In the summer of 1982, one of the most notorious serial killers ever, a man who would later be dubbed “The Green River Killer,” began luring prostitutes and runaways into his truck. Some of their bodies would later be found alongside the banks of the Green River in Washington State. The local police had no leads and many in King County, Washington were terrified.
It wasn’t until 2001 (after DNA technology had been developed) that police were finally able to locate the man responsible for the murders – a man they had picked up and questioned twice but were unable to hold because they lacked evidence. Thanks to the advancements in forensics they were able to match the DNA of Gary Ridgeway to the DNA found on the bodies of his victims. Ridgeway had worked painting trucks at a local factory and they were also able to identify tiny bits of paint found on several of the bodies as the same type used by Ridgeway at the truck plant.
The evidence mounted and the death penalty became a real possibility for Ridgeway. It was at this point he caved. In the face of the overwhelming forensic evidence that tied him to multiple murders Ridgeway admitted to murdering 48 young women from King County between 1982 and 2001. Experts believe the true number of women he murdered may be as high as 75-80. Ridgeway didn’t keep an exact count and he only cut a deal with the prosecution to discuss the murders he committed within King County in order to avoid the death penalty. He is now serving multiple life sentences with no hope of parole.
If he did murder more women outside of King County, forensics may be the only hope those women have for justice. The deals are done, Ridgeway is behind bars and can’t hurt anyone else. Still, too many questions remain and the Green River Killer isn’t talking. Thankfully, his DNA and other case evidence are now on file and available to investigators. If victims are found in other countries, thanks to forensics they will be able to link him to the murders and the death penalty may even be put back on the table.
It’s not the first time forensics has made the difference and provided the evidence police needed to close the case. Serial killer Ted Bundy bit his victims and forensic experts were able to take impressions of the bites and match them to his dental records, which helped convict him. In fact, it’s safe to say the hard work done by forensic technicians in every state help close cases every single day. If it wasn’t for their hard work and dedication, killers like Ridgeway and Bundy might still be on the loose, free to prey on women with little fear of retribution.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since 1982. We can now analyze even the tiniest clues left behind at a scene, often extract DNA and work to get criminals off the streets faster. If you’re interested in learning more about forensic science or careers in forensics you can check out our articles, “What Is Forensic Science” and “What Does It Take To Work In Forensics?”
If you’re already a forensic science student you may also want to check out some of the scholarships that are available for you.