Uttering the word “guilty” 48 times with chilling calm, former truck painter Gary Leon Ridgway admitted Wednesday that he was the Green River Killer and confessed to murdering four dozen women over the past two decades.
“I KILLED SO many women I have a hard time keeping them straight,” he said in a confession read aloud in King County Superior Court by a prosecutor.
Ridgway, 54, a short figure with glasses, thinning hair and a sandy mustache, pleaded guilty to more murders than any other serial killer in U.S. history.
He struck a plea agreement that will spare him from execution for those killings and will result in a sentence of life in prison without parole for one of the most baffling and chilling serial killer cases the nation has ever seen.
“I wanted to kill as many women as I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could,” he said in the statement. He said he left some bodies in “clusters” and enjoyed driving by the sites afterward, thinking about what he had done.
Some victims’ relatives wept quietly in the courtroom as Ridgway, in a clear but subdued voice, admitted killing each woman.
“It was hard to sit there and see him not show any feeling and not show any remorse,” said Kathy Mills, whose daughter Opal was 16 when she vanished in 1982. Her body was found in the Green River three days later.
Defense lawyers said Ridgway was sorry and would express that to the families at sentencing.
Attorney Tony Savage said the emotions came “in private, in emotional ways, in tears and in words. ... He feels terrible remorse.”
Other serial killers have bragged of murdering dozens of victims, but Ridgway’s plea agreement, signed June 13, puts more murders on his record than that of any other serial killer in U.S. history.
No deal was cut, however, that might spare him from death penalties in other jurisdictions. Ridgway has not been charged elsewhere, but he admitted dumping victims outside King County and in Oregon.
Since signing off on the deal, Ridgway has worked with investigators to recover still-missing remains of some victims.
The Green River Killer’s murderous frenzy began in 1982, targeting women in the Seattle area, most of them runaways and prostitutes. The first victims turned up in the Green River, giving the killer his name. Other bodies were found near ravines, airports and freeways.
The killing seemed to stop as suddenly as it started, with prosecutors believing the last victim had disappeared in 1984. But one of the killings Ridgway admitted to occurred in 1990 and another in 1998.
RIDGWAY GIVES MOTIVE
In court Wednesday, Ridgway entered the 48 guilty pleas, one by one.
He said in his statement that he killed all the women in King County, most of them near his home or in his truck not far from where he had picked them up. He said he enjoyed driving by the sites afterward, thinking about what he had done.
“In most cases, when I killed these women, I did not know their names,” Ridgway said in the statement. “Most of the time, I killed them the first time I met them, and I do not have a good memory of their faces.”
He said he had several reasons for preying on prostitutes.
“I hate most prostitutes, and I did not want to pay them for sex,” he said. “I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
DNA ADVANCES LED TO ARREST
Ridgway, of the Seattle suburb of Auburn, was arrested in 2001 as he left his longtime job as a painter at a truck company. Prosecutors said advances in DNA technology had allowed them to match a saliva sample taken from Ridgway in 1987 with DNA samples taken from the bodies of three of the earliest victims.
In many cases, the killer had sex with his victim and then strangled her.
Ridgway had been a suspect as early as 1984, when the boyfriend of victim Marie 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, and investigators cleared him as a suspect. Later that year, Ridgway contacted the King County sheriff’s Green River task force — ostensibly to offer information about the case — and passed a polygraph test.
He is scheduled to be sentenced within six months to 48 consecutive life prison sentences without parole.
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