By John Yoon
Investigators have identified the last known remains linked to the Green River Killer, one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, concluding a decadeslong effort to identify each of the 49 women and girls he was convicted of killing.
The remains were named Bones 20 when they were found in 2003 because investigators were unable to confirm their identity. DNA testing recently helped investigators confirm that they belonged to Tammie Liles, who was 16 when she disappeared from Seattle in 1983 and was identified as a victim in 1988 after a separate series of remains was traced to her, the King County Sheriff’s Office said Monday.
Now, all 49 victims have been found and identified, said Sgt. Eric White, the Sheriff’s Office spokesperson.
Gary Ridgway, who was known as the Green River Killer, terrorized King County through the 1980s and ’90s. Some of the victims’ bodies were dumped in the river south of Seattle that lends the case its name.
Ridgway had been a suspect in the murders since the early 1980s. But when investigators confronted him in 1984, he denied any knowledge of the killings and passed a polygraph test. He was arrested in 2001 for the homicides after new DNA technology allowed the authorities to gather enough evidence to tie him to the crimes.
In 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison for killing 48 people. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to his 49th murder. So far, he has confessed to 71 murders, and some investigators believe he killed more people.
Ridgway, 74, is being held without parole at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
He led investigators to Liles’ remains in 2003 near Kent-Des Moines Road in the Seattle area, where investigators found several bones and some teeth but no skull or major bones. They took a DNA sample and uploaded it to a national law enforcement database of missing people and unidentified remains, but were unable to find a match, labeling her as Bones 20.
Liles was originally identified as a victim in 1988 based on a separate, incomplete set of remains found near a golf course near Tigard, Oregon, in 1985, the Sheriff’s Office said. At the time, her brother, Jason Liles, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that his family had buried her in a baby casket because not all the parts of her body could be found.
“I was very elated that in this case, which has taken over 40 years, we were able to put a name to these bones,” White said, adding that he was relieved officials were able to give the victim’s family members “some closure” from their loss.
“It’s not a good thing to lose a child no matter what age,” he said. “I would have to assume that it was a traumatic experience to hear the words of the detectives.”
The Sheriff’s Office contracted Othram, a laboratory in Texas that specializes in DNA forensics, to help identify Bones 20. Othram built a DNA profile from the remains and used the profile to find DNA matches with distant relatives in a database, said David Mittelman, the CEO and founder of Othram.
Othram researchers found a common ancestor for the distant relatives, then built a family tree down from that ancestor to find descendants who could be the unidentified person, Mittelman said.
The search led to the family of someone who had already been identified as a victim: Liles.
“Once we saw the connection to the family, we alerted law enforcement,” Mittelman said.
Before Liles, the most recent remains tied to the Green River Killer to be identified were those of Lori Anne Razpotnik. Her remains had been known as Bones 17 for nearly 40 years.
Liles’ family could not be immediately reached late Monday.