On August 5, 1982 the bodies of three females were found in the Green River, near Seattle, with three more being discovered nearby a few days later. All the women were young prostitutes that had worked the SeaTac strip, and were killed in the same manner. The murderer was dubbed The Green River Killer and many others were to become his victims. Over a period of 20 years, although the case was thoroughly investigated, the killer continued to elude the police. It wasn’t until 2001 that the case was reopened, because of advancements in DNA testing, and authorities were able to connect Gary Ridgway to the crimes.
During the initial stages of the investigation, Ridgway had been arrested but released due to lack of evidence. On April 30, 1983, 18-year-old Marie Malvar was working the strip, while her boyfriend/pimp watched from nearby. She entered a dark pickup and seemed to get in a fight with the driver before it drove off. Although her boyfriend followed, he was unable to keep up with the vehicle, because of a red light. He noticed it again three days later, while looking for Marie with a search party, and followed it to Ridgway’s home. The police came to the house and questioned the resident, who denied any knowledge of the woman and her disappearance.
Childhood circumstances probably contributed to Ridgway’s obsession with murder. His father spent much of his time warning young Gary about ‘whores,’ and his relationship with his mother fluctuated between hatred and sexual attraction. Ridgway later confessed to committing his first murder at the age of 16, leading a young boy into the woods and stabbing him, to experience the sensation of taking a life.
Although he was married, working a steady job, and a member of the church, Ridgway was frequently having sex with prostitutes. In July 1980, he was arrested for choking one near the SeaTac strip. The charges were dropped, however, when he claimed to have acted in self-defense after being bitten. The same year that the first set of bodies were found, Ridgway was also found guilty of soliciting a prostitute after being discovered by an undercover officer.
When the number of bodies began to increase, the police consulted another notable serial killer, Ted Bundy. He told the authorities that the new dumping site would be near the killer’s home. Detectives created a triangle around the area and found that Ridgway’s home was in the red zone. On May 7, 1984 he was arrested and subjected to a lie detector test, in which he was asked if he had ever killed a prostitute. Although Ridgway answered, ‘No,’ he passed the test and was released.
The killer continued to frequent the strip, and police discovered that whenever a prostitute went missing he had been absent from work. His second wife also revealed that Ridgway had liked to have sex in the places where the bodies had been discovered. In April 1987, the police seized many of his possessions and took a saliva swab from Ridgway. DNA testing wasn’t very advanced at the time and nothing was discovered. After this, the trail went cold and Ridgway remained a free man.
In 2001, the case was reopened and the DNA evidence from Ridgway and the first three victims was compared. All of them were determined to be a match. Gary Ridgway was arrested on his way home from work, on November 30, 2001. He made a deal with prosecutors and provided them with the details of the murders, in exchange for taking the death sentence off the table. Ridgway claimed to have believed he was helping the police by cleaning up the streets. He described driving the prostitutes to secluded places where he would strangle each one. His dumping grounds were chosen based on landmarks, to remember the locations, and he often returned to have sex with the unburied corpses. Although Ridgway confessed to murdering between 75 and 80 women, police have only been able to confirm 49. The Green River Killer remains imprisoned in Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla.