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Wendy Coffield and Deb Lynn Bonner, two young prostitutes, were found dead in the river. When homicide detective Dave Reichert arrived on the scene, his foot almost collided with another body. According to the King County Record, this was one of the nastiest homicides. There was a serial killer on the loose: Gary Ridgway, also known as The Green River Killer.

Gary Ridgway, also known as the “Green River Killer,” is one of the deadliest American serial killers of all time. He dumped his victims’ bodies near the river after which he is named.

Gary Ridgway during his hearings
Gary Ridgway during hearings.

Troubled Childhood

Gary Leon Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February 18, 1949. The second of three sons born to Mary and Thomas Ridgway. Ridgway was a bedwetter until he was 13, and his mother would always wash his genitals. This would explain Gary Ridgway’s troubled childhood. Gary described his mother as domineering, and he had conflicting feelings of rage and sexual attraction toward her, fantasizing about killing her at times.

Gary Ridgawy in his childhood
Gary Ridgway Childhood

Gary was a poor student with an IQ in the low 80s who struggled throughout school and graduated at the age of 20. He worked as a painter at Kentworth Truck Factory after graduation, joined the Navy, and married his high school sweetheart Claudia Craig.

His troubled childhood was caused not only by his mother but also by his father. His father would physically punish him and his brothers. His father first introduced him to the concept of necrophilia by telling him stories about necrophilic acts committed by his coworkers. Gary liked the idea because having sex with someone who was no longer alive eliminated the possibility of being caught.

While Gary was in Vietnam he began using services of prostitutes leading him to contract gonorrhea, despite this he continued to have unprotected sex with them.

Murders

Wendy Lee Caulfield, a 16-year-old runaway, was the first Green River victim discovered in July 1982. Five more women would be discovered near the Green River and the Seattle-Tacoma area by the end of September.

Gary Ridgway, guilty 48 times
Seattle Post Intelligencer headlines, the following day he pleads guilty of killing 48 women.
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Prostitutes and Runaways

Gary Ridgway chose prostitutes because he despises them. When he realized how simple it was to select them, the serial killer in him couldn’t be stopped. He told investigators how easy it was for him to find the girls hitchhiking late at night, and how he picked them up for a ride.

To gain their trust, he would show them a photo of his son and help them relax by clearing their minds.

His first victim was thought to be a 16-year-old girl who went missing in July 982 after leaving her foster home. Her body was discovered in the Green River a week later.

Green River killer Gary Leon Ridgway is seen at an unknown location.
Green River killer Gary Leon Ridgway is seen at an unknown location. Photo: King County Prosecutor’s Office/Getty

Gary had a plan the entire time; he would slow down his vehicle near the girls and ask them if they wanted a ride, and he would show them a photo of his son to gain their trust. During interrogation, he stated that he wanted to show his victims that he cares about them, but he didn’t. If things didn’t go as planned, he would strangle them to death. If the urge returned, he would return to the bodies and perform necrophilia on them until he could no longer do so due to decomposition.

Over time, he hid the bodies along the Green River Bay, where some would be discovered by cops and others he would assist them in finding later.

Gary was arrested twice for solicitation, once in 1982 and once in 2001. He was initially suspected of being the Green River killer in 1983, but passed a polygraph test, which later revealed that he had failed. He was released without being questioned further.

Gary Ridgway with Ted Bundy’s Help

The Green River task force was disbanded several times as the case went cold. The King County lead detective received assistance from someone who shared the same thought process as the Green River killer. “Ted Bundy,” David Reich Hart, and Robert Keppel interviewed Ted Bundy while he was still in prison.

Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy, also helped the cops in finding the Riverman killer.

Ted Bundy offered to assist with his interpretation of the Green River Killer’s mentality. He advised police to stake out new graves they discovered because the chances are he will return there to have sex with the corpse, similar to what he did to his victims.

Ted dubbed him Riverman and believed that the Serial Killer would return to the graves to commit necrophilia, making this the best opportunity to apprehend him. By the end of 1998, the total number of victims had risen to 46.

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How did he get caught?

When all hope seemed lost, Gary’s DNA was discovered among the Green River victims, and his DNA matched four of the victims.

Further investigation revealed that paint fragments were found on three more women’s clothes, which were later identified as the same paint on which Gary Ridgway had worked for nearly 30 years.

Gary was arrested on November 30, 2001, at the Kenworth Truck plant where he worked. When the cops arrived to arrest him, his response was “oh, okay.”

Sherrif Reichardt interviewed Gary in an attempt to extract more information but he remained elusive.

Trial and Confession

Gary initially claimed innocence, but later confessed to the crimes, stating that he wanted to kill as many prostitutes as possible.

Gary Ridgway during his trial
Gary Ridgway during his trial, credits: Britannica

Prosecutors were all set to seek the death penalty, which is why they turned down Gary Ridgway’s attorney’s offer. The offer was contingent on the victim’s family’s closure, and he would reveal the location of all the bodies he had hidden near the river.

Ridgway entered a guilty plea on November 5th, 2003, in accordance with the lawyers’ agreement. In exchange for his cooperation in locating the bodies of his victims, he was charged with 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Gary Ridgway initially told investigators that he was to blame for the deaths of 65 women.

Gary Ridgway pleaded guilty to all of the murders and was sentenced on December 18 to 48 consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole. Three of the victims discovered in the graves remained unidentified.

“Remarkable thing about you sir is your remarkable Teflon-coated emotions and complete emotions for the young women you murdered, the women you killed were not throwaways or pieces of candy in a dish placed upon this planet for the sole purpose of satisfying your murder desires while you could not face them as you took their lives, you will face those young women in your dreams and private thoughts of the grisly deeds you will be haunted for the balance of your life “ – Judge while sentencing Gary Ridgway.

In 2011, another body was discovered, and Ridgway was sentenced to life in prison again. Gary Ridgway, who is now 70 years old and incarcerated in Washington State Penitentiary, stated in 2013 that he had murdered more than 80 women.

Gary Ridgway Now

Gary Ridgeway is serving a life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

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Now that you’ve read about the Green River serial killer, read about the serial killer who ended his killing spree by killing his own mother, Ed Kemper.

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