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14-year-old victim of Green River killer identified

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The King County Sheriff’s Office has identified another victim of the notorious Green River killer Gary Ridgway.

Wendy Stephens, 14, was one of four victims who had remained unidentified, according to a Jan. 25 Sheriff’s Office press release. Ridgway has been convicted of 49 murders, including Stephens (known as “Jane Doe” in court documents), but by his own estimates, the murder total is closer to 70.

Stephens ran away from her Denver, Colorado, home in 1983. Her remains were discovered in 1984 at what was then known as the Highline baseball field, just west of the intersection of 16th Avenue South and South 146th Street.

That area has since been incorporated as part of the city of SeaTac. She is believed to be Ridgway’s youngest victim.

The Sheriff’s Office, working in conjunction with forensic anthropologist Dr. Katherine Taylor, the DNA Doe Project and other scientists, positively identified Stephens.

“Today’s (Monday) development is a testament to the tireless efforts of detectives, scientists and other professionals who employed the latest in emerging DNA and genealogical technologies in Wendy’s disappearance,” according to the Sheriff’s Office statement. “Cases once thought unsolvable are now within reach thanks to this pioneering work.

“Every person, in the words of Dr. Taylor, needs their name. 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.”

In 2001, DNA profiling technology linked Ridgway to the murder of four women, which led to his arrest by the Green River killer task force of the Sheriff’s Office.

“Our experienced detectives continue to work on the Green River serial murders and roughly 300 unsolved cold cases to identify victims, hold perpetrators accountable and provide these grieving families with answers,” King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said in a statement.

Ridgway lived in Auburn and worked in Renton at the Kenworth Truck Co. when detectives arrested him for investigation of murder. The body of one of his first victims was found in 1982 along the banks of the Green River in Kent.

Ridgway, 71, is serving a life sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

A plea agreement between Ridgway and King County prosecutors in 2003 allowed him to avoid the death penalty. The agreement required Ridgway to plead guilty to the original seven charged counts as well as any and all future cases where his confession could be corroborated by reliable facts revealed by the investigation, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

As part of the agreement, Ridgway led Sheriff’s Office investigators to numerous sites to help them find remains of his victims.

“Ridgway’s murderous spree left a trail of profound grief for so many families of murdered and missing women,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said in a Jan. 25 statement. “His crimes left an impact on our community that continues today.”

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Steve Hunter

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Steve Hunter