AUBURN, Wash. — Investigators know her simply as Bones 17.
Her partial skeletal remains were discovered Jan. 2, 1986 near a cemetery in southeast King County, Washington. Gary Leon Ridgway, the notorious Green River Killer, pleaded guilty in 2003 to killing the girl — but he cannot remember her name.
Now, working with forensic anthropologist Dr. Katherine Taylor, detectives with the King County Sheriff’s Office have released a detailed image of what Bones 17 may have looked like.
For help with that task, they turned to two formidable allies: Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Parabon conducted a Snapshot DNA analysis, which uses DNA phenotyping to predict, from a person’s genetic code, what they looked like. According to the company’s website, “it can be used to generate leads in cases where there are no suspects or database hits, to narrow suspect lists and to help solve human remains cases.”
In the case of Bones 17, they developed a composite portrait of what the young woman would have looked like, from her blonde hair to her green eyes.
“There is renewed urgency in this case,” King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said in a statement. “Thirty-five years have passed since Bones 17′s discovery, and investigators want to connect with family before memories and other evidence fade.”
Forensic evidence indicates the girl was in her mid-to-late teens when she was killed, authorities said.
“The path and circumstances that brought her to the Puget Sound area remain unknown,” the police statement said. “Isotope analysis, already done in this case, suggests she may be a native of the eastern United States or Canada.”
NCMEC officials said that the condition of the teen’s remains indicated she’d been dead for at least one year, and possibly as long as three years, before her bones were found.
She is one of just two of Ridgway’s 49 known victims who remain unidentified. The other unidentified woman, called Bones 20, was found at a site off the Kent-Des Moines Road near Kent in August 2003, after Ridgway confessed to her murder.
Bones 20′s skull was never found and the identity of the woman, who was killed sometime between 1970 and 1983, remains unknown.
‘An excellent place to dump a woman’
Bones 17 was one of three known Ridgway victims found in the vicinity of Mountain View Cemetery in Auburn. The first, Kimi-Kai Pitsor, was found Dec. 14, 1983, after a man on a walk found a human skull.
Pitsor was 16 when she vanished in April 1983 from downtown Seattle. Her boyfriend told police they’d had an argument and he last saw her getting into an older model, green Ford pickup truck.
She was never seen alive again. The teen’s boyfriend later tentatively picked Ridgway out of a lineup as the driver of the truck, according to court documents.
In June 2003, when Ridgway was questioned, he told detectives he’d picked up Pitsor using his girlfriend’s truck. Even before Pitsor closed the truck door, his intent was to kill the girl.
Despite a detailed search of the area where Pitsor’s skull was found, no other bones were located. The remainder of her body was found two years later, in December 1985, at a dumpsite on a steep slope across from the cemetery.
The new discovery began with a car that crashed off the road and on the embankment.
“Two men employed at the cemetery went down to look at the wrecked car and discovered what appeared to be human bones,” court records state. “When the Task Force detectives arrived, they immediately realized that this was another dumpsite.”
The bones the workers had stumbled upon were not those of Pitsor. The skeleton they found that day still had its skull.
By the end of the week, however, authorities had not one but three sets of human remains. One was the torso and limbs of Pitsor.
The other two sets were dubbed Bones 16 and Bones 17.
A forensic anthropologist determined that Bones 16 was a Black woman between 20 and 25 years old. She was between 5 feet, 1 inch and 5 feet, 4 inches.
Lying at the foot of a large rotten tree stump was Bones 17. The anthropologist pegged her as Caucasian, between 14 and 17 years old. She was between 5 feet, 4 inches and 4 feet, 8 inches tall.
During questioning in 2003, Ridgway was able to direct detectives to the precise spots where he left each of the three victims. His ex-wife told authorities he knew the area well; when they lived in the Twin Lakes area, Ridgway had to drive past the cemetery every day to go to and from work.
“Ridgway was asked why and how he chose the Mountain View site,” the documents say. “He said that he drove up the road and thought, ‘There’s a fantastic bank and trees. Just an excellent place to dump a woman and I can see ahead when I drop her off.’”
Pitsor and the other two victims were among the 48 victims Ridgway admitted to killing in his 2003 guilty plea. At the time, Bones 16 and Bones 17 were two of four victims who had not yet been identified.
In 2012, Bones 16 was identified through DNA as Sandra Denise Major. Major, 20, was identified that June after a family member, who watched a movie about Ridgway, asked authorities to look into whether Major, who was last known to be in the Seattle area, might have been one of his victims.
Her hunch proved correct.
Another of the four unidentified victims, Bones 10, was identified earlier this year as Wendy Stephens, 14, of Denver. Stephens, who ran away from home in 1983, was the youngest of Ridgway’s known victims.
Beginning as early as the summer of 1982, Ridgway targeted prostitutes and runaways he picked up on the streets in and around Seattle. Ridgway continued killing until at least 1998, when his final known victim was slain.
Though he was long considered a suspect in the case, it wasn’t until 2001 that Ridgway was arrested and charged.
The killer, named for the river in and near which many of his victims’ bodies were found, was sentenced to 48 life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders. He received an additional 480 years in prison for tampering with evidence, charges that stemmed from the disposal of each of the dead.
In 2011, he pleaded guilty to a 49th murder, that of Rebecca Marrero. The 20-year-old vanished in December 1982 after leaving a motel located near the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
Her skeletal remains were found in December 2010 in a ravine in Auburn.