May 1, 2007 -- It seemed like any other day for Judith Mawson Ridgway.
After her husband, Gary, a truck painter, left for work, she got up, had a cup of coffee and was cleaning out the garage when she was interrupted by two police detectives.
They had staggering news: Her husband of 14 years had been arrested. News cameras caught her stunned face just moments after she learned that Gary was accused of being the notorious Green River killer, responsible for a killing spree that terrorized Seattle for more than 20 years.
In her new book, "Green River Serial Killer," writer Pennie Morehead describes Judith's experience. The following is an excerpt.
Buried by Bricks
November 30, 2001:
At exactly 3:30 a.m. he got up from his warm bed. The master bedroom was dark and silent on this chilly fall morning. He did not flip on any lights. Didn't need to. He moved about the room with the automated gestures of a workingman who had been doing this ritual for 32 years.
He's going in early for two hours of overtime, his wife sleepily acknowledged, partially awake.
His routine was intimately familiar to her. She smiled to herself without opening her eyes, rolling over onto her other side. She thought that she was one of the lucky ones. She had finally made it to a place in life she had never thought possible before. She was Mrs. Gary Ridgway. She had a good husband -- a non-abusive husband -- who earned a nice living so she could stay at home and pursue her hobbies.
This morning was no different. Gary was quietly dressing himself: climbing into his work jeans; buttoning his plaid, long-sleeve, flannel shirt down the front of his slim torso; always having his white cotton teeshirt underneath. He crouched down, using both hands to pull white, cotton crew socks over his feet, one at a time while balancing on the opposite foot, and then finally guided his feet into his sturdy, steel-toe work boots. He laced them up tightly.
She knew he would not shower in the early morning. Why bother? He would surely get dirty at work painting trucks all day. She appreciated the fact that when he got to work, he would put on big, industrial coveralls to keep his own clothing from being ruined.
She stretched her legs and moved them to a spot in the bed that still held Gary's warmth. As she fell back to sleep, she could imagine Gary finding the hot coffee ready downstairs that she had set up the night before. They had a fancy coffee maker now with a timer that could be set at bedtime, and somehow the machine would make the coffee at the precise time she had set it for. She was simply amazed by this advancement in coffee- making technology. Gary's habit was to pour himself a cup of hot coffee to begin sipping after adding a dribble of cold milk from the refrigerator.
Then he would pour all but one cup of the coffee into his dented, several-year-old, Thermos bottle, leaving the remaining cup for his wife to drink when she would get up later in the morning. The next step in the morning ritual would be for Gary to take two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, his favorite of all sandwiches, out of the freezer. There he would find about a dozen pre-made sandwiches, all peanut butter and jelly, of course, neatly displayed in individual plastic sandwich bags in the freezer that Judith had lovingly constructed. Once in a while, Judith changed up the pattern and made a few ham and cheese with lettuce sandwiches, but she didn't freeze them. That would ruin the lettuce. She would giggle to herself later, knowing that she had surprised Gary with something different. It gave her a warm, ticklish feeling in her stomach to treat her man to something special for his lunch. And why not? He deserved it. He worked so hard to provide a comfortable lifestyle for the two of them.
Each work morning Gary packed his own gray, weathered, plastic lunchbox with two sandwiches, one orange, and a few additions his wife referred to as "munchies." The definition of munchies was potato chips or nuts or something else, but it definitely had to be crunchy and fun. A munchie had to be fun.
Judith often wrote short love notes or smiling faces on scraps of paper and tucked them in the lunchbox. Once a week she placed a twenty dollar bill in the lunchbox so Gary could fill the tank of his truck with gas. He never had to ask. She always knew when it was time.
On this morning, well before it was time for the sun to rise, Gary quietly jogged back upstairs to the dark bedroom where Judith lay sleeping, bent down, kissed her silently on the cheek, then headed back down the stairs and out the front door toward his truck with lunchbox and Thermos bottle in hand. Judith heard the lock on the front door go "click."A few seconds later, Judith recognized the sound of Gary's red Ford Ranger start in the driveway just below their second story bedroom window.
Gary warmed the small truck for about five minutes, tuned in his favorite country and western music radio station, and started out on his commute from the driveway of his home in Auburn, near Lake Geneva, to Kenworth Trucking in the Seattle suburb, Renton, Washington (positioned at the southern most tip of Lake Washington), where he held the title of Advanced Painter, Grade l. It had taken three decades for him to reach this level of achievement -- working in the elite, enviable class of truck painters at Kenworth.
While Gary drove in the darkness toward work, humming along with the country music on the radio, and Judith peacefully slumbered, neither could know that this would be the last day of their morning routine. Gary would not come home again.
Judith woke up on her own between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. feeling rested and ready to rise. There was enough filtered, gray sunlight, typical of the Seattle autumn, seeping in the room around the drapes to provide adequate lighting for her morning thanks and visual inventory of her blessed surroundings. While Judith did not view herself as a stereotypically religious person, having no membership in a church, she did possess a reverence for her Almighty God. She had asked for His help on many fearful occasions, and she remembered to give Him thanks for the good things in her life. Judith had reminded Gary countless times, "Remember, honey, the good Lord works in mysterious ways," a mantra she believed in with all her heart.
From her sitting position in the middle of the imitation French Provincial canopy bed dressed with floral cotton sheets, matching cotton bedspread and pillow shams she had picked up at a garage sale, she surveyed their bedroom. The room was large with plenty of open space. The furnishings were cobbled together like a quilt made of many different scraps of cloth that had been lovingly collected over the years. The beige carpet and white walls throughout the home gave a neutral background for this multi-colored quilt to contrast with. Against one wall stood a dark, wooden, 1930's chest of drawers, containing Gary's clothing. On another wall, Judith's newer, white, French Provincial dresser, a matching part of her bed set, stored her clothing and personal items. And, a miniature, antique, crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling of the bay window sitting area; the chandelier's tiny size added daintiness to the overall largeness of the room.
Judith decided to leave the bed. At 5'1" she felt diminutive in the large master bedroom. She slid her tiny feet into slippers on the floor next to her side of the bed, then reached for her glasses on the nightstand and pushed them on her face. She walked with an obvious teetering motion, back and forth, from left to right, as she headed for the closet. She typically woke with stiffness in her back and hips. The many years of chronic back pain she described to friends and family as "the needles" had affected her ambulation.
The third wall was dominated by a roomy, wide, double closet; clearly one side designated for Gary and the other for her. It held the couple's nicer clothing: dresses, blouses, and shirts and slacks that should to be stored on hangers. Cardboard boxes with clothing that Judith wouldn't hear of parting with were stacked, covering the floor of the closet. I really am a pack rat. Someday I should go through these boxes and give something away, but, shoot, you never know when you might need these again. It's a shame to get rid of perfectly good clothes! Judith removed a fuzzy, dark-blue bathrobe from a hanger in the closet and wrapped it around herself.
In the corner furthest from the bed, a door opened into the master bathroom that housed a large garden tub. Judith quietly padded into the room, slippered feet on carpet. She sucked in her breath quickly and crossed her arms against the bosom of her soft, cotton, knee-length robe. Oh -- my garden tub. If people only knew how much fun we have in that tub! But the water! It takes so much to fill it. She hugged herself even tighter. This was her favorite room in the house.
As Judith passed through the bedroom door and into the hallway, she turned her head over her shoulder and took a wide, sweeping look around the room. This room is so pretty. Plants, jewelry boxes, fancy pillows, collectibles, candles, and photos in frames remained as evidence of the feminine fingerprint Judith had stamped on this room.
Gotta get downstairs. Time for the Regis show! Judith hurried herself along.
Judith moved from the master bedroom to the hallway landing at the top level of the tri-level home. Another bedroom door joined this hallway. She went down a short flight of stairs and entered the main floor. The foyer stemming from the front door, the dining room and kitchen, laundry room, and living room all shared this floor. Another short flight of stairs from the dining room went down to the bottom floor that hosted two small bedrooms, a second bathroom, and a recreation room. The garage could be accessed through a door off the recreation room.
Judith settled in to enjoy the morning on the main floor. She entered the living room and switched on the television, a 27" color television on one shelf of the oak colored entertainment center, the first piece of furniture she had purchased on her own after her first marriage ended. She raised the volume on the television with the remote control so that she could listen to her favorite morning television host, Regis Philbin, while she went in the kitchen and poured the cup of coffee Gary had left for her in the fancy coffee maker. A tall, brick fireplace formed a barrier between the living room and kitchen. But it was open on both sides with screens as doors, and, if the television volume was high enough, she could easily listen to her favorite morning show while shuffling around in the kitchen. The two Siamese cats of the Ridgway household suddenly appeared in the kitchen. They tunneled between her feet, rubbing and arching their backs against her legs. "Hello my sweet kitties," Judith gently crooned.
"You want your breakfast now, don't you?" Smiling, she bent down and gave the brother and sister adult cats equal petting time, noting the thicker winter fur increasing on their bodies. Winter was coming. The cats pressed the flat tops of their heads harder and harder into her petting hand, each cat trying to wedge in closer to their mistress. But she admitted to herself that she could not love these cats, or any other animal for that matter, as much as she had loved her poodle, Oscar. Would she ever get over the loss? The dog that she and Gary had raised from a pup and had loved like it was their own child had died only four months prior, and the painful grieving had not lessened. She missed him every day.
And, as if that were not enough pain for her to endure, Gary's mother had passed away just one month after Oscar in August! Tears were forming in her eyes now, and her nose began to drip. She reached for a tissue and quietly blew her nose, releasing a bit of her aching sadness. You know, bad things happen in threes. One was my poor Oscar dying. Then my beautiful mother-in-law passed. Dear heavens, what will the third be? She accepted as stone-cold fact that the third, awful event could hit them at any time. The acceptance gave her gooseflesh.
After the cats were fed, Judith prepared herself a bowl of cereal, the usual shredded wheat with sliced bananas and milk, to have with her coffee. She made a quick mental note to take her vitamins later. She carried her breakfast to the living room and carefully placed the cereal bowl and mug on one end table. She opened the light, cream-colored drapes with a pink, mauve, and blue floral pattern. She looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the gray, wet day and thought it might be best to stay inside this day to organize some boxes of clothing she had acquired for future garage sales. Indeed, today would be a perfect day to sort and prepare for their final garage sale of the year before winter came in full.
She settled in comfortably on the dark, burgundy LazyBoy sofa. The couple had inherited Gary's mother's living room furniture when she passed away only three months prior. Judith felt a surreal connection to her mother-in-law whenever she sat on the furniture that both comforted her and coarsely reminded her of the painful loss.
Judith spent about two hours watching television with the cats napping on the floor, hidden among the voluminous, green leaves from a cluster of potted plants. All of the houseplants flourished under the nurturing of Judith's green thumb. Yes, she was fully aware that she probably had too many plants growing in the house now, but she couldn't bring herself to give any away. She accepted little starts from friends and took satisfaction in watching the starts develop into mature, lovely plants. She had asked Gary if it bothered him -- the over-crowding of plants in the house -- but he showed no signs of irritation, so she continued on, starting more and more plants.
Knowing how cool the temperature was outdoors, Judith gave silent thanks for the home's heat and yet another modern gadget -- an automatic thermostat.
When it felt like time to shower and dress for her day's work, Judith returned to her master bathroom upstairs. She quickly showered and slipped into old jeans, a tattered sweatshirt, thick wool socks, and worn, slip-on gardening shoes. While she dried her hair with a hand-held blow dryer, she fashioned a plan in her mind to attack the boxes in the garage and determine what might be deemed garbage. On Saturday or Sunday, she planned; Gary could help her take the garbage items to the dump. The nicer items would be tagged and sorted for her next garage sale. I'll quit in time to get cleaned up and put on some make-up before Gary gets home. It was Friday and she was envisioning the weekend with her husband. Judith went to the main floor, passing the formal dining room where the dark wood, antique dining furniture sat, rarely used. Oddly, it did not bother her that this was the dining room furniture her first husband had insisted they dine at every night, formally, with fine china place settings, polished silver, candlelight, and wine -- always wine in elegant, crystal goblets. He had even demanded that Judith wear a formal dress for every dinner. Meals, thankfully, were pleasant with Gary. They ate in the nook just off the kitchen. Judith had set up a small, round, light pine table with two matching chairs in the bay window area. Lace curtains partially covered the bay window. In this small space, the couple chatted lightly with each other over deliberately informal meals. Occasionally, on special evenings, Judith carried snacks into the living room for the couple to enjoy while watching a rented movie.
Judith continued down to the bottom floor, passing through the recreation room and out the door into the garage.
The garage was stuffed full, floor to ceiling, with only a few pathways for walking between stacks of cardboard boxes, plastic storage bins, gardening products, tool boxes, buckets, baskets, furniture, camping gear: a pack-rat's cache that had been multiplying since the Ridgways moved into the home. Judith shook her head and made a clucking sound with her tongue, hands resting on her hips. She wished she could park her car in the garage. When it wasn't being driven, her 1992, mochacolored Mercury Sable sat in the driveway next to Gary's pick-up. However, she recognized the loftiness of her goal to get the garage cleared out for enough space to park a vehicle. She charged ahead with taking one cardboard box at a time, emptying the contents, and separating into piles what she determined to be either trash, garage sale merchandise, or fabulous treasures that she could wrap up and give as gifts for special occasions and holidays. People didn't need to know how she acquired gift items. That was her secret.
Judith worked in silence, puffing quick breaths, pushing her glasses back up her nose with the back of her hand, bending, lifting; repeating the actions again and again, feeling no hunger for food. Her passion for garage sales was the only fuel she needed for hours.
Judith's proclivity for spotting a bargain and stretching a dollar had brought her to the closest thing that could be called her working career: garage sale steward. She knew the business from shopper to seller. She and Gary had spent the majority of their weekends cruising garage sales and estate sales. They made special note of annual neighborhood garage sales they should remember for the next year. They regularly visited the "swap meet" up on Highway 99 between Seattle and Tacoma for bargains.
When they felt like dressing it up a bit, they went to liquidation stores and searched for the ultimate prize in bargain hunting -- new merchandise marked down to nearly free. Several years into the marriage, Gary had introduced Judith to a new twist in bargain hunting: "dumpster diving." Her task was to stay in the truck and watch for people approaching the area while Gary inspected dumpsters behind stores, looking for discarded merchandise he could take home and sell or use around the house.
Indeed, Judith had the ability to spot items on sale that she could put to use at home or easily sell at her next garage sale. Sometimes she came home with large quantities of one item like bottles of shampoo. Another time she might bring home dozens of picture frames, some in disrepair, but that was fine because she would get Gary to fix them for her.
Judith examined articles of men's clothing in a box that an acquaintance of the Ridgways had donated for her use in a garage sale. She held up a large pair of men's jeans and gave them a sniff. Yeeuck! This is disgusting. Everything in this box smells like saltwater! Well, Wally did work as a fisherman, so it made sense to her that his things would smell of the ocean. Judith decided to categorize the contents of the whole box as trash. While she disliked parting with anything useful, she knew that customers would be repelled by the odors coming off this clothing. The next box she inspected was no better than the first. This time she found clothing that had been obviously worn by a large woman. A neighbor had dropped it off as a contribution to the next garage sale. Each piece of clothing she held up had distinct wear patterns in areas where an obese woman would likely have body parts rubbing, making the fabric thin, and, in some places, the thin fabric actually gave way to holes. Judith's years of experience browsing garage sales taught her that signs of obesity such as this are a turn off to women shoppers. No. No. Garage sale shopping should be fun, and that is what she aimed to offer her customers. This box would also be added to the trash pile.
At approximately 3:00 p.m. Judith's body froze in place as she heard a distinct sound. The sound that had given her a startle was the crunching sound of tires on gravel. A car had come off the main thoroughfare, traveled down the shared, private road, turned, and was coming in the Ridgway driveway. It stopped right in front of the garage where she was sifting through boxes. The engine shut off. She heard the muffled thud of two doors slamming.
She glanced at her wristwatch. It was too soon for Gary to be home from work.
Cars did not typically enter their driveway. Sure, they had Gary's son from his second marriage over to visit sometimes on weekends. The two daughters from her first marriage occasionally came by. But unexpected visitors? No way. Solicitors avoided this area. The houses that shared the private road were all situated on one acre or more. With the houses spaced farther apart than typical neighborhoods, and with an abundance of trees and thick bushes blocking the view from one house to another, it wasn't efficient for solicitors to call on this area.
Judith heard two people walk to the front door and ring the doorbell. She bit her lower lip.
After a few moments she inhaled deeply, straightened up her back, and decided to go find out who was at her front door. She walked through the smaller garage door and entered the bottom floor of the house. She climbed up the short flight of stairs to the main floor foyer. She opened the heavy wood door and immediately realized she was looking up at the faces of a man and a woman -- professional-looking people who had already opened the screen door and were leaning in toward her.
Who on earth are these people? They look so serious. Judith felt small looking up at the tall strangers.
The professional-looking people pressed identification toward her face and quickly introduced themselves as Detectives Sue Peters and Matt Haney. Judith frowned and mouthed the word detectives, but no sound came out. Detectives? Did they really say detectives? I must have heard them wrong.
Judith swallowed hard against her dry throat. Her eyes zigzagged back and forth between the man and the woman. Solemn faces stared back. Something was wrong. The strangers looked too serious.
Somehow the detectives and Judith had moved into the house and were heading for the living room. The detectives said they had some important questions to ask her and wondered if they could tape record their conversation. She said of course. Thoughts were racing in figure eight patterns like an airplane with no pilot inside her head. She could not understand why these authoritative people were in her house.
Something about the scene felt familiar and frightening to Judith. Her body initiated symptoms that she loathed. At the center of her core she began trembling. The trembling rumbled deep within and then began moving out to her extremities. A wavy sense of lightheadedness began. Judith's heart was beating faster and faster, throat dry as hot sand. I'm going to have a seizure! Her last seizure had been in the l960's when she was only twenty-three years old. To Judith, that had been a lifetime ago, and she believed she was free and clear of seizures. Judith whimpered internally.
The detectives asked Judith about Gary and his relationship with his son. They asked about Gary's family and what kind of people they were. They questioned her about Gary's arrest a couple of weeks ago. Did she know about it? Judith pressed the palm of her right hand to her forehead and explained that Gary had told her about the arrest. He said it was a silly mistake. He was on his way to work, pulled his truck over to push up the tailgate he had left lowered, and waved at a woman as a friendly gesture. She explained how her husband was always smiling and saying hello to people when they were out in public. Police arrested him for solicitation of a prostitute. But he was released the same day, and he and Judith were relieved that it was some kind of a crazy mix up.
Judith fought for control over her body. She was racking her brain to figure out why the detectives were at her house, on this day, asking her so many questions. She tried desperately to hear what the detectives were saying and give them answers, but the buzzing in her ears was blocking out sound. At times she only saw the detectives' faces, mouths opening and closing like fish, as they gestured their questions to her. The floor felt like it was tipping now.
After a few moments, she could hear the detectives again. They pressed on with questions. At times they were aggressive. Then they would back off. They asked Judith about her relationship with Gary. Had he ever been violent toward her? She protested vehemently with fists clenched and explained that her husband was funny and kind and always smiling. She could not understand why they were asking her these questions. Judith told the detectives about the sad year they had been though with Gary's mother dying of cancer. Gary's father had passed away in 1998 from complications of Alzheimer's, and they had always imagined his mother coming to live with them. It was a terrible shock when they found out she was dying of cancer.
The detectives asked Judith if she knew that her husband had been arrested back in May of l982 for offering to pay for a sex act with an undercover police officer. Anxiety had Judith in its full grip now. Her fingertips felt numb. Her lips began to tingle. She wondered if she would lose consciousness in front of the detectives. As she answered that she didn't know anything about the arrest, and that she didn't know Gary in 1982, her fingers violently wrestled with the fingers of the opposite hand, pinching and pulling flesh so that she could feel something real.
The female detective aggressively asked Judith questions about Judith and Gary's sex life. Judith felt a brief surge of strength from anger. Judith stammered angrily at the detectives. She defended Gary, describing him as gentle, soft-spoken, always smiling and polite to her. Their sex life was beautiful. The best she had ever had.
Had they ever done anything kinky such as tying each other up or having sex in the outdoors? No, Judith protested. Why would they do that?
As the detectives pushed on with more questions about the Ridgway's sex life, the doorbell rang, and then the telephone began ringing a few seconds later. Judith asked, "Should I answer it?" She motioned toward the telephone in the kitchen. The detectives nodded for her to go ahead. The incoming caller was Judith's sister-in-law. Judith quickly ended the call by saying, "I'm busy right now, goodbye."
Judith then walked toward the front door, still feeling shaky and disoriented. As Judith opened the front door, Detective Peters quickly inserted her body between Judith and the front door, partially blocking Judith from the view of the news reporter who was ringing the doorbell.
Apparently, word had gotten out about Gary's arrest and the first reporter had arrived at the Ridgway home in Auburn. But Judith was still in the dark about why a reporter would be at her home. The detectives had not yet told Judith that Gary was under arrest and that the biggest story in two decades was about to break in Washington.
A cameraman taped a few moments of Judith's pale face staring out, expressionless, just before the door was slammed shut by Detective Peters. The reporter failed to get any comment from Judith.
Ms. Peters guided Judith back to where they were before to resume questioning. But by now the telephone was ringing continuously. Judith pulled away, "I should answer that. It might be my mother calling." Detective Haney suggested they unplug the phone. They had something very, very important to tell Judith.
After the phone was disabled, the detectives told Judith that her husband, Gary Ridgway, had been arrested earlier that day because of some new evidence that linked him to the victims of the Green River Killer. In fact, they were certain now that he was the Green River Killer.
Judith felt her heart slide downward in her chest. She felt weaker. She broke down. Her composure dissolved away like sugar granules in warm water. The idea of her husband actually being the Green River Killer was completely overwhelming. Inside her head, she cried out for Gary. Gary, where have they taken you? I need you to hold me!
Haney and Peters explained that Gary had been a suspect for a long Time -- several years. Specimens of DNA collected from several victims of the Green River Killer matched Gary's DNA. Three cases had already been confirmed as a match.
Judith shook her head side to side, openly crying. No, she didn't know that Gary was a suspect. No, she didn't know he was seeing prostitutes. No, she didn't know anything. Her head motion finally stopped after several minutes, and she fell into still silence. She was unable to move or think.
As the detectives continued on, offering more details about how the task force had been following Gary and monitoring his activities, Judith felt like a giant wall was collapsing down on her, squeezing the air out of her lungs.
Judith heard a voice echoing toward her from the far end of a long tunnel. It was Sue Peters. "Judith, let's get a bag packed for you now. We are going to take you to a hotel and check you in under a different name. The reporters will not know you're there. You are going to stay there for a few days while we search your home."
Judith compliantly followed Ms. Peters' instructions as the support walls of her life cracked, tumbled, and buried her.