River Of Death

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DUANE HAMAMURA/SOUTH COUNTY JOURNAL/AP

The body of Wendy Lee Coffield is removed from the Green River in 1982

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Their father wasn't around much, and when he came home the boys would beg to go out with him into the woods and cook up some breakfast on an open fire. Their mother was, in Greg's words, "a strong woman." Gary Ridgway's second wife Marcia said the mother completely dominated the boys' father and that the young Ridgway once saw his mother break a plate over his father's head at the dinner table.

Gary had problems at school because he was dyslexic, and was held back a year. He joined the Navy before he graduated from high school, and was sent to Vietnam. "He spent his time on rivers in patrol boats being shot at. These were things we didn't talk about — his anger about things in Vietnam, if there was any," says his brother Greg. When Ridgway came back to the U.S., he got a job painting Kenworth trucks in a factory in Renton, Wash. He kept this job for 30 years. He married three times, and has a son from his second marriage, who is in the Marines. In the late '70s Gary became fanatical about religion, according to Marcia. He would go from door to door proselytizing for a Pentecostal church and would be infuriated when people refused to listen to him. At home he would sit in front of the television with a Bible open on his lap, and he often cried after attending church services.

At the same time, Ridgway was keenly interested in public sex and illegal sex. Ridgway's ex-wives and ex-girlfriends later told police he wanted sex several times a day, often outside in the nearby woods — in some cases in areas where Green River victims were discovered. Ridgway told police in March 1986 he had a fixation on prostitutes, saying they affected him "as strongly as alcohol does an alcoholic," in the words of the police report. He conceded that he had contracted venereal diseases many times from prostitutes. Greg Ridgway says he is "surprised" about his brother's contacts with prostitutes, but says "we didn't sit around talking about those things — our personal lives are private." He cannot imagine that his brother is a killer, and thinks "his habits with women got him too close to this investigation, and he got burned by it."

But when Gary Ridgway first passed through the investigation, he was barely noticed. On the evening of April 30, 1983, Marie Malvar, 18, got into a pickup with a male driver on the strip. Her boyfriend Bobby Woods was watching, and followed the pickup until he lost sight of it at a red light. When Malvar failed to come home, Woods and her father Jose went looking for the pickup, which had a distinctive spot of primer on the door. After half a day's driving around the area, they found what Woods thought was the pickup, parked in front of Ridgway's house. Ridgway was then living in Des Moines just outside Reichert's jurisdiction. The Des Moines police came and talked briefly to Ridgway at his door, then left. They were slow to pass Ridgway's name on to Reichert's men, and it was not until November '83, seven months later, that King County police interviewed Ridgway for the first time about the killings. He denied everything. Marie Malvar's body has never been found.

In May of that year, police discovered the body of Carol Christensen, 21, in a wooded roadside area in Maple Valley, Wash. She had been strangled with fishing line. A paper sack had been pulled over her head, a trout had been placed on her neck and another on her shoulder; a wine bottle was left on her belly, and there was a mound of sausage near her body. Police speculate that the strange scene could have been a twisted biblical reference to the Last Supper. They also suspect that the killer was mocking them by making a tableau out of the victim.

Mind Games
Reichert thought he would catch his serial killer by reading about those who had come before: John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown of Chicago, who slew 33; Gerald Stano from Daytona Beach, Fla., who murdered 41; Randy Kraft in California, who was convicted of 16 murders. Reichert contacted police departments around the country that had dealt with serial killers, and in 1984 he flew to Florida to talk to Ted Bundy on death row. Bundy had been found guilty of killing 22 victims. Says Reichert: "Just to sit across from him and shake hands sent chills. You think, 'Just how many people's lives have these hands squeezed out?'"

Reichert and Bundy talked for two days, and Bundy played mind games. "He talked in the third person all the time, but later we realized he was talking about himself," says Reichert. But Bundy did give Reichert some useful insights: a serial killer doesn't leave home in the morning compelled to kill; he will do it when he feels like it and when he feels safe. He needs to be in control. He told Reichert the police were giving too much information to the press and concurred with Reichert's suspicion that the killer was at times taunting the cops. "Certainly there is an amount of competition between this individual and the police," Bundy was quoted as saying in The Riverman, a book about the case by Robert D. Keppel, an investigator who aided Reichert on the case.

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