An estimated 71 women are thought to have died at the hands of Gary Ridgway, infamously known as the Green River Killer. This happened throughout the 80s and 90s.
His usual targets were sex workers and other vulnerable women. Ridgway would rape and take the lives of these women and girls until he was finally stopped.
Gary Ridgway was born in 1949 in Salt Lake City in Utah. His father worked as a bus driver, while his mother was a sales clerk.
He was the second born of three boys. His mother was apparently quite domineering, and his father often complained about the sex workers working in the area.
Ridgway was also a bed wetter well into his early teens. He revealed that his mother acted inappropriately by washing his genitals after every bed-wetting incident, although he wet his bed until he was 13.
This is partly the reason experts thought he had an unhealthy sexual attraction towards his mother.
Ridgway's Desire To Kill His Mother Might Have Turned Him Into A Killer
It was later concluded that his killings might have been caused by "displaced matricide." In other words, as Ridgway killed these women, he was subconsciously killing his mother "over and over again."
Otherwise, nothing about his childhood seemed strange until he stabbed a boy as a teenager.
He talked the boy into walking with him into the woods before stabbing him through the ribs into his liver. For Ridgway, this was a way for him to find out how stabbing "worked."
Later, he admitted that his interest in the stabbing was born out of a desire to kill his own mother because he struggled with sexual attraction towards her.
Apart from this "incident," his life was relatively normal, and he even graduated from high school when he was 20. He spent a year longer in high school because he had dyslexia, and his IQ was ranked as being in the "low eighties."
After he graduated from high school, Ridgway married his high school girlfriend, Claudia Kraig.
Soon after high school, he went on to serve in the U.S. Navy for two years. However, after joining the military, he was sent to Vietnam and often had sex with prostitutes, which resulted in him catching gonorrhea.
His marriage to Claudia Kraig broke down less than a year after it began.
From there, he settled in Seattle and got a steady job painting trucks for around three decades. At that time, he got married three times and even had a son.
Gary Ridgway's Beginnings As A Criminal
Once Gary settled down in Seattle, he started to have some problems with the law. For instance, he was put in jail after choking a sex worker but was released after claiming she had bitten him.
Over time, his crimes got worse, and he is believed to have committed his first murders in 1982.
His first victim was a 16-year-old girl who had run away from a foster home. He dumped her body in the Green River.
Most of his targets were runaways and sex workers.
Gary would lure his victims into his car, and he used photos of his son to earn their trust before having sex with them. After that, he would strangle them, and on some occasions, he strangled his victims while still having sex with them.
Once he was done with the women, he dumped their bodies in woods around Green River, and that's how he got his name. He would also contaminate the crime scenes with cigarette butts and chewing gum as a way to evade capture as he never used any of these things.
He had another trick he used to trick the authorities: he would move the bodies around to create the impression that there was a body trail. In at least two cases, he moved the bodies to as far as Portland.
When he was finally caught, it was confirmed that he had murdered 49 women. Eventually, he confessed to having killed 71 women, but there could have been more:
"I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight."
Gary Ridgway killed his last victim in 1998.
Ted Bundy Helped Catch The Green River Killer
In order to catch Ridgway, the authorities came up with the Green River Task Force. Within the task force were Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert, who often consulted psychologists and criminologists to understand the killer better.
In 1984, they decided to talk to Ted Bundy. Keppel later admitted that Bundy offered to help out with the investigation by writing a letter offering to be a 'consultant':
"The letter came from a cell on death row in Florida; the sender was Theodore Robert Bundy. I was stunned."
Ted Bundy was waiting for his execution, and it eventually came in 1989.
Bundy had some insights into the kind of things the Green River Killer was doing, having killed and committed many disgusting crimes himself. In the end, Keppel and Reichert interviewed him on many occasions, and his advice was quite helpful.
Bundy also helped the investigators draw parallels between the two killers. Reichert explained:
"He doesn't have any feelings toward anybody, his family included. And that's what I saw in Bundy and what I saw in Ridgway… Mr. Ridgway craved attention and control and was prideful when discussing his killings."
The truth is that Gary Ridgway never realized how horrible and messed up what he was doing was, which is why he could afford to brag and take pride in his horrendous acts of brutality.
While working with the authorities, Bundy suggested that Ridgway was most likely revisiting the places he dumped his bodies to perform necrophilia on the bodies. He suggested that they stake out a fresh grave he had recently made and wait for his return.
Bundy was right.
In fact, Ridgway would often have taken his son with him and leave him in his car while he went to have sexual encounters with the bodies. Sometimes, he would take his son with him while going to kill another woman, and he would leave his son in his car as he committed the heinous crimes.
Bundy's advice paid off, and the police could get samples that helped get his arrest warrant.
Rdigway's Final Arrest And Conviction
Surprisingly, Ridgway was not arrested for his murders until 2001, even though he was suspected of being the Green River Killer in 1982, almost 20 years earlier.
In the year 1984, he took and passed a polygraph test, and so he was released. There was no DNA technology then.
However, the police still formed a task force right away. Unfortunately, problems linking him to the murders meant that they could not arrest him.
They only managed to arrest him after getting advanced forensic technologies that allowed them to link semen recovered from the bodies to him.
In 2001, Ridgway was arrested as he was leaving a truck factory where he worked. Authorities had finally linked him to four murders with the help of DNA profiling.
His wife, Judith Mawson, learned of his crimes after his arrest. She was the third woman he had married.
She claimed that Ridgway was the "perfect husband" and always treated her like a "newlywed" despite being married to him for 17 years.
On his part, the Green River killer claimed that he was tempted to kill her but avoided it as he thought that would have increased his chances of being caught. Nevertheless, he insisted that he loved her, and in fact, his murder rate decreased during their marriage.
Judith also realized this while filing for divorce for him by claiming it felt that she had helped save lives by becoming his wife and "making him happy."
Judith became Ridgway's third wife in 1988. Only 3 of the 49 victims he was convicted of murdering were killed when he married Judith Mawson.
Surprisingly, not even his neighbors suspected that he was so dangerous. As far as they were concerned, he was a father, a husband, and a devoted churchgoer.
He had turned into a more religious person during his marriage to Marcia Winslow, his second wife. He would even cry during church sermons.
Nevertheless, even though he seemed like a serious Christian, he still solicited sex workers while still married to Marcia Winslow, with whom they had a son, Matthew.
Green River Killer Tried To Murder As Many Sex Workers As Possible
Ridgway initially claimed to be innocent of the charges leveled against him but later stated that he was guilty and wanted to kill as many prostitutes as possible. He targeted sex workers because he "hated" them and knew they might never be reported missing.
He also revealed that he used to have sex with his victim's bodies to avoid killing more people, which would have increased his chances of getting caught.
After his arrest, Ridgway was sentenced to life in prison. He avoided the death penalty narrowly.
To avoid the death penalty, Ridgway agreed to reveal the locations of his victims' remains. He was facing 48 murder charges, and after his revelations, he was sentenced to 48 life sentences and 480 years.
The additional years were due to the fact that he had tampered with the bodies of his victims. He also claimed that killing young women was his actual "career."
It was also discovered that he focused on attractive women, although he always preyed on the vulnerable.
The judge noted that he exhibited a "lack of compassion" and "calloused indifference" concerning the crimes he committed.
When a detective asked him to rate himself from one to ten on the scale of evil, he claimed he was a three because he didn't torture them and that "they went fast."
Rigway Killed More People Than Jeffrey Dahmer And BTK Combined
In total, Gary Ridgway killed more people than the BTK and Jeffrey Dahmer combined. In other words, he is one of the most successful serial killers in American history.
He was also quite proud of his horrible crimes, and he couldn't refrain from explaining how good he was at choking and necrophilia.
So, it's quite a shock that he was not as famous as many other serial killers despite committing more crimes.
Therefore, after Samuel Little, who murdered up to 93 women between 1970 and 2005, Ridgway is the most prolific serial killer in American history. Ridgway is still alive and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
At the moment, he is held up at the Washington State Penitentiary.
A documentary, The Green River Killer: Mind of a Monster, has also been released about him. It contains tapes of Ridgway's confessions.
A movie, Green River Killer, was also released in 2005. He has also been mentioned in songs and books.
Ridgway's life sentence has also inspired a debate against the death penalty. Some experts argue that it's unfair for him to get a life sentence despite killing tens of people, while some criminals are getting a death sentence for killing a single person.