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 bedroomwas dark and silent on this chilly fall morning. He did not flip onany lights. Didn't need to. He moved about the room with the automatedgestures 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 withoutopening her eyes, rolling over onto her other side. She thought that shewas one of the lucky ones. She had finally made it to a place in life shehad never thought possible before. She was Mrs. Gary Ridgway. She hada good husband -- a non-abusive husband -- who earned a nice living soshe 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, flannelshirt down the front of his slim torso; always having his white cotton teeshirtunderneath. He crouched down, using both hands to pull white, cottoncrew socks over his feet, one at a time while balancing on the oppositefoot, and then finally guided his feet into his sturdy, steel-toe workboots. He laced them up tightly.
She knew he would not shower in the early morning. Why bother? Hewould surely get dirty at work painting trucks all day. She appreciatedthe fact that when he got to work, he would put on big, industrial coverallsto keep his own clothing from being ruined.
She stretched her legs and moved them to a spot in the bed that stillheld Gary's warmth. As she fell back to sleep, she could imagine Garyfinding 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 atbedtime, and somehow the machine would make the coffee at the precisetime she had set it for. She was simply amazed by this advancement incoffee- making technology. Gary's habit was to pour himself a cup of hotcoffee 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 hisdented, several-year-old, Thermos bottle, leaving the remaining cup forhis 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 peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches, his favorite of all sandwiches, out of thefreezer. There he would find about a dozen pre-made sandwiches, allpeanut butter and jelly, of course, neatly displayed in individual plasticsandwich bags in the freezer that Judith had lovingly constructed. Oncein a while, Judith changed up the pattern and made a few ham and cheesewith lettuce sandwiches, but she didn't freeze them. That would ruin thelettuce. She would giggle to herself later, knowing that she had surprisedGary with something different. It gave her a warm, ticklish feeling in herstomach to treat her man to something special for his lunch. And whynot? He deserved it. He worked so hard to provide a comfortable lifestylefor the two of them.
Each work morning Gary packed his own gray, weathered, plasticlunchbox with two sandwiches, one orange, and a few additions his wifereferred to as "munchies." The definition of munchies was potato chipsor nuts or something else, but it definitely had to be crunchy and fun. Amunchie had to be fun.
Judith often wrote short love notes or smiling faces on scraps of paperand tucked them in the lunchbox. Once a week she placed a twenty dollarbill in the lunchbox so Gary could fill the tank of his truck withgas. 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 quietlyjogged back upstairs to the dark bedroom where Judith lay sleeping,bent down, kissed her silently on the cheek, then headed back down thestairs and out the front door toward his truck with lunchbox and Thermosbottle in hand. Judith heard the lock on the front door go "click."A fewseconds later, Judith recognized the sound of Gary's red Ford Rangerstart in the driveway just below their second story bedroom window.
Gary warmed the small truck for about five minutes, tuned in his favoritecountry and western music radio station, and started out on hiscommute from the driveway of his home in Auburn, near Lake Geneva,to Kenworth Trucking in the Seattle suburb, Renton, Washington (positionedat the southern most tip of Lake Washington), where he held thetitle of Advanced Painter, Grade l. It had taken three decades for him toreach this level of achievement -- working in the elite, enviable class oftruck painters at Kenworth.
While Gary drove in the darkness toward work, humming along withthe country music on the radio, and Judith peacefully slumbered, neithercould 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 restedand ready to rise. There was enough filtered, gray sunlight, typical of theSeattle autumn, seeping in the room around the drapes to provide adequatelighting for her morning thanks and visual inventory of her blessedsurroundings. While Judith did not view herself as a stereotypically religiousperson, having no membership in a church, she did possess a reverencefor her Almighty God. She had asked for His help on many fearfuloccasions, and she remembered to give Him thanks for the good things inher life. Judith had reminded Gary countless times, "Remember, honey,the good Lord works in mysterious ways," a mantra she believed in withall her heart.
From her sitting position in the middle of the imitation French Provincialcanopy bed dressed with floral cotton sheets, matching cotton bedspreadand pillow shams she had picked up at a garage sale, she surveyedtheir bedroom. The room was large with plenty of open space. The furnishingswere cobbled together like a quilt made of many different scrapsof cloth that had been lovingly collected over the years. The beige carpetand white walls throughout the home gave a neutral background for thismulti-colored quilt to contrast with. Against one wall stood a dark,wooden, 1930's chest of drawers, containing Gary's clothing. On anotherwall, Judith's newer, white, French Provincial dresser, a matching part ofher bed set, stored her clothing and personal items. And, a miniature, antique,crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling of the bay window sittingarea; the chandelier's tiny size added daintiness to the overall largenessof the room.
Judith decided to leave the bed. At 5'1" she felt diminutive in thelarge master bedroom. She slid her tiny feet into slippers on the floornext to her side of the bed, then reached for her glasses on the nightstandand 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. Shetypically woke with stiffness in her back and hips. The many years ofchronic 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; clearlyone side designated for Gary and the other for her. It held the couple'snicer clothing: dresses, blouses, and shirts and slacks that should to bestored on hangers. Cardboard boxes with clothing that Judith wouldn'thear of parting with were stacked, covering the floor of the closet. Ireally am a pack rat. Someday I should go through these boxes and givesomething away, but, shoot, you never know when you might need theseagain. It's a shame to get rid of perfectly good clothes! Judith removed afuzzy, dark-blue bathrobe from a hanger in the closet and wrapped itaround herself.
In the corner furthest from the bed, a door opened into the masterbathroom that housed a large garden tub. Judith quietly padded into theroom, slippered feet on carpet. She sucked in her breath quickly andcrossed 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 thattub! But the water! It takes so much to fill it. She hugged herself eventighter. This was her favorite room in the house.
As Judith passed through the bedroom door and into the hallway, sheturned her head over her shoulder and took a wide, sweeping look aroundthe room. This room is so pretty. Plants, jewelry boxes, fancy pillows,collectibles, candles, and photos in frames remained as evidence of thefeminine fingerprint Judith had stamped on this room.
Gotta get downstairs. Time for the Regis show! Judith hurried herselfalong.
Judith moved from the master bedroom to the hallway landing at thetop 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 flightof stairs from the dining room went down to the bottom floor that hostedtwo small bedrooms, a second bathroom, and a recreation room. The garagecould be accessed through a door off the recreation room.
Judith settled in to enjoy the morning on the main floor. She enteredthe living room and switched on the television, a 27" color television onone shelf of the oak colored entertainment center, the first piece of furnitureshe had purchased on her own after her first marriage ended. Sheraised the volume on the television with the remote control so that shecould listen to her favorite morning television host, Regis Philbin, whileshe went in the kitchen and poured the cup of coffee Gary had left for herin the fancy coffee maker. A tall, brick fireplace formed a barrier betweenthe living room and kitchen. But it was open on both sides with screensas doors, and, if the television volume was high enough, she could easilylisten to her favorite morning show while shuffling around in the kitchen.The two Siamese cats of the Ridgway household suddenly appeared inthe kitchen. They tunneled between her feet, rubbing and arching theirbacks against her legs. "Hello my sweet kitties," Judith gently crooned.
"You want your breakfast now, don't you?" Smiling, she bent down andgave the brother and sister adult cats equal petting time, noting thethicker winter fur increasing on their bodies. Winter was coming. Thecats pressed the flat tops of their heads harder and harder into her pettinghand, each cat trying to wedge in closer to their mistress. But she admittedto herself that she could not love these cats, or any other animal forthat matter, as much as she had loved her poodle, Oscar. Would she everget over the loss? The dog that she and Gary had raised from a pup andhad 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 hadpassed away just one month after Oscar in August! Tears were forming inher eyes now, and her nose began to drip. She reached for a tissue andquietly blew her nose, releasing a bit of her aching sadness. You know,bad things happen in threes. One was my poor Oscar dying. Then mybeautiful mother-in-law passed. Dear heavens, what will the third be?She accepted as stone-cold fact that the third, awful event could hit themat any time. The acceptance gave her gooseflesh.
After the cats were fed, Judith prepared herself a bowl of cereal, theusual shredded wheat with sliced bananas and milk, to have with her coffee.She made a quick mental note to take her vitamins later. She carriedher breakfast to the living room and carefully placed the cereal bowl andmug on one end table. She opened the light, cream-colored drapes with apink, mauve, and blue floral pattern. She looked out the floor-to-ceilingwindows at the gray, wet day and thought it might be best to stay insidethis day to organize some boxes of clothing she had acquired for futuregarage sales. Indeed, today would be a perfect day to sort and prepare fortheir final garage sale of the year before winter came in full.
She settled in comfortably on the dark, burgundy LazyBoy sofa. Thecouple had inherited Gary's mother's living room furniture when shepassed away only three months prior. Judith felt a surreal connection toher mother-in-law whenever she sat on the furniture that both comfortedher and coarsely reminded her of the painful loss.
Judith spent about two hours watching television with the cats nappingon the floor, hidden among the voluminous, green leaves from a clusterof potted plants. All of the houseplants flourished under the nurturing ofJudith's green thumb. Yes, she was fully aware that she probably had toomany plants growing in the house now, but she couldn't bring herself togive any away. She accepted little starts from friends and took satisfactionin watching the starts develop into mature, lovely plants. She hadasked Gary if it bothered him -- the over-crowding of plants in thehouse -- but he showed no signs of irritation, so she continued on, startingmore and more plants.
Knowing how cool the temperature was outdoors, Judith gave silentthanks for the home's heat and yet another modern gadget -- an automaticthermostat.
When it felt like time to shower and dress for her day's work, Judithreturned to her master bathroom upstairs. She quickly showered andslipped into old jeans, a tattered sweatshirt, thick wool socks, and worn,slip-on gardening shoes. While she dried her hair with a hand-held blowdryer, she fashioned a plan in her mind to attack the boxes in the garageand 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'llquit in time to get cleaned up and put on some make-up before Gary getshome. It was Friday and she was envisioning the weekend with her husband.Judith went to the main floor, passing the formal dining room wherethe dark wood, antique dining furniture sat, rarely used. Oddly, it did notbother her that this was the dining room furniture her first husband hadinsisted they dine at every night, formally, with fine china place settings,polished silver, candlelight, and wine -- always wine in elegant, crystalgoblets. He had even demanded that Judith wear a formal dress for everydinner. Meals, thankfully, were pleasant with Gary. They ate in the nookjust off the kitchen. Judith had set up a small, round, light pine table withtwo matching chairs in the bay window area. Lace curtains partially coveredthe bay window. In this small space, the couple chatted lightly witheach other over deliberately informal meals. Occasionally, on specialevenings, Judith carried snacks into the living room for the couple to enjoywhile watching a rented movie.
Judith continued down to the bottom floor, passing through the recreationroom and out the door into the garage.
The garage was stuffed full, floor to ceiling, with only a few pathwaysfor walking between stacks of cardboard boxes, plastic storagebins, gardening products, tool boxes, buckets, baskets, furniture, campinggear: a pack-rat's cache that had been multiplying since the Ridgwaysmoved into the home. Judith shook her head and made a clucking soundwith her tongue, hands resting on her hips. She wished she could parkher car in the garage. When it wasn't being driven, her 1992, mochacoloredMercury Sable sat in the driveway next to Gary's pick-up. However,she recognized the loftiness of her goal to get the garage cleared outfor enough space to park a vehicle. She charged ahead with taking onecardboard box at a time, emptying the contents, and separating into pileswhat she determined to be either trash, garage sale merchandise, or fabuloustreasures that she could wrap up and give as gifts for special occasionsand holidays. People didn't need to know how she acquired giftitems. That was her secret.
Judith worked in silence, puffing quick breaths, pushing her glassesback up her nose with the back of her hand, bending, lifting; repeatingthe actions again and again, feeling no hunger for food. Her passion forgarage sales was the only fuel she needed for hours.
Judith's proclivity for spotting a bargain and stretching a dollar hadbrought her to the closest thing that could be called her working career:garage sale steward. She knew the business from shopper to seller. Sheand Gary had spent the majority of their weekends cruising garage salesand estate sales. They made special note of annual neighborhood garagesales 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 liquidationstores and searched for the ultimate prize in bargain hunting -- new merchandisemarked down to nearly free. Several years into the marriage,Gary had introduced Judith to a new twist in bargain hunting: "dumpsterdiving." Her task was to stay in the truck and watch for people approachingthe area while Gary inspected dumpsters behind stores, looking fordiscarded merchandise he could take home and sell or use around thehouse.
Indeed, Judith had the ability to spot items on sale that she could putto use at home or easily sell at her next garage sale. Sometimes she camehome with large quantities of one item like bottles of shampoo. Anothertime 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 acquaintanceof the Ridgways had donated for her use in a garage sale. She heldup 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 didwork as a fisherman, so it made sense to her that his things would smellof the ocean. Judith decided to categorize the contents of the whole boxas trash. While she disliked parting with anything useful, she knew thatcustomers would be repelled by the odors coming off this clothing. Thenext box she inspected was no better than the first. This time she foundclothing that had been obviously worn by a large woman. A neighbor haddropped it off as a contribution to the next garage sale. Each piece ofclothing she held up had distinct wear patterns in areas where an obesewoman would likely have body parts rubbing, making the fabric thin,and, in some places, the thin fabric actually gave way to holes. Judith'syears of experience browsing garage sales taught her that signs of obesitysuch as this are a turn off to women shoppers. No. No. Garage sale shoppingshould 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 adistinct sound. The sound that had given her a startle was the crunchingsound of tires on gravel. A car had come off the main thoroughfare, traveleddown the shared, private road, turned, and was coming in the Ridgwaydriveway. It stopped right in front of the garage where she was siftingthrough boxes. The engine shut off. She heard the muffled thud oftwo doors slamming.
She glanced at her wristwatch. It was too soon for Gary to be homefrom work.
Cars did not typically enter their driveway. Sure, they had Gary's sonfrom his second marriage over to visit sometimes on weekends. The twodaughters from her first marriage occasionally came by. But unexpectedvisitors? No way. Solicitors avoided this area. The houses that shared theprivate road were all situated on one acre or more. With the housesspaced farther apart than typical neighborhoods, and with an abundanceof trees and thick bushes blocking the view from one house to another, itwasn'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 walkedthrough the smaller garage door and entered the bottom floor of thehouse. She climbed up the short flight of stairs to the main floor foyer.She opened the heavy wood door and immediately realized she was lookingup at the faces of a man and a woman -- professional-looking people whohad already opened the screen door and were leaning in toward her.
Who on earth are these people? They look so serious. Judith felt smalllooking up at the tall strangers.
The professional-looking people pressed identification toward her faceand quickly introduced themselves as Detectives Sue Peters and MattHaney. Judith frowned and mouthed the word detectives, but no soundcame out. Detectives? Did they really say detectives? I must have heardthem wrong.
Judith swallowed hard against her dry throat. Her eyes zigzagged backand 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 andwere heading for the living room. The detectives said they had some importantquestions to ask her and wondered if they could tape record theirconversation. She said of course. Thoughts were racing in figure eightpatterns like an airplane with no pilot inside her head. She could not understandwhy these authoritative people were in her house.
Something about the scene felt familiar and frightening to Judith. Herbody initiated symptoms that she loathed. At the center of her core shebegan trembling. The trembling rumbled deep within and then beganmoving out to her extremities. A wavy sense of lightheadedness began.Judith's heart was beating faster and faster, throat dry as hot sand. I'mgoing to have a seizure! Her last seizure had been in the l960's when shewas only twenty-three years old. To Judith, that had been a lifetime ago,and she believed she was free and clear of seizures. Judith whimperedinternally.
The detectives asked Judith about Gary and his relationship with hisson. 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 sheknow about it? Judith pressed the palm of her right hand to her foreheadand explained that Gary had told her about the arrest. He said it was asilly mistake. He was on his way to work, pulled his truck over to pushup the tailgate he had left lowered, and waved at a woman as a friendlygesture. She explained how her husband was always smiling and sayinghello to people when they were out in public. Police arrested him for solicitationof a prostitute. But he was released the same day, and he andJudith were relieved that it was some kind of a crazy mix up.
Judith fought for control over her body. She was racking her brain tofigure out why the detectives were at her house, on this day, asking herso many questions. She tried desperately to hear what the detectives weresaying and give them answers, but the buzzing in her ears was blockingout sound. At times she only saw the detectives' faces, mouths openingand closing like fish, as they gestured their questions to her. The floor feltlike it was tipping now.
After a few moments, she could hear the detectives again. Theypressed on with questions. At times they were aggressive. Then theywould back off. They asked Judith about her relationship with Gary. Hadhe ever been violent toward her? She protested vehemently with fistsclenched and explained that her husband was funny and kind and alwayssmiling. She could not understand why they were asking her these questions.Judith told the detectives about the sad year they had been though withGary's mother dying of cancer. Gary's father had passed away in 1998from complications of Alzheimer's, and they had always imagined hismother coming to live with them. It was a terrible shock when they foundout she was dying of cancer.
The detectives asked Judith if she knew that her husband had beenarrested back in May of l982 for offering to pay for a sex act with an undercoverpolice officer. Anxiety had Judith in its full grip now. Her fingertipsfelt numb. Her lips began to tingle. She wondered if she wouldlose consciousness in front of the detectives. As she answered that shedidn't know anything about the arrest, and that she didn't know Gary in1982, 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 Judithand Gary's sex life. Judith felt a brief surge of strength from anger. Judithstammered angrily at the detectives. She defended Gary, describing himas gentle, soft-spoken, always smiling and polite to her. Their sex lifewas beautiful. The best she had ever had.
Had they ever done anything kinky such as tying each other up or havingsex in the outdoors? No, Judith protested. Why would they do that?
As the detectives pushed on with more questions about the Ridgway'ssex life, the doorbell rang, and then the telephone began ringing a fewseconds later. Judith asked, "Should I answer it?" She motioned towardthe telephone in the kitchen. The detectives nodded for her to go ahead.The incoming caller was Judith's sister-in-law. Judith quickly endedthe 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 insertedher body between Judith and the front door, partially blocking Judithfrom the view of the news reporter who was ringing the doorbell.
Apparently, word had gotten out about Gary's arrest and the first reporterhad arrived at the Ridgway home in Auburn. But Judith was still in thedark about why a reporter would be at her home. The detectives had notyet told Judith that Gary was under arrest and that the biggest story intwo 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 resumequestioning. But by now the telephone was ringing continuously. Judithpulled away, "I should answer that. It might be my mother calling."Detective Haney suggested they unplug the phone. They had somethingvery, 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 somenew evidence that linked him to the victims of the Green River Killer. Infact, they were certain now that he was the Green River Killer.
Judith felt her heart slide downward in her chest. She felt weaker. Shebroke down. Her composure dissolved away like sugar granules in warmwater. The idea of her husband actually being the Green River Killer wascompletely 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 longTime -- several years. Specimens of DNA collected from several victimsof the Green River Killer matched Gary's DNA. Three cases had alreadybeen confirmed as a match.
Judith shook her head side to side, openly crying. No, she didn't knowthat 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 severalminutes, and she fell into still silence. She was unable to move orthink.
As the detectives continued on, offering more details about how thetask force had been following Gary and monitoring his activities, Judithfelt like a giant wall was collapsing down on her, squeezing the air out ofher lungs.
Judith heard a voice echoing toward her from the far end of a longtunnel. It was Sue Peters. "Judith, let's get a bag packed for you now. Weare 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 fora few days while we search your home."
Judith compliantly followed Ms. Peters' instructions as the supportwalls of her life cracked, tumbled, and buried her.