Green River Killer's addiction to prostitutes: Kent attorney shares insights about Gary Ridgway

Kent attorney Mark Prothero represents Gary Ridgway, who has been convicted of killing 49 women. - File Photo, Kent Reporter
Kent attorney Mark Prothero represents Gary Ridgway, who has been convicted of killing 49 women.
— image credit: File Photo, Kent Reporter

When still just a suspect as the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway told FBI agents he had an addiction to prostitutes like an alcoholic has an addiction to alcohol.

Kent defense attorney Mark Prothero shared that insight about Ridgway and many other specifics about the Green River Killer during a presentation at the Kent Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon April 6 at the Meridian Valley Country Club.

Prothero represented Ridgway after his arrest in 2001. He also represented him in February when Ridgway plead guilty to first-degree murder of Becky Marrero and was given another life sentence for his 49th victim, whose body was found last December in Auburn.

Most of the victims were prostitutes who worked along Pacific Highway South. The first couple of bodies were found along the Green River.

Prothero shared quotes, stories and videotaped interviews with Ridgway during his one-hour presentation to Chamber members.

"I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex," Ridgway said after he admitted to the killings.

It's estimated Ridgway killed as many as 60 women between 1982-85 and about a dozen more from 1985 to 1998, Prothero said. The killings slowed down after Ridgway married his third wife in the late 1980s.

Prothero, a partner with Hanis Irvine Prothero of Kent, has more than 25 years of experience in criminal defense. He is a frequent lecturer at legal education seminars and is recognized for his expertise on evidence, forensic DNA, mental state defenses and the death penalty.

The attorney also doesn't hesitate to toss in a bit of humor when he talks about Ridgway, who is serving a life sentence without parole at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Prothero talked about an anonymous letter he received from someone upset that he would represent the Green River Killer.

"He called me an overpaid, compassionless idiot," Prothero said. "And I like to tell my audiences I was not overpaid or compassionless."

Ridgway, considered a suspect early on by the King County Sheriff's Office, was given a polygraph in 1984.

Investigators asked Ridgway if he had ever had sex with prostitutes along Pacific Highway.

"Yeah, all of the time, it's one of the things I like to do," Ridgway said.

Then he was asked if he had ever killed any of those prostitutes.

"Oh no," Ridgway said.

Ridgway's responses showed no deception on the lie detector so investigators dropped him to the bottom of the suspect list.

"And that's where he remained for the next 17 years," Prothero said.

Prothero said the Green River Task Force, led by Dave Reichert, focused its attention on a taxi driver named Mel Foster.

"While they were surveilling the taxi driver because Reichert was so focused on him, Ridgway continued to kill and kill and kill," Prothero said. "They finally realized it couldn't be Foster because they were watching him when women disappeared."

The FBI became involved in the case when agents believed an animal trapper had killed the women.

"They thought they had solved the case," Prothero said. "The FBI scurried out of town with their tail between their legs because they never found anything that could link this guy. The FBI interjected themselves in the case about four different times and every time they did they set the investigation back, in my view.

"It was just like in the movies where they (the FBI) come in and kick the local sheriff over and thought they were so great and ended up screwing things up every time."

In 1987, detectives looked at Ridgway again. They took a saliva sample from him that at the time was typically used to exclude somebody from being a suspect. Investigators also had sperm samples from the victims in 1982. But initial testing didn't give enough for a DNA profile match.

It wasn't until DNA technology advanced to measure small amounts of DNA to get an accurate profile that Ridgway became a prime suspect. A detective in 2001 decided to take another look at Ridgway by sending in saliva and sperm samples on file to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.

"The crime lab came back and said we got a DNA profile," Prothero said. "The sperm sample from the victims matched that of the saliva sample from Gary Ridgway. They were pretty sure they had their guy."

Detectives arrested Ridgway Nov. 30, 2001 for the Green River murders.

Prothero was assigned to defend Ridgway within hours after his arrest.

"I met him that night and I am still his attorney," Prothero said.

The Ridgway family also hired private attorney Tony Savage for the case and eventually eight attorneys worked on the Green River Killer's defense team.

A trial was set to begin in 2004 before Ridgway finally decided to plead guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, a deal worked out with then King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng.

Prothero said in addition to the DNA, investigators connected paint molecules from Kenworth trucking, where Ridgway worked as a painter, with a couple of the victims.

"The molecules from the paint would drift onto him, he would climb into his truck and paint would get on the seat of the truck," Prothero said. "Then a victim would sit in the truck and the molecules would transfer to the jeans or sweater of the victim."

Prothero said he talked to Ridgway about admitting to the killings because so much evidence pointed to him being guilty and it would be a way to bring some relief to the families of the victims. Ridgway eventually agreed, and admitted for the first time in April 2003 to being the Green River Killer.

"I killed 'em all," Ridgway said.

Prothero then helped determine just how many women Ridgway had killed by talking to him about where other bodies were buried. Ridgway later shared that information with detectives over the next six months after many interrogation sesssions.

Detectives also asked Ridgway about his involvement in unsolved murder cases where women were stabbed or shot. Ridgway denied he committed any of those murders.

"Choking was what I did and I was pretty good at it," Ridgway said.

Ridgway drew detailed maps to show detectives where he had left victims rather than telling them where to find bodies. Investigators would use the maps to discover the bodies.

Near the end of the six months of interrogation by detectives, Reichert asked Ridgway if he had any questions to ask him.

"Yeah, how come your hair is gray and your eyebrows are dark?" Ridgway asked the detective.

Reichert told Ridgway that he dyed his eyebrows.

Reichert, now a Republican Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, also received a nickname from the Ridgway's defense attorneys because of his full head of silver-gray hair.

"We called him 'Hairspray,'" Prothero said.

As for Ridgway, Prothero worked so closely with the Green River Killer that he created a word to describe him.

"I came up with the term psychofrugalpath," Prothero said. "He was cheap to a psychopathic degree. When you would ask him why he would kill the girls, he would say because he would get his money back."

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