SEATTLE — Genetic genealogy helped identify the youngest known victim of Green River Killer Gary Ridgway — the Pacific Northwest serial killer who admitted killing dozens of women and girls — after her remains were found almost 37 years ago near a baseball field south of Seattle.
Wendy Stephens was 14 and had run away from her home in Denver in 1983, the King County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.
Ridgway pleaded guilty in 2003 to murdering 48 women and girls. Four of the victims — including Stephens — had not been identified at the time.
Researchers at the DNA Doe Project, a volunteer organization that uses publicly available DNA databases to find relatives of unidentified victims, helped make the identification.
Stephens’ remains were found in a wooded area next to a baseball field in what is now the suburb of SeaTac on March 21, 1984. She had been strangled a year or more earlier, investigators said, and she is believed to have been Ridgway’s youngest victim.
The remains of another Ridgway victim, Cheryl Wims, were discovered at the same time.
Stephens’ family requested privacy and declined to speak with reporters, said Sgt. Tim Meyer, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
Ridgway preyed on victims in the Seattle area, many of them young women in vulnerable positions, including sex workers and runaways, mostly from 1982 to 1984. Though he had long been a suspect, his role was unconfirmed for nearly two decades before advances in DNA technology allowed detectives to identify him as the Green River Killer in 2001 from a saliva sample they had procured in 1987.
Ridgway claimed to have killed dozens more women than he was charged with — so many he said he lost count. He pleaded guilty in a deal to avoid the death penalty after agreeing to help investigators find additional remains. He is now 71, spending the rest of his life at the Washington State Penitentiary.
The Associated Press