Detectives question killer

Convicted serial killer Gary Ridgway left the Monroe Correctional Complex Thursday without giving Snohomish County detectives the clues they sought to solve seven unsolved murders.

Two homicide detectives interviewed the Green River killer over two days, searching for any hint that he was connected to seven murders that share strong similarities with those he recently confessed to committing in King County.

"We got nothing from him," Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart said. "At this point, my guys believe he was truthful. It doesn’t look like there’s any connection."

The state Department of Corrections moved Ridgway, 54, from the penitentiary in Walla Walla to the Twin Rivers Correction Center on Sunday, according to prison spokeswoman Jane McKenzie.

He was housed away from other inmates in a segregated building where a specially trained team of guards oversaw his stay, McKenzie said.

Ridgway pleaded guilty in November to strangling 48 women between 1982 and 1998 in King County. In return, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. Ridgway, one of the nation’s most prolific serial killers, was sentenced in December to 48 consecutive life terms without chance of release.

The Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office also agreed not to seek the death penalty if Ridgway implicated himself in the cases he discussed with detectives.

"We had not one single shred of evidence that he was connected or any hope we would develop any evidence" without talking to him, said Mark Roe, the county’s chief criminal prosecutor.

The cases had been examined for links to the Green River killer in the past.

In 1991, detectives discussed the possibility that the 1988 deaths of Jennifer Anne Burnetto, 32, and Robin Maria Kenworthy, 20, whose bodies were found near index, could be the work of a serial killer.

Suspicions about those murders became public after the 1991 discovery of human remains in a roadside dumping area off High Bridge Road south of Monroe. A skull found there belonged to Sun Nyo Lee, 36, of Bothell, who disappeared the year before. The other remains belonged to a long-haired man, as yet unidentified.

It was Ridgway’s detailed admissions last year that had sheriff’s detectives taking another look at possible ties to the unsolved murders in Snohomish County, Bart said.

Most of the victims were similar to the women Ridgway admitted stalking, their bodies for most part were found dumped in clusters in steep areas, and most were last seen alive in King County, the sheriff said. Ridgway also admitted changing his methods and was willing to travel considerable distances to place false clues to throw detectives off his trail.

Bart wouldn’t say specifically what murders the two sheriff’s detectives discussed with Ridgway, only that a majority of them were ones he had investigated while working as a homicide detective in the early 1980s.

Detectives will continue to look into these unsolved murders and could even speak with Ridgway again if they find new evidence, Bart said.

"I think we gave it our best shot," he said. "Speaking as an old homicide detective, you always hold out hope to solve the case. It’s disappointing we’re not able to do that right now, but these cases are not closed."

Bart’s attitude reassured Jenny Wieland, executive director of Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crimes. The organization worked with the families of suspected Green River killer victims who Ridgway never admitted to murdering.

"When it’s an unsolved murder, it really complicates the grieving process," she said.

Family members worry about their own safety. They fear the killer will destroy someone else’s family. They worry justice will never be served.

"For them, the boogie man is still out there," she said.

Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or hefley@heraldnet.com.

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