Gary Ridgway is a serial killer with 49 confirmed murders to his name. He was active in the 1980s and 1990s in the state of Washington. He is the subject of a new documentary called The Green River Killer: Mind of a Monster, which airs Monday, February 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Investigation Discovery. Here’s what you need to know about this convicted murderer.
1. His Childhood Was Troubled
Gary Leon Ridgway was born February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the second of three sons born to Thomas and Mary Ridgway. His father was a bus driver and his mother worked at J.C. Penney. One of Ridgway’s girlfriends said that Gary always wanted to please his mother but never could; his second wife, Marcia Winslow, said Mary “wore the pants in the family” and was domineering, according to court documents (via The Tacoma News Tribune).
Winslow said that Mary yelled at her husband “continually” and she once saw Mary break a dinner plate over her husband’s head. A neighborhood named Bruce Revard said that he would hear the mother scream at the boys and their father spanking them.
“I could sit up in my treehouse and look in their yard,” Revard said. “All I’d hear were cries of ‘No, Dad, no,’ as they were getting beaten with a belt or a stick or whatever.”
Revard also said that the boys would get in trouble if they helped themselves to any food after school. “A slice of bread after school was not allowed,” he said.
2. Ridgway Stabbed a Young Boy When He Was a Teen
Ridgway was well-liked in school. Allan Sample, who attended community college with Gary’s older brother, Greg, said that Gary “never had any trouble getting a girlfriend or getting a date.” And Terry Rochelle, who would see Gary at a local Methodist church’s youth activities, said that Gary was sometimes “going to the principal’s office, but nothing bad.”
However, Ridgway confessed later to having stabbed a 6-year-old boy when he was a teenager. The boy survived the attack, but Ridgway told a psychologist that he was interested in stabbing because of his feelings about his mother, according to the Washington Post.
“I thought about stabbing her in the chest or in the heart maybe uh. . . . um. . . . maybe uh . . . cut her face and chest,” he said.
He also said that he had a bed-wetting problem unti he was 13 and that his mother would wash his genitals after each bed-wetting incident. Experts felt that this was a large part of Ridgway’s motivation in becoming a serial killer later in life.
“For an adolescent, having your mother wash your genitals would be highly exciting and arousing, but it would also be humiliating,” Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego, told the Washington Post. “With humiliation would come rage toward the mother. That is very common in serial murderers — displaced matricide. Unconsciously, he is killing his mother over and over again.”
3. Ridgway Was Married Three Times And Has a Son
Ridgway was dyslexic and was held back a year; the Washington Post reports that his IQ was in the low 80s. He was 20 years old when he graduated from Tyee High School in 1969, and that was when he married his high school girlfriend, Claudia Kraig. But that marriage was short-lived. When Ridgway was sent to Vietnam as part of his tour in the U.S. Navy, he contracted gonorrhea from frequently seeing sex workers. While he was overseas, Kraig had an affair, and the marriage ended within a year.
Ridgway’s second wife was Marcia Winslow, whom he married in December 1973. It was during this marriage that Ridgway became a religious fanatic, going door to door and frequently crying during church services, his wife told the Tacoma News Tribune. They had one child, a son named Matthew, in 1975. His son told detectives in 2001 that he remembered his father as a very involved parent.
“Even when I was in fourth grade, when I was with soccer, he’d always, you know, be there for me. I don’t think I ever remember him not being there,” said Matthew, adding that his dad would try to figure out what Matthew was interested in and “try to be a father … like you see in the TV shows.”
Ridgway and Winslow divorced in 1981 and then in 1988, he married Judith Mawson of Des Moines, Iowa. They lived together in Des Moines until 1997. Neighbors described Ridgway as “a model neighbor” and said that “he wanted to talk all the time” about tools and gardening tips.
4. Gary Ridgway Is the Second Most Prolific Serial Killer in U.S. History
Throughout Ridgway’s life in the 1980s and 1990s, he was responsible for at least 49 confirmed murders, which makes him the second-most prolific serial killer in U.S. history for confirmed murders after Samuel Little. He confessed to at least 70, but authorities were only able to confirm 48 at the time of his sentencing (a 49th was added later). Investigators think he may be responsible for as many as 90 murders total.
His victims were all women who ranged in age from 15 to 38, though there were three sets of remains found where the ages were not easily determined. They were all most likely in their teens. The nickname the Green River Killer came because he dumped most of the victims’ bodies in and around the Green River area outside Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. Most of the murders happened in between Ridgway’s two marriages, with only three confirmed victims after Ridgway met Mawson.
Mawson told KIRO 7 in 2007 that she feels she may have “saved lives” by being married to Ridgway.
“I feel I have saved lives … by being his wife and making him happy,” said Mawson. She was shocked when he was arrested for these crimes, saying it was like he was two different people. She told ABC News, “I love the man I knew and hate the man who took him away.”
Most of the victims were sex workers. Ridgway would lure them into his truck, then rape and strangle them, usually in his home or his truck, and then dump their bodies, sometimes posed. Sometimes he would return to the bodies and have intercourse with them.
“They would get in the car. In the vehicle, I had some of my son’s stuff in it … it was like a family setting,” Ridgway said in a prison interview, adding, “They would see [pictures] of my son and think I was a normal person … in my mind I’m saying, ‘Kill, kill, kill.’ I’m going to sweet-talk her so I can kill the b*tch.”
5. Nearly 20 Years Passed Between When Ridgway Became a Suspect and When He was Arrested
In 1982, Ridgway was arrested on a prostitution charge and became a suspect in the Green River killings, but he passed a polygraph test. However, the members of the Green River Task Force held on to his hair and saliva samples.
Nearly 20 years later, in 2001, investigators had enough DNA evidence from the murders to compare it to Ridgway’s hair that was still in evidence. The samples matched and Ridgway was arrested in November 2001 for the murders of four women: Marcia Chapman, Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds, and Carol Ann Christensen.
Over the course of the trial and as more evidence was able to be tested, 48 murders were tied to Ridgway. In November 2003, he confessed to them as part of a plea bargain that would spare him execution in exchange for his cooperation in locating the remains of his victims. Ridgway was later sentenced to 48 life sentences with no possibility of parole, plus an additional 10 years for tampering with evidence for each of the 48 victims, which added 480 years to his 48 life sentences.
One of the aspects of the case that always baffled investigators was Ridgway’s apparent lack of motive.
“I just loved killing women. I didn’t have no morals, conscience didn’t stop me. I want to be the best serial killer out there. It was just a killing spree, going for the count,” said Ridgway in an interview in prison.