Thursday, November 06, 2003
Death, With an Ordinary Face 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
"Green River Killer" Gary Ridgway now holds the U.S. "Serial Killer Championship Belt" for pleading guilty to the deaths of 48 women - but there could be many more still missing, still buried, their fates still unknown to family and friends. For those keeping score of prolific serial murders, Ridgway's tally pales against many well-known mass murderers of history.

What is most frightening is how this particular killer escaped the law for over twenty years: he was an "ordinary" man, with a personal history that included marriages, children, and friends who were completely oblivious to his predatory nature.

Neither an Ed Gein-style loner, nor a pathological playboy like Ted Bundy, Ridgway's deadly career most resembles that of "killer clown" John Wayne Gacy, who also disguised his bloody "hobby" with a mundane, often charming exterior. One of the "Green River Killer's" attorneys, Mark Prothero, says "[Ridgway] was always very polite, never displayed any anger. We got along very well, and he was a very nice client."

There's the rub, as they say: Ridgway's mild manner undoubtedly allowed him close access to victims who thought him just another harmless person; but how many other Ridgways are out there - that we work with, live next door to, pass on the sidewalk?
Fron CNN: "In most cases, when I murdered these women, I did not know their names," Ridgway's statement to the court said. "Most of the time, I killed them the first time I met them. I do not have a good memory for their faces. I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight." Ridgway admitted placing the bodies in "clusters," usually near a landmark that helped him remember their locations. "I did this because I wanted to keep track of all of the women I killed," he said in his statement, which he affirmed as [King County Deputy Prosecutor Jeff] Baird read it aloud. "I liked to drive by the clusters around the county and think about the women I placed there."
Imagine what it must feel like to be the family member of one of Ridgway's victims, hearing those cold words from the killer's lips. What gave Ridgway his justification?
"I hate most prostitutes. I did not want to pay them for sex," he acknowledged. "I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up, without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing."
Arrogant words, but chilling in their grain of truth that many of these victims would be seen as socially "less valuable" than other human beings: to Ridgway, these were literally "disposable women" who deserved death because he didn't wish to pay for services rendered.

He is one lucky S.O.B., however. Ridgway will escape the death penalty though an extrordinary bit of legal wrangling. The prosecution's desire to achieve indictments on as many of the murders as possible drove a sketchy plea bargain, aimed at locating more bodies and convictions for the State and closure for more families of the dead.

So - whose fault is Gary Ridgway? His parents'? His genetics? Society's? His own? I don't believe we're advanced enough to know the answer to that question. It's disingenuous to call him the result of "permissive modern society," because history has shown that the murderous mind knows no social or temporal boundaries. The only thing we can honestly fault modern society for is having widespread technology that is often used to glorify the serial killer to a wide audience...but by the same token, it is in our deepest human nature to be drawn to tales of human monsters, from Vlad Tepes to Charles Manson.

Social pundits often call people like Gary Ridgway a "disease," but I think it's more accurate to call him a symptom. Like a suspicious lump one has removed only to be replaced by the fear of rampant metastatic spread, we feel a momentary sense of relief at a Gary Ridgway's capture - only to have it dawn on us that there will be more Ridgways somewhere in the shadows, waiting.