The Ghosts of Green River

by Orpheus

Revolutionary Worker #1228, February 8, 2004, posted at

"I drove by the homes where Opal and I grew up, and I walked in the parks where we used to play. This is where I had promised her I would never leave her and I would never let anyone hurt her. I scooped up the dirt with my hands and left a rose at the same swingset where we used to sit and dream about our future."

Garret Mills, speaking about his sister Opal Mills,
who was murdered by Green River killer, Gary Ridgway

In the early 1980s, the bodies of young women began turning up along the Green River and in the woods and abandoned lots south of Seattle. Some of the women were as young as 15. Most were poor. They were found brutally strangled, often only as skeletons or partial remains, sometimes years later. Many of those killed had been driven into prostitution to survive. The murders created a pall of fear that fell like the Northwest rain, especially affecting young women.

Now the killer, Gary Ridgway, has been caught and confessed to 48 murders. Ridgway was implicated in 2001 by DNA evidence that matched up with DNA found on several victims.

With the confessions this November, city officials want to shut the door on the whole horrific chapter. King Country Prosecutor Norm Maleng told the press "the nightmare is over." Newspapers carried stories applauding the police for finally catching the killer. But nothing seems right.

Gary Ridgway sits in jail. But official society has no answers for the questions that demand to be answered. What type of society creates such a brutal, woman-hating killer? Why was this man able to carry out these crimes for so long, seemingly under the noses of the police?

It's as if the cries of the women still echo from the woods and from the streets where they disappeared, lingering in the air.


Murders, Outrage, and the Police "Pursuit"

As the majority of the murders were occurring in the early and mid 1980s, activists and family members of the victims spoke out, saying police cared little about the murders of poor women. Powerful "take back the night" marches of thousands of women took the streets of Seattle in anger and in defiance of fear.

Now the King County police and Sheriff Dave Reichert have been touted in the media as "never giving up on the case." The reality is that Ridgway got away with killing for 20 years, despite the fact he was an early suspect that much evidence pointed to.

In 1982-83, women began disappearing from "the strip" on Pacific Highway South-- about 10 miles of road known for street prostitution and an area supposedly heavily watched by police.

During this time Ridgway was constantly hanging around in this area and picking up women to murder. Within several weeks of the discovery of five bodies in 1982, the King County police knew all of the women had been connected to street prostitution on the strip, and they knew that the killer was most likely a john. The police woman decoy patrols--intended to catch johns--were stopped because the police didn't want women officers to be at risk. Yet for the first year and a half of the investigation they focused on arresting prostitutes rather than arresting or even recording license plates for johns.

They "assumed" that the killer's MO was to dump bodies by the Green River--where the first bodies were found, so they decided the murders had stopped after no more bodies turned up by the river, though more bodies of women were being found by the fall of 1982 in other rural areas.

A deadly dynamic developed between the police disinterest in the murders of prostitutes and the mentality of the murderer.

Following police announcements that the murders had stopped, women involved in prostitution would return to the "strip," only to be disappeared. As many other women were reported missing, the police often refused to connect them to the murders.

By the time a major task force was organized by the King County police (KCP) in 1984, the majority of murders had already happened. Then again in 1984 when the murders slowed down, they decided the murders had stopped. By 1991 the task force was cut back to one person because of "budget constraints." Meanwhile, Ridgway continued to kill.

Ridgway first came to the attention of police in 1983 when his truck was IDed as the one victim Marie Malvar was last seen in before disappearing. Ridgway was also seen with another woman who had disappeared and himself contacted police to "give information" on yet a third victim. Another woman had picked Ridgway out to police as the man she escaped from when he choked her in a rural area (the MO of the killer).

Detectives found his work shifts were consistent with the disappearances of all known victims and that none had disappeared while he was at work. He had repeatedly been connected with prostitutes in the disappearance areas and lived only a few blocks away. He had been stopped by police in a deserted area with a young woman in his truck just a few feet from where a victim was later found. Despite all this and other evidence connecting him to the crimes, from the time detectives searched his house in 1987 until 2001, Ridgway went on killing and nothing was done.

No explanation has been given by police about why he wasn't pursued harder and why it took so long to catch him.

It's now clear that Ridgway continued killing until 1998, and possibly later. The majority of women were killed between 1982 and 1984, but he has admitted to killing at least four women after 1984, and said he believes he has killed 60 women--but he's not sure since he murdered so many.

The Mentality of a Woman Hater

After Ridgway was implicated by new DNA technology, he divulged more about the murders to save himself from the death penalty. Police interviewed him and released a "Summary of Evidence," revealing the ugly mentality behind the murders.

Ridgway began using women as prostitutes while in the military in the Philippines in the 1970s and was known at his job for reading the Bible. He spent most of his time outside of work hunting for victims, killing them, and disposing of their bodies in rural areas he knew. He considered this his "career" and said he took "pride" in it.

Ridgway told police he can't remember the faces of the women he murdered because: "They didn't mean anything to me. Just something to screw and kill her and dump her." He often covered the women up with leaves, dirt, and refuse because, "She's garbage, so I put stuff over her that was garbage."

He did have memory for the dump sites where he clustered women's bodies, sometimes returning to have sex with the bodies. He considered these broken bodies of women in the woods his "property." He told the cops, "I had control of her when I killed her and I had control over if she hasn't already been found. I'd have control over her where she was still in my possession." He didn't kill men, he said, because "They didn't provide no sexual gratification to me."

Ridgway told police that he thought he was doing the cops a favor by "killing prostitutes." He said, "Here you guys can't control them, but I can."

The police summary of the evidence finishes by saying that Ridgway killed to "satisfy his evil and unfathomable desires."

But everywhere you turn in this society--from "reality" TV shows to internet porn sites, to billboards on every freeway in America--women are displayed as sexual objects for the gratification of men. Whether it's the widespread sex industry or the front of the latest fashion magazine, in this society women are turned into things to be bought and paid for--commodities to be purchased. This is a society in general where everything--from people's labor to the water we drink--is turned into commodities.

Where did Ridgway get the mentality that women are nothing but the property of men to be used and then killed and discarded as garbage? This is a concentration of the mentality bred by the ideology and relations of this capitalist system that teaches men like Gary Ridgway to see women this way. And it is a mentality that is alive and well on the U.S. military bases in countries like the Philippines where Ridgway served in the armed forces.

Women in this society face murder and violence at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends. According to the National Organization of Women (NOW), 1,400 women in this country die every year as a result of domestic violence. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 1998 over 875,000 women were violently assaulted by intimate partners, but NOW estimates that the real numbers are between 2 and 4 million. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women will be raped in their lifetime in the U.S. And every year 1.2 million women are forcibly raped by their current or former male partners.

Families Speak Out

"I believe had the investigations gone right in the last 20 years, many of us would not be in this court today. I believe we still are victimized by some politically ambitious careers. The self-proclaimed heroes have put the victims and their families on a shelf. At our expense, they come forward. Our lives have been run havoc from the news media. We have been maligned. We've been referred to as low-class, uneducated people. I for one resent that. They have no respect."

Helen Naon, mother of Green River victim Constance Naon

On Dec. 18, 2003 Ridgway was sentenced to 48 consecutive life sentences without parole. Family members of the women murdered spoke out at his sentencing. The testimony was heartbreaking.

Carol Estes, mother of Debbie Estes, said her own life has been destroyed since her daughter's murder, and that she goes through each day trying to hold herself together. Others bitterly confronted Ridgway over the brutality he inflicted on the people dearest to them in the world. Many spoke about the hopes and dreams of their daughters and sisters, trying to reclaim their humanity, stolen not only by this vicious killer, but also by all the official news coverage from day one. Dozens of young women were murdered, and there was never consideration of their lives or who their families were, only lurid tales and fascination with serial killing.

What kind of system is it, where murders like this happen for 20 years, and still the conditions forcing women into this situation and creating men who think like Ridgway are not changed or even questioned by those with power? All the women who were so horribly ripped away deserve a memorial in the form of waves of conscious people joining the struggle to rid the world of this system and its oppression of women.