Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Maria Newman

Defendant pleads guilty to 48 murders in Green River case

Gary Ridgway, a former truck painter, pleaded guilty today to murdering 48 women in Washington State, so many that "I have a hard time keeping them straight," he said in court.

Mr. Ridgway's guilty plea in King County Superior Court comes in a deal with prosecutors that allows him to avoid the death penalty but will result in a sentence of life in prison without parole. He admitted to killing more people than any other serial killer in United States history.

Mr. Ridgway became known as the Green River killer because he dumped the bodies of many of his victims, all women he picked up on the streets, near the Green River that runs through suburbs south of Seattle.

Mr. Ridgway, 54, dressed in an orange jail uniform with his hands chained to his waist, stood and listened intently as the prosecutor, Jeff Baird, read a lengthy statement by him admitting to each of the murders.

Through horn-rimmed glasses, he either looked at the floor or looked steadily at Mr. Baird as the prosecutor dryly read the statement describing gruesome details of the murders. Family members of some of those he admitted to murdering sat in the court room weeping.

"I killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight," he said in the statement. "I killed most of them in my house."

"I killed a lot of them in my truck," he said at another point in the statement.

"In most cases, when I killed these women, I did not know their names," Mr. 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 their faces."

Most of the killings were in the mid-1980's, with two others in 1990 and 1998. Mr. Ridgway preyed mostly on prostitutes, drug addicts, young runaways and other women on the streets and dumped their bodies near the airport, in ravines, near the Green River.

"I wanted to kill as many as possible," he said in the statement.

Mr. Ridgway admitted to having sex with some of his victims before strangling them. In his statement, he explained why he had chosen women he believed were 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."

Mr. Ridgway, who is from Auburn, 10 miles west of Seattle, was arrested in 2001 after a lengthy investigation that often stumped investigators. He was originally charged with seven of the murders when investigators linked him to three of them through DNA evidence and to three others through traces of paint that were found on clothing and other items found near the bodies. The Green River case was one of the longest cases in American history, and one that went cold several times. It is also one of the most expensive, costing the government more than $9 million in 2003, officials said.

Most of the victims were found within the boundaries of sprawling King County, which includes Seattle and stretches southeast to the foothills of Mount Rainer.

In the last two months, detectives on the Green River Task Force — which was first convened in 1984, disbanded in 1991 and then reassembled early last year, a few months after Mr. Ridgway's arrest — have uncovered three sets of remains and identified one victim.

The latest discoveries came more than a decade after the last remains were found in 1989 and had prompted speculation that Mr. Ridgway, who had originally pleaded not guilty, was leading investigators to the remains of victims as part of plea negotiations.

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Created: November 18, 2003
Last modified: January 14, 2004
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