By the time his trial was over, Gary Ridgway had confessed to more killings than any American serial killer before him.
Though Ted Bundy was charged with murder in the 1970s and sentenced to death, he managed to make one final contribution to society before his execution, when he contributed to the capture and arrest of Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer.
Between 1982 and 1988, Gary Ridgway, known by police as America’s “most prolific serial killer,” murdered 71 women. He was convicted for 49 of them but admitted that the number could have been closer to 90.
Most of Ridgway’s victims were prostitutes or underage runaways, whom he picked up at truck stops and dive bars along Highway 99 outside Seattle. He would then rape and strangle them, sometimes by hand and sometimes with ligatures, before dumping their bodies in wooded areas around the Green River, leading to his nickname.
He would also purposely contaminate the crime scene with litter, gum and cigarette butts to throw authorities off. Occasionally he would dump the body in one place, leave it for a time, then transport to another location to create a false trail. At least two victims were transported as far away as Portland.
When the bodies started appearing, the King County Sheriff’s Office started up the Green River Task Force, hoping to discover the person responsible.
Two members of the task force were Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert. Keppel and Reichert periodically interviewed psychologists and criminologists, hoping to gain insight into the motives behind the killer’s movements.
Eventually, in 1984, their interviews led them to famed serial killer Ted Bundy.
Bundy had been imprisoned for the past six years for murder, rape, burglary, and necrophilia and was, at the time, awaiting his electrocution, which would come three years later.
Having deplorable, but valuable, first-hand experience with the same kinds of killings that had been happening in the Green River area, Bundy proved to be an asset to the case. He became a regular interviewee of the Keppel and Reichert and offered his opinion on the psychology of the killer, as well as his motivations and behavior.
During one interview session, Bundy suggested that the killer was most likely revisiting his dump sites, to engage in sexual intercourse with the bodies. He advised the investigators that, should they find a fresh grave, they should stake it out, and wait for the killer to return.
Bundy’s theories turned out to be true, and the police were able to use them to collect samples and provide evidence for an arrest warrant. However, it took police until 2001 to finally arrest Ridgway.
Twenty years after committing his crimes, Ridgway was arrested on suspicions of murdering four women, and his DNA was later conclusively linked to them. Forensic testing later revealed that the same spray paint Ridgway used at work during his crime spree was present at other crime scenes, and added those murders to the list of charges.
By the time of his trial, Ridgway was facing 49 murder charges and had admitted to 23 others. In exchange for life imprisonment instead of the death penalty, Ridgway agreed to provide the locations of the remains of all of his victims.
After his cooperation, he was sentenced to 49 life sentences, to be served consecutively. An additional ten years was added to each sentence for tampering with evidence, adding 480 years to his 48 life sentences.
By the time his trial was over, Gary Ridgway had confessed to more confirmed murders than any other serial killer in America, claiming that murdering young women was his “career,” making him the worst serial killer in American history.
Ironic that the worst serial killer would be apprehended with the help of one of the most famous ones.
Next, read about five serial killers you’ll wish you’d never heard of. Then, read about how 20 serial killers met their chilling ends. Finally, meet Edmund Kemper, one of history’s worst serial killers.