Special Reports

A different view of Ridgway family

Years ago, a little next-door-neighbor boy named Gary Ridgway used to watch TV in their living room and splash around in their backyard swimming pool alongside their three daughters.

Because that neighbor boy grew up to be charged with four of the 49 Green River serial killings, people are eager to talk to Alfred and Louise Anderson these days. The couple, now in their late 70s, meant to keep quiet. And they might have. But they've grown sick of news reports and police documents that fly in the face of what they saw during more than 35 years living next to the Ridgways in SeaTac.

The Andersons aren't here to say Ridgway's mother, Mary Rita Ridgway, didn't yell at her husband and sons. Or that the father, Thomas Newton Ridgway, didn't have a way of boring them endlessly with the same old tales of his New Mexico youth. Or even that Gary Leon Ridgway, now 52, is innocent of the four aggravated first-degree murder charges.

They don't know what he did or didn't do. And it's fair to say the uncertainty haunts them.

But they reject, for example, the creepy and much-cited assertion by Gary Ridgway's second wife that his mother dressed like a prostitute. Since the Green River Killer preyed on prostitutes, the mother's clothing choices amount to ripe material for the armchair Freudians now trying to psychoanalyze Ridgway.

But it's just plain wrong, the Andersons say.

"She dressed just like I am," Louise Anderson said. "She had jeans on 90 percent of the time."

Perhaps tighter jeans than Louise Anderson wore Wednesday, but nothing scandalous, the Andersons said. Sitting together on a sofa in their Issaquah condo, the couple said they've been upset that such insulting claims would be publicized about a woman who isn't charged with a crime and isn't able to defend herself from the grave.

The same goes for the late Thomas Ridgway.

The Andersons are deeply skeptical of a fellow neighbor's allegations that the father beat his boys. They don't claim to know everything that went on at the Ridgways' home, so they aren't calling that a lie. But they said they never overheard beatings or the cries of "No, Dad, no," as one neighbor asserts.

Not from the Ridgway house. Another father in another house on their street beat his children sometimes. Their own daughters, who'd never been exposed to that brand of discipline, saw one of those beatings, they said.

"They came home so upset they couldn't even sleep that night," Louise Anderson said.

So she said she thinks she would have known if her daughters ever had any inkling of abuse at the Ridgways' home.

The Andersons said Mary Ridgway definitely yelled at her family. They recall the time neighborhood youths were so excited to fill the Anderson family pool for the first swim of the season that they had hoses from three yards running into it - including one from the Ridgway place.

Mary Ridgway got home from her J.C. Penney sales job in the middle of the zaniness and stalked over to chastise her sons.

"She just lit into them about wasting their water," Alfred Anderson said.

The boys minded her - ran the hose back home, turned off the water and rolled it up. But they returned, seemingly untraumatized, so eager to swim that, like the rest of the children, they jumped in before the sun had a chance to warm the chilly hose water.

This was the pattern, the Andersons said. Mary Ridgway's yelling seemed to barely register on her sons and husband.

The Mary Ridgway the Andersons knew was more than a yeller.

They remember her as a skilled and avid gardener, who turned her yard into a miniature park. They remember her playing badminton and volleyball by the hour with her granddaughter.

What's more, neither the Andersons' memories nor their daughters' memories hold a hint that Gary Ridgway might one day become the suspect in a murder case.

"I always thought Gary was a very nice fellow," Alfred Anderson said.

On the frequent visits back to his parents' home as an adult, Gary Ridgway "always made it a point to say hello to us," he said.

This accounted for the Andersons' blasé reaction when a grandson called Nov. 30.

"He said, 'They caught the Green River Killer, and his name is George Ridgway,'" Alfred Anderson recalled.

Don't know a George, they replied. Not our Ridgways.

Then one of their daughters called and told them to turn on the TV.

"All we had to do was see a quick picture," Louise Anderson said. "We just saw him at his mom's funeral."

She remembers shaking. She remembers her daughter's voice through the phone: "Tell me that isn't true!"

She couldn't.

Reach staff writer David Quigg at 206-467-9845 or david.quigg@mail.tribnet.com.