Special Reports

Gary Ridgway’s son holds memories of regular soccer dad

Matthew Ridgway remembers his father as a relaxed man who never yelled and who took him camping, taught him to play baseball and always showed up for school concerts and soccer practices.

“Even when I was in fourth grade, when I was with soccer, he’d always, you know, be there for me,” Matthew Ridgway, now 28, told investigators Dec. 1, 2001, the day after his father’s arrest for four murders.

“I don’t think I ever remember him not being there,” he said.

During the years when Gary Leon Ridgway was taking his son on bike rides and to eat doughnuts, he also was terrorizing the South Sound by killing women and dumping their bodies in deserted areas.

In fact, Ridgway’s son, born in September 1975, played an unwitting part in the Federal Way-area truck painter’s rampage.

Gary Ridgway told investigators this summer he sometimes showed his son’s picture or the boy’s room at his home to women to put them at ease.

In July 1982, Ridgway picked up a woman with his son in the car, killed her in a nearby woods, and then told the boy the woman had decided to walk home. Another time, he had sex with the dead body of one of his victims while his son slept in his truck about 30 feet away.

Matthew Ridgway told investigators in July that he doesn’t remember any strange women in the car, or being left in the truck for a long time.

Matthew Ridgway said his father — who was sentenced last week to life in prison for killing 48 women between 1982 and 1998 — never talked to him about girls, prostitutes or the Green River killings. Matthew Ridgway, who’s married and lives in California, had no idea his father was anything more than a regular, albeit part-time, dad.

Even though Matthew’s mother told him when he was in fourth or fifth grade that police were questioning his father about the murders, he never believed his dad could be the Green River Killer.

When he was younger, Matthew Ridgway said he thought his father was just one of 500 possible suspects in the killings. “I think that’s how I related,” Matthew said in 2001, “that he’s just one of the guys that happened to be one place and, you know, he’s my dad. He didn’t do it, you know.”

King County officials on Monday released transcripts of investigators’ interviews with Ridgway’s son in 2001 and 2003, with his ex-wives and with one of his brothers, as well as with a woman who said she escaped after Ridgway tried to choke her in 1982.

In more than 100 pages of transcripts, Matthew Ridgway describes his relationship with a father who wasn’t as close as he wanted it to be because of divorce.

But the two camped in Washington and Oregon on their alternating weekends together. Gary Ridgway taught his son to play baseball near the Green River, where he dumped the bodies of several of the women he killed during his son’s early years.

The two rode a bike — with 4-year-old Matthew in a child seat — on a trail along the Green River, where they stopped to eat Hostess cakes and play at a park.

Matthew Ridgway said his father never talked about prostitutes, or hurting anyone. He never used racial slurs, he never yelled, and he rarely argued with Matthew’s mother, Marsha.

As Matthew Ridgway was growing up, his father would figure out what he was interested in and “try to be a father ... like you see in the TV shows.”

It never quite worked, Matthew Ridgway said. But even in 2001, Gary Ridgway was still trying to make his son laugh, “like I’m a kid again.”

Matthew Ridgway said that when he was in fourth or fifth grade, his mother told him about the Green River investigation and that police were questioning his father.

“And if the media came to me that I was to say, ‘No comment,’” Matthew Ridgway said.

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660