Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gary Ridgeway - The Green River Killer: Because I Was There

Yesterday I read a post on FB that said this: "Ten years ago today, Green River Killer Gary Ridgway pleaded guilty to 48 murders. We found our coverage from that day, and from a 1984 story on the killing spree. What message would you send to Gary Ridgway?" - KIRO 7 Eyewitness News

As I read that, I was first transported back to when the story broke, far and removed from the Pacific Northwest (Bremerton, specifically) where I grew up (now living in Ontario Canada), and then secondly transported back to the time in my mid teens when I lived there, played there, partied there and had friends there.

Over the years I've come to realize that not everyone knows who Gary Ridgway is.  Not everyone has heard of the Green River killer, although at the time he was actively murdering girls in my area, I would have just naturally assumed everyone knew who he was.  Since he dominated the local news almost every night (and since I was young and didn't really understand how things worked) I assumed everyone was hearing about it, everyone knew, and everyone cared.  Again, I was young and I assumed quite wrongly.

By now though, pretty much everyone has heard of The Green River Killer.  There have been countless articles, essays, research papers, books, websites and even movies that have documented who he was (and is) and what he did.

I remember the first thing I did when I heard the story that the Green River Killer had been finally caught, was scour the news articles for what kind of vehicle he drove.  In fact I remember saying to my husband how creepy it might be if he turned out to be the "creepy truck guy".The reason for that was, during the early 80's while I was the same age as many of his victims and living in the same general area, there was a lot of rumor about a "creepy looking older guy" in a dark colored truck, driving slowly past girls walking home from the movies, home from wherever.  It wasn't just rumor, as myself and my friends actually saw this creepy guy more than a few times ourselves.  At first we just joked about it but the more we saw him (maybe 4-5 times) the more we wondered why he was creeping around and never actually talked to anyone.  None of us ever knew anyone that had actually talked to Creepy Truck guy, as he eventually came to be known.  Oddly enough, he disappeared as suddenly as he first appeared. That would have been sometime in 1982 or early 1983.  I never heard any of my friends mention him after that time. If questioned, I'm fairly certainly I wouldn't be able to identify him as he always seemed to be in the shadows with either a ball cap on, or dark glasses.  Just part of the reason we all called him "creepy".

As it turns out, the actual Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, drove a 1977 black Ford F-150, which has been connected to some of his victims.  Needless to say when I read that in the news reports that were coming out in the early days of Gary Ridgway's arrest and investigation, my blood literally ran cold.  Was he ever actually in Kitsap County trolling for victims? I honestly don't know.  He's never admitted to it (as far as I know) and there's never been any connection to him and a missing/dead girl from my county (as far as I know) but the simple fact that a creepy looking older guy was seen in a dark colored truck was pretty much enough for me to believe it was entirely possible it could have been him.  I can almost guarantee there are other women in my age range who remember "Creepy Truck guy" from back in those days, that always wondered who he really was.  Maybe they asked themselves the same questions I did, such as: did he ever get on the Seattle/Bremerton ferry and just cruise around looking for someone in a new area?  Did he ever hurt anyone from our area, that was never identified?  I pray this is not the case, but anyone who grew up in Bremerton/Port Orchard/Silverdale back in the day, knows how common it was to hop on the boat and head over to Seattle.  Folks in Seattle did the exact same thing, pretty much every day of the week.  

When my oldest daughter was born in 1983, there was still a lot of talk among myself and my friends about who he really was.  He was a cop, a former cop, a private investigator, maybe even an investigative reporter or some sort of professional that had first hand, intimate knowledge with how crimes are investigated.  We reasoned, that was the only way he had been able to get away with it for so long.  Everyone spent time speculating on who the Green River Killer was and most of us were wrong.  Unless they were speculating that he was a creepy loser working at a truck painting place (I can almost guarantee you, no one guessed that) they were dead wrong.  As it turned out, that's what he did for a living.  He had no working knowledge of law enforcement or criminal investigation at all.  He just managed to slip through the cracks in a perfectly diabolical way that so many other monsters do.  For a time.

Another part of the reason I was so curious as to what kind of vehicle Ridgway drove, was because of a couple of books I had read sometime during the time he was active in his murder spree. Because I have always been fascinated by true crime, the criminal mind, why they do what they do and how law enforcement catches them, I've always leaned toward reading true crime books.  I cannot recall the name of one of them I had read during that time, but the other was The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. It was a true crime book about another local monster by the name of Ted Bundy. Both books were about him, and in one of them there were pictures of his victims.  In the collage of pictures in one of those books was a picture of a girl I was sure I knew, sure I went to elementary school with.  As it turned out, it wasn't the same girl I thought it was but the uncanny resemblance sure made me wonder if he'd ever simply got on the ferry and made the trip over to my town just like so many people did all the time.  Even before he was finally arrested and the pieces of his evil puzzle were put together, I recall the account of the older sister of a friend telling us how one day at the track behind the high school while the girls were doing cheerleading practice, they noticed a really handsome guy, arm in a cast, smiling, leaning against his VW bug that was parked not too far from the track.  The high school girls felt kind of creeped out that he just stood there for a while, smiling and watching them. That would have been in 1973 or 1974 and it wasn't discovered until later, that the fake cast and the VW bug is exactly what Bundy drove and used to lure some of his victims.  I'll never forget learning that for the first time, years after hearing about the creepy handsome guy in a cast near the high school.  I think I read that paragraph 10 times before I had to put the book down and wonder if Bundy was actually trolling around my little town during those years.  I'd like to believe that it was just a coincidence, and that he never came to my town.  Handsome young men driving VW bugs was a pretty common sight back in that day, so it could have been a completely innocent coincidence, for sure.  

All of that was a very long time ago.  Bundy is gone, Ridgway is locked up for the rest of his life and neither of them can hurt anyone else ever again.  So what message would I send Ridgway today, KIRO 7 asks?  It's almost like asking what message you would send to a stinking pile of manure. Even that sort of feels like an insult to manure.

But because I am a Christian and I know Christ forgives even the most wretched, wicked, vile sinners, I know that if Ridgway sought Him out and genuinely repented of his sins against God and man, he would be forgiven.  It wouldn't remove what he did, it wouldn't remove the consequence of his actions, and it wouldn't bring those poor girls back and reunite them with their families but it would reconcile his soul to God.  On the flip side, if Ridgway chooses not to repent of what he's done, he will be judged by the Highest Judge of all, with holy and righteous judgement and the sentence will not be a cushy life in jail, but eternal damnation, fully aware every moment for the rest of eternity what it's like to sin against God and man. As horrific as it was whatever Ridgway put his victims through, his pain and suffering will be much worse, and will never end. Ever.  I know most people would say they hope Ridgway never repents and never seeks forgiveness because God's righteous, eternal judgement is what they'd like to see him suffer.  I can completely understand that.

Even as a Christian who believes in forgiveness and second chances, when genuine monsters walk and live and work among us, we tend to feel an urgency for God's justice, swift and immediate to wipe them out and keep the rest of us safe.