. Winston’s skull was found in November 2005 near Tiger Mountain, miles away from the discovery site of the rest of her body. Police assume someone carried it to the location. Sandra Denise Major was not identified until June 2012. A family member asked the King County Sheriff to investigate after seeing a TV movie about Ridgway. DNA confirmed Major’s identity.

Jane Doe B-10, discovered on March 21, 1984, is currently unidentified. Ridgway claimed that she was a white female in her early twenties and possibly had brown hair. Examination of the remains suggested that she was actually between twelve and eighteen, most likely around fifteen. Analysis of the victim’s skeleton indicated she was probably left-handed, and had at one point in her life suffered a healed skull fracture to the left temple. Jane Doe B-17, also unidentified, was discovered on January 2, 1986; remains that had been found in another area February 18, 1984 were later matched to this victim. Ridgway claimed responsibility for her death in 2003. Jane Doe B-20, a female between thirteen and twenty-four, was discovered in August 2003. Due to the fact that the remains were partial, her face could not be reconstructed and her race could not be determined. She was murdered between the twenty-year span of 1973 to 1993, but is believed to have been murdered during the first decade of Ridgway’s murder spree. Ridgway is suspected of – but not charged with – murdering the remaining six victims of the original list attributed to the Green River Killer. In each case, either Ridgway did not confess to the victim’s death, or authorities have not been able to corroborate their suspicion with reliable evidence.

Seattle native Tammy Vincent, who disappeared in 1979, was later thought to be a possible victim of Ridgway. In 1979, her body had been found stabbed and shot to death in Tiburon, California. Her remains were not identified until 2007. He did not confirm involvement in her death, which was likely caused by a different person. Ridgway denied killing Amina Agisheff. Agisheff does not fit the profile of any of the victims of the Green River Killer considering her age, and she was not a sex worker or a teenage runaway. Although he has never been charged with her murder, during police interrogations in 2003, Ridgway did confess to killing Kasee Ann Lee (née Woods). He stated that he strangled Lee in 1982 and left her body near a drive-in theatre off the Sea-Tac Strip. Law enforcement officials have been unable to locate Lee’s remains at the dump site that Ridgway indicated.

Tammy Vincent17August 1979September 26, 1979
Amina Agisheff35July 7, 1982April 18, 1984
Kasee Ann Lee (née Woods)16August 28, 1982Undiscovered
Tammie Liles16June 9, 1983April 1985
Kelly Kay McGinniss18June 28, 1983Undiscovered
Angela Marie Girdner16July 1983April 22, 1985
Patricia Osborn19October 20, 1983Undiscovered

Evidence exists to suggest that Ridgway murdered Kelly Kay McGinniss. Shortly before her disappearance, McGinniss was questioned by a Port of Seattle police officer while ‘dating’ Ridgway near the SeaTac Strip. Furthermore, during the summer of 2003, Ridgway led authorities to the bodies of several of his victims. One of those bodies (later identified as that of April Buttram) was initially identified by Ridgway as being that of McGinness. According to Ridgway, he often confused McGinness with Buttram because of their similar physiques. Ridgway is a suspect in the deaths of Angela Marie Girdner and Tammie Liles. Their bodies were discovered within a mile of the bodies of known victims Shirley Shirell and Denise Bush. Liles remained unidentified until 1998 and Girdner until October 2009. Ridgway has been considered a suspect in the disappearances/murders of five other women not attributed at the time to the Green River Killer. No charges have been filed.

Martha Morrison disappeared from her apartment in Oregon in 1974. Her body was found along with another victim in Washington later that year. Morrison’s case was speculated to have been related to the Green River killings. Her remains were identified in 2015. An unidentified black female, possibly bearing the first name Michelle, was a possible victim of Ridgway. She has never been located or identified. Cora McGuirk was the mother of National Basketball Association player Martell Webster. McGuirk disappeared when her son was four years old. Ridgway was long suspected for the 1987 murder of Rose Marie Kurran (sometimes spelled “Curran”), a 16-year-old addict and prostitute but was recently ruled out as a suspect.

Martha Morrison17September 1, 1974October 12, 1974
Unidentified Black FemaleUnknownDecember 1980Undiscovered
Kristi Lynn Vorak13October 31, 1982Undiscovered
Patricia Ann Leblanc15August 12, 1983Undiscovered
Rose Marie Kurran16August 26, 1987August 31, 1987
Darci Warde16April 24, 1990Undiscovered
Cora McGuirk22July 12, 1991Undiscovered

When questioned about Ridgway after his arrest, friends and family described him as friendly but strange. His second wife, Marcia Winslow, claimed that he had placed her in a chokehold. He had become religious during his second marriage, proselytizing door-to-door, reading the Bible aloud at work and at home, and insisting that his wife follow the strict teachings of their church pastor. Ridgway would also frequently cry after sermons or reading the Bible. Ridgway continued to solicit the services of sex workers during this marriage. He also wanted his wife to participate in sex in public and inappropriate places, sometimes even in areas where his victims’ bodies were later discovered.

According to women in his life, Ridgway had an insatiable sexual appetite. His three ex-wives and several ex-girlfriends reported that Ridgway demanded sex from them several times a day. Often, he would want to have sex in a public area or in the woods. Ridgway himself admitted to having a fixation with sex workers, with whom he had a love-hate relationship. He frequently complained about their presence in his neighbourhood, but he also took advantage of their services regularly. It has been speculated that Ridgway was torn between his uncontrollable lusts and his staunch religious beliefs. Convicted of 49 murders, confessed to 71, presumed to be at least 90+, we may never know the actual number of victims of The Green River Killer.

“I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone.” – Gary Ridgway

If you want to watch a documentary on Gary Ridgway then just check out the video below:

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