Ridgway recordings reveal long, frustrating search

February 10, 2004 

On a recording made 19 years ago, Gary Ridgway's voice sounds flatter than stale beer.

"Did the girl say anything about the circumstances around her disappearance?" a detective asked, referring to a missing prostitute.

"She was - said the Green River, uh, killer must have got 'em," Ridgway replied.

Ridgway was 36 on Feb. 23, 1985, when King County detectives interviewed him about an assault on a prostitute.

The 25-minute recording - one snippet in hundreds of hours of interviews released Monday by the King County prosecutor - hisses with the ambient crackle of old technology.

It is the sound of a man getting away with murder.

Already, he had killed at least 45 women, and possibly more. He told detectives he needed a lesson to teach him to stay away from hookers.

He never got it. Lacking sufficient evidence, detectives released him. But detective Ralf McAllister recorded a footnote that Ridgway did not hear.

"Gary Ridgway should maybe be looked at a little closer," McAllister said on the tape. "Possibly relating to other assaults."

In the years that followed, Ridgway killed again - at least three times, possibly many more. At one point, he claimed credit for 70 murders.

Interviews conducted in 2003, after Ridgway accepted a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, reveal detectives desperate to pinpoint Ridgway's last killing.

They show King County Sheriff Dave Reichert, the man who spent a career chasing the Green River Killer, taking a personal hand in interviews, cajoling, intimidating, shifting from seeming warmth to stern interrogation during long hours of interviews.

While many revelations appear in the more than 8,400 pages of interviews with Ridgway, they tend only to amplify what the world now knows about him: He was addicted to killing prostitutes. He killed them with his young son nearby, visited their bodies after they were dead and took pride in their concealment.

As his father and mother were dying in 1998 and 2001, of Alzheimer's disease and cancer, respectively, he thought of ending their suffering with his muscular arms - the arms that strangled at least 48 women. It would have been mercy killing, he said.

He never stopped seeing prostitutes, and lied to his third wife about his activities, telling detectives it was easy to deceive her. All the way up to his arrest in November 2001, he hired prostitutes two to three times a week, he said.

One doctor studying Ridgway's mental recesses compared him to "a shark in a sea of wounded fish." The killer did not disagree.

Throughout five-plus months of interviews, detectives, doctors and Reichert himself tried to squeeze the story of the last murder out of the killer's rambling mind.

At times, he seemed to intentionally fog the process, saying one day he didn't remember the last slaying, then on another saying he "must have" killed a prostitute in 2001.

Though he led them to many sets of undiscovered remains, the supposed final victim has not been found. Detectives told Ridgway they found unclaimed jewelry at his workplace in Renton in 2001. The careful killer left few signatures, but he admitted to taking jewelry from victims and leaving it at the Kenworth Trucking plant, taking secret pleasure if female employees discovered it, kept it and wore it.

In the interviews, detectives pestered him about the jewelry, but Ridgway responded with confusion. Gradually, a few details emerged: He "dated" a woman (a euphemism for prostitution) in 2001, and took her to a secluded spot in Saltwater State Park in Des Moines.

She was beautiful, he said - 22 or 23, with long black hair. It was a spring afternoon. She may have worn a red blouse. He remembered taking her clothes, he said.

Detectives took Ridgway to the site but found no victim.

"I know I left her there," he told them. "I thought for sure I killed her."

At times, the detectives berated him.

"You do not stop," one warned him. They told him time was short - only a few days remained before his court appearance.

The killer seemed to know his answer could mean life or a death sentence. As the interviews near their end in fall 2003, he told detectives, "I've gotta give up everybody that I killed, and if I don't, that'll come up as a charge."

The transcript ends with Reichert reminding Ridgway of the plea bargain, trying once more to persuade him to reveal the last victim.

"You could be facing the death penalty," the sheriff said. "And you know that."

"I know that," Ridgway replied.

"Okay. Well, this is it. I'm not gonna say it's been a pleasure because it hasn't."

"Um-hm."

"I don't like you," the sheriff said. "I don't like what you did, and no one likes you or likes what you did, for that matter. You don't even like you for what you did."

"Right," Ridgway said.

Sean Robinson 253-597-8486
sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com

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