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Gary Ridgway used to be considered the most prolific killer in American history. Here's everything you need to know about the Green River Killer.

48 murders: The hunt for Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer

The Green River Killer was named such because he killed and disposed of some of his victims on the banks of the Green River in Washington state. He killed for almost two decades. The Green River Killer’s real name is Gary Ridgeway and he would later graduate to dumping bodies in forests and purposely contaminating his crime scenes. 

Gary Ridgway used to be considered the most prolific killer in American history. This title has since been taken by Samuel Little, but Ridgway can still keep the title as one of the vilest men alive. 

Catching Ridgway took an unfortunate amount of time for police and left the people of Washington in a constant state of wariness. As is unfortunately often the case, it’s the women of Washington who really had something to worry about, more specifically women prostitutes. This was Ridgway’s type. 

The hunt for the Green River Killer left authorities and civilians alike very frustrated for a very long time. It would cost taxpayers $15 million to launch an investigation that yielded no killer. The case grew cold until Ridgway was finally caught in 2001.

Gary Ridgway’s beginnings 

Gary Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah to parents who (according to relatives) often had heated arguments. His father was a bus driver and his mother was domineering. 

At age 13, Ridgway was still wetting the bed. It’s said that his mother was so overbearing that whenever he had an accident at night she would wash his genitals herself. Naturally, as a boy entering into puberty, Ridgway would experience uninvited excitement in response to these episodes. He would grow to resent his mother for this in a convoluted mix of sexual attraction and hatred. 

Ridgway says that he used to fantasize about killing his mother. He would channel his evil urges into setting fires and torturing animals until one day he stabbed a boy in the liver at age sixteen. 

Ridgway’s father was very religious and frequently discussed his distaste for seeing prostitutes in the city while Ridgway was growing up. These constant gripes instilled in Ridgway a deep scorn for women engaged in sex work and become partially the reason they would become his primary targets once he started killing. 

Chasing Gary Ridgway 

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

So despite his hatred for prostitutes, Ridgway still engaged in sex with them. Probably the sickest part of his killing ritual was the fact that he engaged in necrophilia after strangling them, sometimes returning to their corpses for days in a row until flies began to gather. 

When police found bodies in the Green River in 1982 they launched a full fledged investigation to find the murderer that was stalking the King County area. Ridgway often placed his victims in groups, even going as far as posing them sometimes. Because of this, it was clear to police that they had a serial killer on their hands. 

Gary Ridgway was actually picked up for prostitution charges by police in 1982 and again in 1984. They began to suspect him for the murders so they made him take a polygraph test. He seemed to pass with flying colors so police released him, but not before taking samples of his hair and saliva. 

In 1984, authorities were so distraught with their lack of progress that they sought serial killer Ted Bundy for help. Bundy gave them pointers like the fact that the Green River Killer was likely killing near his home and returning to his dump sites to engage in necrophilia. Despite these leads, police still couldn’t find the Green River Killer. 

In 2001, DNA technology had advanced so they reexamined the samples they had, comparing semen from the crime scenes to the hair sample they had taken from Gary Ridgway. At last, they had found a match. 

They later even realized that someone had misread Ridgway’s polygraph’s results and that he had actually failed it. Had Ridgway been caught at that time instead of 2001, it would have spared almost half his victim’s lives. 

Gary Ridgway is put on trial 

In a strategic move, Ridgway was only charged with seven of the murders because those were the only ones police were confident they could get a conviction on. Ridgway was convicted for all seven, and then the district attorney made a very controversial move. He offered Ridgway a plea bargain for life imprisonment instead of the death penalty if he gave them information on the rest of his murders. 

Ridgway confessed to all 41 additional murders. The Prosecuting attorney Norm Maleng explained “Gary Ridgway does not deserve our mercy. He does not deserve to live. The mercy provided by today’s resolution is directed not at Ridgway, but toward the families who have suffered so much.” 

Police later found 1 more victim so Ridgway ended up convicted of 49 murders total. Ridgway now rots in Walla Walla Washington State Penitentiary. 


A 2005 slasher film called Green River Killer was made based on Gary Ridgway’s crimes.

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