Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer after the location in Seattle, Washington, where many of his victims were discovered, was America’s deadliest convicted serial killer when he pleaded guilty to 48 counts of murder in 2003. Ridgway claimed to have murdered as many as 80 women as serial killers throughout his career.
Ridgway systematically raped and murdered dozens of women over the course of 20 years, most of whom were prostitutes or runaways. He dumped their bodies in various locations throughout King County to throw off investigators. Investigators are under the impression that the supposedly mild-mannered Ridgway did not discuss his killing spree with anyone and did not keep mementos of his gruesome murders while he was on his rampage. Despite all this, he tied the knot for the third time and continued working as a truck painter at the Kenworth Truck company in Renton.
July 15, 1982: The body of Ridgway’s first victim is discovered
Children discovered the body of 16-year-old Wendy Caulfield, who had been strangled, floating in the Green River in Seattle in July of 1982. In the weeks that followed, four more bodies, all of which were women and all of which had been strangled, were found in or around its banks. On August 15, three additional deaths were discovered, and one of the first law enforcement officials to arrive at the scene was detective David Reichert. The bodies of Marci Chapman, age 31, and Cynthia Hinds, age 17, were discovered in the shallow water together. A short distance away, in the undergrowth, lay the body of Opal Mills, age 16, with her blue trousers knotted around her neck and her breasts exposed. Bruises were visible all over her arms and legs.
August 16, 1982: A police task force is set up
The body count increased as more victims were discovered along the river and around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after the King County Sheriff’s Office established the Green River Task Force to investigate the killings. This occurred after the King County Sheriff’s Office established the Green River Task Force to investigate the killings.
Over the course of the next two years, the Green River Killer was responsible for the sexual assaults and murders of over 40 additional women. According to an interview that Reichert gave to Time magazine, he described the feeling of discovering a body as “getting whacked on the head with a baseball bat” every time he did so.
April 30, 1983: Ridgway first becomes a suspect
Prostitute Marie Malvar, then 18 years old, was last seen by her boyfriend getting into a paint-patched pickup truck with a man with black hair who was perhaps 30 to 40 years old in the spring of 1983. After another four days, Ridgway was questioned by the police at his residence regarding his knowledge of Malvar, whom he denied knowing. In November, the police had another conversation with Ridgway about the killings. Still, he denied having any knowledge of the victims, and the authorities could not link him to any of the murders because they lacked proof.
Ridgway informed investigators in 2003 that he had stood against a fence during the initial interview in 1983 to hide scratches that Malvar had made on his arm while attempting to flee the scene. Ridgway claimed that after the detectives had left the building, he used battery acid to set fire to the scratches to cover them up.
May 1984: Ridgway passes a polygraph test
Ridgway called the police intending to offer aid. Still, he was already a subject of interest due to his known association with prostitutes in the neighborhood. After that, he passed a polygraph test in which he denied being responsible for the deaths of any women.
1986: The police talk with Ted Bundy
Because there were so few solid leads in the case of the Green River Killer, the authorities were frantic to find any evidence that could move the investigation forward. After reading about the ongoing investigation in the media, convicted serial killer Ted Bundy addressed a letter to Reichert offering his assistance in solving the case. Reichert boarded a plane and headed to Florida, where Bundy was incarcerated on the state’s death row. During these chats, Bundy is said to have informed the authorities that the murderer may be going back to the bodies of his victims and engaging in sexual acts on them, which is a supposition that Ridgway subsequently corroborated.
1987: Ridgway provides a DNA sample that would eventually be his downfall
The police eventually searched Ridgway’s home and vehicles in 1987 in connection with the killings. This was done because Ridgway was the last person who was supposedly seen with two of the victims. At that time, Ridgway eventually gave the police a sample of his saliva, which they would later use to connect him to the crimes. But because there were not enough DNA tests available then, Ridgway was not arrested for more than a decade after the crime.
March 2001: DNA testing expands and connects Ridgway to three murders
Using modern approaches to forensic testing that was at their disposal, the detectives reexamined material that spanned the whole time the murderer had been at work. Beverly Himick, a forensic scientist at the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, quoted the New York Times saying, “It was a last-ditch effort.” “Although we didn’t have much to work with, we did review a significant amount of evidence once more.” We cleaned the fingernails and swabbed the ligatures to look for cellular debris. Our search for traces of evidence began with the fingernails. In the case of one of the girls, we were successful in locating a few sperm that were stuck to her pubic hair.
Ridgway voluntarily submitted a sample of his saliva in 1987, which allowed for comparing new DNA profiles from three victims with Ridgway’s profile. In each of the three instances, it was a match.
November 30, 2001: Police announce the arrest of the Green River Killer
King County Sheriff Reichert announced that Ridgway, 52, had been arrested with four of the Green River Killer’s early victims: Marcia Chapman, Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds, and Carol Ann Christensen, whose body was recovered in 1983. This news came nearly twenty years after the first murder and nearly two decades after Ridgway’s arrest.
November 5, 2003: Ridgway pleads guilty
Ridgway entered a guilty plea to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder as part of a plea bargain that would spare him the death penalty in exchange for his confession and information regarding the specifics of the murders and the locations of the bodies. The information he provided included his confession.
“I killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight,” Ridgway said, admitting that he killed most of his victims in his house or truck before disposing of the bodies. He also added that, in most cases, he did not even know the names of his victim’s victims. Ridgway admitted that he killed most of his victims in his house or truck before disposing of the bodies. “I don’t have a very good recall for their faces because the most of the time, I killed them the first time we met,” she said.
Ridgway stated that the women he believed to be prostitutes were “easier to pick up without being seen,” which was his rationale for selecting them as his victims. I was aware that nobody would report them missing soon away, and it was possible that nobody would report them missing at all. I chose prostitutes because I believed I could murder as many of them as I pleased without raising suspicion.
December 18, 2003: Ridgway is sentenced
Ridgway was found guilty of his crimes and was sentenced to a total of 48 life terms to be served consecutively without the possibility of parole by a judge from the King County Superior Court.
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