"It was like a brick wall dropped in front of me"

"It was like a brick wall dropped in front of me" »Play Video

The Green River Killer gripped the Northwest in terror for more than 20 years.

In July 1982, Wendy Coffield's body was found in the Green River. No one knew it at the time, but she was the first victim of a brutal serial killer.

Four more bodies turned up in August. They'd been strangled.

Most of the women worked the streets around the SeaTac strip. By the late 1980's, more than 50 women were either dead or missing.

But the identity of their killer remained a mystery until 2001, when DNA tied a mild-mannered truck painter named Gary Ridgway to three Green River victims.

A year and a half later, Ridgway gave police a detailed confession. He even led investigators to the undiscovered graves of some of his victims.

In November 2003, uttering the word "guilty" 48 times with chilling calm, Gary admitted he was the Green River Killer and confessed to strangling four dozen women over two decades.

Although it looked like the final chapter, one story remained untold. Ridgway's wife Judith, who looked so stunned, so surprised the day of his arrest.

When she found out about the secret her husband had been keeping, shock and shame drove her into hiding.

She never answered the phone. She changed her name, her hair color, and her appearance. She wanted to look nothing like the suburban housewife married to Gary Ridgway.

After six years, she's ready to tell her story.

Always a Loving Husband

"I was in shock that day when I heard someone coming down the driveway, I couldn't believe it," she said of the arrest. "I still can't believe it but it has happened.

"It was like a brick wall dropped in front of me. I didn't know what to do. Everything stopped."

And it feels that way even today - as if time is standing still -- because Judith can still hear the sound of police cars coming down the driveway to deliver the news.

"It's a day I'll probably never forget," she said.

How could the man she adored for 16 years be a killer?

"He was always smiling," she said. "His smile never changed for me."

Gary had always been a loving husband. They met in 1985 and married in 1988.

She moved in to Gary's modest rambler in SeaTac -- a home where, unbeknownst to her, scores of young women had been brutally murdered. From there they moved to their dream home in Auburn.

She describes their life as loving and content. "He made me feel like a newlywed everyday," she said.

They were surrounded by treasured pets, and took many weekend trips that hold fond memories even today.

"What I miss the most, is the love that I had and our life. He was the best, to me anyway."

That's why it was easy for Gary to convince her his arrest was just a case of mistaken identity.

Never Suspected

"He was reassuring me that everything would be okay," Judith said. "It was painful."

Painful, in part, because the pieces didn't fit. Gary had never raised a hand to her, never even raised his voice.

And if he was away from home, he always had a logical explanation. He said he was working overtime at the Kenworth plant, or attending a union meeting.

Asked if she ever saw anything suspicious, Judith replied "no."

Still, detectives went through the Ridgway's cozy home with a fine tooth comb.

Video of the search showed detectives going over every inch of the house. Investigators seized Judith's jewelry and some of her clothing. They told her the items could be trophies Gary took from his victims.

Still, in Judith's mind, Gary was innocent.

"I was still in such denial," she said.

And then a series of discoveries and photographs shattered Judith's trust. Suddenly all the pieces that didn't fit began to fall into place.

Judith found a stash of condoms in the couple's garage. Detectives found more stuffed in the framework of Gary's pickup.

And it got worse when investigators tore Judith's car apart.

The crime lab found traces of semen. Detectives told Judith that Gary had probably used her car to pick up some of his victims.

"Then I felt the anger that he'd had sex with someone else, that he hurt me, that he betrayed me," she said. "He said he did not do anything with those women. But then when I found the condoms and stuff I realized that he did."

But for Judith, there would be one more staggering surprise.

Gary had killed four of his 48 victims during the years he was with her.

"And I'd say 'why you son of a bitch, why did you do this to me? Why did you put me through all this?' "

And why, Judith thought, did he kill all those women? She said she thinks about the victims and their families.

"My heart goes out to all the families and the victims he hurt and I can't even imagine what they've been through," she said.

And what about Gary, the man she believed was her prince charming?

Judith refuses to visit him in prison. She won't take his calls and she told him to stop sending letters.

But her heart is still conflicted.

"I love the man I knew," she said, "and I hate the man that took him away."