Special Reports

Authorities search Ridgway's homes for clues in slayings

The din of a small backhoe ripping into blue tarp and fern-filled gardens buzzed in the quiet neighborhood Monday of Gary Leon Ridgway, suspected of slaying four women whose deaths were attributed to the Green River Killer.

The digging was the latest in the search of Ridgway's Federal Way-area home after his arrest Friday as he finished a shift at Kenworth Trucking Co. in Renton.

King County sheriff's officials declined to say specifically what they are finding at Ridgway's house and three previous residences. They've confiscated a motor home and all his vehicles.

"We're not going to talk about evidence," sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart said Monday afternoon.

"We're pulling up carpet, looking underneath the carpet, looking through crawl spaces, searching the attic, looking for hair, blood, those types of things," he said. "A lot of this is potential trace or forensic-type evidence that's going to require a lot of lab work."

Bill Haglund, former chief investigator for the King County Medical Examiner's Office, has helped sheriff's detectives with the excavating at the SeaTac home where Ridgway grew up. Haglund was the Green River Task Force's expert in exhuming and identifying human remains.

"We are looking for bodies," Urquhart said. "We have to check. We don't know if there is one or not."

Investigators enlisted the help of cadaver-sniffing dogs over the weekend. One dog locked in on a spot at the SeaTac home, but it turned out to be a dead cat, Urquhart said.

Sheriff's officials say they have DNA evidence linking Ridgway, 52, to the 1982 deaths of Marcia Faye Chapman, Cynthia Jean Hinds and Opal Mills. Circumstantial evidence links Ridgway to the death of Carol Ann Christiansen, Sheriff Dave Reichert said last week.

The slayings of the four women were attributed years ago to the Green River Killer, who's suspected of killing 49 women in the 1980s.

King County prosecutors won't file charges against Ridgway until Wednesday, a spokesman said. Ridgway is being held in King County Jail in Seattle without bail.

Ridgway, a truck painter with Kenworth for 32 years, has two prior convictions involving prostitution. In the most recent incident, Ridgway solicited a King County sheriff's deputy who was working undercover as a prostitute along Pacific Highway South in SeaTac on Nov. 16, court records say.

Ridgway, driving a red Ford Ranger, waved money through the truck's window, records state. He asked her if she was "dating," a term used in prostitution.

He said he was interested and would meet her down the road, records state. The deputy gave a signal and Ridgway was arrested.

SeaTac city prosecutors charged him with unlawful prostitution loitering, a misdemeanor, on Nov. 21. A judge found him guilty at a Nov. 27 court hearing. The judge gave Ridgway a 90-day suspended sentence and ordered him to pay a $300 fine.

Late Monday, investigators wrapped up work at one of Ridgway's former homes and let the current homeowners return, Urquhart said.

Meanwhile, yellow crime tape and sheriff's vehicles continued to keep visitors at bay at Ridgway's childhood home and his current home in the Federal Way area, near Lake Geneva. Search-and-rescue trucks and vans lined the narrow streets outside both homes for the third straight day. Helicopters circled above the search sites.

About 50 investigators were scouring the land and homes at both locations, conducting land surveys and grid searches of the property.

Detectives plan to be at the childhood home for another two days and at his current home until the end of the week, Urquhart said.

At Ridgway's current home, the investigation has kept his neighbors curious and in the public eye. News crews used the back yard of one home Monday to film the excavation work in Ridgway's back yard.

"It's craziness," Megan Madsen said. "Everybody is so interested in what's going on. The whole neighborhood is in shock."

Sheriff's detectives have canvassed the homes in the neighborhood, asking residents about Ridgway, whether they had any photos of his home and whether they bought anything from Ridgway's annual yard sales.

Detectives confiscated from Darren Straus eight rolls of undeveloped film and three videotapes of his back yard, which abuts Ridgway's. However, they didn't take the blue lawn chairs Straus bought from Ridgway.

Straus used to talk to Ridgway over the fence and once had to retrieve his dog, Cocoa, from Ridgway's property.

"In a way it's kind of exciting," Straus said as the backhoe worked in the background. "It's also really, really creepy."

News Tribune staff writer Sarah Duran and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff writer Stacey Burns covers Pierce County crime and safety issues. Reach her at 253-597-8268 or stacey.burns@mail.tibnet.com