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After 37 years, the youngest victim of one of America’s most notorious and prolific serial killers has been identified as a 14-year-old girl who had run away to the Pacific Northwest in the early 1980s.
Ridgway was dubbed the “Green River Killer” after his initial victims were found in Washington state’s Green River. He was convicted in 2003 of murdering 49 women in Washington in the early 1980s and said he had killed nearly two dozen more over the years.
Stephens was one of six victims whose remains were found within a less than two week period in 1984. Her bones were discovered in a fetal position on a baseball field. Until now, she has been known as “Bones 10.”
Retired King County Sheriff’s detective Tom Jensen told KCPQ that investigators could tell that the remains had belonged to a child, and they’d guessed she could have been as young as 12.
"It did bother me that she was so young and she was unidentified,” recalled Jensen, who has spent more than three decades trying to identify the young victim.
"How does somebody not miss someone that young?” he said, adding that he wanted to bring her home to loved ones.
The DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that uses genetic genealogy to identify unidentified remains, along with King County forensic anthropologist Kathy Taylor, helped to identify Wendy. She had run away from her Denver home in the 1980s and, up until now, there was no record of her even being in Washington state.
"Every person, in the words of Dr. Taylor, needs their name," the King County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. "Wendy again has hers thanks to the collaborative efforts of this investigative team. It is our hope today’s development brings those who love Wendy one step closer to healing."
Cairenn Binder, a genetic genealogist and team leader of this case at DNA Doe Project, told Oxygen.com on Monday that she took on the case in the fall of 2020.
“This case only took us a couple of weeks,” she said, a pace she attributed to the availability of DNA matches in GEDmatch. Third cousins who uploaded DNA were found on both sides of her family, which helped lead to a swift identification.
“It means a lot because I think it gives the power back to the family and the victim to have her name back, especially to someone who was so youthful and so innocent. She and her family deserve that,” she said.
During his killing spree, Ridgway targeted vulnerable women, primarily focusing on sex workers and underage runaways. While it has not been proven, he claimed to authorities that he killed as many as 80 women.
King County Sheriff’s department is trying to identify two more victims whose deaths have been linked to Ridgeway. He is currently serving a life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary.
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