"Nobody was really scared of him. "He's a small man not ..." Bob Schweiss, coworker
For 32 years Ridgway worked in the paint department at Kenworth Truck Co., a subsidiary of Bellevue based Paccar, the world's No. 3 truck maker. Ridgway worked steadily as a journeyman painter making $21 an hour applying designs to trucks before they entered paint booths. He was good at his job. It's precise and tedious work, requiring a sharp eye. Neatness is everything. The perfect job for a meticulous man.
11-30-01 - The manager at work worked pulled Ridgway off way from his work for an hour. Ridgway was back in time to eat lunch without an explanation. "One of his coworkers joked that maybe it was another Green River thing," said Doug Cady. "There were jokes about DNA. "Little did we know."
At work he is described as a reliable employee. Attendance records reveal he was not at work on the days the victims he is charged with killing disappeared.
Coworkers shared impressions of him: Hard worker, smart, meticulous, nice, friendly, too friendly. Others called him odd, off the wall and spooky.
He read the Bible at work and tried to save others. "He was always talking about church and the savior," Troy Rowden said. The religious discussions stopped, perhaps because the bosses had told him to back off.
Grant Lau, a former retired plant manager, worked with Ridgway for a decade. "He was a Steady Eddie. He was a very normal employee. Very trouble-free." He was quiet. He ate lunch with coworkers. I wouldn't say he was shy, but he wouldn't go out of his way to engage people. Socially, he got along, but if you'd have told me yesterday he was a serial killer, I would have said no way. Nothing in his behavior would suggest that."
"He sat at the same lunch table with me. He did so every day at the same time," Douglas Cady, worked with Ridgway for 24 years. "He always had his little coffee or tea. He was very meticulous." He read a shopping guide for swap meets. "He was really into making a deal and saving a nickel," Cady said. Trading and selling was about the only hobby police could find for Ridgway.
Coworkers knew law enforcement searched his locker at work and pored over time sheets in 1984 as a possible Green River Suspect, but weren't concerned. They called him "Green River Gary," or "GR" for short. "It was a joke," said Bob Schweiss, a coworker. No one brought the subject up with Ridgway.
He'd arrive at work with lunch in hand dressed in jeans with a plaid or cowboy shirt. He'd spritz his hair in an outdated style. Throughout the day he'd comb his mustache. "He was so particular about his appearance he reminded me of a rooster in a chicken yard," said Martha Parkhill. "He held his head high and almost strutted."
When he announced he married Judith, coworkers were shocked. The knew about his divorce, but not that he was dating again. Coworkers really rallied around him when they heard the news.
He would be the first to introduce himself to newcomers and welcome them, he was also the first person newcomers heard whispers about.
Ridgway could be a gregarious and hearty fellow. "He always called me 'Smiley,'" Troy Rowden said. "If you got too close to him, you almost had to make an excuse to get away," Rowden said. "He would talk so much." He liked jokes, too, and sometimes told sexual ones.
"My first day on the job, Gary walked right up to me and shook my hand and said, 'Rich, how you doing?' even though I'd never seen him before," said Richard Boltz, a union representative.
"We've all had people who tried too hard to be your friend," said Bob Schweiss. "That was Gary. He was out-of-the way friendly. Creepy friendly. Just goofy."
Douglas Cady, worked with Ridgway for 24 years, recalls him discussing everything from coffin sizes to swap meets to in-laws fighting over his mother's estate.
Several months ago Ridgway volunteered to find Cady a prostitute. "He wanted me to know that if I was interested in a girl he could help me find one. I took it with a grain of salt. Most of the time, we didn't stick around long enough to find out what he was saying."
At one time Ridgway joked to a friend the reason he frequented prostitutes was to "keep the girls off the street."
"I was friends with Gary," says Diane LaPointe, former Kenworth employee who worked with for 8 years knowing the rumors.
Diane said male coworkers ignored him while female workers were fending off unwanted advances.
Women who worked with him say he made them uncomfortable.
"He'd come up and he'd whisper something like, I don't know, like nasty, like 'you'd better not bend over in front of me like that' and then he would like turn red and go away like he was embarrassed, ashamed of himself for saying it. And that would like give me the creeps."
"He would come up behind you and stand there until you knew he was there," Diane says. "You would turn around and he would be right there. I'd jump and scream and he thought that was pretty funny and he'd walk off."
"He would come up behind you and massage your shoulders and neck and stuff and make weird comments about your appearance," Parkhill said.
"If a woman changed anything about her appearance, no matter how little, he'd be the first to notice."
Parkhill recalled him gently grilling her after she married. "I felt cornered by him, but he kept trying to keep the conversation going. He was a nice man, but you never felt comfortable around him."
Diane didn't consider him a threat. She met his family, even bought a car from him. She says she followed him to his house, alone one night. She'd consider visiting him in jail because he was a friend and she has a question. "Yeah, I would ask him if he did this."
Copyright Kari Sable 1994-2011