By Chris Summers
BBC News Online
The hunt for one of America's most prolific serial killers looks to have finally ended, with the main suspect agreeing to admit to 48 murders.
A source close to Gary Ridgway has told BBC News Online the 54-year-old truck painter will admit being the Green River Killer when he appears in court next week.
The Green River Killer murdered dozens of women, mostly prostitutes from Seattle, Washington, between 1982 and 1988.
He derived his nickname from the fact that so many of his victims were dumped in the Green River, just south of Seattle.
Mr Ridgway, who worked in a truck factory in Renton, near Seattle, was arrested in 2001 and was due to go on trial next July.
But he has now agreed to a plea bargain which will mean him escaping the death penalty in return for his guilty pleas.
His pleas will be formally entered at a court hearing next Wednesday.
The plea bargain could be embarrassing for King County prosecutor Norm Maleng, who insisted he would not offer Ridgway any deals when he was arrested.
The Green River Killer's modus operandi involved picking up women either in downtown Seattle or on "the strip" close to the area's Sea-Tac airport.
After stripping and killing the women he dumped their mutilated bodies either in the river or in remote areas used as illegal rubbish tips.
Gary Ridgway will be spared the death penalty
Tim Meehan, whose pregnant sister Mary was murdered in 1983, told the Associated Press: "He deserves the death penalty, but what would be the point?
"Twenty years from now, when he'd
actually be put to death, he'd be in his mid-70s. At least now the families have an opportunity to have answers. Closure is well worth the trade-off."
The hunt for the Green River Killer began in August 1982 with the discovery of the bodies of 16-year-old Opal Mills, Cynthia Hinds, 17, and Marcia Chapman, 31.
All three had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
Over the next 20 years, as the death toll rose, the Green River Killer Taskforce, assisted by the FBI's top offender profiler, John Douglas, scoured the area looking for the murderer.
Mr Douglas suggested the killer was a religious man with a deep hatred for prostitutes.
Ridgway was arrested at one point in 1987 but was only one of dozens of suspects.
He was released but samples were taken and in 2001, when new DNA technology was brought to bear on the case, these were compared again with semen found on some of the bodies.
Some of the Green River Killer's 48 victims
In September 2001 Detective Dave Reichert was informed by the forensic scientists that Ridgway's DNA matched that found on the bodies.
Ridgway was arrested but had denied any responsibility for the crimes.
That now appears to have changed.