Gary Leon Ridgway pleads guilty to murdering 48 Green River Killer victims on November 5, 2003.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 11/05/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4262
On November 5, 2003, Gary Leon Ridgway pleads guilty to murdering 48 women in King County between 1982 and 1998, solving the mystery of the Green River Killer. Ridgway admitted killing 42 women whom police had attributed to the Green River Killer plus six more whose deaths they were either unaware of or had not connected to the serial killings. Ridgway has been in custody since November 30, 2001, when he was arrested and charged with the murders of four women. The prosecution, led by King County prosecutor Norm Maleng (1938-2007) forwent the death penalty in exchange for a complete accounting of the murdersĀ and a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. The cooperation enabled victims' families to finally learn the fate of the women, most of whom were prostitutes.

Green River Killer

On July 15, 1982, two teenage boys discovered the body of Wendy Lee Coffield, age 16, floating the Green River between Kent and Tukwila. Within a month, five bodies of young women had been discovered in and along the Green River. The King County Police launched the Green River Task Force to solve the killings, which appeared to be the work of a serial killer. More bodies were discovered around King County through 1984 until more than 40 murders were attributed to the same killer. The investigation dragged on for more than 20 years.

Gary Ridgway was a truck painter from Kent who made the list of suspects because he patronized prostitutes who frequented Pacific Highway South in (then) unincorporated King County. In 1987, police collected a sample of his DNA. Investigators could not connect Ridgway with the victims other than one eyewitness account of a victim getting into his vehicle. Investigative technology improved however, and in 2001 Ridgway's DNA was found to be the same as that found in four of the victims. He was arrested and charged with four counts of aggravated murder. These charges carried the possibility of the death penalty.

The Case

Ridgway was represented by court-appointed attorneys including veteran defenders Anthony "Tony" Savage (1931-2012) and Mark Prothero. The investigation had gone on so long and generated so much evidence that the trial, scheduled for 2005, promised to be the most complex in U.S. history. The expense of the prosecution and the defense, all borne by County taxpayers, would be staggering -- in the millions of dollars.

Ridgway bargained with prosecutors. In exchange for his life, he would lead investigators to the graves of all his victims. In this way, the police and prosecutors could solve all the Green River Killer's crimes and the victim's families would know with certainty what happened to their daughters and sisters.

In a lengthy confession given to prosecutors and read in court, Ridgway stated that he wanted to kill as many prostitutes as he could. "I killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight," he said (Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Some of the victims remained unidentified.

Ridgway admitted to killing:

  • Wendy Lee Coffield
  • Debra Bonner
  • Marcia Chapman
  • Cynthia Hinds
  • Opal Mills
  • Debra Estes
  • Carol Christensen
  • Gisele Lovvorn
  • Terry R. Milligan
  • Alma A. Smith
  • Delores L. Williams
  • Gail L. Matthews
  • Sandra K. Gabbert
  • Carrie A. Rois
  • Mary B. Meehan
  • Andrea Childers
  • Constance E. Naon
  • Kelly M. Ware
  • Linda Rule
  • Denise D. Bush
  • Shirley M. Sherrill
  • Shawnda L. Summers
  • Cheryl L. Wims
  • "Jane Doe B-10"
  • Colleen R. Brockman
  • Kimi Kai Pitsor
  • "Jane Doe B-16"
  • "Jane Doe B-17"
  • Marie M. Malvar
  • Martina Authorlee
  • Debbie M. Abernathy
  • Mary S. Bello
  • Pammy A. Avent
  • Roberta J. Hayes
  • Marta Reeves
  • Yvonne S. Antosh
  • Tina M. Thompson
  • April D. Buttram
  • Maureen Feeney
  • Tracey A. Winston
  • Delise L. Plager
  • Kim L. Nelson
  • Mary E. West
  • Lisa L. Yates
  • Cindy A. Smith
  • Patricia M. Barczak
  • Patricia Yellowrobe
  • "Jane Doe B-20"

Sources: "Green River Killer Confesses," Seattle Post-Intelligencer November 5, 2003, accessed November 5, 2003 (seattlepi.nwsource.com); State of Washington v. Gary Leon Ridgway, King County Superior Court No. 01-1-10270-9 SEA, Statement of Defendant on Plea of Guilty (http://www.metrokc.gov/kcsc/docs/statement_of_defendant.pdf); Id., Second Amended Complaint (http://www.metrokc.gov/kcsc/docs/second_amended_info.pdf).

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