Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Green River Killer: River of Death


Gary Leon Ridgway
Gary Leon Ridgway

On November 5, 2003, Gary Ridgway, 54, avoided the death penalty in King County, Washington by confessing to the murders of 48 women, most of whom were murdered in the 1982-84 timeframe.  The deal Ridgway made was to cooperate with authorities on closing these cases in exchange for 48 life sentences without the possibility of parole.  His formal sentencing will occur in January of 2004.

However, because some of the victims were buried and possibly killed in Oregon and other areas outside King County, Ridgway could face the death penalty in other jurisdictions.

Families of the victims are angry.  They had been led to believe that the prosecutors would seek the death penalty, but instead, capital punishment was plea bargained away. Also, legal scholars are wondering about whether this case signals the end of the death penalty in Washington State. If a man who premeditatedly murders 48 women doesn't get the death penalty, then who is eligible for it?

A typical psychopath, Ridgway forgot his victims, had a "hard time keeping them straight," never learned their names, and wrote them off as vicarious thrills, never personalizing them at all. They were throwaways to Ridgway: disposable women.

"I killed some of them outside. I remember leaving each woman's body in the place where she was found," he said. "I killed most of them in my house near Military Road, and I killed a lot of them in my truck not far from where I picked them up." He claims that they were all killed in King County, hoping that prosecutors outside King County will buy it and not prosecute him.

Ridgway's contempt for women in general and prostitutes in particular was clear in his plea bargain statement:

"I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

Ridgway exhibited typical serial killer behavior when he expressed his interest in reliving the murder experience which gave him the sense of empowerment that he lacked in his everyday life. He buried his victims in clusters so that he could drive by and remember the cluster and the pleasure he experienced in the murder of those victims.

King County officials want to create the impression that this plea bargain brings closure to this case. But, it does not. There is something a bit fishy here: we are led to believe that Ridgway went into a killing frenzy in the 1982-84 period and then stopped completely, until he murdered once more 1990 and then once again in 1998. Unfortunately, that is not usually what happens in the world of a serial killer. They can slow down, especially when there is a great deal of police activity, but not really stop. Are we to believe that he really went so long without killing after 1984 when he killed some 46 women in just a few years? 

Our expectation is that there are many more victims buried within and outside of King County. It took many years to find the bodies that were part of this plea bargain. It may take many years to find the rest of them. It's not really over yet.


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