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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 18:40 GMT
Suspect charged in US serial killings
Victim Carol Christensen's brother-in-law Bob Christensen and her brother Don Holmin at her grave in Washington state
The killings had baffled investigators for years
American authorities have charged a man with the deaths of four women in what may be the end to one of America's most notorious serial killer cases.

Truck driver Gary Leon Ridgeway is suspected of killing four women whose deaths were blamed on the so-called Green River killer, thought to be responsible for strangling at least 49 women in the King County region of Washington state in the early 1980s.

Click here for map of where the bodies were found

The killer was nicknamed after the Green River in the state where many of the victims' bodies were found.

The victims, mostly prostitutes or runaways, were usually found strangled.

For the community the harm and danger do not diminish for the passage of time

King County prosecutor Norm Maleng
Some suspect the number of victims may exceed 50.

Authorities in King County say they have DNA evidence linking Mr Ridgeway to three of the murdered women: Marcia Chapman, Carol Christensen and Opal Mills.

The fourth victim - Cynthia Hinds - is linked to Mr Ridgeway through circumstantial evidence, authorities say.

Long-term suspect

Mr Ridgeway, who has previous convictions in relation to prostitution, was originally arrested in relation to the killings as far back as 1984, when he was interrogated by police.

Green River suspect Gary Leon Ridgeway in a police file photo
Mr Ridgeway has been a suspect since 1984

In 1987 he also provided a saliva sample to investigators, the results of which prompted police to put him under surveillance last month.

The investigation gained momentum when authorities on Monday searched four previous homes of Mr Ridgeway for evidence that could link him to the murders.

The case has baffled investigators since the discovery of the first body in 1982.

The victims were mostly prostitutes or runaways, and Sheriff Dave Reichert, who has been involved in the case since it began, says he hopes to investigate an additional 40 unsolved deaths of women in the region.

He has proposed a task force to be set up to investigate all the deaths. Investigators in San Diego and Vancouver, British Columbia are also said to be reviewing files of unsolved cases in their regions.

Fair trial

King County prosecutor Norm Maleng told Reuters news agency that he had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty, but he was confident that a trial could be handled locally without compromising Mr Ridgeway's right to a fair trial.

"For the community the harm and danger do not for the passage of time," he said.

Now authorities hope that one of America's most infamous serial murder cases may finally be solved.

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