Top 10 Serial Killers: The Riverman

Last on the list, but certainly not least:

Gary Ridgway

The Green River Killer/Riverman

Born in Salt Lake City in 1949, Gary Leon Ridgway was the 2nd of three sons born to Mary Steinman and Thomas Ridgway. He grew up in a working class neighborhood near Seattle, under the strong influence of an easily angered, domineering mother. Gary, an unexceptional student with a below average IQ, had an unremarkable childhood, but as a teenager stabbed a young child and began to frequent prostitutes. He enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego, Gary Ridgway - The Green River Killerwhere he married for the first time in 1970. The following year, he divorced his wife for infidelity. After his discharge, Ridgway returned to Washington State, obtaining work as a truck painter, a job that he kept for the next 32 years.

Ridgway married his second wife, Marcia Winslow in 1973, and they had a son, Matthew.  Around the time of his son’s birth, Ridgway developed a keen interest in religion, and co-workers remember him carrying a Bible and preaching at work. In spite of this, he became increasingly fixated upon sex, insisting on having sex outdoors with his wife and other women, including bondage and choking. Marcia divorced him in 1980, the same year he was accused of choking a prostitute, although he was not prosecuted at the time.

At this point, although his religious fervor waned, Ridgway’s sexual activities appear to have incited him to  kill. Most of his known murders  occurred in a 19-month period beginning in 1982. Forty one victims, mostly prostitutes and runaways, were raped and  strangled, their bodies dumped in and around  the Green River. Sometimes clusters of corpses were discovered, usually nude and often posed. Ridgway apparently then stopped killing for a 2 year period, although it seems likely that victims from that interval were never found. Between 1986 and the end of 2001, he killed at least 7 more.

The hunt for the Green River Killer brought Gary Ridgway to the attention of the police as early as August, 1982, because of his frequent arrests for involvement with prostitutes, but he was not the only suspect. Investigators were certain the perpetrator was someone local, and over the next 2 decades, they amassed mountains of evidence, none of it pointing conclusively to any one suspect. Investigators consulted with Ted Bundy, waiting out his appeals in prison. Although Ridgway was arrested and interrogated at least five times before 1990, no strong link could be made. A saliva sample was obtained from him, however. The failed task force was significantly down-sized.

In April, 2001, the sheriff of King County, Dave Reichert, formed a new task force, hoping that the recent improvements in forensic science might shed new light upon the evidence. When preserved semen samples were compared to DNA from Ridgway’s old saliva sample, Reichart had found the missing link to four of the 1980’s murders. Nearly 20 years after his initial identification as a suspect, Gary Ridgway was arrested and charged. In his confession in 2003, Ridgway admitted that he had never known any of his victims, that he hated prostitutes and that he killed so many women he couldn’t remember exactly how many. But he confessed to more confirmed murders than any other American serial killer.

The case of the Green River Killer never went to trial. On November 5, 2003, Gary Ridgway entered a guilty plea to 48 charges of aggravated first degree murder as part of a plea bargain, sparing him the death penalty in exchange for helping to locate the remains of his victims and providing other details. It appears likely that he began killing as early as the 1970’s, perhaps slaying many more women, still unknown. Gary Ridgway today is a close-custody lifer at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.

“I hate most prostitutes. I did not want to pay them for sex.”

Serial killer characteristics: Based on the limited information I have about his background, I have not noted the presence of  the typical characteristics associated with this pathology.

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