Green River Killer: How Ted Bundy helped in the arrest of Gary Ridgeway who raped and killed over 70 women
Debra Estes was only 15 when she was raped and murdered by serial killer Gary Ridgway, becoming one of the youngest victims of the notorious Green River Killer who confessed to killing a staggering 71 women in Washington state in the 1980s and 1990s.
Estes' sister Jenny Graham, a Washington State Representative, met with Ridgway in prison years after the tragedy — only to seek closure and a sense of peace and healing. Graham says she came out a stronger person after her hours-long tête-à-tête with her sister's killer, as explored in all-new Reelz documentary 'Green River Killer: I Met My Sister's Killer'.
Ridgway was married when he began killing prostitutes and teenagers in the '80s. His modus operandi involved raping his victims before strangling them to death and discarding their bodies around Seattle and the Washington Green River. The nefarious sociopath was only apprehended in 2001 when DNA technology had sufficiently evolved to connect him to the murders of four women whose bodies were found in the river.
Ridgway had evaded authorities and slipped from under their nose several times in the course of two decades before a rather unlikely source offered his "expert" insights to help investigators nab the so-called Green River Killer. That source was none other than the most fabled serial killer of all time — Ted Bundy.
Bundy cemented his position as one of the most prolific killers in American history, having admitted to murdering 36 women during his killing spree in the 1970s. Authorities, however, believe he possibly had more than 100 victims.
The Vermont native was on death row when a series of unexplained murders started taking place in Washington state in 1982. Investigators were baffled as young women kept disappearing around South King County with their bodies turning up along the Green River.
The murderer on the prowl was soon dubbed the Green River Killer, but authorities wouldn't be able to trace his identity or whereabouts for years — until they received an offer of help from arguably the best in the ghastly business. Bundy would give them a sneak peek into the mind of a cold-blooded serial killer.
With Bundy's help, Gary Ridgway was eventually caught. He owned up to his 49th murder on February 18, 2011, but police estimated the toll to be closer to a staggering 80 victims.
Ridgway was born on February 18, 1949, in Utah. However, he was raised in Washington state (just like Bundy) near Seattle's SeaTac airport. Ridgway joined the Navy before graduating high school and was sent to Vietnam. Upon returning to the states, he took up a job spray painting trucks.
Around 1982, several runaways and prostitutes started mysteriously disappearing off of State Route 99 in Washington's King County. Ridgway would reportedly bring his victims home, rape and strangle them to death, before disposing of their bodies in the woods — several of which ended up along the nearby Green River.
Detective Dave Reichert had been working on the Green River case for years but to no avail. By 1986, there were at least 40 female victims but Reichert still didn't have any reliable leads. That's when he got a rather unusual offer to assist in the case.
"Don't ask me why I believe I'm an expert in this area, just accept that I am and we'll start from there," Bundy reportedly wrote to Reichert from a Florida jail, where he was on death row. At the time, the charming deviant had already been imprisoned for six years and had been reading about the Green River Killer when he saw Reichert’s photo in a couple of reports.
"Ted Bundy was smart. He was social. Gary Ridgeway was 180 degrees the opposite. His IQ was low. He wasn't attractive or charismatic. It's hard to understand how he convinced all of these women to get into the car with him. I think he was really good at just one thing — killing these women," former KING-TV reporter Linda Byron told Reelz.
Bundy referred to the Green River Killer as "Riverman" and suggested that he might be going back to the sites he left the bodies of his victims to perform sexual acts on the cadavers. Considering he suggested that investigators stake out any fresh burial sites they'd come across.
Bundy's information was critical for investigators to understand the mentality of a killer and one who knew the Washington area well. They would eventually capture Ridgway in 2001. "First off, there's no remorse," Reichert said of the serial killer mindset. "He doesn't have any feelings toward anybody, his family included. And that's what I saw in Bundy and what I saw in Ridgway."
On January 24, 1989, Bundy died in an execution chair nicknamed Old Sparky at the Florida State Prison with crowds cheering outside. Ridgway would go on to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole after having committed more murders than any reported serial killer in American history. He is currently being held at USP Florence High, a high-security federal prison east of Cañon City, Colorado.
'Green River Killer: I Met My Sister's Killer' premieres on Saturday, October 3, at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT.