Who was The Green River Killer?

Gary Leon Ridgway was born on February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He had 2 more brothers and his childhood was…well, let’s say troubled, but no signs of abuse are reported. His father was a bus driver, and apparently he used to tell Gary a lot of stories about “whores” and how to stay away from them, because “whores” are bad. He grew up with these “lessons” he received from his father. His mother was told to be slightly controlling and some believe that Gary may have been sexually attracted to her.

His teenage years were troubled as well. He wasn’t the brightest in school and was described by his classmates as “forgettable”. No one knew exactly what was going on in his little mind. At the age of 16, he lured a kid into the woods and stabbed him. While walking away, according to the victims and Gary’s own statement, he said “I always wondered what would it be like to kill someone”. The victim didn’t die, however he suffered a wound to his liver.

Ridgway graduated from Tyee High School in 1969. While still in high school, he joined the Navy. Soon after the graduation, he married his high school girlfriend, 19 year old Claudia Kraig Barrows. He then was sent off to Vietnam, where he served on board, a supply ship. During the time he served in military, Gary Ridgway engaged often with prostitutes, often practicing unprotected sexual encounters. This led to contracting STD’s. gonorrhea to be more exact, but didn’t bother him as much, as he continued to practice unprotected sex.

Meanwhile at home, his wife engaged in extramarital affairs as well. Their marriage fall apart and ended.

First Marriage

In 1973, he married Marcia Lorene Brown. She gave birth to his son in 1975. During his second marriage, Gary became very religious. He used to go from door to door to preach from the Bible from which he used to read from aloud at work as well. Gary insisted that his wife follows the teaching of their pastor as well. It is your guess as ours, why he became religious, but it could be that he used religion to cope with his sexual desires.

Though he often complained about prostitutes, he still engaged with them and was using their services. He might have been tormented by his sexual needs and lust and was thorn by his belief that prostitutes are bad.

His second marriage ended in 1981, before his killings started.

He married the third time in 1988, to Judith Lorraine Lynch and the marriage lasted until 2002.

Gary Ridgway

All of his wives reported that Gary had strong sexual desires. He often requested them to have sex with him in public or in the woods and up to 3 times a day.

How did the killings start?

The Green River Killer

Ridgway’s killings began in 1982.

His first victim is believed to be 16 year old  Wendy Lee Coffield. She went missing in July and her body was discovered in August 1982.

On Aug 15, 1982, Robert Ainsworth, who was on a routine trip down the river, which he took many times, saw something in the water. Looked like a body. He thought the body might be just a mannequin so he tried to poke it, but fell into the water. Moments later, he noticed another body of a female, half naked, floating. In shock he swam to the river bank where he asked for help. Soon after, investigators arrived, but only to discover something even more gruesome. A third body was discovered 30 feet away in the grass area.

The medical examination confirmed that all 3 females died of strangulation.

While gathering information, it was discovered that days earlier the body of a woman named Deborah Bonner, was discovered. She too was strangled.

Yep, authorities had a serial killer on their hands.

The Killing Spree

The Green River Killer's victims

His victims were young prostitutes with which he had a love/hate relationship. Young runaways and prostitutes began disappearing from state Route 99 in south King County, Washington. We can make multiple guesses about the reasons he started killing. But according to his own statement, Gary said he picked prostitutes because he thought he can kill as many he wants and won’t get caught. He knew no one will file a missing person report for most of his victims. And picking prostitutes up was easy peesy.

He murdered by strangulation, often having sex with them before killing them, and after killing them. Yes, he used to return to the disposal areas and engage in sexual acts with the bodies of his victims.

He killed them in his pick up truck, home or secluded places and dumping the bodies in wooded areas. Some victims were posed, nude. In an attempt to confuse authorities, he even crossed the border line to Oregon and dumping bodies there as well.

This is an excerpt of his statement: “I would talk to her… and get her mind off of the, sex, anything she was nervous about. And think, you know, she thinks, ‘Oh, this guy cares’… which I didn’t. I just want to, uh, get her in the vehicle and eventually kill her.” 

In the course of 6 months, authorities discovered 6 bodies. All dying of strangulation and their bodies being dumped around Green River.

A huge task force was created. Major Richard Kraske and Detective Dave Reichert of the King County Major Crime Squad led the team. They enlisted the help of FBI serial killer profiler John Douglas and criminal investigator Bob Keppel, who was in charge of compiling evidence against Ted Bundy (another serial killer)

First Suspect

Multiple women came forward with information. Two different women came forward and described how a middle aged man, with a pick-up truck picked them up, threatened them with a gun and raped them. He also made comments about the serial killer. The police investigated the cases and in September they arrested Charles Clinton Clark. He confessed to raping the women, but said he had nothing to do with the murders. He was the perfect suspect. However, while he was in custody, 19-year-old Mary Meehan went missing and it was enough to realize they didn’t have the killer.

Second Suspect

In October 1982 another suspect was arrested. His name was Melvin Wayne and he was a taxi driver. But while he was in custody, 3 more victims were discovered: 17 year old Shawnda Summers, 23 year old Denise Bush, and 18 year old Shirley Sherrill. Melvin was released.

Gary Rigway Questioned

On April 30, 1983, 18 years old Marie Malvar,  was picked up by a dark pickup while her pimp watched from a close distance. The pickup sped off and Marie’s pimp followed it. He lost the pickup and he reported the incident to the police. A search party was created to look for her. Three days after she was kidnapped,  her pimp and family saw the pickup truck again and they decided to follow it. When it reached a house, they called the police. The police questioned the resident of the house: 34 years old Gary Ridgway.  

He was questioned about the  disappearance of Marie Malvar, but he denied knowing anything and the police apparently believed him, because that’s where the questioning stopped.

Another pimp reported seeing his female worker being picked up by a pickup and he never saw her again. He later reported it to the police, but the two disappearances were never connected.

The Body Count Was Climbing

By April 1983, 14 women have disappeared and authorities still had no lead who the killer might be and on May 8, 1983, another body was discovered that was later identified as 21 year old Carol Ann Christensen. She was found with her head covered by a brown paper bag. Underneath, a fish was placed on top of her neck. Another fish was placed on her left breast and a bottle between her legs. Her hands were placed crossed over her stomach and freshly ground beef was placed on top of her left hand. She too was strangled with a cord and the body showed signs that it was in the water, however the river was miles away. It seemed that the killer is moving the bodies.

By the summer of 1983, 9 more women disappeared and were believed to be victims of the Green River Killer: 18 year olds Martina Authorlee and Cheryl Lee Wims, 19 year old Yvonne Antosh, 18 year old Carrie Rois, 21 year old Constance Naon, 16 year old Tammie Liles, 18 year old Keli McGuiness, 22 year old Tina Thompson, and 17 year old April Buttram. During that time several more bodies were discovered as well.

Green River Killer victim number climbing

The number of victims attributed to the Green River killer was climbing and climbing fast, however the task force had no leads, but even worse than that was the fact that the possible information, potentially helping law enforcement, was scattered and lack of correlation made the task of catching the killer even harder.

On October 15, the body of Yvonne Antosh was discovered and authorities were convinced at this point that if they swap the area, most certainly other bodies will be discovered, so that’s what they did and on October 29, the remains of another body were found. They belonged to 22 year old Kelly Ware. On November 13, the body of Mary Meehan was discovered.  She was the only victim who seemed entirely buried. She was also pregnant at the moment of her murder. At the place of the discovery, police found multiple items, such as: two small pieces of plastic, a large clump of hair near the pubic region, a patch of skin attached to the skull, three small bones, two halved yellow pencils and clear plastic tubing.

By Decemeber 1983, 7 more bodies were discovered and 9 more women went missing: 26 year old Debbie Abernathy, 19 year old Tracy Ann Winston, Patricia Osborn and Maureen Feeney, 25 year old Mary Sue Bello, 16 year old Pammy Avent, 22 year old Delise Plager, 26 year old Kim Nelson, and Lisa Lorraine Yates.

Kimi-Kai Pitsor’s body found

On December the skull of Kimi-Kai Pitsor was found in Auburn, Washington. She was the second prostitute reported missing by her pimp, being picked up by a pickup truck. Yeah, the one that wasn’t correlated with the other kidnapping reported by Marie’s pimp.

At the end of 1983, the official count of the Green River Killer’s victims was 12. Other victims were discovered around Seattle, however, some were not included in the official list attributed to the Green River Killer.

Early 1984

Early 1984, the task force was reorganized. Multiple teams were assigned different parts of the investigation, in an effort to centralize information about victims and possible suspects.

On February 14, 1984, the remains of a woman, who was later identified as Denise Louise Plager, were discovered 40 miles from the city. Over the next two months approximately nine more bodies would be found.

The task force didn’t make much progress in identifying the killer, but they did gather more information to build the killer’s profile. For example, the task force realized that the killer has several dumping areas. They believed the killer lives or works close to them. Investigators also discovered near one of the remains, shoe imprints, which looked like a size 10.

Surprisingly, or not, Ted Bundy offered his help as a consultant. He himself being one of the most notorious serial killers ever caught, was believed to be able to offer precious insights into a serial killers mind, becoming one of the main consultants in this investigation. He believed the dumping ares are actually more close to the killer’s home and told investigators that the killer likely befriends the victims before he kills them. His insights were valuable, however the task force was still far from even getting a suspect.

Number of victims diminished, but didn’t stop. By December 1984, two more bodies, identified as Mary Sue Bello, 25, and Martina Authorlee, 18, were discovered. Both bodies were found off of Highway 410. At this time the body count climbed to 31, 28 of them being “officially” Green River Killer victims. Fourteen women were still believed to be missing.

Early 1985

On March 10, 1985, another partially buried body was found near Star Lake Road . The victim was eventually identified as 15 year old Carrie Rois. In June 1985, two more bodies were discovered: 23 year old Denise Bush, and 19 year old Shirley Sherrill. But these 2 bodies were discovered in Oregon and not Seattle. Which meant the killer changed dumping sites again and crossed state lines.

During winter of 1985, 3 more bodies were discovered. What was interesting is that one of the bodies was the skeleton of Kimi-Kai Pitsor (the prostitute reported missing by her pimp). Her skull was discovered in 1983, leading investigators to believe that the killer taunts them and messes with dumping sites to confuse them.

The task force was ridiculed by the public opinion, They arrested the wrong suspect at least 4 times during investigations and each time, more victims disappeared and more bodies were discovered.

In the summer of the following year, three more remains were found. Those of 19 year old  Maureen Feeney, 26 year old Kim Nelson, 26, and another unidentifiable young woman. The number of victims linked to the Green River Killer was climbing toward 40. The team was reduced and Captain James Pompey was appointed to lead it. Just as he was reorganizing the teams, two more bodies were discovered, but this time in an area north of Vancouver, British Columbia. The killer was taunting them. And no clues were promising enough.

The moment of catching the killer seemed improbable, but the fear of discovering more and more bodies lingered as the investigation tried to move forward with the few resources available.

A new suspect

In 1987, the police had their eye on a new suspect. They took a closer look at him.

The “fresh” suspect had been picked up for attempting to solicit an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute in May 1984. The suspect man was released after he passed a lie detector test. Investigators discovered that he had been accused of choking a prostitute in 1980 near the Sea-Tac International Airport. The man pleaded self-defense and was released from police custody.

More information was coming to light about the new suspect. Apparently, the same suspect was questioned back in 1982 about being in the car with a prostitute. Even worse, the prostitute in question was one of the women on the Green River murder list, Keli McGinness. In 1983, the same suspect was questioned  in connection with the kidnapping of murder victim Marie Malvar. The prostitute who’s kidnapper was followed by her pimp.  More and more interesting information kept surfacing about the new suspect. With every piece of information discovered, the new suspect looked like he’s shaping to be the possible Green River Murderer.

Interviewing people from his life, they learned that he used to frequent the wooden areas where bodies were discovered in 1983. But the most revealing information they discovered was that their suspect, who was a painter, was missing work or was off duty on the disappearance day of the victims. Finally, leads that were highly promising.

The suspect in cause was Gary Ridgway.

in 1987, police obtained a warrant, but no evidence was discovered so Gary went free. Again.

Weeks after Gary was released, Pompey died and Captain Greg Boyle took over the lead of the task force.  In June  1987, the body of 17 year old Cindy Ann Smith was discovered, behind the Green Community College. The following year, the body count increased. By 1988 over 20 bodies were found in San Diego. The killer seemed to have been moved to other location. Task forces joined their efforts.

In October 1989, two more body remains were discovered.

Denise Bush’s body is found

In February 1990, the skull of Denise Bush was found in a wooded area in Southgate Park in Tukwila , Washington. The rest of Bush’s body was located in Oregon five years earlier. In July 1991 the task force was reduced to just one investigator: Tom Jensen. And the moment of catching the killer was drifting away. 49 bodies and 9 years equaled no killer arrested. No more leads came in and the case became a cold one. For another decade to come. Many victims were impossible to be identified, due to decomposition.

The Green River Killer’s Victim List

No Name Age Disappeared Found
1 Wendy Lee Coffield 16 8-Jul-82 15-Jul-82
2 Gisele Ann Lovvorn 17 17-Jul-82 25-Sep-82
3 Debra Lynn Bonner 23 25-Jul-82 12-Aug-82
4 Marcia Fay Chapman 31 1-Aug-82 15-Aug-82
5 Cynthia Jean Hinds 17 11-Aug-82 15-Aug-82
6 Opal Charmaine Mills 16 12-Aug-82 15-Aug-82
7 Terry Rene Milligan 16 29-Aug-82 1-Apr-84
8 Mary Bridget Meehan 18 15-Sep-82 13-Nov-83
9 Debra Lorraine Estes 15 20-Sep-82 30-May-88
10 Linda Jane Rule 16 26-Sep-82 31-Jan-83
11 Denise Darcel Bush 23 8-Oct-82 12-Jun-85
12 Shawnda Leea Summers 16 9-Oct-82 11-Aug-83
13 Shirley Marie Sherrill 18 October 20–22, 1982 14-Jun-85
14 Rebecca “Becky” Marrero 20 3-Dec-82 21-Dec-10
15 Colleen Renee Brockman 15 24-Dec-82 26-May-84
16 Sandra Denise Major 20 24-Dec-82 30-Dec-85
17 Alma Ann Smith 18 3-Mar-83 2-Apr-84
18 Delores LaVerne Williams 17 March 8–14, 1983 31-Mar-84
19 Gail Lynn Mathews 23 10-Apr-83 18-Sep-83
20 Andrea M. Childers 19 14-Apr-83 11-Oct-89
21 Sandra Kay Gabbert 17 17-Apr-83 1-Apr-84
22 Kimi-Kai Pitsor 16 17-Apr-83 15-Dec-83
23 Marie M. Malvar 18 30-Apr-83 26-Sep-03
24 Carol Ann Christensen 21 3-May-83 8-May-83
25 Martina Theresa Authorlee 18 22-May-83 14-Nov-84
26 Cheryl Lee Wims 18 23-May-83 22-Mar-84
27 Yvonne “Shelly” Antosh 19 31-May-83 15-Oct-83
28 Carrie Ann Rois 15 May 31 – June 13, 1983 10-Mar-85
29 Constance Elizabeth Naon 19 8-Jun-83 27-Oct-83
30 Kelly Marie Ware 22 18-Jul-83 29-Oct-83
31 Tina Marie Thompson 21 25-Jul-83 20-Apr-84
32 April Dawn Buttram 16 18-Aug-83 30-Aug-03
33 Debbie May Abernathy 26 5-Sep-83 31-Mar-84
34 Tracy Ann Winston 19 12-Sep-83 27-Mar-86
35 Maureen Sue Feeney 19 28-Sep-83 2-May-86
36 Mary Sue Bello 25 11-Oct-83 12-Oct-84
37 Pammy Annette Avent 15 26-Oct-83 16-Aug-03
38 Delise Louise Plager 22 30-Oct-83 14-Feb-84
39 Kimberly L. Nelson 21 1-Nov-83 14-Jun-86
40 Lisa Yates 19 23-Dec-83 13-Mar-84
41 Mary Exzetta West 16 6-Feb-84 8-Sep-85
42 Cindy Anne Smith 17 21-Mar-84 27-Jun-87
43 Patricia Michelle Barczak 19 17-Oct-86 3-Feb-93
44 Roberta Joseph Hayes 21 7-Feb-87 11-Sep-91
45 Marta Reeves 36 5-Mar-90 20-Sep-90
46 Patricia Yellowrobe 38 Jan-98 6-Aug-98
47 Unidentified White Female (Jane Doe B-10) 12–18 Died prior to May 1983 21-Mar-84
48 Unidentified White Female (Jane Doe B-17) 14–18 December 1980 – January 1984 2-Jan-86
49 Unidentified Female (Jane Doe B-20) 13–24 1973–1993 21-Aug-03

His Arrest

In April 2001, two decades after the first victim was discovered, Detective Reichert, looked again at the evidence. Soon. his team grew and evidence collected from the sites where the bodies were discovered in 1983 were sent to labs to be tested. Yeah. In 2001, forensic science was much further advanced. Technology helped trace down details that were impossible to analyze back in the days. He sent to the lab semen probes collected from the victims (Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman and Carol Christensen) to be compared with semen collected from Gary Ridgway back in 1987. Weekes later, the results came back. It was a match.

Investigators finally had proof.

Gary Ridgway was arrested. Two decades after his killing spree started, he was finally arrested.

His Trial 

The Green River Killer's Arrest

On November 2003, Gary Ridgway pleaded guilty for murdering 48 women. His confession was in exchange of getting the death penalty off the table. During his trial he gave as many details as he remembered. He confessed that he didn’t remember or even ever knew the names of some of his victims. He received 48 life sentences and 10 more additional years for each victim, for tampering with the evidence.

The Green River Killer's Trial

Gary Ridgway, at left, listens as individual guilty pleas are read on Tuesday, November 5, 2003 in the King County Courthouse in Seattle. His attorney Anthony Savage is at right. Ridgway is expected to plead guilty to 48 counts of murder in the Green River Killer serial murder case which began in 1982 and was the largest unsolved serial murder case in American history. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson )

He confessed killing 78-80 women. However, only 49 were confirmed.

An additional body was found in 2011,  Ridgway receiving another life sentence.

Interesting facts

  • During his last marriage he slowed down and killed far less victims
  • His killings seem to have started after his second divorce, slowing down significantly after his third marriage
  • His third wife says she never noticed anything
  • one of his statements was: “I do not have a good memory for their faces. I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight.”
  • He once went camping with his son…..and the remains of one of his victims