The Green River Killer

What were the signs Gary Ridgway showed as a child that would suggest he had a troubled life ahead? Charles Montaldo says that “Gary Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, went on a 20-year killing spree, making him the most prolific serial killers in the U.S. history (Montaldo).” My reasoning behind choosing to do research on Gary Ridgway was because I found it very fascinating how Ridgway portrayed himself to be a family man, but really he was a serial killer.

As a child Gary Ridgway started showing many traits of a serial killer: he would violently fight his parents, wet his bed and stabbed a boy at the age of 16 (“The Bridgeway”). Gary Ridgway’s behavior describes why he became a serial killer based on the social learning theory as a child he witnessed his parents violently fight, social disorganization theory by living in a deprived neighborhood, strain theory due to dyslexia, social control theory because he failed in school and routine activity approach because he would pick up prostitutes and runaways to be his victims.

Gary Leon Ridgway was born on February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City Utah. Gary’s parents were Mary and Thomas Ridgway, and was the second of three sons. Gary being the middle child was bound to get into trouble. At the age of 11 the family moved from Utah to the state of Washington. Where he lived next to Sea Tac Airport in a deprived neighborhood. Growing up Gary would get into violent fights with his parents, more so his mother.

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Gary was also sexually attracted to his mother from a young age. During his early teens he had a problem with wetting the bed. This made him feel belittled and embarrassed from his mother (“The Bridgeway”). Bedwetting is linked to childhood experience of parental neglect or abuse (Susanina). Vladislava Susanina explains that “Bedwetting, may induce feelings of isolation and lead to self-consciousness, poor self-esteem and stress” (Susanina).

Ridgway’s problem with bedwetting was a factor in him becoming a serial killer as it reflects the Maternal Deprivation and Attachment Theory. The “Criminology” textbook explains that “The Strength of this emotional bond, or attachment, will determine or at least materially affect, a child’s ability to form attachments in the future. In order to form a successful attachment, a child needs a warm, loving, and interactive caretaker” (Adler, Ridgway describes his mother as arrogant and assertive and was sexually attracted to her. The relationship between Gary and his mother was not a strong familial relationship, and could explain why he would fight violently with her. This is an indicator of deviant behavior. Being sexually attracted to your mother is not normal and this shows there was something off about Ridgway. Vladislava Susanina also explains that bedwetting “is rather the result of other problems which can lead to aggressive and violent traits in the child later on” (Susanina). Gary Ridgway proved what Susanina said to be correct, later on in his life he was aggressive and killed women.

Not only was Ridgway facing problems at home but he was also struggling in school. High school was tough for him and he had a below average IQ score of 82. In class we learned that IQ and crime studies show that IQ is more important in predicting crime than race or social class (Adler, This shows that his IQ score meant more than his race or that he lived in a deprived neighborhood. Not only did he have a low intelligence level, he was also dyslexic. Due to his learning disabilities he had to repeat a school year twice (“The Bridgeway”).

He experiences general strain theory throughout high school. General strain theory is “a criminological theory positing that criminal behavior can result from strain caused by failure to achieve positively valued goals, stress caused by the removal of positively valued stimuli from the individual, or strain caused by the presentation of negative stimuli” (Adler, Ridgway experienced strain from his struggles in school. Because of his failure in school he started to feel like a failure, which caused him to have low self esteem. Doing bad in school was a disappointment to his parents. Not only was struggling in school a problem but it didn’t help that he had such a arrogant and controlling mother. His mother was negative stimuli in his life and she made him feel bad about himself. Not doing well in school could help to explain why he acted out in school.

Having dyslexia and struggling in school can be very frustrating. Not only did Ridgway have dyslexia he also had a below average IQ score. Struggling in high school he had to repeat a year twice. Failing and having to do the same year all over again can be very upsetting and embarrassing. And this is exactly what happened to Gary, he experienced the social control theory.

The textbook “Criminology” explains the “social control theory is human behavior that leads to conformity, or obedience to society’s rules-the influences of family and school, religious beliefs, moral values, and friends. The more involved and committed a person is to conventional activities and values and the greater the attachment to parents, loved ones, and friends, the less likely that person is to violate society’s rules and to jeopardize relationships and aspirations” (Adler, Having a connection to school is necessary with this theory. It allows the student to have a social connection if they are struggling with doing so outside of school. Ridgway did not have a connection to school. His IQ was 82 which was below average, and he was dyslexic.

Growing up Ridgway lived in a “deprived neighborhood near Sea Tac Airport” (Ridgway). Neighborhoods that are in zones of transition have the highest levels of delinquency. Where he lived increased his likelihood of him committing a crime. He certainly showed many traits of a killer according to the social disorganization theory. The social disorganization theory regards to one’s environment and their criminal behavior. The theory also believes that one’s living conditions and environmental upbringing is the contributing factor to criminal behavior (Adler, The way he was raised showed that he did not care about others. He was not raised learning right from wrong. At the age of 16, still in high school Ridgway attempted to murder his first victim. He led a six year old boy into the woods and stabbed him through his ribs (“The Bridgeway”). According the the victim and Ridgway he walked away laughing and said “I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone” (Ridgway). This was the first time that he had shown interest in killing others. This was the first of many violent crimes he would commit.

At the age of 20, in 1969 Ridgway was just out of highschool and did not plan on attending college. Instead of being drafted Ridgway decided to join the Navy. Ridgway was married three times. Each of his marriages ended in divorce because he was unfaithful. Him cheating on his wives showed that he had a lack of self control and commitment issues. His lack of respect for women and having an uncontrollable sex drive was the reason he targeted prostitutes. During all of his marriages he continued seeing prostitutes. His second wife Marsha had weight problems for most of her life and in the late 1970s decided to get Gastric Bypass Surgery. After the surgery it became easier for Marcia to lose weight, and she quickly began losing weight. As she was losing all of this weight, men began to find her more attractive. Men being attracted to Marcia began to make Ridgway jealous and insecure which caused the couple to begin fighting. Once divorced Marcia said that Ridgway placed her in a chokehold during one of their fights (Montaldo). This shows that he had no respect for women, no self control to stay faithful and did not have a problem with being violent.

From fighting with his mother at a young age to fighting with his second wife Marcia, Ridgway appeared to have a violent history. In the summer of 1982, two prostitutes bodies were found in the Green River. Just three days after their bodies were found, detectives received a call from dispatch saying two more bodies were spotted by rafters. The first two women had a history of prostitution and Mills was a sixteen year old junior in high school (“Cold Case”).

In Maple Valley Washington on May 8, 1983 a family is hunting and come across a body of a young girl. The girl was named Carole Christianson and has many weird things done to her. She is found face up with a paper bag over her hand. Her hands are crossed over a bottle of wine. She also has ground sausage formed into the shape of a pyramid on her. Across Christianson’s shoulder and throat are two trout. This is a scene of a serial killer. Authorities say that the killer did this because he wanted to come back and see the body like that. The body like that would be a trophy for the killer, and a way for the killer to re-live the attack. By the end of 1983, there were 14 bodies found, and 23 women missing. Most of the victims fit the same profile of prostitutes and runaways. In 1984, 14 more bodies were discovered, which brought the count to 20 by the Green River Killer (“Cold Case”).

In October 1984 task force receives a letter on how to catch the killer. The letter was written by a man in prison, with lots of experience in killing, known as Ted Bundy. Ted knew the area of the Green River very well, as he used to hunt there himself. Investigators weigh the pros and cons of meeting with Bundy and decide they have nothing to lose. So on November 17, 1984 investigators arrive at Starke Prison to interview Bundy. During the investigation Bundy tells officers that the Green River killer will return to the dumping site because he is having sex with the dead victims. Ted Bundy explains that “My opinion, the best chance you have of catching this guy red handed, is to get a site with a fresh body and stake it out” (Bundy). After two days of questioning detectives leave to return back to Washington to continue working on the case (“Cold Case”).

The FBI created a profile of the killer and said he was a white male in his mid 30’s. Two detectives named Randy Molina and Matt Haynes look through the old files and begin to make connections between the Green River victims and a local truck painter named Gary Leon Ridgway. The deeper detectives looked at the cases the deeper the connection became. The first connection made was an 18 year old girl named Marie Malvar. On an evening in 1983 she was working at 3 Bears Motel. Around 10pm Bobby Woods watched from afar the girl get into the pickup truck. Bobby was behind the truck and kept an eye on the girl. He began to see what appeared to be a struggle between the man and the girl in the truck, so he sped up but lost them. Three days later she had still not turned up so Bobby Woods went knocking on her father’s door to let him know he witnessed his daughter get into a man’s truck. Soon after they began searching from house to house for the truck he last saw her in. As they were driving around together Wood’s spots the pick up truck and they call police. The driveway the truck was sitting in belonged to Gary Ridgway. Police questioned Ridgway but found no further evidence that connected him to her disappearance and was never charged.

Although these are just a few examples on Ridgway’s victims they always had the same type of profile. His victims were always prostitutes and runaways. Ridgway choosing the same profile of victims describes the routine activity approach. Our textbook “Criminology” explains the routine activity approach to “increase or decrease in crime rates is explained by changes in daily habits or potential victims; based on the expectation that crimes will occur where there is suitable target unprotected by guardians. This approach explains that a target for crime is essential. The reason Ridgway chooses prostitutes and runaways is because they are not high risk targets. Prostitutes and runaways do not have parental controls. This allows him to have no one prevent Ridgway and the girls to get into his truck because no one is watching. Ridgway would usually stay in the same area to pick up girls in his truck. He would hunt for girls on Seattle Strolls, promising women any amount of money just to get them in his truck. Ridgway tells police that “I would talk to her, get her mind off of anything she was nervous about, and you know, she thinks this guy cares, which I didn’t. I just wanted to get her in the vehicle, and kill her” (Ridgway). He was very used to doing this and it eventually just became a usual routine for him. He did not see anything wrong in what he was doing.

All Ridgway was concerned about was the girls, and would do anything to get them interested. Ridgway explains “Every time I opened my wallet, there would be a picture of my son on one side behind my I.D. And they would see that, and then would lower any bid defenses” (Ridgway). The reason he did this is because he wanted to show that he was a family man. After getting the women in his truck, he would kill them, dump their bodies and have sex with them. He never remembers the faces or names of his victims, he only remembers where he put them. Knowing where he put his victims allowed him to go back and have sex with them whenever he wanted. He felt as if all of his victims were a trophy. The reason for Ridgway killing innocent women was caused by self esteem issues which stemmed from the social disorganization theory. Growing up in a bad neighborhood contributing to Ridgway committing crime.

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The Green River Killer. (2022, Apr 14). Retrieved from

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