Forensic Studies 002: The Green River Killer

on May 10, 2011 in Forensic Studies, Forensics, Serial Killers by

Nearly 20 years ago the Green River Killer, Gary Leon Ridgway, committed at least 49 killings during a three year period. He got his name by leaving victims in the Green River Valley. Ridgeway is believed to have committed anywhere from 60 to hundreds of murders, most of which were prostitutes and runaways.

Ridgeway began his crimes and killing at a young age. He stabbed a six year old boy when he was sixteen, but was not charged even with the witness personally identifying him. Maybe if Ridgeway was investigated thoroughly at that time, then many individual’s lives could have been spared. Ridgeway states that he felt that it was his career to strangle young women (Burns, K., 1994-2006).

One always wonders how a person could be lured into a stranger’s car and kidnapped. Ridgway had a slick plan in place to lure his victims. He says, “I would talk to her … and get her mind off of the, uh, anything she was nervous about. And think, you know, she thinks, `Oh, this guy cares,’ and which I, I didn’t. I just want to uh get her in the vehicle and eventually kill her”.

Ridgway is 5′ 10″ tall, 155 pounds, not too stocky or strong looking, but was still able to accomplish the goal of getting these women in his possession. The Green River Valley case remains the largest known unsolved serial murder spree in the United States.

Burns (1994-2006) reports that investigators had to begin working the crime scenes that suggested the best chance of finding evidence. “We’re hoping there may be (other) physical evidence around the scenes that may contain DNA,” said Robert Keppel, former King County detective and consultant to the old Green River task force.

Burns (1994-2006) reports that if DNA or other forensic evidence could be matched to even one set of bones or a crime scene where other remains were found at, it would tie several cases togethe. Due to the plastic Ridgway kept, per his ex-wife, this may have contributed to the DNA not being left behind. However, in the early 80’s while performing autopsies on the victims, pathologists and medical technicians recovered small amounts of DNA left by the killer (Burns, K., 1994-2006). Items found on or near several victims led some to believe the killings were thought to be religiously motivated and that runaways and prostitutes were killed in the name of God. Ridgeway’s coworkers remembered that Ridgway carried a Bible, flirted with the females, told filthy jokes, offered to fix a coworker up with a prostitute, joked around about his own fondness of prostitutes and seemed preoccupied with his appearance. This would make the theory of the women being killed in the name of GOD most accurate, but this wasn’t the true reason.

It will be difficult to solve most Green River cases because the skeletal remains found were not likely to have a killer’s DNA. Only 6 bodies were found containing more than skeletal remains for DNA and pathology testing. Police took a look at the physical evidence of partially clothed victims because hairs or fibers could yield new leads (Burns, K.1994-2006). Ridgeway was able to elude officials because of his interests and hobbies which included hunting, fishing, working in the yard, and chopping wood while living in an RV. He used to work at Kenworth Truck Co. for 32 years making $21 an hour, as a journeyman painter. He applied designs to trucks before they entered the paint booths. He was a reliable worker. He was forced to scavenge for junk to sell at garage sales to make money for the outings needed to meet these women.

Ridgeway plead guilty to murdering 48 of the Green River Killer victims on November 5, 2003, but the death penalty was removed due to Ridgeway leading investigators to the locations to four other women killed by Ridgeway as a part of his plea deal. He received 49 life sentences for the murders. He faces the death penalty in two cases in Oregon from the 1980’s. Gary Ridgway is now incarcerated at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington.

Investigators say there is no DNA or circumstantial evidence to tie Deborah Lynn Bonner and Wendy Lee Coffield to Ridgway. Being found in the same river location isn’t enough. Investigators created and publicized facial reconstructions of 3 Green River victims who were never identified in hopes someone might recognize them (Burns, K.1994-2006).

Investigators had previously tried DNA analysis using older techniques but didn’t have enough material. In 1987, officials Ridgeway chew a piece of gauze for a saliva sample providing evidence for future DNA tests. DNA typing became available in the early 1990s but required large samples. March 2001, advances in DNA typing technology identified the source of his semen and it compared to the saliva DNA type.

Currently, finding a match to the DNA in his saliva would require a sample the size of a quarter sized stains to narrow a suspect down to only one in about 20,000 people. Years ago, forensic scientists could only compare blood types and other crude evidence. Blood typing can eliminate suspects; it cannot tie a suspect to a crime as DNA does. Detectives had to wait for DNA technology to be able to process old, unpreserved and microscopic bits of substance for DNA testing.

With this new development in forensic technology, forensic scientists must analyze and reanalyze 10,000 pieces of related evidence, including bird nests, pieces of paper, clothing, pop cans, cigarettes, fibers, hairs and soil, stored away for almost 20 years. That doesn’t include items recently taken from Ridgway’s homes and vehicles.

Burns, K., 1994-2006. Retrieved on May 5, 2011 from website


  • emma says:

    thisguy is seriously twisted. in my forensics class we have to do a project on a case your assigned and i was assigned this case. and after reading over half the stuff ive read this guy belongs in an insane assylum. or should get the death penalty. my opinion.

    • Brian Combs says:

      Ridgway cut a deal to admit to his crimes in order to avoid the death penalty. Given the extent and notoriety of his crimes, he won’t be getting out.

      And, if he’s ever convicted of a murder outside King County, he could be eligible for the death penalty, as the deal he cut only applies to murders committed there.

    • allie says:

      I have a forensic class too and I had to do research on this guy and its so crazy because his iq wasn’t very high, it was in the low 80s and he still didn’t get caught for 20 years. that just proves,, anyone can do anything;)

  • Jordan Morrow says:

    This man is as someone said before seriously twisted. But not for just killing them but for thinking and feeling as if it was his job to kill inocent woman and girls. I have actually watched the movie that they have made about this case just a few nights ago and it got to me. I thought it was a very interesting case.

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