On this day: Green River Killer case opens in 1982 with discovery of 23-year-old woman’s body

Wednesday marks 38 years since the body of Debra Lynn Bonner, 23, was found floating in the Green River. The discovery of Bonner’s body opened the Green River Killer case that culminated in the 2001 arrest and conviction of serial killer Gary Ridgway.

The following is a recap of the event in a HistoryLink.org essay written by Walt Crowley

On August 12, 1982, Frank Linard discovers the body of a young woman floating in the Green River, yards from the Kent slaughterhouse where he worked. The remains are later identified as those of Debra Lynn Bonner, age 23, a convicted prostitute who had disappeared on July 25.

Police quickly link her death to those of earlier victims, Wendy Coffield, 16, and Leann Wilcox, both known prostitutes. As more bodies are discovered in or near the Green River over the next few days, police conclude that a serial murderer -- dubbed the Green River Killer -- is on the loose. Over the next two years, a total of 49 victims, mostly young prostitutes and dancers known to frequent the Highway 99/Pacific Avenue South "strip" near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, will be attributed to the same killer. After a years-long, frustrating investigation, on November 30, 2001, police will arrest suspect Gary Leon Ridgway, whose DNA is associated with the bodies of four of the victims. This essay contains a list of the women killed.

The Investigation

King County Police Major Bob Kraske and Detective David Reichert (later elected County Sheriff) led the initial investigation of Bonner's murder. In consultation with other police departments, they linked the Bonner killing with the earlier unsolved murders of Wendy Coffield and Leann Wilcox, and reached the conclusion that a serial killer might be stalking street prostitutes in the south King County area. As new victims turned up in or near the Green River, King County Executive Randy Revelle and new Sheriff Vernon Thomas organized a special Green River Task Force, first directed by Frank Adamson.

The list of suspected Green River victims rose to 49 over the next two years. Until the arrest of Ridgway, formal charges were never brought against any suspect despite the expenditure of $15 million and tens of thousands of staff hours, the assistance of famed profiler Bob Keppel and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and tips from psychics and citizens. The last victim, Cindy Smith, was found in March 1984. It was subsequently presumed that that the killer had left King County. County Executive Tim Hill disbanded the Green River Task Force in 1989, but the case remains open.

Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, a longtime resident of the area, was arrested on November 30, 2001. DNA evidence ties Ridgway to four of the cases, and circumstancial evidence to several others. Ridgway, a truck painter raised near SeaTac, is a Tyee High School graduate. He has been a suspect for a long time, but before now, detectives had not found adequate evidence to build a case against him.

The Victims: Young, Some More Girl Than Woman

The Seattle Times published this list of 49 victims, all young women, many as young as 15, 16, and 17. They were all killed between the summer of 1982 and March 1984. There were 42 bodies found, of which four remain unidentified.

They are listed in the order of their disappearance, from the summer of 1982 to March 1984. Listed are the dates they were last seen and the dates when their bodies or remains were found. Those whose bodies or remains were found are numbered 1 to 42. Of the 42 found, four remain unidentified. The women who are not numbered are missing and presumed to have been victims of the killer.

1. Amina Agisheff, 36, last seen July 7, 1982, leaving Seattle apartment. Remains found April 18, 1984, near Highway 18 and Interstate 90.

2. Wendy Lee Coffield, 16, July 8, 1982, at state receiving home, Tacoma. Body found in Green River July 15, 1982, near Kent.

3. Gisele Ann Lovvorn, 17, July 17, 1982, near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Went out to turn tricks. Found September 25, 1982, south of airport.

4. Debra Lynn Bonner, 23, July 25, 1982, last seen south of Sea-Tac Airport. Found August 12, 1982, in the Green River near Kent.

5. Marcia Faye Chapman, 31, August 1, 1982, near 30th Avenue S and S 188th Street. Left home to work Sea-Tac strip. Found August 15, 1982, Green River.

6. Cynthia Jean Hinds, 17, August 11, 1982, near the Sea-Tac strip. Found Aug. 15, 1982, on bank of Green River near Kent.

7. Opal Charmaine Mills, 16, August 12, 1982, at a public phone booth off Sea-Tac strip near 192nd Street. Found August 15, 1982, Green River, Kent.

— Kase Ann Lee, 16, August 28, 1982, at 11:30 a.m. at her South King County home by her husband.

8. Terry Rene Milligan, 16, August 29, 1982, S 144th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found April 1, 1984, off Star Lake Road in South King County.

9. Mary Bridget Meehan, 18, September 15, 1982, at S 165th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found November 13, 1983, at S 192nd Street and 27th Avenue S.

10. Debra Lorraine Estes, 15, disappeared September 20, 1982. Found May 30, 1988, at S 348th Street and First Avenue S.

11. Denise Darcel Bush, 22, October 8, 1982, last seen noon, S 144th Street and Pacific Highway S. Left apartment to buy cigarettes. Body appears first to have been left in wooded area at S 137th Street and 44th Avenue S in Tukwila. Some skeletal remains found there February 10, 1990. Her skull was found June 12, 1985, in Tigard, Oregon. Investigators believe the killer returned to the Tukwila site and moved part of her remains.

12. Shawnda Leea Summers, 17, October 9, 1982, near Yesler Way in Seattle. Found August 11, 1983, near South 146th Street north of Sea-Tac airport.

— Patricia Anne Osborn, 19, last seen October 20, 1983, as she left a motel at N 115th Street and Aurora Avenue N.

13. Shirley Marie Sherril, 18, between October 20 and November 7, 1982, in Seattle's Chinatown International District. Remains found June 14, 1985, in Tigard, Oregon, along with Denise Bush.

— Pammy Annette Avent, 16, last seen October 26, 1983, as she left her home, possibly for the Rainier Valley strip.

— Rebecca T. Marrero, 20, December 3, 1982, at Western Six Motel near S 168th Street and Pacific Highway S.

14. Colleen Renee Brockman, 15, about December 24, 1982. Family last saw her December 23, 1982. Found May 26, 1984, near Sumner, Pierce County.

15. Alma Ann Smith, 18, March 3, 1983, at S 188th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found April 2, 1984, in Star Lake area.

16. Delores LaVerne Williams, 17, March 8, 1983, at bus stop near S 188th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found March 31, 1984, near Star Lake.

17. Gail Lynn Mathews, 24, April 10, 1983, near S 216th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found September 18, 1983, near Star Lake.

18. Andrea M. Childers, 19, April 16, 1983. Found October 11, 1989, south of Sea-Tac airport in the 2700 block of S 192nd Street.

19. Sandra Kay Gabbert, 17, April 17, 1983, at S 142nd Street and Pacific Highway S. Found April 1, 1984, in Star Lake area.

20. Kimikai Pitsor, 16, April 17, 1983, in Seattle. Skull found December 15, 1983, near Auburn cemetery. Other remains found there January 1986.

— Marie M. Malvar, 18, April 30, 1983, about 9:40 p.m. at a store at S 216th Street and Pacific Highway South.

21. Carol Christensen, 21, May 3, 1983, at S 148th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found May 8, 1983, in Maple Valley near Southeast 244th Street.

22. Martina Theresa Authorlee, 18, May 22, 1983, at hotel near S 188th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found November 14, 1984, near Enumclaw.

23. Cheryl Lee Wims, 18, May 23, 1983, in Seattle. Found March 22, 1984, just north of Sea-Tac airport near Little League baseball field.

24. Yvonne Shelly Antosh, 19, May 31, 1983, near S 141st Street and Pacific Highway S. Found October 15, 1983, near Lake Sawyer.

25. Carrie A. Rois, 15, May 31 to June 13, 1983, near 16900 block of 114th Avenue SE. Found March 10, 1985, in Star Lake area.

26. Constance Elizabeth Naon, 21, June 8, 1983, at S 188th Street and Pacific Highway S. Found October 27, 1983, just south of Sea-Tac Airport.

27. Tammie Charlene Liles, 16, June 9, 1983, downtown Seattle. Remains found April 23, 1985, in Tualatin, Oregon, south of Portland.

— Keli K. McGinness, 18, June 28, 1983, at S 216th Street and Pacific Highway S,standing by the street.

28. Kelly Marie Ware, 22, July 19, 1983, at a Seattle bus stop. Remains found October 29, 1983, near S 190th Street and 24th Avenue S.

29. Tina Marie Thompson, 22, July 25, 1983, Sea-Tac strip motel. Found April 20, 1984, near Highway 18 and Interstate 90.

— April Dawn Buttram, 17, August 18, 1983, when police spoke to her in the 7300 block of Rainer Avenue S.

30. Debbie May Abernathy, 26, September 5, 1983, when she left her apartment to go to downtown Seattle. Found March 31, 1984, 12 miles east of Enumclaw.

31. Tracy Ann Winston, 19, September 12, 1983, about 7 p.m. in the Northgate Mall near NE 105th Street and Fifth Avenue NE. Found March 27, 1986, near the Green River in Kent.

32. Maureen Sue Feeney, 19, September 28, 1983, at Seattle bus stop. Found May 2, 1986, off Interstate 90 and near North Bend.

33. Mary Sue Bello, 25, October 11, 1983, about 5 p.m. on the Sea-Tac strip. Found October 12, 1984, eight miles east of Enumclaw.

— Patricia Osborn, 19, October 20, 1983, as she left a motel at N 115th Street and Aurora Avenue N.

34. Delise Louise Placer, 22, October 30, 1983, at Beacon Hill bus stop. Found February 14, 1984, near Interstate 90 east of North Bend.

— Pammy Avent, 16, October 26, 1983, as she left her home, possibly for the Rainier Valley.

35. Kim Nelson (Kimberly L.), 26, November 1, 1983, at bus stop near S 141st Street and Pacific Highway S. Found June 14, 1986, off Interstate 90 near North Bend. She was also known as Tina Tomson and Linda Lee Barkey.

36. Lisa Yates, 26, December 23, 1983, about 11 a.m. in Rainier Valley. Found March 13, 1984, off Interstate 90 east of North Bend.

37. Mary Exzetta West, 16, February 6, 1984, about 2 p.m. in Rainier Valley. Found Sept. 8, 1985, in Seattle's Seward Park.

38. Cindy Anne Smith, 17, March 21, 1984, hitchhiking on Pacific Highway S. Found June 27, 1987, off Highway 18 near Green River Community College.

39. Remains 10, found March 21, 1984, at S 146th Street and 16th Avenue S north of Sea-Tac. Still unidentified.

40. Oregon 1, remains found April 23, 1985, near Tualatin, Oregon, just south of Portland, along with Tammie Liles. Still unidentified.

41. Remains 16, found December 31, 1985, just south of Auburn's Mountain View Cemetery. Still unidentified.

42. Remains 17, found January 2, 1986, just south of Auburn's Mountain View Cemetery. Still unidentified.

Sources: Carlton Smith and Tomas Guillen, The Search for the Green River Killer (New York: Penguin Books, 1991); Ian Ith, Carlton Smith, and Tomas Guillen, “Ridgway Awaits Charges; Detectives Scour Homes,” The Seattle Times December 2, 2001 (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com); “The Green River Killer’s Victims,” Ibid..