If the charges against him are true, Gary Ridgway is an unlikely — and atypical — serial killer.
The Green River slayings claimed the lives of 49 women, including many prostitutes, in Washington state between 1982 and 1984. Many of the victims were found near the Green River just south of Seattle; others were from Washington but were found in Oregon.
The case baffled investigators until new DNA evidence led to Ridgway, an unlikely serial-killer suspect who is neither a loner nor a drifter.
Before his Nov. 30 arrest for four of the slayings, he was a 52-year-old married father who had held a job with a trucking company for 32 years. Neighbors recalled his garage sales and seeing him and his wife gardening and walking their poodle around the neighborhood.
But Ridgway did have a penchant for prostitutes. Over the last 19 years, he had been arrested twice for soliciting prostitution — in 1982 and this past October. In 1980, police say, a prostitute accused him of choking her. Police decided not to bring charges when Ridgway told them he attacked her only after she had bitten him.
Killing Is an Addiction
While police are investigating whether Ridgway has links to scores of other unsolved slayings in San Diego and Vancouver, British Columbia, they are also considering the possibility that he may have stopped killing after 1984. That, experts say, is highly unusual for a serial killer, and one of the reasons why they are so dangerous. Experts say there is really no such thing as a prototypical serial killer; they can be reclusive loners like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, or charming, unassuming law students like Ted Bundy.
But usually, they keep on killing.
"Typically, serial killers keep on killing until they're caught," said Mike Rustigan, professor of criminology at San Francisco State University. "Serial murder is an addiction to these guys. It starts out as an urge, then it becomes a compulsion, and eventually it becomes an addiction. With Ridgway, he might be an exception. He is married, seemed to be well-integrated into the community. Most [serial killers] are loner types without any connection to the community.
"He's a rather unusual character," Rustigan continued. "He's older than most serial killers. … Maybe he decided to stop and lay low because he had a sense that they [police] were on to him."
But experts point out that an apparent pause in a string of slayings does not necessarily mean a serial killer stopped on his own. A pause could mean that the killer may have either died, been imprisoned for another unrelated crime, or may have moved to other locations. That is why investigators have searched Ridgway's previous residences in Des Moines, Wash., and San Diego, where he was briefly stationed while in the Navy.
Not a Typical Serial Killer Slip-Up
Police had long considered Ridgway a suspect in the Green River slayings, and he knew it. He was questioned in 1984 after witnesses identified his pickup truck and told police they had seen him with two of the victims. Investigators searched Ridgway's house in 1987, and he complied with a court order to submit a saliva sample by chewing on a piece of gauze. Recent DNA tests on that saliva sample, authorities say, link Ridgway to three of the victims. (Circumstantial evidence allegedly ties him to a fourth.)