SEATTLE -- It was a Saturday night in 1982 or 1984 when Gary Ridgway said he met a woman -- he forgets her name –- somewhere along Pacific Highway, possibly at KFC.
“I picked her up someplace and went to the house and killed her, most likely,” Ridgway said during the first interview with the man known as the Green River Killer.
The following night, Ridgway went to an area along the Kent-Des Moines Road to dump the body, wrapping it around a tree somewhere down a ravine.
Investigators would later find the body but not the skull, leaving the victim’s identity a mystery. Ridgway said the head probably rolled the rest of the way down the hill as the body decomposed.
The Kent-Des Moines Road site is one of many areas where Ridgway left bodies and one of possibly dozens of sites where investigators haven’t found what they’re looking for.
Now, Ridgway says he wants to help a former military investigator find the remains of his missing victims to bring closure to their families.
“You can’t go back and change the past; it’s over with,” Ridgway said. “All we can do is try to make it better.”
But, can Ridgway be trusted? And, can any of what he now claims are up to 30 missing bodies be found?
The missing bodies
While Gary Ridgway pleaded guilty to 49 murders, prosecutors, police and his own defense team acknowledge he could be responsible for many more. Ridgway himself said the actual number of victims is closer to 75 or 80.
The Kent-Des Moines Road site where the headless body was found is also one of the places where Ridgway said he could have shown more to detectives.
In 2003, as part of his plea to avoid the death penalty Ridgway said the Green River Task Force -- a team of detectives assembled to investigate the killings -- brought him to the site and gave him a laser pointer to indicate where he left the victim and where he thought the skull might be. But, he said detectives never let him out of the van.
The Green River Task Force recorded Ridgway as he was taken to dump sites. Detectives can be heard asking if Ridgway wants to get out of the van at certain locations, but he declined. Ridgway now says he didn’t understand them when they made that offer.
Ridgway said he was only allowed to leave the van at three or four times of the 20 sites he visited with the task force. While stuck in the van, he said he was unable to accurately point out the locations of remains, and that’s why he’s only been found guilty of 49 murders and why he thinks there are still at least 20 more bodies out there somewhere.
“They should have had me get out at every site to show them where I put those bodies,” he said. “If I could do it all over again, I would say I want to get out at every single site.”
Ridgway said there are six or seven bodies still to be found in south King County and another out by North Bend. He said he killed a woman in the back of his pickup truck in a restaurant parking lot near Riverton back in 1984 or 1985 whose body has yet to be found.
Following in the footsteps of the Green River Killer
During his career as a professional investigator Rob Fitzgerald has been in some bad situations. He's spoken with murderers, had his home destroyed by a volcano and even investigated his own friend for killing his wife.
But, Fitzgerald's new mission -- finding the remains of Gary Ridgway's missing victims -- may have put him closer to evil than ever before.
“No one is more of an expert on Gary than I am," he said. "No one has talked to him more than I have.”
Fitzgerald started hunting for the missing victims of the Green River Killer about five years ago. At first, he said he was just doing it to see if it could be done. Now, he said he's doing it for the victims' families.
“The victim’s family gets closure; they get to know what happened to their daughter, for certain," he said. "If we can find anything and they can get closure and say, 'We have our daughter back,' it means everything to me.”
Fitzgerald, his wife and a team of volunteers spend their weekends searching areas where the Green River Killer was known to drop bodies, combing the dirt for fragments of bone.
And, through it all, there is Ridgway, existing only as a voice on the phone. Fitzgerald said Ridgway calls multiple times a week to give clues about where his team should look next.
Fitzgerald said he knows how it looks to spend so much time speaking to Ridgway, to become something of a friend to the man, giving him the attention he craves. But, he said he sees it as a necessary evil.
"I want people to bury their daughters," he said. "Whatever that price is, I’m going to have to pay it. I can’t stop now.”
Can Gary Ridgway be trusted?
Despite working together for years now, Gary Ridgway has yet to lead Fitzgerald to any remains. Ridgway blames this on bodies decomposing or being taken by animals.
But, a CIA interrogation analyst listened to recordings of KOMO's interviews with Ridgway and said the serial killer continues to be deceptive and lie.
Fitzgerald maintains Ridgway is just one tool out of many in the search for remains. He said he knows most of what Ridgway tells him is made up, but there are little nuggets of truth that can be used to solve the bigger puzzle.
And, Fitzgerald remains undeterred by his lack of success finding the Green River Killer's missing victims.
“That just means I’m one day closer to finding that piece of key evidence," he said. "It could be the next search we do, the next conversation I have with him. I guess that’s hope, right?”
There's also the question of Ridgway's motives in all this.
Ridgway said he’s sorry and wants to help find the victims to bring closure to their families.
“It’s all about the victims,” he said. “It’s not about me.”
But, there could be other reasons for Ridgway to talk.
It’s possible Ridgway is concerned about his legacy. During the interviews, he complained that everyone knows about Ted Bundy but not about the Green River Killer. It's possible he wants to pad his stats as the country's worst serial killer.
“I want to prove them wrong," Ridgway said. "I want to prove there’s 80 bodies out there, or 85 or whatever."
Finally, it can be hard to believe Ridgway has truly changed when he continues to say things like this:
“One of the best things people ever did is they know how to kill.”
Additional reporting on this story by KOMO's Tracey Vedder and Michael Harthorne.
Ed. Note: Listen to KOMO Newsradio each day this week at 7:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. as Charlie Harger shares new revelations from his exclusive interview.
Then tune-in to KOMO4 News at 11 p.m. each night as Problem Solver Tracy Vedder digs deeper into the people and the lives destroyed by the Green River Killer.