Monday, February 21, 2011


This piece appeared in The Seattle Times on March 4, 2011, under the title, "The painful legacy of Gary Ridgway." It also appeared at

Saturday, February 19, 2011. The face of my sister’s killer fills the front page of The Seattle Times. Again. Older now, balding, his expression somehow more menacing than in the 2001 photographs. His orange prison jumpsuit stark against the gray background jumps from the six by eight inch photograph. My morning coffee sloshes as once again I begin my day by reliving the horror of my sister’s murder.

“The nation’s most prolific killer marked his 62nd birthday Friday by pleading guilty to his 49th murder." A birthday gift to Gary Ridgway. Another notch on his belt. I remember other birthdays. I remember the November 30, 2001 arrest on my father’s eightieth birthday. I remember that my sister would be forty seven today if not for this man. Ridgway claims over seventy victims but has been convicted of only forty nine murders – those whose remains have been found.

I wonder how many times other teenagers have stumbled across remains just like those who found Becky Marrero’s skull. I wonder how many times those finds have not been reported because by making a police report, the teens fear they’d have to explain what they were doing in the woods in the first place. I imagine kids partying – drinking, drugs, sex – all the teen vices that would land a kid in trouble. I am grateful to the teens who reported finding Marrero’s remains, just as I was grateful many years ago to those who found my sister.

I read The Seattle Times article and learn that Ridgway was moved from the state penitentiary in Walla Walla to the Regional Justice Center in King County, and I remember the paper I signed. The paper that assured me that I would be notified of any movement of the prisoner, any changes in the conditions of his incarceration. I received no such notification. I do not know when the prisoner will be transported back to Walla Walla. Once again the failures of our legal system haunt me. I am not an abused wife or a key witness to a mob crime. I do not need police protection. But still, I was assured I would be notified, and I was not.

Gary Ridgway confessed to the murder of Becky Marrero over a decade ago. Because her remains had not been found, he could not be convicted of that crime. Still, because of this earlier confession, Ridgway is protected by the plea bargain that spared his life. I understand the anger and pain expressed by Becky Marrero’s sister: “What does it take to get the death penalty in the state of Washington, your honor? It makes me sick to my stomach that he beat the system.” Still, I cannot agree with Mary Marrero. Without the plea bargain, Ridgway would be dead, and she and her family may never have had their day in court. And what about the other thirty one possible victims? Girls, young women, that Ridgway claims to have murdered? With Ridgway’s death, his secrets die and so does the possibility of ever finding the truth behind the disappearances of so many young victims. I would not wish to deprive anyone, any family, of even the slightest possibility of finding the truth behind the disappearance of a loved one.

From a practical sense, what would the death penalty give us? Another couple of decades of legal procedures at the cost of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars? Better to let the man rot in prison. Better to see his aging face on the front page of the newspaper each time the remains of another victim are found and identified. I only ask that I be notified of the prisoner’s movements so I do not have to learn of it from The Seattle Times. And I ask that he not be given anymore outings on his birthday – a bit too much like a gift for someone in solitary confinement.