Thursday, November 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hillside combed for victim of Ridgway

Seattle Times staff reporter

KENT — The Green River Task Force has searched a woodsy ravine along the Lake Fenwick Road before — about a half-dozen times, in fact. Every time, their rakes and shovels and machetes have failed to uncover the remains of someone's missing daughter.

But the Green River killer himself insists he came here one night to discard a strangled woman or girl, detectives said yesterday. So they were back again to scrape the earth one more time before winter sets in.

"He is adamant he put a victim here," said Detective Kathleen Larson, the task force's spokeswoman. "But where did he put her? That's something he doesn't know, and that's something he couldn't be more specific about."

Yesterday's search, on a hillside a few hundred yards from busy South 272nd Street, is the first time the task force has searched for more victims since Gary L. Ridgway last week pleaded guilty to 48 counts of murder.

It will be one of their last attempts until the spring, because frozen soil and foul weather will prevent them from hunting thoroughly for 20-year-old human remains. It also was the first time the Task Force could speak candidly about its search and acknowledge that Ridgway had directed them to the spot.

Of the original list of 49 victims of the Green River killer, Ridgway has not been convicted of seven of the deaths. He has said he is sure he killed three of those victims, Keli McGinness, Kase Lee and Patricia Osborn, prosecutors say. But without their bodies, prosecutors can't close those cases.

"What we want is corroboration," Larson said. "We don't take him at his word. We will never take him at his word."

The trouble is, Ridgway doesn't remember whose body he left off Lake Fenwick Road, detectives said. It could have been that of McGinness, Lee or Osborn. Or it could have been any of several women he says he killed but whose body has not been found.

The best estimates authorities have been able to provide say Ridgway likely killed "over 60" women in King County.

"He doesn't remember their names," Larson said. "It was about the hunt and the kill. It wasn't about who the women were. So all he can tell us is he is certain he put a victim here."

Ridgway is clear he left only one body in this ravine, Larson said, but he doesn't recall when.

The ravine is relatively vast, a long, steep drop to a wide sylvan flat. Since September, detectives gradually have cleared about five acres of brambles and old, discarded junk.

Yesterday they focused on a small area where a county crew once dumped tons of rock to control erosion or drainage. The best the county can remember, that was sometime between 1982 and 1987, just about the time Ridgway was at the height of his killing.

Detectives worked their way up the hillside all morning. By noon, though, they had picked through all the rock with no luck.

Ridgway will be sentenced within six months to life in prison without hope of release. But his deal with the government — to spare him the death penalty for any slayings he committed in King County — means he has to keep cooperating.

And the task force vows there will be plenty more searches when the days again get longer and the ground gets warmer.

"Our investigation won't stop until we know all our leads have been exhausted," Larson said.

"That's what brings us back here time and time again. We need to be able to go back to the victims' families and tell them we did the best job we could."

Ian Ith: 206-464-2109 or

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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