Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Serial killers. Every true-crime buff knows all  about them, and they often debate who the worst  

  • of the worst actually is. Ted Bundy's trial was  probably the most highly publicized in history,  

  • and Jeffrey Dahmer's twisted appetites were  tabloid fodder for years. Neither of them,  

  • however, reached the shocking number of murders  that one serial killer reached in the Pacific  

  • Northwest. He stalked Washington state for  decades, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

  • The media called him the Green River KillerAnd he almost got away with everything.

  • It was the early 1980s in King County, Washingtonand horror was about to come to the winding Green  

  • River. This long river snakes from the rural  areas of Northwest Washington to the bustling  

  • city of Seattle, and forms the approach to  the former logging area of Stampede Pass.  

  • But for a group of children playing along the  river on July 15th, 1982, it would be the end  

  • of innocence. They discovered the body of Wendy  Coffield, a sixteen-year-old from nearby Puyallup,  

  • floating in the river. An investigation quickly  began, but no leads were found to her killer.

  • Wendy was likely the first to diebut she would be far from the last.

  • It was just over a month later when four more  bodies of young women would be found in the Green  

  • River, and it was clear the Pacific Northwest had  a serial killer on its hands. A massive task force  

  • was formed, the biggest since the hunt for Ted  Bundy in the previous decade. Many more bodies  

  • would follow - all of them young women, many of  them runaways and sex workers. But it would be  

  • a long time before the police had the answersdespite them intersecting with the killer many  

  • times in the decades that followed. Who was this  serial killer striking fear in the whole region?

  • His name was Gary Ridgway, and he  was one of the most effective and  

  • dangerous killers the country had ever seen.

  • Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1949, Gary  Ridgway seemed like a normal boy - but under  

  • the surface there were early signs that he was  disturbed. He was a middle child with a strict,  

  • domineering mother. He struggled in schoolbattling with dyslexia, and was held back a  

  • year in high school. Evidence later showed his IQ  was only in the 80s. But there were darker signs.  

  • His father was an angry man, a bus driver who  frequently complained about sex workers along  

  • his route. Ridgway had a problem with bedwettingand his mother humiliated him after every episode.

  • Gary Ridgway's journey to becoming a killer  would begin early - when he was still a teenager.

  • Ridgway liked hurting things from an early daystarting with shooting birds with a BB gun. But  

  • he had a taste for bigger prey, and one day when  he was still in high school he approached a random  

  • six-year-old boy with a knife - and stabbed himdeep enough to injure the boy's liver. The boy,  

  • who asked to remain anonymous, remembers asking  RidgwayWhy did you kill me?”. He survived,  

  • but spent several weeks in the hospital. Ridgway  was never caught for the attack, and the victim  

  • realized years later that he had almost become  the first murder victim of the Green River Killer.

  • What made Ridgway so dangerousHe knew how to bide his time.

  • After his first foray into attempted murderRidgway seemed to be slipping back into normal  

  • life. He graduated high school, married  his high school girlfriend Claudia Kraig,  

  • and joined the Navy. It was 1969, and he was soon  sent to Vietnam. But while wartime was a formative  

  • experience for many young men, for Ridgway it  would lead him further down the path to becoming  

  • a serial killer. Like many young soldiershe had frequent sex with local sex workers,  

  • contracting Gonorrhea. This enraged him - but not  enough to stop doing it. And when he returned from  

  • Vietnam, he discovered his wife had been having  an affair, leading to the end of the marriage.

  • The combination of Ridgway's  resentment towards his mother  

  • and his wartime experiences were about to collide.

  • He soon married again, a woman named Marcia  Winslow, and had a son. But she noticed  

  • disturbing signs of the monster he would becomeSometimes he was pious, obsessively reading the  

  • bible aloud and preaching to their neighborsOther times he would become inexplicably  

  • violent - even putting Marcia in a chokehold  at one point. He would get randomly emotional,  

  • crying during sex. And if there was one thing he  loved talking about, it was sex. He would demand  

  • it frequently, sometimes in a public place. And he  was obsessed with the local sex workers. He seemed  

  • to hate them and want them out of his neighborhood  - but he couldn't seem to stop patronizing them.

  • His anger and obsession built - until  it exploded in a cocktail of violence.

  • No one knows why Gary Ridgway decided to start  killing, but when he did, he acted like he had  

  • been planning it all his life. He stalked Seattle  and Tacoma, primarily among Pacific Highway South  

  • where young sex workers and teen  runaways could easily be found.  

  • He had a manipulative go-to move - a picture  of his son that he always kept on him. He would  

  • introduce himself to the woman he had decided to  target, showing them a picture of his son to get  

  • them to trust him and let down their defensesHe would then invite them into his truck.

  • It would be the last decision they ever made.

  • Sometimes Ridgway would drive them homeSometimes he would drive them to the woods.  

  • Sometimes he would decide to do the deed  right there. But what came next was always the  

  • same. He and his chosen victim would have sex, and  midway through, he would make his move. He wrapped  

  • his forearm around their neck and pulled as hard  as he could, killing them from strangulation. He  

  • would then drive to a dumping ground and hide  their bodies. He started in the Green River,  

  • but eventually started dumping the bodies in  more wooded areas and near the local airport.

  • When asked how many young women he had killed over  

  • the years by investigators later, he  would simply answer “I lost count”.

  • Despite his low IQ, Ridgway was a highly competent  killer. He knew exactly how to hide his kills,  

  • spreading out the bodies and transporting  some across state lines. He would sometimes  

  • contaminate the bodies with pieces of evidence he  had taken off other people, like gum, cigarettes,  

  • and even written notes. He would sometimes  pose the bodies naked before burying them,  

  • and he remembered where every body wasbecause sometimes he liked to return to them  

  • and dig them up so he could engage in Necrophilia.

  • It seemed like the perfect crime wave - but  

  • not quite. The police were on to  Gary Ridgway surprisingly early.

  • It was April 30th, 1983, and Ridgway had  just taken his latest victim, Marie Malvar.  

  • But Malvar didn't vanish unnoticed. Ridgway's  pickup truck had been sighted by her boyfriend,  

  • and the man chased down Ridgway, reporting him  to the police. The police interrogated him,  

  • and Ridgway denied any involvement in  Malvar's disappearance. They let him go,  

  • but it wouldn't be the last time he had  contact with the Green River Task Force.

  • But the next time, he would come looking for them.

  • It was May 1984, and the toll of victims  kept on rising, with forty-two bodies being  

  • found in the area. The task force  received a call - from Gary Ridgway,  

  • claiming to have information. He was still on the  radar of the officers after their last encounter,  

  • and they made him pass a polygraph test  before they would work with him. He passed,  

  • denying any involvement in the killingsThis would make experts later think he was  

  • a sociopath who could lie so convincingly  he wouldn't be flagged by a lie detector.

  • The task force would look at Ridgway again  - but he would keep on slipping away.

  • As the bodies kept showing up near Green  River, the task force became desperate.  

  • Experts Robert Keppel and Dave Reichertboth of whom had been involved in previous  

  • hunts for serial killers, even interviewed  Ted Bundy on death row for his insight into  

  • the Green River Killer's psychology. He  identified many of Ridgway's patterns and  

  • told them to stake out one of the  graves to see if Ridgway returned.

  • But Ridgway was good at biding his time.

  • While many serial killers escalate until they  get caught, Green River had a pattern and he  

  • stuck to it. His third wife, Judith Mawsonwho he married in 1985, realized years later  

  • that he had been pulling off killings right under  her nose. When the carpet disappeared, she didn't  

  • give it a second thought - until investigators  told her he had likely removed it to wrap a body.  

  • His irregular working hours were a cover for him  leaving to hunt his victims and dispose of their  

  • bodies. She was contacted by authorities in 1987  as they renewed their interest in Ridgway and  

  • took DNA samples from him - but she had never even  heard of the Green River Killer. This was also the  

  • period when Ridgway killed the fewest women, and  Mawson claimed he had never been violent with her.

  • Was he truly in love and able to suppress his  

  • darkest instincts? Or was he  just waiting to strike again?

  • Gary Ridgway's reckoning would have to wait more  than a decade, when the DNA samples collected in  

  • 1987 were finally analyzed by a state-of-the-art  DNA lab. This time, they turned up a match,  

  • and the task force had finally cornered the Green  River Killer. Ridgway was keeping a low profile,  

  • working at a truck factory - and his co-workers  must have been very confused when their workplace  

  • turned into the biggest police raid the county had  seen in a long time. They swept in and arrested  

  • Ridgway, charging him with four of the murdersonly the first they had been able to link him to.

  • It was going to be the trial  of the century - or would it?

  • When a prolific serial killer is arrestedmost would expect them to be held in the  

  • most high-security prison possible. That  wasn't the case here, as a little over a  

  • year into his pre-trial detention, Ridgway  was moved to a medium security prison.  

  • Soon, it was announced that he had  reached a plea deal with prosecutors.  

  • In exchange for the death penalty being taken  off the table, Ridgway would plead guilty,  

  • receive life in prison - and name every single one  of his victims to give closure to the families.

  • The true scale of the Green River  Killer's crimes were about to be revealed.

  • In total, Gary Ridgway pled guilty  to the murders of forty-eight women,  

  • making him one of the most prolific serial  killers in American history. He was sentenced  

  • to forty-eight consecutive life sentences, plus  ten years for evidence tampering for every victim.  

  • He won't be getting out of prison ever againunless he somehow discovers the fountain of  

  • youth in his prison toilet. With the new  evidence he gave them in prison interviews,  

  • police were able to track down the bodies of  many of his carefully hidden victims around  

  • Washington and near Portland, Oregon - giving  closure to grieving families decades later.

  • So is Gary Ridgway the worst serial killer in  American history? That depends on who you ask.

  • Ridgway's confirmed 48 killings puts him at  the top tier, and he's confessed to killing  

  • seventy-one women in total - although many  of the others are unconfirmed. He continues  

  • to cooperate with investigators as they look into  missing-person cases from the time period he may  

  • be linked to. But he's not the only serial killer  who claims to have a horrifyingly high death toll.

  • Samuel Little, another prolific serial  killer doing life in prison in California,  

  • traveled the country weavingcareer of mayhem from 1970 to 2012.  

  • Constantly in and out of prison for crimes  ranging from drunk driving to armed robbery,  

  • he was convicted of only four  murders in California and Texas.

  • The FBI thinks differently.

  • The federal investigators have linked  little to fifty murders around the country,  

  • which would eclipse Ridgway's mark - if  proven accurate. But many of those killings  

  • happened decades ago and don't match a specific  serial killer's MO. Little also targeted women,  

  • but didn't have as uniform a technique as  Ridgway. And if you ask Little, he'll tell  

  • you a different story - he boasts of killing  over ninety people, but many can't be confirmed.

  • So who is the worst serial killer in American  history? Both men are doing life in prison,  

  • both claim many more killings than they've been  convicted of, both are in their senior years,  

  • and the odds are the truth will go with  both men to their graves. But if you ask  

  • the people around the Green River in Washington,  

  • they'll tell you that Gary Ridgway's reign  of terror is something they'll never forget.

  • Want to know more about one of the most  dangerous serial killers in American history?  

  • Check outAmerica's Most Evil Serial KillerTed Bundy”. And for one that was never caught,  

  • why not watchThe Most Infamous Serial  Killer - Why Was He Never Found?”.

Serial killers. Every true-crime buff knows all  about them, and they often debate who the worst  

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 killer serial serial killer river gary green

The Green River Killer - Worst American Serial Killer?

  • 7 1
    Summer posted on 2020/10/08
Video vocabulary