The Green River Killer: What Gary Ridgway's Childhood Was Really Like

For much of the 1980s, Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, murdered dozens of young girls and women in the Seattle and Tacoma area. During his trial in 2003, Ridgway became the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history when he pleaded guilty to a total of 48 murders, though in the years that followed, more of his apparent victims were identified thanks to advances in forensic technology. Still, it boggles the mind to think of how long it took before he was finally arrested and charged for his crimes, and one can't help but wonder about the circumstances that might have led to Ridgway becoming a notorious serial killer.

In many cases, there are three primary childhood behaviors that could potentially predict whether someone would grow up to become a serial killer or violent criminal. These three behaviors, as explained by Healthline, include animal cruelty, minor acts of arson, and bed-wetting, and are known as the Macdonald triad. Did Ridgway show any of the signs described by the Macdonald triad when he was growing up? Did he exhibit other disturbing behaviors as a young boy, or was he an ostensibly well-adjusted child who got along fine with his peers? Here's what we know about Gary Ridgway's childhood and teenage years.

Gary Ridgway was a pretty average kid, according to his peers

Shortly after he was arrested on suspicion of homicide in November 2001, Tacoma-based newspaper The News Tribune published a report on Gary Ridgway's background, interviewing several people he grew up and attended school with in the 1960s. For the most part, his peers at Tyee High School described him as someone who dealt with some family dysfunction but was otherwise an ordinary kid who, like most boys his age, was interested in football, cars, and girls. Allan Sample, who attended school with Ridgway's older brother Greg, told the publication that Gary "never had any trouble getting a girlfriend or getting a date." 

Ridgway was a bit small for his age, standing around 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-8 and weighing 145 pounds as a ninth grader. Despite that, he was good enough to make the freshman football team but was ultimately a "nondescript" player, according to his former coach, David Alfred. He had no other extracurricular activities while attending Tyee, and he was also a poor student who graduated high school at the age of 20. The News Tribune wrote that Ridgway's surviving teachers forgot whether he was asked to repeat a grade, but as Murderpedia pointed out, he was found to have a below-average I.Q. of 82 as a child and would later be held back a year in high school due to poor grades.

The darker side of Ridgway's childhood

While most of the people who spoke to The News Tribune focused on how average Gary Ridgway's childhood and teen years were, there were some who told stories of how he would frequently get spanked by his father and shouted at by his mother whenever he'd get in trouble at home. More tellingly, his second wife, Marcia Winslow, was quoted in court documents as saying that his mom, Mary Ridgway, "wore the pants in the family" and would often get verbally and physically abusive toward her husband, Thomas, during their arguments.

Murderpedia's entry on Ridgway offers more details on how the future Green River Killer was allegedly mistreated by his mother in particular. Apparently, he had a bed-wetting problem as a boy, and his mom would "belittle and embarrass" young Gary whenever he was caught wetting his bed. The piece also suggested that Ridgway harbored "conflicting feelings of sexual attraction and anger" toward his mother while he was growing up.

Although Ridgway supposedly wasn't much of a troublemaker in school, he was apparently involved in a violent crime when he was just 16 years old, having stabbed a 6-year-old boy in the ribs after luring him into the woods. Fortunately, the child survived the attack, and he later claimed that Ridgway laughed at what he did, talking about how he "always wondered what it would be like to kill [someone]" before walking away from the scene.