Ridgway gave no hint he was a killer, son said

On Dec. 1, 2001, the day after Gary L. Ridgway was arrested, a King County sheriff's detective flew to California to interview Ridgway's only son, Matthew. Among the many questions Detective Scott Strathy asked the son of the Green River killer was: "Did he attend your school functions?"

Matthew Ridgway, now 28, replied simply: "I don't think I ever remember him not being there."

Several thousand pages of detailed documents released yesterday show Ridgway from the unique perspective of his son.

The interview reveals that to his son, Ridgway was a quiet man, with few friends. He struggled with words, was frugal with money and made lists because of problems with short-term memory.

The father and son spent entire weekends driving to garage sales and swap meets, where Gary Ridgway liked to buy broken watches, toys and furniture and then fix them. Together, they camped, played baseball and rode motorcycles.

In short, Matthew Ridgway told detectives, nothing his father did signaled that he could have been the nation's most prolific serial killer.

In addition to the transcript of the interview with Matthew Ridgway, the King County Prosecutor's Office released transcripts of interviews with Gary Ridgway's first two wives; a woman who is the only known survivor of a Ridgway attack; a former prostitute who would have testified against Ridgway had he not pleaded guilty; and an interview with Thomas Edward Ridgway, Gary Ridgway's younger brother. With the exception of graphic details, most of the information has been made public before, including accounts by one former wife that Ridgway choked her and liked to have sex in the woods of South King County.

Ridgway was sentenced last week to life in prison without the possibility of release for the aggravated murder of 48 women between 1982 and 1998.

Matthew Ridgway was a 26-year-old Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton near San Diego when the detectives showed up at his door.

He told them his father was a part-time dad who had visitation rights every other weekend after he was divorced in 1981 from Matthew's mother, Marcia Winslow.

One of the most vivid childhood memories, Matthew Ridgway said, was of his father getting off the graveyard shift at the Kenworth truck plant, where he painted trucks, and taking his son to a doughnut shop well after midnight.

They would buy sprinkled doughnuts and drive to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where they stopped in front of the Red Lion hotel on the Sea-Tac strip.

"When it was dark and the lights ... the elevators ... the red lights of the elevators going up and down I thought that was really ... really neat and, you know, you got the sound of the airport behind ya," Matthew Ridgway told Strathy.

"So I ... I had (my father), you know, I wanted him to, you know, stop so we could see the elevators go up and down. ... "

When he was 7 or 8 years old, his father pulled over once to help at an accident scene. Matthew Ridgway recalled his father pulling an Army surplus blanket out of the trunk and spreading it over one of the accident victims.

His father wasn't around much when he was very young, because of the divorce, Matthew Ridgway said. But he said he felt their connection became stronger after he enlisted in the Marines in September 1994. His father had served in the Navy from 1969 to 1971.

Among the other details Matthew Ridgway recalled about his father:

He never talked about girls. He spanked his son only once. He didn't carry a grudge. In the mid-1990s he read a lot of religious books. He liked looking at maps of old highways.

And "he had bad short-term memory," Matthew Ridgway said. "He had to write down stuff, (such as) 'Paid this bill on this date,' or 'gonna go do this.' "

He also described his father as a "penny pincher" who drank cheap, boxed wine and went dumpster diving for old junk to fix.

Matthew Ridgway said he never knew his father had hired prostitutes. According to Gary Ridgway's confession, he took his son along once when he killed one of his victims, though the son stayed behind in the truck.

Matthew Ridgway said his mother mentioned once that Gary Ridgway had been arrested in the 1980s for soliciting a prostitute. But he said he never talked to his father about it.

Matthew Ridgway said he had no clue about his father's other life until his father's arrest Nov. 30, 2001.

In fact, that's a common theme among those close to Gary Ridgway, according to court documents filed over the years. They said they never saw a volatile personality; and they saw no signs of snapping, emotional mood swings or hostility toward women.

He rarely, if ever, talked about sex or women to those close to him.

Documents released yesterday say that on Nov. 30, 2001, Thomas Ridgway told King County sheriff's detectives that his brother kept to himself and rarely talked about his personal life.

But a detective asked Thomas Ridgway whether it would be strange to learn that his brother was seen frequenting areas of prostitution, "you know, driving up and down the highways, at all times of the days and nights? Would it be weird for you to hear that? Would it surprise you?"

Thomas Ridgway replied, simply, "No, it wouldn't."

Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or mko@seattletimes.com