As first reported on KOMO 4 News, a 52-year-old man was arrested Friday for investigation of homicide in the deaths of four women slain by the so-called Green River Killer, the King County sheriff said.
Gary Leon Ridgway, who lives in the Auburn area, was arrested as he left his job Friday afternoon, Sheriff Dave Reichert said.
"I always felt that Gary Ridgway was one of the top five suspects," he said. "There was always a top five, and Gary Ridgway was always one of those, right up in front."
The nation's worst unsolved serial killing spree was named for the south King County river where the bodies of the first victims were found in 1982. The killer was blamed for the deaths of 49 women in the Seattle area and Portland, Ore.
"I cannot say with certainty that Gary Ridgway is responsible for all of those deaths ... but boy, have we made one giant step forward," the sheriff said.
Reichert said Ridgway was being investigated in the deaths of Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman and Cynthia Hinds, whose bodies were found in the south King County river on Aug. 15, 1982, and Carol Christensen, found May 8, 1983, in woods in nearby Maple Valley.
The break in the case came when forensic scientists were able to link Ridgway's DNA to Mills, Chapman and Hinds, the sheriff said. "Certain factors" link him to Christensen's death, he added, but did not elaborate.
The first DNA test results linking Ridgway to the case came back two months ago, and authorities have had him under surveillance since then, Reichert said, as investigators continued trying to link him to other cases.
Reichert said investigators would be examining the possibility Ridgway was involved in other killings of women in the region.
"We have a number of unsolved female homicides in Western Washington and up into Vancouver, British Columbia," he said.
Ridgway, who is married and has an adult son, has worked for Kenworth Truck Co. as a truck painter for 30 years.
"He seemed like a pleasant fellow," said a woman who lived near the Ridgways and asked that her name not be used. She said she had talked to him once or twice and "he seemed normal."
Ridgway was first interviewed in the case in 1984, and a saliva sample was obtained by court order in 1987. He was the subject of intensive background investigation during that period, but he was not arrested in the case until Friday.
"This has got to be one of the most exciting days in my entire career," said Reichert, who was one of the original detectives on the serial killer task force and has made it a priority for almost 20 years.
The sheriff said he expected charges could be filed next week.
Ridgway had been arrested twice in the past 19 years, Reichert said - in 1982 for approaching a police decoy during a prostitution sting and earlier this month, when he was arrested for loitering for the purpose of prostitution. He was found guilty or pleaded guilty in both cases, Reichert said.
On The Trail For Nearly 20 Years
Police believe the string of killings began in 1982, at least that's when the first bodies were discovered in the Green River in Kent. The killer is thought to have dispatched at least 49 women between 1982 and 1984. Since the first bodies were found in the Green River, the name stuck.
Numerous leads were followed over the years but none ever panned out.
King County Sheriff Dave Reichert was a deputy when the first bodies were found and he eventually headed up the task force established to find the elusive killer. But nothing ever came of it and the task force was disbanded.
Reichert was appointed sheriff in 1997 when Sheriff Jim Montgomery quit to become Bellevue's police chief. Reichert subsequently was elected and re-elected.
But solving the biggest murder case the Northwest has ever seen has never left his thoughts. Earlier this year Reichert announced the investigation was starting up again utilizing modern technology.
Last summer Reichert announced that his officers and the FBI were looking at new evidence gathered from crime scene samples using modern forensics. KOMO 4 News learned then that detectives thought they had the killer's DNA picked up from samples of the victims' clothing. Further tests were being conducted trying to find a match.
Reichert said it was his belief the killer may have struck as many as 100 times over the years and that not all of his victims were prostitutes picked up along the Sea-Tac Strip, as many of the victims were.
Last summer Reichert contacted other law enforcement agencies asking that they search lists of missing women looking for any that may have fit the profile.
In 1997, as Reichert was about to become the new sheriff, he spoke with KOMO's Bryan Johnson. At the time Bryan asked Reichert if he thought the Green River case would ever be solved.
"One of the biggest energy drains of my career was the eight years of obsession trying to solve that case," Reichert said. "And every person who worked that case had the same obsessed desire. And I hope somehow during the time I am here, in whatever capacity, that case will be solved."
Share Your Thoughts
The Green River case is one of the most troubling the Northwest has ever faced. At its zenith, many women were afraid to even leave their homes. Police were stopping and questioning dozens of suspects. News headlines were filled with any and all developments as the public looked for answers to the baffling mystery.
If you lived through those years share your memories with us. Send email to email@example.com with any memories, thoughts, feelings you'd care to share. We'll pass them along here on the Web and on KOMO 4 News.
Also, if you have any connection to the case and want to talk to KOMO 4 News about it, give us a call at (206) 404-4394.
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