Good Research Paper On The Green River Killer
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Between July 1982 to 2001 a serial killer ran rampant within the Green River area, where 48 women eventually went missing. While several of the bodies have been found and laid to rest, there are still several others that have not been found or identified. Serial murderer Gary Ridgway pled guilty in 2003 to the known murders, but has professed that there are even more that have remained unsolved. To date Ridgway is incarcerated at Washington State Penitentiary where he is being held on life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Gary Leon Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1949. His home life was anything but pleasant apparently, as his parents were known to argue violently and in front of their children. As a child he was tested and found to possess an 82 IQ, which is considered below average. Whether this had anything to do with the atrocities he would one day commit is largely unknown but is a subject of great debate. As a teenager he was said to be greatly troubled, as he stabbed a 6-year old child when he was 16. An account of both the victim and Ridgway coincide by claiming that he walked away from the attack laughing, openly wondering what it would be like to kill someone. There is no doubt that Ridgway was a troubled youth, but the circumstances that led him to become the Green River Killer were largely unknown and more than a little troubling.
Upon turning 21 Ridgway married Claudia Kraig Barrows, his girlfriend from high school. After this he enlisted in the Navy and then was shipped off to Vietnam. While there he did see combat, which could very well be a factor that led to his future actions. Yet another hint might be the fact that frequented a large number of prostitutes and in return became afflicted with gonorrhea. While this made him angry he still had unsafe sex. Back home, his wife, who was only 19 and all alone, had an affair that would contribute to their marriage ending only a year later.
Ridgway committed his murders by first picking up his intended victim under the guise of wishing to pay for a night’s pleasure. After this he would take them to a secluded location and strangle them either with his bare hands or with another item such as a scarf. Once they were dead he would dump them in or nearby the Green River, which was how he was given the name that haunted the American public for almost two decades.
Other interesting but macabre pieces of evidence were found as well upon the bodies, with some featuring pyramid-shaped rocks shoved into their private areas and even one that had a dead fish draped across her leg. The symbolism is unknown to law enforcement agents, and Ridgway has not revealed what the placing of said objects might mean.
Those who were questioned about Ridgway, mostly friends and family, would go on to describe him as a friendly man, but strange in a way they could not adequately define. He married again but was soon divorced because of infidelity committed by both him and his wife. Marcia Brown, his second wife, went so far as to claim that Ridgway had assaulted and choked her.
Despite all this Ridgway attempted to live and practice in the manner of a good Christian, attending services and insisting that his wife follow the teachings of the church as well. He was known to cry following sermons, go door-to-door to read the word of God and even read the bible aloud at both work and home. Yet for all this piousness he still sought the service of prostitutes and attempted to convert his wife to the more deviant tastes he enjoyed in his sex life.
His second wife gave birth to a son in 1975, two years before they were married and six years before they divorced. After that Ridgway married again. It was reported by the women in his life, meaning his three ex-wives and several girlfriends, that he demanded sex many times in day. He would entertain the thought of having sex in public areas or off in wooded areas. Ridgway admitted to a fixation towards prostitutes, claiming a love-hate relationship with them. Despite having a desire to use their services he was known to complain and even condemn them, citing his religious beliefs despite his otherwise contradictory behavior.
What stands as most amazing in any case of a serial killer is the methods by which they were caught. Ted Bundy was caught after a failure to stop for a police officer, the Son of Sam killer, David Berkowitz, was brought down because of a parking ticket. John Wayne Gacey was found out after young men he’d been associated with started to go missing. For almost two decades the Green River Killer was allowed to kill as he wanted and get away with his crimes. Despite being a person of interest thanks to his truck and the proximity to the location in which the bodies had been found, Ridgway was watched very carefully, but never convicted due to lack of evidence.
Gary Ridgway was caught thanks to his own DNA, which was given well over a decade before his capture. Back in the days when the task force was first set on the case, the widespread use of computers hadn’t been heard of yet, and according to King County Sheriff at the time Dave Reichert, most of what information he had was placed on note cards. (Smolowe, 2003)
People all over the northwest, particularly those who had family members and friends missing thanks to Ridgeway’s killing spree, had great cause to worry during this time as the bodies continued to pile up, either in or near Green River. There were also killings that Ridgeway committed in California, but those were downplayed heavily in favor of the greater numbers reported near Green River. Like Ted Bundy, Ridgway showed a great propensity to use the same dumping site for multiple victims. (Carpe Noctem, 2013)
Perhaps the greatest tool that Ridgway had in his deadly arsenal, other than the fact that he managed to pass a polygraph test in 1984 that was ruled invalid, was that he was an average person, a no one amidst a sea of people who was picked out mostly because of eccentricities he could scarcely control. Ridgway had been jailed in 1984 for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer, but even those charges were dropped. In essence he was the perfect killer in a way, the type that fly under the radar without trying too hard.
Evidence was piled up and hoarded by detectives throughout the nineteen years in which Ridgway was allowed to continue his killing spree, yet nothing managed to stick. Eyewitnesses that saw his truck in suspicious locations often gave unreliable testimony, those who saw him going about his business would normally see an average, white male doing nothing suspicious or out of character. Only one victim that survived managed to bring forth a complaint about Ridgway, yet even that witness eventually recanted, for fear that she might be hunted down or disbelieved. Prostitutes, the victims that Ridgway admitted to favor, are not often believed for many reasons, but a large portion of that disbelief comes from the mere fact that they are in a profession that caters to some very secret and oft times depraved fantasies, which can be taken to extremes but also be just what the client desires.
There is nothing to prove that Ridgway did not know what he was doing, especially given his own testimony. He alluded to performing the public service that police could not do by targeting prostitutes, eliminating them and therefore taking away a public degradation to society. (Talvi, 2003) Ridgway had no sense of humility or that he’d even done something wrong during the course of his trial, stating that he knew full well that abducting prostitutes would be easy considering that no one thinks about them much and their remains would likely be left for a long time if they were ever looked for at all. The killer was quite calm during his trial, and any remorse that was to be expected was non-existence in his demeanor. In order to avoid the death penalty he even agreed to aid in the search for those victims who had not yet been found.
DNA evidence was among the only other manner of evidence that detectives were able to bring, and this wasn’t even until the 1990’s, when the advances in science finally began to allow such practices to aid the police in their search. By that point the evidence collected, meaning trace amounts of evidence such as hair, skin, all DNA evidence, was finally able to be tested, though detectives were still wary of the process, thinking that perhaps the testing would degrade and further destroy what they had taken great pains to gather. By 1992 the trail had gone cold even after the police had received descriptions of his truck and his DNA and paint from his truck had been collected from the victims and tested against samples that had been taken during an earlier arrest.
The profiling of Gary Ridgway proved to be just as troublesome as pinning a crime on him, as the average profile would state that he was an unemployed outdoorsman, fit and with a habit of drinking or otherwise abusing one substance or another. (Jensen, 2011) None of this proved to be true, and thus detectives and officers assigned to the case were forced to go on hard evidence that eventually led them nowhere. While Ridgway had been brushes with the law during his tenure as the Green River Killer, nothing ever managed to stick, and for a time authorities actually believed him to be “retired”. Worse yet, when he managed to dump the remains of Denise Bush and Shirley Sherrill in a suburb of Portland, Oregon before sending a misleading letter to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Even the FBI had trouble pinning anything on Ridgway, though they did opt for another polygraph test after finding that the first was invalid. On advice from a lawyer however Ridgway did not take the test the second time. During his trial Ridgway copped to a plea that allowed him to avoid the death penalty, granting that he would help to discover the bodies of 30 other women he had slain during his spree. While it was without much trust that the police, FBI, and even his own defense team agreed to this deal, Ridgway was allowed to lead police to the various sites in which he could recall dumping his victims. (Harger, 2013)
Given 48 life sentences for his crimes, Ridgway was sentenced to a 49th in 2011 when teenagers discovered the skull of Seattle woman Rebecca Marerro in a ravine 28 years after her disappearance. While Ridgway originally told prosecutors in the 2003 trial that he had in fact murdered Marerro they were unable to charge him with the crime for lack of any physical evidence. (Daily Mail Reporter, 2011)
Ridgway plead guilty to his crimes without contestation, admitting to killing the 49 women he was eventually charged with murdering, but he also confessed to many more despite any evidence to link him to the disappearances of those mentioned. To date many have still not been discovered, and only through careful facial reconstruction have a few of the missing women been identified from remains found where Ridgway has indicated he dumped them.
Since the trial the media hype from the Green River killings has gained notoriety through the nation and has spawned books and movies alike in which the depiction of the Green River Killer has been shown in what many would likely believe as realistic and even chilling given the actor’s depth and study of the character. In all reality this is a joke and a shameless plug by Hollywood to make money on the misery of those who were forced to endure the degradations of a man who thought that he was performing a public service by killing women who, to him, had little to no value to anyone. Ridgway was heard to say at his own trial that he despised prostitutes, that he was doing what the police could not and believed that he could kill as many as he wanted and not get caught. Not only is the movie shameless however it is riddled with inconsistencies such as wrong names, incorrect historical facts, and a very prominent Fox Sports Net sign that can be seen as the actor that plays Ridgway passes a bar. (Green River Killer, 2005) The mistake is that Fox Sports Net did not exist until 1997, which begs the question as to what else the film gets wrong for the sake of entertainment.
Public opinion considering serial killers is a matter of a balancing scale, as there are those who wish to understand what makes a killer, what sets them off at a given point to where they consider what it might be like to take a human life. For Ridgway, there are two out of ten precursors that ring most truthfully, and those are the presence of psychological abuse that might have taken place early on in his life, as well as a dark fantasy life that he kept to himself. (Gerber, 2013) The mere thought that he wished to know what it would be like to kill another living being at age 16 indicates that warning flags had already been raised early on, but without anyone to take note.
There also exists a TV Mini-Series titled “The Capture of the Green River Killer” in which the main protagonist is not even the real scope of the story, but a secondary character in a saga that he created. This series follows the efforts of Sheriff Dave Reichert, the man who was credited with bringing Ridgway to justice. (The Capture of the Green River Killer, 2008) While it employs a more fantastical and Hollywood-based flair towards the actual story, it also demonizes Ridgway in a manner that is not entirely consistent with the man as he exists then and now. While the man is by and large considered one of the worst evils to have ever been born into the American public, he was at one time as unsuspecting as anyone, a 30-year veteran at his job, an and unassuming person whom no one would have ever guessed was capable of such horrendous violence.
There was only one qualified expert witness in the methodology that Ridgway employed during his murders, and that was Ridgway himself. What most people should keep in mind is that Gary Ridgway avoided prosecution, if not suspicion, for many years, and became the most prolific serial murderer in the country. While analysts, detectives and profilers were called as expert witnesses it was shown that their idea of the man behind these violent and heinous crimes were initially quite wrong. Any case laws mentioned within the trial usually had to do with the legislature that touched upon prostitution and its impact on society. Given a criminal court hearing, Ridgway was seen to break down only a few times as the relatives of his victims were allowed to say their peace.
Daily Mail Reporter. (2011). Green River Killer is charged with 49th murder after missing
woman's skull is found in ravine. Daily Mail. Retrieved from
Gary Ridgway-Green River Killer. (2013). Carpe Noctem. Retrieved from
Gerber, Hestie Barnard. (2013). 10 Most Common Traits of Potential Serial Killers. Listverse.
Harger, Charlie. (2013). “Gary Ridgway: 'I want to prove there's 80 bodies out there'”. Komo 4 News. Retrieved from
Heidenheim Films (Producer), & Lommel, Ulli. (Director). (2005). Green River Killer (Motion
Picture). USA: Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
Jensen, Jeff. (2011). Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. USA: Dark Horse Comics.
Julijette. (Producers) & Bailey, Norma. (Director). (2008). The Capture of the Green River Killer
(TV Mini-Series). USA: Lifetime Network.
Smith, Carlton; Guillen, Thomas. (1991). The Search for the Green River Killer. USA: Penguin Group Incorporated.
Smolowe, Jill. (2003). “Catching the Green River Killer”. People, 60(21). Retrieved from
Talvi, Silja J.A. (2003). The Truth About the Green River Killer. Alternet. Retrieved from
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