Gary Ridgway was a long distance truck driver turned serial killer who has one of the largest victims count in United States history. According to police reports Ridgway would drive along the Green River and would pick up sex workers who he would later murder and dump.
When he was eventually caught the Green River Serial Killer would confess to over seventy murders and would admit he lost count of the exact toll. Psychiatrists believe that when Ridgway caught a sexual disease while serving in Vietnam that triggered his hatred for sex workers. Ridgway would plead guilty to forty eight counts of murder in exchange of having the death penalty taken off the table. Gary Ridgway was sentenced to multiple life sentences
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Gary Ridgway — the most prolific American serial killer who said he has at least 71 victims – is no longer called an inmate or an offender, according to Department of Corrections officials.
The serial killer is called a “student” under new DOC guidelines. So are other murderers, rapists and felons.
“The term ‘offender’ does have a negative connotation and significantly impacts a broad group of people and communities,” Acting DOC Secretary Dick Morgan wrote in an internal department memo, obtained by KIRO 7
“Times change, and so does our language.”
Ridgway, who was not identified as the Green River Killer until 2001, started his killing spree at least as early at 1982. He was convicted of 49 murders, but confessed to additional cases and is believed to have killed more than 90.
In Morgan’s memo, he wrote that the term offender “is a label that impacts more than the person to whom it is applied. The label has now been so broadly used that it is not uncommon to see it used to describe others such as ‘offender families’ and ‘offender employers or services.’”
Not everyone is bothered by the term. One former prison inmate, who told KIRO 7 he’s been on DOC supervision for years, said the terminology wouldn’t change anything.
The phase-out of the word “offender” started November 1 and replaced with “individuals,” “student” or “patient,” the DOC secretary wrote to his staff. Use this link to read the full DOC memo.
“It takes time to change habits but I encourage all of you to make an effort,” Morgan wrote in the memo sent Tuesday. “Start by referring to individuals by their names (if you don’t already), practice replacing or removing the word ‘offender’ from your communication and presentation to others.”
That includes the Green River Killer, who is at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Millions of dollars were spent on his apprehension, even though a father of one of Ridgway’s victims led police to him in 1983. That tip led police to take a saliva sample from Ridgway years later when he was questioned after patronizing a prostitute. That DNA was what eventually led to Ridgway’s arrest.
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We aren’t fans of capital punishment. It’s still frustrating to have to share the planet with Gary Ridgway.
It’s also frustrating that the state Department of Corrections hasn’t been forthright with the public – and the families of Ridgway’s victims – about his imprisonment.
Ridgway ranks among the most depraved murderers in American history. He spent the better part of the 1980s and 1990s killing vulnerable women, many of them prostitutes. He’d commonly lure them to his home, strangle them, dispose of them like garbage, then come back and abuse their bodies. He’s been convicted of 49 murders; he says he may have committed somewhere around 70.
Before Ridgway was identified and caught, he was known as the Green River killer, a name that came to carry intense dread in the corridor between Tacoma and Seattle, where he typically hunted. As a condition of escaping the death penalty, he pleaded guilty to dozens of murders and agreed to help investigators find the remains of his undiscovered victims. The idea was to bring some closure and solace to their families.
This wasn’t a case of a neighborhood being shaken up by an isolated killing. Ridgway shook up the state and left a trail of dead women longer than Ted Bundy’s. The public has a right to know where he is, and why. So, emphatically, do the relatives of his victims.
It was disturbing to learn last June that the Department of Corrections had quietly, weeks earlier, flown Ridgway to a federal prison in Florence, Colorado. The DOC gave no notice to the families and offered no explanation for the move.
At the time, a department spokesman blandly said, “The department does not comment about individual offenders and their circumstances.” Translation: “None of your business.”
After an outcry from the families, the DOC last month flew him back to the state prison in Walla Walla.
The department has gotten a lot more talkative about Ridgway since June. Its officials have offered explanations for his transfers. The problem is, they don’t add up to a straight story.
Former state Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner told the Seattle Times in September that Ridgeway was “not necessarily a threat to others, but he could be targeted” by fellow prisoners. The Times obtained DOC records that described Ridgway as a model inmate at Walla Walla.
But on Friday, Warner’s successor told state lawmakers another story. According to Dan Pacholke, Ridgway was moved to Colorado to increase the security around him “mitigating the possibility that he could either escape or potentially harm our staff.” He’d become a threat because he’d had a chance to study the prison for weaknesses.
Model prisoner threatened by other inmates? Or dangerous beast studying his cage for weak points? We’re most worried by the suggestion that the staff at a Washington maximum security prison might not be up to confining the likes of the 66-year-old Ridgway.
Considering the circumstances, it looks as if the DOC brought Ridgway back in large measure because the relatives of his victims yelled loud enough. The department should give them a better explanation than it’s offered to date.
They’re the reason Ridgway was able to plea-bargain his way out of a death penalty. He devastated their lives; they saved his. They and the public deserve to know his whereabouts until the day he dies.