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In Plea Deal, Green River Killer Admits He Murdered 48 Women

November 06, 2003|Tomas Alex Tizon | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Gary Leon Ridgway, an unassuming 54-year-old truck painter who admitted that he was the Green River killer, pleaded guilty Wednesday to 48 murders over a span of two decades in what he said was a crusade to kill as many prostitutes as he could without getting caught.

Ridgway appeared in a courtroom packed with quietly weeping relatives of victims. He confessed to more murders than any serial killer in U.S. history -- and prosecutors hinted that Ridgway's victim list could grow.

Judge Richard Jones read each aggravated first-degree murder charge out loud, naming each victim. Ridgway, standing 10 feet away, methodically answered "guilty" 48 times. There was no variation in his voice. He was emotionless but alert throughout the 90-minute hearing.

"I do not have a good memory of their faces," he said in a statement read by prosecutors. "I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight.

"I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex."

Ridgway killed most of his victims in his home or truck, strangling them, stripping them of clothes and jewelry, and then dumping them in clustered areas around King County. He said he drove by the sites often and thought about the bodies.

Ridgway struck a plea agreement that will spare him the death penalty for the murders he has admitted committing. He could face execution if convicted of other killings.

Jones said Ridgway would serve consecutive life sentences without parole for each murder. A sentencing date will be announced next month.

"If it were up to me, I would rather they put him to death today," said a shaken Deborah York, the aunt of one of the first victims. The body of her niece Cynthia Jean Hinds was found in August 1982. "He doesn't deserve to live another day."

King County Sheriff Dave Reichert said after the hearing that Ridgway is a suspect in several unsolved slayings, and is a person of interest in killings in other counties. Ridgway told investigators he recalled killing as many as 54 women in King County. One source close to the investigation said Ridgway's victim list could grow by more than a dozen.

Prosecutors said Ridgway may have started killing as early as the 1970s and continued until at least 1998. One investigator said there was evidence that Ridgway may have continued his rampage until he was arrested two years ago.

Ridgway, long a suspect in the case, was arrested Nov. 30, 2001, as he left his job at Kenworth Truck Co. in Renton, where he has painted trucks since 1971. He was initially charged with four of the Green River murders, based on DNA evidence.

Advances in DNA technology allowed investigators to test a swab of saliva taken from Ridgway in 1984. His DNA matched that of semen found in the bodies of those four victims. Investigators later charged him in three more killings, and were collecting evidence in other slayings when the plea bargain was struck.

Ridgway had been a suspect as early as 1984, when the boyfriend of victim Marie M. Malvar reported that he last saw her getting into a pickup truck identified as Ridgway's.

But Ridgway told police he did not know Malvar. Later that year, Ridgway contacted the King County sheriff's Green River task force -- ostensibly to offer information -- and passed a polygraph test.

After his arrest in 2001, Ridgway's attorneys said he initially denied killing anybody. But when his attorneys detailed the overwhelming evidence against him, Ridgway confessed. Attorney Mark Prothero said Ridgway agreed to plead guilty for a simple reason. "He wanted to live," Prothero said.

The agreement was made June 13. Ridgway has been cooperating with authorities ever since, directing them in more than two dozen searches. The searches yielded four sets of remains of Green River victims.

Ridgway picked up many of his victims along a busy stretch of Highway 99 south of Seattle in what are now the communities of SeaTac and Tukwila. The SeaTac Strip, as it was known, was heavily trafficked by prostitutes. The bodies of the first victims were found in or along the Green River, which runs from the Cascade Mountains through forested areas south of Seattle. Ridgway lived in what is now the city of SeaTac before moving to the nearby suburb of Auburn.

The victims -- prostitutes, runaways and drug addicts -- were all strangled and then dumped in rivers, ravines and wooded areas, often outside small towns such as North Bend, Kent and Snoqualmie.

"I killed most of them in my house near Military Road, and I killed a lot of them in my truck, not far from where I picked them up," Ridgway said in his statement. "I killed some of them outside. I remember leaving each woman's body in the place where she was found."

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