Inside Gary Ridgway’s Horrific Murders As The Green River Killer

Published February 11, 2024
Updated March 1, 2024

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Gary Ridgway prowled Washington as the Green River Killer, hunting for vulnerable women to rape and murder until he was arrested in 2001.

Green River Killer Gary Ridgway

Wikimedia CommonsAs the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway took more victims than Jeffrey Dahmer, Son of Sam, and BTK — combined.

From 1982 to 1998, Gary Ridgway terrorized Washington State as the Green River Killer. He murdered at least 49 women, but the real number could be as high as 71. If true, this would make him one of the most prolific serial killers in American history — and one of the most brutal.

From bragging about his choking ability to explaining the cold-blooded efficiency of performing necrophilia on a victim’s corpse instead of finding a new victim to rape and kill, Gary Ridgway’s story was nothing short of chilling.

While the Green River Killer may not as infamous as other serial killers like Ted Bundy, he took far more victims than Bundy ever did. In fact, by the time Bundy had already been captured in the mid-1980s, authorities were actively seeking his help in catching Ridgway, who at that point was still at large.

In a move straight out of The Silence of the Lambs, investigators used Bundy’s inside knowledge of serial killing — and his familiarity with Washington State — to help them form a profile of the Green River Killer.

This is the gruesome true story of Green River Killer Gary Ridgway.

How Gary Ridgway Became The Green River Killer

Born on February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, Utah, Gary Ridgway had a seemingly happy and normal childhood. But then, at age 16, he stabbed a six-year-old boy — just to see how stabbing “worked.”

Ridgway later told a psychologist that he was interested in stabbing because he was struggling with being sexually attracted to his own mother and wanted to kill her because of it. He also confessed that he had a bed-wetting problem into his early teens — and that he had clear recollections of his mom washing his genitals after he wet the bed.

Some experts think that this may have been part of a larger pattern of inappropriate behavior on the part of Ridgway’s mother. And while she was ultimately spared from Ridgway’s killing spree, some believe that his crimes may have amounted to a case of “displaced matricide” and that he was unconsciously “killing his mother over and over again.”

Despite attacking the young boy, Ridgway was never arrested for the crime. After this event, Ridgway put up a normal front, but secretly began stalking women in his neighborhood who had previously rejected him.

Green River Killer

Wikimedia CommonsAn early mugshot of Gary Ridgway from 1982, before he was identified as the Green River Killer.

Ridgway graduated high school at the age of 20 and served in the U.S. Navy for two years in Vietnam. While there, he frequently sought the services of prostitutes and even contracted a sexually transmitted disease for the second time, which reportedly enraged him.

After his service, Ridgway decided to settle down in the Seattle area. He had married a woman named Claudia Barrows shortly before joining the military but divorced her after discovering that she had been unfaithful to him while he was deployed.

In Seattle, Ridgway got a job painting trucks, which he held for about three decades, and even remarried twice, first to Marcia Winslow in 1973, with whom he had a son, and then to Judith Mawson in 1988.

During his second marriage to Marcia Winslow, Ridgway became somewhat of a religious fanatic, even going door-to-door to read the Bible to his neighbors. According to Winslow, this drastic shift startled her, and it got even worse when Ridgway insisted that she follow the strict teachings of their church pastor.

However, Winslow claimed that the worst part of their marriage was not the religious fanaticism or even the sex Ridgway demanded from her multiple times a day, but the role Ridgway’s mother played in their relationship.

According to her, Ridgway’s mother had the last say in their relationship, even going so far as to control the couple’s finances. The couple ultimately divorced only eight years into their marriage.

Despite having a family and a newfound relationship with religion, Ridgway started having encounters with the law, during which he got arrested for allegedly choking a sex worker and for solicitation, while living in Seattle.

As the years went on, his crimes escalated from there. It’s widely believed that he first began his killing spree in 1982, starting with a 16-year-old girl who had run away from her foster home.

This initial crime began a nearly 20-year murder spree that would claim dozens of lives.

The Horrific Murders Of The Green River Killer

Green River Killer Victim

King County Sheriff’s Dept.The body of Gary Ridgway victim Marcia Chapman was found on August 15, 1982.

Gary Ridgway often preyed on vulnerable runaways. He also targeted sex workers, whom he picked up at truck stops and dive bars along Highway 99 outside Seattle. After luring his victims into his car, he’d often gain their trust by showing them photos of his son, then engage in sexual activity with them before strangling them to death, sometimes in the middle of intercourse.

The Green River Killer would then dump their bodies in wooded areas around the Green River, which led to his chilling nickname. Ridgway would also purposely contaminate the crime scenes with gum and cigarette butts — since he didn’t smoke or chew gum — to throw authorities off.

Ridgway would later admit to the macabre fact that he would take his wives to the dump sites for picnics and outdoor sex.

Occasionally, he would dump the body in one place, leave it for a time, then transport it to another location to create a false trail. At least two of his victims were transported as far away as Portland.

Despite going to lengths to hide his crimes, Ridgway still fell under the radar of local law enforcement due to his previous run-ins with the law.

In the early 1980s, police questioned Ridgway after a sex worker accused him of choking her during sex near the Sea-Tac Airport, an area where some of the victims had been discarded. Additionally, police caught Ridgway with a sex worker named Keli McGinness, one of the serial killer’s victims.

For these reasons, police listed Ridgway as a suspect and made him take a polygraph test, which he passed. The lack of physical evidence tying Ridgway to any of the killings led police to focus on other suspects, and Ridgway took some time off from his killing spree as a result of the pressure.

Victim Of Green River Killer

King County Sheriff’s Dept.Cynthia Hinds, a victim of the Green River Killer who disappeared on August 11, 1982.

But Ridgway’s run-ins with the police did not deter him from hunting again. Despite reportedly finding marital happiness with Judith Mawson, Ridgway continued killing.

By the end of his murder spree, the Green River Killer had murdered a confirmed 49 women, though he ended up confessing to 71 total murders, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Gary Ridgway once said, “I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight.”

Gary Ridgway Victim

King County Sheriff’s Dept.Carol Christensen became the 26th victim of Green River Killer Gary Ridgway after she disappeared on May 3, 1983.

When the bodies first started appearing, the King County Sheriff’s Office formed the “Green River Task Force,” hoping to discover the person responsible. And they got help from an unlikely source.

How Ted Bundy Helped Crack The Case

Ted Bundy

Wikimedia CommonsTed Bundy, one of the most infamous serial killers in American history, helped find Gary Ridgway.

Two members of the Green River Killer task force were Robert Keppel and Dave Reichert. They 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 the infamous Ted Bundy.

According to Keppel, Bundy actually volunteered himself to take part in the investigation. Keppel described receiving the shocking request from a detective of the Seattle Police Department: “It was a letter from a ‘wanna-be’ consultant and the most unlikely person I ever expected to be of assistance in the Green River murders. The letter came from a cell on death row in Florida; the sender was Theodore Robert Bundy. I was stunned.”

By that point, Bundy had already been imprisoned for several years for murder, rape, burglary, and necrophilia. And at the time, he was awaiting his execution, which would ultimately come in 1989.

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 Keppel and Reichert and offered his unfiltered opinion on the psychology of the still-active Green River Killer, as well as his motivations and behavior.

According to Reichert, Ted Bundy also shared several things in common with Gary Ridgway, especially in regard to mindset: “First off, there’s no remorse. He doesn’t have any feelings toward anybody, his family included. And that’s what I saw in Bundy and what I saw in Ridgway.”

As Reichert explained in an interview with the New York Times: “Like Mr. Bundy… Mr. Ridgway craved attention and control and was prideful when discussing his killings. When detectives presented him with an unsolved murder to see if he would confess it, he told them: ‘Why, if it isn’t mine? Because I have pride in… what I do. I don’t wanna take it from anybody else.'”

During one interview session, Bundy reportedly suggested that the Green River Killer was most likely revisiting his dumpsites to perform necrophilia on the corpses. He advised the investigators that if they found a fresh grave, they should stake it out and wait for the killer to return.

Bundy’s theories turned out to be absolutely correct, 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 Gary Ridgway.

How Gary Ridgway Finally Faced Justice

Gary Ridgway The Green River Killer

Getty ImagesGreen River Killer Gary Ridgway was sentenced to life in prison in 2003, after narrowly avoiding the death penalty.

In 2001, Gary Ridgway was arrested on suspicions of murdering four women, and his DNA was later 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.

His wife Judith Mawson — who didn’t know about his crimes as the Green River Killer until after he was arrested — was absolutely stunned when she heard about his long history of rape, murder, and necrophilia.

As Mawson put it, Ridgway was the “perfect husband” and had always treated her “like a newlywed,” even after they’d been together for 17 years. In reality, Ridgway later confessed, he had been tempted to kill Mawson and only passed because it might’ve increased his chances of getting caught.

Still, he claimed that he truly loved Mawson. And according to the timeline of his known murders, his kill rate went down after they had gotten married. Mawson, who filed for divorce after his confessions, later said that she felt like she had saved lives “by being his wife and making him happy.”

By the time of his trial, Gary Ridgway was facing 48 murder charges. In exchange for life imprisonment instead of the death penalty, the Green River Killer agreed to provide the locations of his victims’ remains.

After his cooperation, he was given 48 life sentences that would be served consecutively. Then, 10 years was added to each sentence for the crime of tampering with evidence. This would increase his overall prison term by 480 additional years.

When his trial was over, Gary Ridgway had confessed to more confirmed murders than any other serial killer in America at that point. And he claimed that murdering young women was his real “career.”

And despite being locked away for good, Ridgway and his crimes continue to haunt the police.

Gary Ridgway Mugshot

King County Sheriff’s Dept.At the time of his capture in 2001, Green River Killer Gary Ridgway was the deadliest serial killer in American history after being linked to the murders of 49 people.

In 2011, a 49th body was found that was linked to Ridgway, which added yet another life sentence to his prison term. Twelve years later, in December 2023 and January 2024, two sets of remains linked to the Green River Killer were finally identified as 15-year-old Lori Anne Ratzpotnik and 16-year-old Tammie Liles.

Ridgway’s reputation has also permeated popular culture, appearing in books like Twilight and Jodi Picoult’s House Rules.

While the title of the most prolific serial killer in the United States has since been taken by Samuel Little — who killed up to 93 women between 1970 and 2005 — there’s no question that Ridgway remains one of the worst murderers in modern American history.

But unlike so many other of American history’s most infamous serial killers, Gary Ridgway is still alive today. The Green River Killer is currently serving out his life sentences at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. Ridgway is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

After learning about Gary Ridgway, check out 11 more prolific serial killers you probably haven’t heard of. Then, learn how 20 serial killers met their ends.

Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Anglis, Jaclyn. "Inside Gary Ridgway’s Horrific Murders As The Green River Killer.", February 11, 2024, Accessed May 23, 2024.