On July 15th, 1982, children found the body of 16 year-old Wendy Coffield in the Green River near Kent, Washington. She’d been strangled with her own clothing.
Coffield was the first victim of the Green River Killer to be found. Even after a second victim was found police had a difficult time believing that they were dealing with a serial killer. It was largely through the risky and remarkable efforts spearheaded by now Congressman Dave Reichert (formerly of the King County Sheriff’s Office) and Bob Keppel, the chief investigator of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office at the time, that the Green River Killer was eventually caught.
Along the way Keppel and Reichert accepted an invitation for “help” from none other than the self-proclaimed Leonardo da Vinci of serial killers, Ted Bundy. You can read their dialogues– a fascinating insight into the evils of the psychopathic mind– in Keppel’s book The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer. Some of the interviews revealed more about Bundy than Ridgway– two very distinct people– but they did offer some insights into the inner workings of a sexual sadist.
In 2001 Reichert ordered DNA evidence in these cases reexamined since that technology had advanced to the point of being useful. In December Ridgway– who police had talked to before about this case and had been on their radar for two decades– had been conclusively linked to some victims, and was therefore charged with four counts of aggravated first degree murder.
Ridgway, despite his years of viciously taking lives, wanted to live. To avoid execution he pled guilty to 48– that is not a typo– 48 counts of aggravated first degree murder. As part of the agreement, he revealed the locations of several more victims. In December of 2003 he was sentenced to 48 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole plus 480 years for tampering with evidence. In late 2010 the remains of another of his victims was found and he received his 49th life sentence. Another victim was identified as recently as 2012. In time there will be more.
But Ridgway, who played the part of the perfect husband to his wife and soccer dad to his son, didn’t kill 48 women in what he considered his “career.” In the course of his so-called “public service,” removing prostitutes from society, he claimed in the past to have killed 71 women with the caveat that he lost count. Keep in mind that many of these victims were teenagers, some runaways and one possibly as young as 12. But now, in an interview with Seattle’s KOMO Newsradio, he says that number is closer to 80. I’ll bet that, like Bundy, the body count is even higher (Bundy confessed to 30 murders; the actual number could be over 100).
When I first heard that the media had secured an interview with Ridgway, I was furious. During his killing spree, which is said to have spanned 1982 to 1998 with at least one failed attempt around 1965, Ridgway didn’t seem to want publicity. When the media revealed the police stakeouts near his dump sites that could have caught him, he changed his tactics and locations, potentially adding years to his killing spree. Seattle-area media, for the most part, handled that case poorly because they complicated it for the police. I’m hoping these new interviews, which are the first time Ridgway has spoken out like this, don’t do the same thing.
There are a number of Ridgway victims yet to be found and at this point they’re likely to be scattered skeletal remains. Some people believe that through these public interviews, Ridgway could reveal more locations where the murdered women are buried, bringing closure to their families. Is that possible? Yes. Likely? No. Interviewer Charlie Harger’s Twitter account hints that such information could be revealed. But there are other risks here that I’m not sure are worth it.
I posted this on KOMO’s site earlier:
If Ridgway truly had something of value to share, he could be speaking to law enforcement and/or his existing contacts rather than the media. He’s already had plenty of opportunities to share such information and I’m surprised that so many people believe this should be allowed to “help” the victims’ families. It’s giving Ridgway another chance to traumatize them and play the same games he’s played for most of his life.
Someone here said that he doesn’t gain anything from this. That is a very, very wrong statement. It gives him power and control, possibly over millions of minds. It gives him publicity, something he shied away from before he was caught. It gives him a voice and could land him more interviews and attention. It gives him a chance to play his sick, sociopathic mind games with the public, few of whom are actually qualified to conduct or thoroughly analyze such an interview.
To someone else’s comment I added:
Ridgway is a sexual sadist and a necrophiliac. This allows him to relive his crimes in view of the public. People must realize that murdering women and violating their decaying corpses is like pure cocaine to him, and discussing the subject can cause a similar high.
(I should have added that Ridgway supposedly referred to his victims as “garbage” and said he’d kill his own son if his son figured out what he was doing. He did leave his young son in his truck while he killed one woman and I believe his son was with him when he transported three of his victims’ bodies to Oregon. He also used his son’s picture and son’s bedroom to put his victims at ease.)
I understand if Ridgway doesn’t want to speak to law enforcement or if there’s only certain investigators he’s comfortable talking with. It’s just that the benefits of his first public interviews are likely for him and for the news media, not the victims.
Is he really going to reveal more information that will bring closure? I’m very skeptical about that because he’s escaped the death penalty so far and already sentenced to do about 4400 years worth of time. Theoretically he could feel that he has nothing left to lose and confess to more, but from what I know as an armchair quarterback sexual sadists never, ever have all their cards on the table.
Ridgway seemed to be very religious during his 16 years of murdering at-risk young women and so perhaps he is attempting to have a conscience. But my studies and my experiences with dark souls have taught me that the vast majority of the time, when they appear to want to “apologize” or “help,” those are hollow and self-serving words.
Serial killers’ apologies usually contain a lot of drivel about themselves and their own alleged feelings; there are many “I” statements. Victims might be referred to as objects or seem like secondary considerations. Sometimes there are crocodile tears or exaggerated emotions. I don’t really expect that last bit here but we won’t know until we hear the interviews.
While there can be great value in interviewing certain types of criminals, I generally frown on interviews like this, those conducted by the media that are arguably for profit. It sounds as if the interviewer has a good sense of the type of mind he’s dealing with, noting the extreme indifference with which Ridgway discusses his victims. But this subset of the human species, psychopaths, are black holes who easily suck others into their power and control vortex. That includes seasoned cops and psychologists.
If you’ve ever interacted with such a person and realized how much you were played later, you might have noted that it’s like being drawn into a trance without your consent. When you start to come to you might feel violated, dirty, used. You might ask yourself how on earth you ever fell for whatever it was they said. There are dark, dark spiritual forces at work in such cases (and because of my faith must recommend closeness to God as the best defense).
So… we’ll see. We’ll see what he says and how many people’s minds and emotions are played. Supposedly the families of several victims have already expressed their thanks for these interviews and oh how I hope they don’t feel differently later. They don’t need false hope or to be led along by the same criminal who used their daughters or sisters as disposable play toys, choked the life out of them, and left their nude bodies where he could violate them at his leisure.
I know that Ridgway was a mother-enmeshed man who could be acting partially out of rage towards the woman who raised him. I know that he is someone’s son, someone’s father, and a brother. I have no idea what they think about these interviews or of him. I do hope that this time doesn’t reopen old wounds or traumatize them in any way. Society often forgets about the impact such cases have on the killer’s own family and the conflicted feelings they might be dealing with. This is not their fault.
I also agree with Billy Graham that God offers forgiveness even to murderers, although many feign genuine faith for personal gain like parole. It doesn’t mean they should ever be exposed to the temptations outside a prison wall again or are able to function in mainstream society; it is imperative that they do their time. There is a debt to be paid.
But like C.S. Lewis said, there will be surprises in heaven. God’s grace is so immeasurably great that no authentic request for redemption is outside of it. But that is strictly between God and Gary Ridgway. I do believe that if a killer is sincere about their faith, there won’t be any more secrets. There won’t be any more game playing. All should be revealed no matter what it costs the killer.
Ultimately I’m just not so sure that giving a serial killer this kind of publicity is ever a good idea. The media can sometimes be a detective’s best weapon because of their ability to disseminate information quickly and because of those who have the integrity to be selective about what is released. The media can also ruin cases and allow killers to run free.
Because of my background and affiliations, of course I want to hear what Ridgway has to say. A lot of people do. There are many unanswered questions and he will likely take some information to the grave. I just wish I was reading the raw transcript of an interview done privately than hearing the words through the filter of radio. For tonight, I’m wondering what finally motivated him to speak publicly and hoping it’s not what I suspect it is.
Update 9/17/13: More information has come out through KOMO. It seems that:
1. Ridgway wants to prove he killed 80 people. Or 85, as he said here. The number keeps rising, legit or not.
2. He wants to be taken to his alleged dump sites again and be let out of the van more– he claims he couldn’t show authorities where bodies were with a laser pointer from a vehicle.
3. He thinks people are buying into his offer to “help” victims.
4. He enjoys having people act on his suggestions.
Here’s a likely translation of what’s going on:
1. Ridgway is often called the worst serial killer in U.S. history. But people who measure the number of victims usually measure the number of known victims or convictions. I think it’s likely Bundy murdered more. Bundy seemed to “live” in certain date ranges and areas, uncomfortable if questioned outside of his known activities. In true sexual sadist form, he wanted to keep some victims for himself, so to speak.
If Ridgway, in some macabre ego trip, is trying to outdo Bundy, as if human lives are just pieces on his chessboard, he still loses. In sheer numbers, H.H. Holmes (Hermann Mudgett) might have murdered as many as 200 people. He was an accomplished con artist, had significant financial resources, and was geographically mobile. He savagely tortured and killed men, women, and children, including in his own “Murder Castle.” And did you know he was paid to do it? He sold some of their skeletons to medical schools as if he were a legitimate businessman.
Many believe that serial killers rarely change their MO and some law enforcement agencies have traditionally conducted their investigations under that assumption. Holmes is proof positive that MO can change, can be opportunistic, and does evolve. He used a wide range of methods to trap and kill his victims. His case deserves far more study than it has gotten. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s probably because he was executed in 1896.
His great-great-grandson has written a book about him.
2. Don’t let Ridgway out of the van. Don’t give him that freedom. Don’t allow him to relive those crimes. Serial killers love being able to revisit relevant sites and relive their crimes. It’s their cocaine. It’s extremely sexual for them. It’s cathartic and most of all, it’s about him.
3. If he wanted to help victims, then he wouldn’t have people running around for years trying to find them. As King County Sheriff John Urquhart reminded us today, he dumped his victims in clusters to make it easier for himself. He had a sort of demonic filing system.
4. Don’t give him the chance to manipulate people this way. If he were sincere about wanting the victims to be found, he wouldn’t drop hints, he’d attempt to provide something more concrete. Remember that this type of killer wants control of their victims even into death. Victims’ bodies being found might feel to him like a loss of control. By making people jump in the chance he might help, he gains control.
…where Satan tries to lure us to live—a condemned, compulsive, and crippled state, dominated by dark forces. –Ted Roberts
©2013 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.