Special Reports

Ridgway has gruesome company on top killer lists

By pleading guilty to 48 of the so-called Green River murders, Gary Leon Ridgway assumed a lofty ranking in the dismal pantheon of Northwest serial killers.

While some news reports have labeled Ridgway the most prolific serial murderer in U.S. history, that is almost certainly not the case.

His official tally of 48 victims does rank him at or near the top of the Northwest's deadliest murderers, however. Among them:

Ted Bundy: Handsome and intelligent, he offered a glib personality that was a false front to mask his homicidal behavior. Bundy, the subject of several books and at least one movie, was officially credited with 36 murders. He was executed in Florida's electric chair in 1989.

Shortly before his execution, he spoke at length with former investigator Bob Keppel, who believes Bundy committed at least 100 murders, the majority of them in Washington state.

Robert Pickton: The British Columbia pig farmer stands accused of 15 murders, most of them prostitutes or addicts who vanished from Vancouver's drug-ridden Low Track neighborhood. Pickton is suspected of as many as 50 murders, according to Canadian investigators.

Robert Lee Yates Jr.: Known as the Spokane Serial Killer, Yates made a deal similar to the Ridgway plea bargain, admitting his guilt in 13 killings in Spokane, Skagit and Walla Walla counties.

In exchange for his plea, Yates avoided the death penalty and received life in prison without the chance of parole.

Pierce County, where two of Yates' victims were found, wouldn't buy into the deal, however, and Yates was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Melinda Mercer and Connie LaFontaine Ellis in the late 1990s.

The Hillside Stranglers: Cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr. murdered at least 28 young women in the Los Angeles area in 1977-78. While not primarily Northwest murders, they ended after Bianchi moved to Washington state and was arrested for two additional murders in the Bellingham area.

To avoid the death penalty, he agreed to testify against Buono, who died in prison in 2002. Bianchi, whose multiple-personality defense failed to save him, remains in prison.

Among other American serial killers, the most prolific probably include:

Drifters Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis O'Toole: They killed as many as 200 people, most of them during the 1980s. Some investigators believe their total is much lower, no more than 30 or so.

H.H. Holmes: A physician, Holmes moved from body snatcher to murderer after receiving his medical degree. The wealthy doctor built a huge mansion in Chicago, complete with trap doors, acid vats and secret passages. During the 1893 World's Fair, he rented rooms in his mansion, then murdered his guests.

When police grew suspicious, he set his mansion ablaze and fled. Investigators found the remains of more than 200 people in the ruins. Holmes, the subject of the recent best seller "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson, was hanged in 1896.

Pee Wee Gaskins: Killed an estimated 100 people during the 1970s and '80s, mostly along roads and highways of the rural South. Gaskins killed two fellow inmates during separate stays in maximum security. He was executed in 1991.

Sources: "The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers," by Michael Newton; "Signature Killers," by Robert D. Keppel and William J. Birnes; Internet Crime Archives; mayhem.net.