Boys discover body of Green River killer victim Wendy Lee Coffield, age 16, on July 15, 1982.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 6/14/1999
  • Essay 1356

On July 15, 1982, two teenage boys, who live in nearby Kent, Washington, spot a body in the Green River floating against the Meeker Street Bridge. The body is recovered and the cause of death is determined to be murder by strangulation using the victim’s own clothes. The body is later identified as Wendy Lee Coffield, who was 16 years old. This is the first of 49 bodies found of suspected victims of a serial killer. For years the Green River Killer case will have the largest number of unsolved murders attributed to one individual in the history of the United States. On November 30, 2001, a suspect, Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, a longtime resident of the area, will be arrested. DNA evidence ties Ridgway to four of the cases, and circumstantial evidence to several others.

By August 15, 1982, a total of five bodies had been found on or along the Green River. It was suspected that they were all murdered by the same person and dumped from the same location near the 25000 block of Frager Road. Most of these and subsequent victims had a history of prostitution and of run-ins with the law. They were young, mostly teenagers or in their early 20s. Because the first victims were in or near the Green River, the killer became known as the Green River Killer.

The arrested suspect, Gary Leon Ridgway, was a longtime resident of the area. He was a truck painter raised near SeaTac, and 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.


“Green River Murder Victim Identified;P Probe Inches Along” The Seattle Times, August 18, 1982, p. A13; Carlton Smith, “Wendy Juvenile in Jeopardy. [Part 1]” The Seattle Times, August 1, 1984, p. B1; Carlton Smith, “Wendy Part 3” The Seattle Times, August 3, 1984, p. B1, B2; Don Duncan, Washington: the First One Hundred Years, 1889-1989; Ian Ith, Carlton Smith, and Tomas Guillen, "Ridgway Awaits Charges; Detectives Scour Homes," The Seattle Times December 2, 2001 ( (Seattle: The Seattle Times, 1989), 128.
Revised December 2, 2001

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