FBI psychological profiles of the Green River killer, used for years to categorize possible suspects, appear to match Gary Leon Ridgway in many respects — if assertions about Ridgway's life revealed by police and in court documents are accurate.
Profile elements that appear to match Ridgway include: familiar with sites where bodies were found; drives conservative, older vehicles; has average or slightly higher intelligence; is divorced; has apparent low self-esteem; is in good physical condition; is white; still sees prostitutes.
The profile also said the killer would be somewhere between his mid-20s and early 30s. In 1982, when victims were first discovered, Ridgway was 33.
Ridgway, 52, of Auburn, is charged in the slayings of four women — Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds, Carol Ann Christensen and Marcia Chapman — whose deaths are among the 49 attributed to the Green River serial killer.
While the King County Sheriff's Office is trying to determine if Ridgway is connected to any of the remaining 45 deaths, investigators have not ruled out the existence of more than one killer.
The profile, created in the summer of 1982, has been one of the Green River Task Force's most closely guarded secrets. At the time, county authorities hoped the profile would be "the magic bullet" that would bring them the identity of the killer. The Seattle Times obtained a copy several years ago.
After being revised and expanded in 1984, the profile was used to help police rate suspects into high, medium and low priorities for investigation — the A, B and C system of ranking the thousands of suspects whose names the public turned in to the task force.
Based on information police gathered in preparation for the warrants served on Ridgway in 1987 and again in recent weeks, it appears Ridgway was likely rated an A-minus.
Killer didn't stick to one race
The profiles were written by John Douglas, who was then an FBI special agent with the bureau's Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico, Va.
Douglas would later become famous as a model for one of the FBI profilers in the book and film "Silence of the Lambs," and his own book on profiling, "Mindhunter." He drafted both of the bureau's profiles for the Green River Task Force.
In the revision, Douglas suggested the killer was a bit unusual in that he had no preference for race in his choice of victims. Most serial killers, the FBI said, preferred one race over others.
Of the four young women Ridgway is accused of killing, two are African American, one is mixed race and one is Caucasian.
The profile also says the killer probably continued to have contact with prostitutes after the murders were discovered.
Ridgway was a customer of prostitutes on the Sea-Tac strip in the early '80s, according to search-warrant affidavits. He continued to visit the strip and was arrested there just last month, accused of cruising for a prostitute.
The FBI suggested the killer may have initiated contact with victims by posing as a police officer or other authority figure and that his approach may have involved speaking to the prospective victim about the dangers of prostitution.
Though Ridgway's ex-wives say in court documents that he wanted to be a policeman earlier in his life, there is no suggestion he exhibited opposition to prostitution, as the profile suggests.
Profile: Killings not planned
The profile also suggested that the killer did not leave home with the idea of killing someone, but that the violence likely resulted from some sort of personal interaction that enraged the killer. It was therefore likely the killer had a number of nonviolent encounters with prostitutes that ended normally for both sides.
In court documents, Ridgway acknowledged having frequent, nonviolent encounters with prostitutes. In at least one case, however, a woman told police that in 1982, Ridgway choked her during a sexual encounter and she thought she was going to die.
The FBI profile said the killer does not "plan to put his victims through some sort of ritual sexual act or body positioning."
It's difficult to determine if the actual killer engaged in ritual sex, but Robert Keppel, a former investigator for the state attorney general and an expert on serial murder, believes some of the victims attributed to Ridgway show signs of being posed. Carol Ann Christensen's fully clothed body was found with fish, sausage and a wine bottle on it. At least two other victims had pyramid-shaped stones inserted in their bodies.
"The offender, in all probability, has a prior criminal or psychological history, comes from a family background which includes marital discord between his mother and father, and in all probability was raised by a single parent," the profile notes.
Ridgway was raised by both parents, but in court documents his mother is portrayed by others as being very dominant in the home. His first wife, whom he married and divorced in the early 1970s, said recently that Ridgway's mother ran their lives for the two years they were married.
According to the profile, the killer doesn't have nor ever had an aversion toward women. That being said, the profile goes on to say, "He (the killer) has felt that he has been 'burned' or 'lied to and fooled by women one too many times.' In his way of thinking, women are no good and cannot be trusted, and he feels women will prostitute themselves for whatever reason, and when he sees women openly prostituting themselves, this makes his blood boil."
Police filed the recent affidavit to support their request to search Ridgway's homes and vehicles. It notes that he accused both of his first two wives of prostituting themselves — accusations that appear to be unfounded.
"He seeks prostitutes because he is not the type of individual who can hustle women in a bar," the profile says. "He does not have any fancy line of speech as he is basically shy and has very strong personal feelings of inadequacy. Having sex with those victims may be the initial aim of the subject, but when the conversation turns to 'pay for play,' this causes flashbacks in his memory to uncomfortable times he has had in the past with women.
"These memories ... are not pleasant. The straight-forwardness of prostitutes is very threatening to him. They demonstrate too much power and control over him, because of his personal feelings toward women and the action of prostitutes that will make it mentally comfortable to him to kill them."
"It is believed," the profile concluded, "that possibly the subject is killing because the victims are not listening to his preaching regarding their activities, or making fun of him or laughing at him. He is an angry individual who demonstrates power over his victim and enjoys the publicity he is receiving."
Revised profile more specific
While much of the information contained in the recent search-warrant affidavit closely parallels the profilers' projections, it is yet to be determined if that is because investigators deliberately looked for information that was consistent with the profiles and excluded information that was inconsistent.
Douglas' first profile, presented in 1982, was based on viewing crime-scene photographs, on information about the first five victims, and on the bureau's studies of serial killers. The information provided to county police largely consisted of generalizations about the sort of person who might have committed the murders. Douglas' technique, as he later admitted, was composed of equal parts information and extrapolation.
Police were disappointed. As one high-ranking official pointed out, the first profile was so broad-based it could have fit as many as half of the men in King County.
As more and more victims were discovered in 1983 and early 1984, the FBI tried to draw a more detailed profile. The revised profile was completed in March 1984, based once again on evidence from the crime scenes, on the background of the victims and on additional experience with psychopathic serial offenders.
Did one man kill all 49?
One problem with both the original and revised profiles was the implicit assumption that all 49 killings were the work of one person. That conclusion was primarily based on the killer's modus operandi, or "m.o.," which involved the type of victim taken (people vulnerable to random violence, such as prostitutes and hitchhikers), where each was last seen (for example, venues of prostitution such as the Sea-Tac strip), and the way the bodies were found in clusters (five victims in the same stretch of the Green River, for example, and six victims in the same wooded area near Star Lake).
Some police believed those clusters — eventually as many as seven such multiple-body sites were identified — were powerful evidence that only one person (or perhaps two acting together) was responsible for the murders.
Earlier uses of profiling
Psychological profiling, while useful in eliminating suspects, has yet to prove to be the panacea many experts once thought it would be. The technique involves examining the particulars of the crime with an eye toward small details that, taken together, describe the psychological state of the offender at the time of the crime. Those inferences lead to generalizations about the type of person who committed the crime.
Perhaps the most famous successful use of a psychological profile was in the "Mad Bomber" case in New York in the 1950s. The bomber communicated with authorities by mail, and a New York psychiatrist deduced a number of the bomber's personality traits from those communications and from his crimes. Police eventually arrested George Metesky, who fit a remarkable number of the predicted characteristics.
In the late 1970s, a profile was compiled for the Atlanta child killer. Some aspects of the profile matched Wayne Williams, who was convicted of a number of the crimes.
The FBI's Douglas, who wrote that profile, has always insisted that too many of the murders were blamed on Williams.
More recently, a psychological profile was drafted to identify the Unabomber. Although the profile helped to eliminate more suspects than it identified, in the end former university instructor Ted Kaczynski's background was quite similar to the profile of the man authorities believed they were seeking.