Inside Gary Ridgway's Childhood

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Gary Ridgway is believed to have murdered more than 70 female sex workers. By the time authorities arrested him in the early 2000s, there was only enough evidence to convict him of murdering 49 women, and many people rightfully wanted to know what inspired him to commit such violent acts. A look at Ridgway's childhood provides insight into the serial killer, but his young life was full of contradictions. While the prerequisite bed-wetting and violence were there, Ridgway also had lots of friends and was even considered a "ladies man." 

Although many of the following stories don’t involve Ridgway violently acting out, they demonstrate how he adopted the Green River Killer persona early on in life. As the wallflower child of overbearing parents, he crafted a quiet persona that helped him avoid arrest for decades. 

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  • His Early Surroundings Provided A Map For His Crimes
    Photo: Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

    His Early Surroundings Provided A Map For His Crimes

    Ridgway was born in Salt Lake City, UT, in 1949, but his family moved to Washington when he was very young. He spent most of his childhood in a home off the Pacific Highway, near SeaTac airport and the Green River, where he deposited all of his early victims.

    He had plenty of time to explore the area, which likely gave him a knowledge of the hidden places he used for his crimes.

    Ridgway's murders may have been an attempt at revenge for the slights he received as a child. His use of the Green River was one of the many ways he revisited the past with his crimes. 

  • He Was The Middle Child

    As the second of three brothers, Ridgway always acted reserved growing up, despite the chaos that surrounded them. In 2003, Thomas Ridgway said his brother is "the opposite of what I am." He explained, "I was always the wild one."

    Ridgway may not have been "wild" growing up, but his quiet demeanor helped him avoid capture for decades.

  • He Was A Bed-Wetter

    Investigators believe much of Ridgway's neurosis and hatred towards women stemmed from his mother. They had a complicated relationship; he once admitted to being sexually attracted to her.

    Ridgway revealed he wet the bed until he was in his teens, and every time he did, his mother mocked him. His mother's taunts left a lasting impression on his psyche. They gave him an inferiority complex and a deep hatred of his mother. 

  • He Had A Complicated Relationship With His Mother

    After his arrest, Ridgway admitted his feelings toward his mother bounced between "lust and humiliation." Many of the killer's former love interests later told investigators he couldn't please his mother no matter what he did. His second wife said Ridgway's mother "wore the pants in the family." 

    After his arrest, Ridgway talked about his mother, saying, "I thought about stabbing her in the chest or in the heart."

  • His Parents Fought Constantly
    Photo: Em Cecile / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    His Parents Fought Constantly

    Ridgway's home life was reportedly tumultuous. He watched his parents' violent fights time and again. At one point, he even saw his mother smash a plate over his father's head.

  • He Was A Poor Student
    Photo: Architectsea / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

    He Was A Poor Student

    Like many serial killers, Ridgway was a below-average student. He reportedly had an IQ of 82 and also struggled with learning disabilities like dyslexia. As a result, he was held back two grades, graduating in 1969.

    His former teachers and football coaches don't remember much about him. After Ridgway's arrest, David Alfred, a biology teacher and football coach at his high school, had trouble recalling what Ridgway looked like: "The picture I keep getting in my mind is of a somewhat smallish kid - 5 feet 7 or 5 feet 8, 145 pounds, with wispy hair. Nondescript."