By Anica Padilla

DENVER (CBS4) – One of the unidentified victims of the notorious Green River killer, Gary Ridgway, has now been identified as a 14-year-old runaway from Denver. Wendy Stephens is believed to be Ridgway’s youngest victim.

Gary Ridgway prepares to leave the courtroom where he was sentenced in King County Washington Superior Court December 18, 2003 in Seattle, Washington. (credit: Josh Trujillo-Pool/Getty Images)

Stephens ran away from her Denver home in 1983. In 1984, her remains were discovered in an area near what is now Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in King County, Washington.

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In 2003, Ridgway pleaded guilty in a Washington courtroom to murdering 48 women. At the time, four of Ridgway’s victims remained unidentified.

In 2019, the King County Sheriff’s Office began working with forensic anthropologist Dr. Katherine Taylor, the DNA Doe Project and other scientists. They were able to use genetic genealogy to positively identify one of the four victims as Stephens.

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It turns out, early in 2019, one of the victim’s parents had taken a DNA test and uploaded the results to GEDmatch, hoping to learn the fate of their daughter. That parent wasn’t aware that GEDmatch changed the setting on that kit in May 2019, as part of their new policy regarding law enforcement access to matches.

“Because the parent’s kit remained ‘opted-out’ when DDP uploaded Jane Doe’s data in September 2020, that important connecting lead – which would have immediately solved the case – was not available to the team,” investigators stated.

DDP paid to upload the data to FamilyTreeDNA and were able to narrow it down to Stephens.

Ridgway received 48 life sentences, without the possibility of parole. Ridgway is still serving his sentence in a Washington prison.

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Anica Padilla