Green River killer pleads guilty to 48 murders

Published November 6, 2003

SEATTLE (AP) — Uttering the word “guilty” 48
times with chilling calm, Gary Leon Ridgway admitted yesterday he
is the Green River Killer and confessed to strangling four dozen
women over two decades — “so many women I have a hard
time keeping them straight.”

Kate Green
AP PHOTO
Gary Ridgway, left, listens as individual guilty pleas are read yesterday in the King County Courthouse in Seattle.

“Choking is what I did and I was pretty good at it,”
the 54-year-old former truck-factory employee said in papers
submitted as part of his plea bargain.

Ridgway, a short figure with glasses, thinning hair and a sandy
mustache, pleaded guilty to more murders than any other serial
killer in U.S. history.

He struck a plea bargain that will spare him from execution for
those killings and bring life in prison without parole for one of
the most baffling and disturbing serial killer cases the nation has
ever seen.

For a half-hour, he listened in court with an utter lack of
expression as his own accounting of how he picked up each victim
and where he dumped the body was read aloud. In the most
matter-of-fact way, he confirmed the details, responding
“yes” over and over in a clear but subdued voice.

“I wanted to kill as many women as I thought were
prostitutes as I possibly could,” he said in a statement that
was read aloud in court by a prosecutor and opened an extraordinary
window on the twisted mind of a serial killer. He also said:
“I killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them
straight.”

He said he left some bodies in “clusters” and
enjoyed driving by the sites afterward, thinking about what he had
done. He said he sometimes stopped to have sex with the bodies.
Victims’ relatives wept quietly in the courtroom.

“It was hard to sit there and see him not show any feeling
and not show any remorse,” said Kathy Mills, whose daughter
Opal was 16 when she vanished in 1982. Opal’s body was found
in the Green River three days later.

Ridgway’s lawyers said he was, in fact, sorry and will
express that to the families at the sentencing, which will be held
within six months. Defense attorney Tony Savage said
Ridgway’s emotions came “in private, in emotional ways,
in tears and in words. … He feels terrible
remorse.”

“The Green River nightmare is over,” King County
Prosecutor Norm Maleng said after the proceeding.

But Sheriff Dave Reichert — one of the first investigators
on the case as a young detective — said that the
investigation continues and that charges in more cases were
possible. Under the plea bargain, Ridgway is not protected from the
death penalty in other jurisdictions. He has not been charged
elsewhere, but admitted dumping victims outside the county and in
Oregon.

Other serial killers have bragged of murdering many dozens of
victims, but Ridgway’s plea agreement, signed June 13, puts
more murders on his record than any other serial killer in U.S.
history.

John Wayne Gacy, who preyed on men and boys in Chicago in the
1970s, was convicted of killing 33 people. Ted Bundy, whose killing
started in Washington State, confessed to killing more than 30
women and girls but was convicted of murdering only three before he
was executed.

At a news conference, Maleng said his first reaction to striking
a deal that would take the death penalty off the table was no:
“If any case screams out for the death penalty, this was
it.”

But he said he finally agreed to bring a resolution to dozens of
unsolved Green River cases. Investigators had evidence to pursue
charges in seven cases but had exhausted their leads in the others,
and the victims’ families — including those whose loved
ones had never even been found — deserved answers, Maleng
said.

Since signing off on the deal, Ridgway has worked with
investigators to recover the remains of some victims.

“Justice and mercy for the victims, the family and our
community, and that is why we entered into this agreement,”
the prosecutor said.

The Green River Killer’s murderous frenzy began in the
Seattle area 1982, targeting mainly runaways and prostitutes.

The first victims turned up in the Green River, giving the
killer his name. Other bodies were found near ravines, airports and
freeways.

The killing seemed to stop as suddenly as it started, with
prosecutors believing the last victim had disappeared in 1984. But
one killing Ridgway admitted to was in 1990, and another was in
1998.

In many cases, the killer had sex with his victim and then
strangled her.

Ridgway said in his statement that he killed all the women in
King County, mostly near his home or in his truck not far from
where he had picked them up.

“In most cases, when I killed these women, I did not know
their names,” Ridgway said in the statement. “Most of
the time I killed them the first time I met them, and I do not have
a good memory of their faces.”

He said he preyed on prostitutes “because I thought I
could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting
caught.”

“I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most
prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex,” he said.
“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.”

He stripped the victims of their clothes and stole their
jewelry, leaving some of it in the women’s bathroom at the
plant where he worked as a truck painter. He said he got a thrill
from thinking a co-worker might find and wear the items.

Ridgway, who was from the Seattle suburb of Auburn, was arrested
in 2001 while leaving work. Prosecutors said advances in DNA
technology let them match a saliva sample taken from Ridgway in
1987 with DNA samples taken from three early victims. He was also
connected to some of the victims by microscopic particles of paint
found on the women; the paint had come from his workplace.

Ridgway had been a suspect as early as 1984, when the boyfriend
of victim Marie Malvar reported that he last saw her getting into a
pickup truck identified as Ridgway’s.

But Ridgway told police he did not know Malvar. Later that year,
Ridgway contacted the King County sheriff’s Green River task
force — ostensibly to offer information — and passed a
polygraph test.