He left his victims’ remains in and around the Green River in Washington State, earning him the nickname the Green River Killer. He wasn’t caught until decades after he began his rampage, and even had another well-known serial killer aid the authorities in his capture. On this edition of True Crime Corner, let’s take a look at Gary Ridgway.
Gary Leon Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 18, 1949. He and his family relocated to Washington State in 1960. Since his father was busy working to support them, he spent more time with his mother. He had a bizarre relationship with her, sometimes fantasizing about killing her either by strangulation or stabbing, to put an end to what he claims was her poor treatment of him.
However, at the same time he wanted to kill her, he dreamed of intimacy with her. He imagined that when he secretly watched her sunbathe in two-piece swimsuits. He liked her when he perceived her as an object, but didn’t like her when she was trying to mother him. Instead of acting on his thoughts, he channeled his anger toward her in other ways. He began killing animals, and when he was in the 6th or 7th grade he stabbed a young child, an incident which it seems brought him no consequences. The troubled boy was a troubled man when he graduated from high school at the age of 20.
Ridgway was employed as a painter by a trucking company for over three decades. Paint from his job would later be used to implicate him as the perpetrator in a few murders.
Ridgway married three times, the second marriage producing a son. Adultery by both parties ended his first marriage. He was married to his third wife when he was arrested for murder. As much as he claimed to dislike prostitutes, Ridgway frequently used their services, even during the course of various relationships. He believes he became obsessed with them when he was in Vietnam with the Navy.
Throughout his steady employment and multiple marriages, Ridgway had a secret. Not only did he patronize prostitutes, he killed them as well. He also targeted hitchhikers and runaways. Beginning in 1982, he victimized women in Washington State. He could have been stopped the following year. When one of his working girls failed to return after an encounter with Ridgway, her pimp was able to give a vehicle description to police. When it was tracked down, its owner denied any involvement with the disappearance, which appeased authorities. To cover his tracks in the future, following a date with a woman who he knew wasn’t going to be seen alive again, the killer would call to schedule a future appointment with the same person, thereby making himself appear less suspicious.
As despicable as his crimes were, it’s unconscionable that Ridgway would bring his son along on one of his “dates,” but that’s just what he did. The killer and his victim entered a secluded location while the boy remained in the vehicle. When only his father returned, Ridgway told his son that his companion had decided to find her own way home.
It’s thought that Ridgway continued to kill into the 1990s. He had long been on the police’s radar for charges involving prostitutes, even at one time being accused of trying to choke one of them. He was arrested for murder on November 30, 2001, another killer brought down through DNA technology. Also, some of the bodies were found to have paint specks on them consistent with the paint used by his employer.
Ridgway took a deal to save himself from the death penalty. He pled guilty to 48 murders, and led police to the locations of some victims’ remains. In exchange for this, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
With over 48 victims, it’s believed that Ridgway has killed the most people of any American serial killer. The exact tally will likely never be known. It’s not clear if he’s been truthful about the number of lives he took, or if he just cannot remember, or wants to remember, all of his crimes. He would later claim he murdered between 75 and 80 young women. No matter the exact number, Gary Ridgway is behind bars for the remainder of his life.
So how did notorious Ted Bundy figure into Ridgway’s story? In an effort to save his own skin from the electric chair (which we all know didn’t work, as he was executed in 1989), he offered his assistance to Green River Task Force member Robert Keppel in his attempt to capture the elusive serial killer. Bundy offered his thoughts on how the killer’s mind might work and ways the task force might try to catch the Green River Killer.
There are several books available on Ridgway. Legendary true crime author and former police officer Ann Rule penned Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer—America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer. For anyone interested in reading more details about Ted Bundy’s role in Ridgway’s case, be sure to pick up Robert Keppel’s The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer. If graphic novels are more your style, there is Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case. For an account from Ridgway’s third wife, check out Green River Serial Killer: Biography of an Unsuspecting Wife by Pennie Morehead.
Speaking of The Riverman, there is a 2004 movie of the same name. Cary Elwes takes a frightening turn as Ted Bundy, while David Brown plays Ridgway.