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Jill McCabe Johnson was just 18 years old when she had a one-night stand with an older man she met at a country western dance hall in Seattle.
The pair would never connect again, but decades later, Johnson would begin to suspect that she had slept with one of the country’s most prolific serial killers: Gary Ridgway.
McCabe Johnson recalled making the chilling discovery in an essay in Slate titled “The Night Gary Drove Me Home,” detailing in disturbing detail the number of similarities between the Gary she shared a romantic rendezvous with and the man, later known as the “Green River Killer,” who was convicted of brutally slaughtering 49 women.
According to McCabe Johnson, she met Gary at White Shutters, a country western dance hall, in either late 1980 or 1981.
“I had no reason to suspect anything odd about Gary back then,” she wrote. “I ran into him a few times over several weeks, and he seemed nice enough. He always asked me to dance and bought me whatever I happened to be drinking that night, usually tonic water or pineapple juice.”
Gary told her he was 29-years-old, but after noticing a “sagginess beneath his chin” she suspected he might be older.
After a night out one evening, Gary offered to give her a ride home and followed her upstairs to her apartment, where he told her of the bitter divorce proceedings he was going through with his wife and even showed her a photograph of his young son.
Ridgway would later tell investigators that he often used a photograph of his son to put his female victims at ease, according to The News Tribune.
McCabe Johnson said the Gary she knew had also talked about his job doing industrial painting and showed her his business card, before the pair began to make out, eventually culminating in sex.
But just as they were about to continue their romantic interlude, McCabe Johnson said her roommates returned home and seemed to spook Gary, who left a short time later.
“The following weekend, Gary called to ask me out dancing,” she wrote. “I had the beginnings of a sore throat and used that as an excuse to beg off. In truth, the idea of dating a man in the middle of a divorce and with a young son held no appeal.”
The pair would never connect romantically again, but McCabe Johnson said in the months that followed she would occasionally see Gary sitting in the parking lot of her apartment, although she always had her new boyfriend with her and he never approached her.
McCabe Johnson moved on with her life, but was flooded with memories of the man she once knew in 2001 after Ridgway was arrested for being the Green River Killer.
“The Gary in the news looked kind of familiar, but squintier and heavier than the man I remembered and his hair seemed a little darker, too,” she wrote, adding that she initially wrote it off as a mere coincidence.
It wasn’t until she began to learn more details about the case while planning to write about her experience growing up in Seattle, an epi-center of serial killer activity for not only Ridgway but also Ted Bundy, that she noticed the eerie similarities between Ridgway and the Gary she once knew.
Aside from often showing women a photo of his son, Ridgway had also driven a beat-up truck, loved dancing to country western music and even once attended a meeting for divorced parents at the same dance hall where she had met Gary, she wrote.
“Finally, I forced myself to consider it for real: Maybe it really was Gary Ridgway I took home one night 40 years ago,” she wrote admitting she first found herself feeling “deeply embarrassed” about the potential brush with a killer.
While Ridgway’s first documented victim wasn’t until the summer of 1982, he was arrested in July of 1980 for choking a sex worker, although the charges were later dropped, according to a “Martinis and Murder” podcast episode focusing on the killer.
McCabe Johnson said after putting the pieces together of her own harrowing encounter with the man she now believes to be Ridgway, she began wondering if her roommates’ surprising return to the apartment that night had saved her from a darker fate.
“Ridgway apparently didn’t begin killing until 1982, but my mind often races: What if my roommates hadn’t come home when they did? What if I hadn’t gotten sick when he asked me out the next weekend? What if I’d been alone when I found him waiting in my parking lot?” she wrote.
McCabe Johnson added that the “worst discovery” was learning that one of Ridgway’s victims, Marcia Faye Chapman, lived in the same apartment complex where she had once lived.
“I couldn’t bear to think of her death, or the idea I might have drawn a killer into her orbit,” she wrote.
To finally answer the question once and for all about whether the man in her apartment had been Ridgway, McCabe Johnson wrote to the convicted killer behind bars, but to date he's never written back.
“As of this week, my mailbox remains empty. Maybe someday I’ll turn the key and find an envelope marked with a state penitentiary return address. In the meantime, I’ll tell you what I told my husband: It seems impossible that it wasn’t Gary Ridgway who slept with me that winter night in early 1981. And it seems equally impossible that it was,” she wrote.
Ridgway is currently behind bars serving a life sentence for the murders of 49 women. His youngest victim, 14-year-old Wendy Stephens, was positively identified earlier this year decades after her body was discovered in a baseball field in 1984, according to KING.
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