The mystery of the Green River Killer, one of America's most notorious mass murderers who has eluded police for two decades, appeared to be resolved yesterday following the arrest of a 52-year-old painter in the southern suburbs of Seattle.
Gary Leon Ridgway was picked up on Friday afternoon as he was leaving his job at a truck company.
Mr Ridgway was charged with the murders of four of the 49 young women – most of them prostitutes or runaways – who went missing in the Seattle area in the early Eighties and whose bodies were subsequently found, throttled, in or near the Green River, which runs down from the Cascades into Lake Washington on the eastern side of the city.
What clinched the case were DNA samples taken from Mr Ridgway's saliva 15 years ago, at a time when there was no reliable technology to match them to traces recovered from the crime scenes.
Thanks to scientific advances, detectives have been able to make positive matches in the killings of Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman, Cynthia Hinds and Carol Christensen. Officers from the King County sheriff's department are continuing tests on the other victims, a task that could take months or even years because of the badly decomposed state of many of the bodies when they were found.
The county sheriff, Dave Reichert, told reporters that Mr Ridgway's arrest was the most exciting day of his career.
Mr Reichert had been on the case from the beginning and was haunted by the faces and decomposed bodies of the victims every time he drove through the lush forests and mountain foothills where the killings took place. Mr Reichert was careful, however, not to overstate his achievement. "I cannot say with certainty that Gary Ridgway is responsible for all of those deaths ... but boy, have we made one giant step forward," he said.
The Green River killings are the nation's largest unsolved murder case, and have inspired books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles, in part because of the toll the killings have taken on the many police officers who have tried and, so far, failed to find the man responsible.Reuse content