Special Reports

The Gary Ridgway they knew

Gary Leon Ridgway was drawn to the sacred, but addicted to the profane.

He cried at church services and watched television with a Bible in his lap. He sometimes tied up his sex partners, and by his own admission, pursued prostitutes with the ardor of a parched alcoholic.

Those paradoxes mingle in Ridgway, 52, the prime suspect in four slayings linked to the unsolved Green River serial murders.

Besieged by media inquiries, Ridgway's family, his two ex-wives and his current wife have refused to comment on the man or the case, leaving a void only partially filled by public records and sometimes dim recollections.

Court documents describe Ridgway's unsavory secrets, but his classmates, co-workers and acquaintances remember a man almost conspicuously ordinary.

They have seen Ridgway's face on television and in newspapers. They search their memories for some distinctive detail, looking for a potential connection to the largest unsolved serial killings case in U.S. history.

"When they mentioned the name, I thought, 'Gary Ridgway. I hope that's not the Gary Ridgway I knew,'" said Gilbert Mendiola, who lived near Ridgway's childhood home in SeaTac and attended Chinook Junior High with Ridgway in the 1960s. Mendiola, 50, lives in Port Orchard.

"When I saw the photo I said, 'Goodnight, it is Gary.' I told my wife, 'That was my neighbor. I went to school with this guy.'

"It was really sad. He never exhibited anything like an oddity that way toward women or anything that I would see that would make me suspect him of having that kind of personality."


Ridgway was born Feb. 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, the second of three brothers. His parents, Thomas Newton Ridgway and Mary Rita Ridgway, lived in a rented room near a local high school, according to a recent report in The Salt Lake Tribune.

The oldest brother, Gregory Ridgway, was born in 1948 in Salt Lake City. The youngest brother, Thomas Edward Ridgway, was born in 1951, but public records do not reveal where the family lived at that time.

The Ridgways moved to a house in what is now the City of SeaTac in 1960. The house still stands at 4404 S. 175th St., in a neighborhood called McMicken Heights.

Shaggy shrubs and trees conceal the view from the road, but in the old days, the yard was wide and open -- big enough for family football games.

Thomas Ridgway was a bus driver. Mary Ridgway was a saleswoman at J.C. Penney in Renton, neighbors said.

One of Ridgway's girlfriends said he was close to his mother but could never please her. Mary Ridgway "wore the pants in the family," according to a statement in court documents from Marcia Winslow, Ridgway's second wife.

Winslow remembered Mary Ridgway yelling at her husband "continually." In court documents, Winslow described seeing Mary break a dinner plate over her husband's head. He did not retaliate. He got up from the table and left the room.

Bruce Revard lived next door to the Ridgway family throughout the 1960s. As a child, he played regularly with Eddie, the youngest brother.

Revard remembers the football games and the cars. The Ridgway boys and their father tinkered constantly in the garage. They were Chrysler men, he said.

Greg Ridgway was the family favorite, Revard said. Other friends, classmates and teachers remember him as the achiever - the popular brother and track team member who ran for student office at Tyee High School.

Revard also recalls the Ridgway parents were strict, especially with the two younger brothers.

The mother would scream at the boys, he said, and the father would spank them.

"I could sit up in my treehouse and look in their yard," Revard said. "All I'd hear were cries of 'No, Dad, no,' as they were getting beaten with a belt or a stick or whatever."

Snacks after school were forbidden. The boys had to wait until their parents got home.

"A slice of bread after school was not allowed," Revard said.

He remembers sneaking into the Ridgway's pantry with Eddie. Sometimes the two friends would break open a jar of canned vegetables. Sometimes Ridgway's parents found out and punished Eddie.

Gilbert Mendiola's family moved in next door to the Ridgways when Mendiola was in the seventh grade. He and Gary became good friends and often walked to school together.

Mendiola saw no signs of the strict parenting Revard remembers, but said he didn't really know Ridgway's parents. He said his friend Gary was "just actually a nice guy," interested in sports and girls.

Other friends and classmates offer similar memories of Ridgway: Personable. Liked cars. Played freshman football. A nice guy, but pretty average. Nice mom, nice dad.

"He didn't really stand out," said former Tyee classmate Tim Shinners, 50.

Tyee graduate Terry Rochelle, 52, remembers Ridgway showing up on Saturday nights at a youth nightclub run by the local Methodist church.

At Tyee, Ridgway often got in minor scrapes.

"You'd see him going to the principal's office, but nothing bad," Rochelle said.

Revard said Ridgway had no problems with girls in school. Allan Sample, who attended Highline Community College with Greg Ridgway, remembers Gary as a ladies' man.

"He never had any trouble getting a girlfriend or getting a date," Sample said.

Ridgway was 20 when he finished high school. Did he start late? Was he held back a grade? Surviving teachers can't remember.

Ridgway played ninth-grade football - his only extracurricular activity - but no coach remembered what position he played.

"The picture I keep getting in my mind is of a somewhat smallish kid - 5 feet 7 or 5 feet 8, 145 pounds, with wispy hair. Nondescript," said David Alfred, who taught biology and coached football at Tyee for a decade.

In April 1969, two months before he graduated from Tyee, Ridgway landed a job at Kenworth Trucking Co. in Seattle. It would become the center of his working life, but first, he joined the Navy.

He enlisted on Aug. 18, 1969, still only 20 years old. Where he served initially, records do not say, but his stint may mark the first chapter in a lifelong obsession with prostitution.

Court records show that four months after he entered the Navy, Ridgway's military doctors diagnosed him with gonorrhea. They also show that in the early 1980s, he told a girlfriend that "he especially disliked Filipino prostitutes because of his contacts with them during his cruise in the Navy."

The following summer, Ridgway met the woman who would become his first wife.


Her name was Claudia Kraig. Ridgway met her in Seattle.

Outdoor and in-car sex marked the young couple's courtship, according to court documents. They favored a wooded area in Seward Park and a dead-end street off Military Road South - one of the many South King County side roads Ridgway knew well.

They were married in Seattle on Aug. 15, 1970. Soon after that, they moved to San Diego, and Ridgway set out on a six-month Navy cruise.

While he was gone, court documents say his young wife had an affair. When Ridgway returned, Claudia was living with a female friend and a male roommate.

In early summer 1971, Ridgway returned to Seattle. Records say Claudia followed a few weeks later. Ridgway was discharged from the Navy on July 23 and returned to his job at Kenworth.

The couple tried to salvage their marriage, but the effort was brief. They lived with Ridgway's parents at first, then found an apartment near Sea-Tac Airport.

In August, Claudia left for San Diego and moved in with a boyfriend she would later marry. On Sept. 2, five weeks after leaving the Navy and one year after marrying Claudia, Ridgway filed for divorce.

Claudia never came back. She never answered a summons for a divorce hearing sent to her San Diego home in October 1971.

The divorce was finalized in January 1972. The only contested piece of property was a 1963 Ford Fairlane. Ridgway got it.

He laced the memory of his first marriage with venom.

Court documents show he spoke bitterly of the divorce to his second wife and a subsequent girlfriend. In racially charged terms, Ridgway claimed Claudia had moved in with several men and become a prostitute.

He also said he still loved her.


Around the middle of 1972, Ridgway met a woman who was cruising the Renton loop. Her name was Marcia Winslow.

Ridgway pulled her over in what Marcia described as "a police-like stop," court documents say. With his short hair and military manner, Marcia thought he could have been a police officer. He wasn't, but he told Marcia he once applied to be an officer and was turned down.

They started dating. During their first sexual encounters, he called her "Claudia."

Court documents say they lived together for a year and married in December 1973. Their only child, Matthew, was born in 1975.

Ridgway introduced Winslow to his favorite South King County haunts for outdoor and in-car trysts: Back roads and wooded dead ends in Maple Valley, Enumclaw and North Bend. Obscure, untended turnouts along Highway 18. Shady spots near Star Lake and along the banks of the Green River.

He was a scavenger, Marcia told detectives. He picked through the refuse at dump sites, searching for items that might be worth selling.

The habit stayed with him. Buying and selling at garage sales and swap meets was a hobby throughout Ridgway's life, according to neighbors and co-workers.


By the time of his marriage to Winslow, Ridgway was well established at Kenworth's Seattle plant. As he rose in seniority and salary, he moved to the new Renton plant, opened in 1993.

It sprawls across an unremarkable stretch of the city, a squat 270,000-square-foot warehouse painted pale yellow, its name illuminated in red. Inside, more than 200 workers assemble and paint an average of a dozen cabs a day.

This was Ridgway's domain. He was a truck painter, and according to his co-workers, he was good at it.

The job is meticulous, requiring a steady hand, an attention to detail, an ability to transfer the intricacies of a blueprint to the expanse of fiberglass.

Ridgway had all those qualities, said Martha Parkhill, who worked next to him on the assembly line before she was laid off in January.

"He wanted to do a good job," she said. "Some of the designs are very complex, and you have to have the left side and the right side of the cab perfectly match. It takes a lot of patience."

Parkhill handled the spray painting, while Ridgway prepared the cabs with masking tape. One job could take the better part of a day.

Assembly line work is tedious, too, added Bob Schweiss, an eight-year employee before he was laid off this year.

"It gets pretty repetitious, pretty over and over and over," he said. "If you went in at 6 (a.m.) and you were thinking about something, then by the time you leave at 3 (p.m.), that thing has gone through your head 600 times."

Workers get half an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Ridgway was a brown-bagger, grabbing a seat in the lunch room and poring over copies of the Little Nickel. Occasionally, he'd spot a bargain and jot it down in a notebook he carried around.

What he was searching for varied - antiques or cheap materials he could use to remodel his house.

Break time was Bible time, co-workers said. None could remember him preaching or quoting a particular passage.

But he was social, a friendly guy who knew everyone enough to say hello. He often wore jeans and Western-style or button-down shirts. He carried a squirt bottle and comb to keep his hair and mustache in place.

Rumors circulated. Many workers knew Ridgway had been arrested before and was considered a suspect in the Green River killings.

"It was something you just heard," Parkhill said. "That place is kind of like high school."

Parkhill wasn't entirely comfortable around Ridgway.

"He'd come up behind me and massage my shoulders," she said. "He did that to several women down there. I'd try to shrug away from him. I never wanted to make him mad, just for him to stop."


After the birth of their son in 1975, Ridgway and Marcia joined two churches, one Baptist, the other Pentecostal. They knocked on doors. Some were shut in their faces, which made Ridgway angry.

Marcia told detectives he became "fanatical" about religion. He would cry frequently during church services. At night, he watched TV with a Bible in his lap.

He once choked her, she told detectives.

Returning home from a party where the couple had been drinking, Marcia stepped out of their van and stumbled toward the door. Suddenly she felt hands around her neck, squeezing tighter and tighter.

She screamed and fought, not immediately realizing it was her husband. Ridgway finally let go, then darted to the other side of the van and tried to convince her someone else had done it.

He liked to sneak up and scare her, Marcia said, seeing if he could walk noiselessly. She said he could.

By 1978, the Ridgways were living in Federal Way near Dash Point State Park. The house was a rambler at the end of a cul-de-sac, surrounded by acres of dense, damp forest.

Their churchgoing tapered off. Marcia told detectives Ridgway began to come home from work later and later, without explanation, often returning to the house dirty and wet. He had no personal friends during their marriage, she said.

On July 4, 1980, they separated. Marcia moved to Kent. Robert Olson, a neighbor who lived next door to the Federal Way home, remembered Ridgway at that time. Olson thought he looked lonesome.

Marcia filed for divorce July 21 and included a restraining order. Ridgway countered with one of his own in August. Both said they feared the other would become violent.

The Federal Way house was sold that same month. The divorce was finalized in May 1981. Marcia got custody of Matthew. Ridgway began making child support payments - $275 per month.


In early 1981, Ridgway joined a Parents Without Partners group and dated a series of girlfriends. Court records provide no names, describing them only as Girlfriends A, B and C.

Ridgway met Girlfriend A in May 1981, and soon moved into her West Seattle home. Patterns from prior relationships materialized. The couple had sex outdoors in many locations. Twice, Ridgway tied up his girlfriend with her consent.

The relationship was almost exclusively physical. Girlfriend A had to ask Ridgway to "back off" from his constant demands for sex. She said he had no outside friends, and was "domineered by women."

Girlfriend A asked him to move out of her home in December 1981. By then, Ridgway had met Girlfriend B.

They started dating, but they didn't go to Ridgway's favorite outdoor locations. They went to her house or to Ridgway's house on Military Road in SeaTac, which he bought in 1981 and lived in for seven years.

The house sits in the kind of neighborhood where many people keep to themselves, though some have shared the same street for decades. In that sense, Ridgway fit in well. He may have been even more reclusive than his neighbors.

"His house was always closed up - it seemed very private," said Debbie Roselieb, whose daughter went to day care in the neighborhood at the time.

Roselieb remembered passing Ridgway's house daily and noticing the particularly messy yard. On occasion, Roselieb said, she passed Ridgway on the street.

"If I was walking by, I'd say, 'Hi,'" she recalled. "He would just ignore me and walk past. It was more private than rude. It was like he just wanted to be left alone."

About 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1981, Ridgway met Girlfriend B at the White Shutters Inn in SeaTac for a Parents Without Partners function.

Ridgway was distraught, she told police later. He said he'd nearly killed a woman. The girlfriend told police she thought he meant a prostitute.

The next month, Ridgway began dating Girlfriend C. Girlfriend B didn't know it. She found out a few months later and broke off her relationship with Ridgway.

In April 1982, Ridgway was having financial troubles and rented his SeaTac house to Rose Hahn and her husband. He moved into the garage. He was rarely home at night and never on weekends, Hahn said.

Most of those weekends were spent with Girlfriend C. But Ridgway spent other nights elsewhere. On May 11, he was arrested on suspicion of soliciting an undercover King County sheriff's deputy disguised as a prostitute.

Girlfriend C knew about the arrest. She told investigators Ridgway regarded prostitutes as "things" to be used. She said they'd planned to get married, but broke up in June 1984. Ridgway swiftly found another girlfriend, she said.


By August 1982, the Sea-Tac strip was buzzing. Bodies of slain women had been discovered in the Green River in July. Then more were found in other locations. On Aug. 16, a press conference announced the formation of the Green River Task Force.

About 1:15 a.m. on Aug. 29, Port of Seattle police spotted Ridgway at a dead end near South 192nd Street and the Alaska Airlines warehouse. Records provide no further details about the incident.

On Nov. 9, he met a prostitute named Rebecca Guay in an incident both parties later described to police.

Ridgway agreed to pay $20 for a "date" with Guay. They drove to an area near South 204th Street. Ridgway wanted to go into the woods. They went.

Here, the stories diverge. Guay said Ridgway tried to choke her. Ridgway admitted choking Guay, but said she had bitten him. Guay said she was certain he meant to kill her, but she escaped and ran to a nearby trailer.

She never saw Ridgway again.

Ridgway's penchant for cruising the strip led to several encounters with police and prostitutes from 1983 to 1987. He drove different vehicles, including his maroon pickup and an aqua-colored truck owned by his younger brother.

County officers spotted him Feb. 23, 1983, with a prostitute at South 140th Street and 22nd Avenue South. The passenger was Keli McGinness, a Green River victim who disappeared in June 1983. Her remains have never been found.

Des Moines police spoke to Ridgway on May 4, 1983, about the disappearance of Marie Malvar. The prostitute had disappeared four days earlier, last seen in a truck that resembled Ridgway's.

A Green River Task Force detective interviewed Ridgway on Nov. 16, 1983, also asking about Malvar. Ridgway denied any knowledge. Malvar also is on the Green River victim list. Her body has never been found.

Two prostitutes, Dawn White and Paige Miley, spoke to the Green River Task Force in 1984 and 1986 about Ridgway's behavior in late 1983. Miley said Ridgway asked her about Kim Nelson, a Green River victim whose remains were discovered near Interstate 90 in 1986.

Task force detectives interviewed Ridgway several times in the mid-1980s. His status as a suspect waxed and waned. Detectives cleared him as a suspect after he passed a polygraph test in 1984, but renewed their attention in later years.

During one interview, Ridgway admitted "dating" five to 10 women from the strip. He later told detectives he had "a fixation with prostitutes," and said they may "affect him as strongly as alcohol does an alcoholic."

Detectives followed Ridgway for two weeks in October 1986, and searched his SeaTac home on April 8, 1987. None of the evidence gained in the search yielded a connection to the Green River victims, but detectives also obtained a saliva sample from Ridgway.

They saved it for 14 years.

Ridgway's neighbor, Ron Palfrey, remembered the search. Ridgway wasn't happy about it.

"He was ticked off about them tearing up his place," said Palfrey, 57. "Maybe he was trying to get some sympathy."


In 1987, Ridgway met Judith Lynch. He married her in 1988, and the couple bought a home in Des Moines on South 253rd Street. They lived there until 1997.

Ridgway had become an extrovert who went out of his way to talk to his neighbors. He also took an almost obsessive interest in gardening, neighbors said.

"He kept his house up well and he kept his yard up well," said Mike Welch, who has lived in the same house since 1976. "He seemed to be a model neighbor."

Almost everyone interviewed remembered the Ridgways' garage sales, which occurred as often as twice a month. Nothing stood out among the odds and ends the Ridgways were trying to sell.

If Ridgway had a fault, it was that he was a little "overly friendly," Welch said.

"When I was out in the yard, I couldn't get anything done because he wanted to talk all the time," agreed Paul Winkle, another neighbor.

The conversations never went much beyond talk about tools and gardening techniques.


Two weeks before deputies arrested him on suspicion of homicide, Ridgway logged one last entry in his decades-long diary of prostitution.

It was Friday, Nov. 16, 2001 -- payday at Kenworth. Ridgway finished his shift at 3 p.m. and settled behind the wheel of his 1992 Ford Ranger.

Armed with $30 and a pair of latex gloves, he headed for the strip he knew so well.

Near a Motel 6 in the 16500 block of Pacific Highway South, he spotted what looked like a working girl. He didn't know she was working undercover for the King County Sheriff's Office. It was 3:55 p.m.

From his window, he waved money at the woman. He pulled the truck into the motel parking lot. He got out and went to the bed of his pickup. The woman walked over.

"Are you dating?" he asked.

Staff writers Kim Eckart, Paula Lavigne Sullivan, Stefano Esposito, Barbara Clements and David Quigg contributed to this report.

Reach staff writer Sean Robinson at 253-941-9634 or sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com.