In memory of all the lost and murdered young women who fell victim to the Green River Killer, with my profound regret that they never had the chance to make the new start so many of them hoped to achieve – Ann Rule, author of ‘Green River, Running Red’
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, in the Seattle and Tacoma areas of Washington, fear walked alongside the night owls and hustlers as the bodies of numerous young women were found in or near the Green River in south King County. As the the landslide of human loss steadily accelerated, police — even those who normally hesitated to cooperate with neighboring jurisdictions — quickly noticed a horrific pattern appearing in instances that were previously considered simply isolated tragedies.
The murderer dubbed the Green River Killer was eventually identified as Gary Leon Ridgway, a boring little man of meager intelligence, whose presence was so painfully average and unremarkable he was able to lure, torture, and kill dozens of young women without anyone noticing or even suspecting him. Ridgway targeted the desperate and the vulnerable, primarily sex workers or runaways, because he thought nobody would notice their absences and because he “hated them,” later stating in interviews that he wanted to “…kill as many prostitutes as possible.” But he would occasionally venture away from his M.O. to target victims of opportunity (women walking home, hitchhiking, etc.).
Ridgway was eventually captured and convicted of his 49 confirmed victims, but he would later go on to confess to upwards of 80 murders. 49 young women with their own hopes, dreams and goals, sniffed out far too soon all because some monster dubbed them disposable for their “high risk lifestyles.” Rather than give any more attention to Ridgway (and his seemingly endless slew of mommy issues), let’s flip the script and shine the spotlight on the lives he stole, focusing on how they lived rather than how they died.
Wendy Lee Coffield
As is the case for many young women, Wendy Lee Coffield began acting out pretty much the moment she hit puberty. The youngest of two daughters, Wendy was 12 when she and a friend ran away to a nearby truck stop, hoping to catch a ride. Her reason for doing so was never disclosed. Back at home, Wendy’s parents attempted to implement punishments, but Wendy was too strong-willed, short-tempered, and impulsive for them to make a difference. Following her parents divorce in 1979, Wendy’s behavior only got worse with her mother describing her as, “wild in a lot of ways but I don’t think it was a harmful kind of wild. The only one it hurt was herself.”
Wendy went to live with her mother, Virginia Coffield. They struggled financially, often living in many low-income housing units and tents, and would pick blackberries in the fields during the summer in order to afford food. After dropping out of Junior High she enrolled in Kent Continuation School to catch up. By 1982 Wendy was working as a sex worker, had multiple run ins with police and was drinking and doing drugs often. Her mother described Wendy as a chronic runaway, someone who was running away from unhappiness or seeking excitement. Maybe both. She was only 16 years old.
Gisele Ann Lovvorn
California native Gisele Lovvorn had, by all accounts, a normal and happy childhood. The youngest child of an upper middle class family with an IQ of 145, Gisele did well in school and was an avid reader; her favorite book was Colleen McCullough’s The Thornbirds. She began to feel isolated and started running away from home when she was 14. Giselle enjoyed the Charlie Daniels Band and collected antique Jack Daniel’s whiskey labels. She was also a devoted fan of the band The Grateful Dead. She loved the band so much that she followed their concerts all over the country. On on of her trips Gisele had become involved with a taxi driver known as Jak-Bak. He was older and was all too eager to lean on young Gisele for financial support; resulting her to turn to prostitution. The two stayed in a small apartment in Washington State. It is doubtful that her family knew what she was doing for money. She was last seen on the Sea-Tac Strip on July 17th, 1982.
At Ridgway’s trial, her sister Michelle gave this moving speech about her sister: “Gisele was very much loved by her family and has been missed very much every day for the last 20 years. Gisele was only 17 years old when she was murdered by that animal sitting over there who we have to call a man…Dying would be too easy for him. It is impossible to put into words how much her murder has devastated and destroyed my family. This will never put an end or closure on her death or murder. I miss her everyday and it will never stop…”
Deborah Lynn Bonner
Deborah Lynn Bonner was 23 years old when she was last seen on July 25th, 1982. The youngest of three children, Deborah- who typically went by the nickname “Dub”- grew up in an impoverished environment. One can only assume that they may have had a lack of financial resources and that their low socioeconomic status may have contributed to Dub’s future course of life. After falling in with the wrong friends Dub dropped out of high school, began abusing alcohol and fought with her parents. After loosing her job at the at the Dairy Queen in South Tacoma and failing a test to join the Navy, Dub decided to work on getting her GED. But then she met 27 year old Robert L. Martin, a known drug dealing pimp in the Tacoma area. Dub quickly became infatuated with Martin, who made her happy enough for Dub to willfully work the streets to support him. “Soliciting sex made it possible to live a lifestyle of traveling and being able to purchase heroin…While Dub would go to the streets looking for business, Carl would spend time lurking in the taverns in Tacoma.”
The couple lived out of various motels as they traveled up and down the West Coast working “the circuit”. Dub seemed to have a good relationship with her parents but things were tense by July of 1982. Arguments would ensue when her parents would speak negatively of Martin and say that he was a bad influence. Despite the fights Dub was always welcome in their home and she made a point to call and check in a few times a week, always ending the calls with “I love you” and “Tell Dad I love him”. Dub’s mother, Shirley, described her as kind hearted and fun loving “…she had so many friends, black and white. She was good-hearted and all that. She loved everybody. She’d do anything for anybody.“
Marcia Fay Chapman
Unfortunately there is little known about Marcia Chapman’s early life. An Arizona native, 31 year old Marcia- who was known as “Tiny” by her friends- was a single mother of three children (ages 11, 9 and 3 as of 1982) who turned to sex work to support them; she refused the services of a pimp for protection, that way she wouldn’t have to share her earnings. She was described as cheerful, outgoing and someone who could take care of herself. On August 2nd, 1982, Marcia’s mother reported her missing. “Marcia told kids she was going to store,” her mother said in the missing-person report. “Never returned. Never has done anything like this. Good mother.”
Cynthia Jean Hinds
Like Wendy and Dub, 17 year old Cynthia Hinds dropped out of high school after falling in with the wrong crowd. Cynthia, who often went by “Cookie”, got a job through a private contractor to paint apartments, and worked with a friend, Opal Mills, another of Ridgway’s victims. Cynthia had also been working as a sex worker since she was 14 years old. Robert Williams last saw his daughter alive on August 10th, 1982, during one of her shifts at a South Seattle barbecue restaurant. Her family described her as a loving and caring person. Her brother, Terry, stated “She still was a human being and she still had family that cared and loved her just like all the other ones had family that cared and loved them. And my sister she was a sweet person, a caring person and she was loved by a lot of people.”
Opal Charmaine Mills
There is no documented of 16 year old Opal Mills being involved in any kind of prostitution. Growing up Opal was a pure hearted, loving child who named the dolls and stuffed animals kept on her bed. She often went speed walking with her mother and was incredibly close with her big brother, Garrett, who took his job as Opal’s protector very seriously. “She was the ‘Princess.’ From the time she was born, my main job, always, was to look after Opal and keep her safe” Garrett recalled Opal wanting to be rich one day so she can take care of their mother and buy her a large house, “Even when she was seven, she struck me as someone who cared about others more than herself.”
Opal was a bright student who dreamed of being a model some day. Her last phone call had been to her brother on August 12th, 1982 asking for a ride. She was planning to do a painting job with her friend Cynthia Hinds. Garrett had worked late the night before and was asleep when the phone rang. At her funeral, her family played her favorite song, “Love Begins with One Hello.”
Terri Rene Milligan
Terri was 16 years old at the time of her disappearance. She had always been a brilliant student and had dreams of attending Yale to study computer science after graduating high school. She’d been active in her church too. Her life took a major detour when she became pregnant in middle school. Terri adored her baby boy but she dropped out of school and never had the chance to go back. By August of 1982 she was living in a motel with her boyfriend and was supporting the both of them as a sex worker. She was last seen on August 29, 1982 near South 144th Street and Pacific Highway South.
Mary Bridget Meehan
Almost everyone that knew 18 year old Mary Meehan would describe her as outgoing and vibrant. She was also incredibly stubborn. Despite almost everyone in her large family having allergies to them, as a child Mary would often bring home stray cats and try to hide them in her room. The persistent sneezing was usually her undoing. She had never been a great student; Mary suffered from a hearing misperception that made concentrating difficult. However she was an incredibly talented artist who began to rebel in middle school.
By 1982 Mary had been through quite a lot. She left her family home– though she called her parents often to check in– became pregnant and miscarried twice and was experimenting with drugs, mostly marijuana and LSD. Mary began going to group sessions at the Youth Eastside Services to get herself back on track. When she became pregnant for a third time, Mary decided to give the baby boy up for adoption, though she regretted it soon after. She conceived yet again within a month. This time she was determined to turn things around by keeping this child and getting her GED. Mary was almost eight months pregnant when she went missing near the Western Six Motel on September 15th, 1983,
Debra Lorraine Estes
From the time Debra Estes was a small child she was considered a headstrong, wild girl who was almost impossible to rein in. When she was 10, unbeknownst to her parents, Debbie somehow managed to get a prescription for birth control from a planned-parenthood office. By 12 she would often run away from home after fights with her parents. By 1982 Debbie decided to leave her family home, stole $250 from her mother’s purse and began living in various motels with an older boyfriend/pimp; whether or not he knew she was underage isn’t known.
When she was sexually assaulted by a man in September, 1982. Debbie– using her street name Betty Lorraine– eventually agreed to work with police in hopes of filing charges against her rapist. She eagerly agreed to testify in court when she was last seen by detectives on September 20th. Debbie was young, capricious, had many friends who adored her and she loved horses. She was only 15 years old.
Linda Jane Rule
Linda Rule– known to her family as “Janie”– had a background all too familiar among Green River victims. She dropped out of middle school, left her family home by 14 and was an occasional drug user (marijuana and Ritalin) who turned to sex work to financially support herself. When 16 year old Linda left her motel room on the afternoon of September 26th, 1982, she appeared to be in a good mood. Things were finally looking up. She and her boyfriend, a 24 year old Bobby, were recently engaged and she hoped they could have a regular, “normal” life. She was walking towards the Kmart where she planned to shop for clothes. “She was one of the brightest, happiest little kids,” her father Robert Rule recalled. “She loved everybody. She’d hug anyone. She loved writing. She was better educated than either of us…She had luminous eyes, a love of learning and ambitions beyond working the street for her boyfriend-pimp, says her family.”
Denise Darcel Bush
Unfortunately there is little information available on 23 year old Denise Bush. A Portland native, Denise was an experienced and fairly cautious sex worker who often traveled to Seattle, where the money was better, to work. At some point during her young life Denise had a medical procedure involving her brain and her skull had a small hole in the bony process there. She also suffered bouts of epileptic seizures that were controlled with medication. Though she only discussed these things with people she was very close with. Denise had traveled up to Seattle sometime in the fall of 1982 with her “boyfriend”. She was last seen on October 8th on her way to get cigarettes at a nearby convince store.
Shawnda Leea Summers
There is also very little information available on Shawnda Summers. Even her birthday appears to have been lost to time. Born sometime in 1965, Shawnda was one of three children and had a history of prostitution. She was only 17 at the time of her disappearance. Shawnda was last seen along Pacific Highway South near S144th. During Gary Ridgway’s sentencing hearing Shawnda’s sister, Sharse Woods-Summers, made a victim impact statement. At one point she said, “The same lives that you took seem to be the same lives saving yours. I find that very ironic,” in reference to Ridgway’s plea deal that would spare him from the death penalty in exchange for confessing and disclosing the locations of victim’s bodies.
Shirley Marie Sherrill
18 year old Shirley Sherrill was once on the drill team and loved to dance. The oldest of three daughters, Shirley grew up in a tightknit family and was working as a sex worker by 1982. She was last seen on October 18th by a close friend. The two just had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Seattle’s International District.
Rebecca “Becky” Marrero
On August 4, 1962, Rebecca Marrero was born. There isn’t much information available on her early life though it seems she was close with her family including her sister, mother, and later, her daughter, Shaunté. By 1982 Becky was 20 and was supporting herself as a sex worker. She sometimes said that it would be better for the baby if her mother adopted Shaunté. According to her family, the last time Becky left the family home she turned back to her mother and said “I’m going to be gone for a long time, and where I’m going, I can’t take a baby.” She was a good friend of Debra Estes’s and was last seen alive on December 2nd west of the SeaTac Strip. She was trying to make money to buy Christmas presents for her family.
Colleen Renee Brockman
Colleen Brockman was only 15 years old when she disappeared. She had run away a few times before when she was living with her father and brother near the Lake Washington Ship Canal in north Seattle. Typically she would return after just a few days. But in December of 1982 there was no question that Colleen meant to leave for good. This time she took quite a few things from the family home (all her clothes, her Christmas gifts, the family’s stereo and some money) so, in the hopes that a warrant might assist in locating her sooner, Colleen’s father filed criminal charges against his daughter. Colleen was last seen alive on December 28th, 1982. She was just an immature teenager who was trying to find her way in life.
Sandra Denise Major
There is little information available on 20 year old Sandra Major. But that may be at the request of her family. Formerly known as “Jane Doe B-16” or “Bones 16”, Sandra was eventually identified in 2012 after one of her cousins saw a television show about the Green River Killer and submitted DNA to the King County Sheriff’s Office. In a statement made by Sandra’s family they said “We are grateful to finally know what happened to Sandra after all these years. We were aware of the lifestyle Sandra lived but she was still a part of our family. We last saw Sandra here in New York in 1982. We received a letter from her in 1982 with a Seattle postmark but no return address. We never heard from her again and did not know what happened to her…We respectfully ask that the media allow us privacy.”
Wendy Stephens, formally known as “Jane Doe B-10” or “Bones 10”, was Gary Ridgway’s youngest known victim and was only recently identified in January of 2021. Wendy, was only 14 when she ran away from her home in Denver, Colorado, in 1983. Investigators believe she was killed not long after her arrival in Washington. In early 2019, one of Stephens’ parents had taken a DNA test and uploaded the results to GEDmatch, hoping to learn the fate of their daughter.
Alma Ann Smith
Alma Smith was only 18 years old when she disappeared. A former resident of Walla Walla, Washington, Alma dropped out of school at 17 and went back and forth between Seattle, where her father lived, and Walla Walla, where her mother resided. At some unknown point she turned to sex work and, shortly before her disappearance, she became a resident of the Echo Glen Children’s Center, which helps girls involved in prostitution to break the cycle and get out of that lifestyle. Despite the counseling she was receiving, Alma returned to prostitution and left the center. She was remembered by friends as an extremely generous girl who “didn’t have a malicious bone in her body.” She was last seen on March 3rd, 1983, on Pacific Highway South.
Delores LaVerne Williams
There is little information readily available on 17 year old Delores Williams. She was born in June of 1965. It is reported that she, well aware of all the Green River Killer, was very cautious and began working in nicer neighborhoods to meet wealthy johns. She was last seen around 2 p.m. on February 6th, 1983 at Rainier Avenue South and South Ferdinand Street at a bus stop outside the Red Lion Hotel.
Gail Lynn Mathews
Born February 5th, 1959, Gail Mathews grew up much too fast. A California native, Gail moved to Washington in 1975 to live with friends. She was only 15 and pregnant. After giving birth to a healthy baby boy, she put him up for adoption and married a man named Kenneth Mathews, 24, in 1977. Their daughter was born later that year. The couple separated in 1980 and decided to share custody, although their daughter spent most of her time with her father. By 1982 Gail was living on welfare, moving from one friend’s house to the next and trying to see her daughter as much as possible. The last time Kenneth saw his wife was sometime in 1982, when she dropped off their daughter for the last time.
According to true crime author Ann Rule Gail was living a precarious, day-to-day existence with a man she’d met at Trudy’s Tavern near the airport, a 34 year old man named Curt. The couple had no “proper” means of income, no car and were living out of motels. At some point Gail began working as a sex worker. On the night of April 10th, 1983, Gail and Curt spent most of their evening at the VIP Tavern, located a few blocks away from their motel. They shared a couple of beers and played Pac Man. At some point Curt decided to take the short walk to the Midway Tavern in hopes of getting lucky at a poker game. Gail decided not to go, instead announcing she would go to work so that they can keep their motel room for a few more nights.
Andrea Marion Childers
Andrea Childers was only 19 the last time she saw her grandmother in 1983. “She came for a late birthday celebration…Her birthday was March 29th. She was wearing a beautiful dress and a long gray coat. I baked her a chocolate cake. She kissed me, like always, and then she left.” A native of southern California, Andrea moved to Seattle sometime in 1980 to live with her father and step mother. She’d been very close to her grandmother. “She wanted to be a dancer. She gave lessons and she was very good, and she taught dance exercise.”
Sandra Kay Gabbert
By 1983, 17 year old Sandra Gabber went from star of her high school basketball team to working in one of the most dangerous corners along the Pac HiWay. She reportedly dropped out of school because “she was bored” and was living with her boyfriend out of various motels. It seems that they were frivolous with their money. Despite Sandra turning to sex work to support them, they were barely able to afford motel rooms and fast food. She was known to be a confident free spirit and was a friendly person with a certain charm that gave people the impression that she didn’t take herself all that seriously. The last time her mother, Nancy McIntyre, saw Sandra was when they met for lunch at a Mexican restaurant where Sandra talked all about her upcoming trip to San Francisco and Hollywood. Sandra was last seen alive on April 17th of 1983 on Pacific Highway South near South 142nd Street.
Within hours of Sandra’s last known sighting, 16 year old Kimi-Kai Pitsor was seen for the last time in Downtown Seattle. Kimi-Kai –whose name translated to “golden sea at dawn” in Hawaiian– was described by her mother as an adventurous girl who loved unicorns and anything purple. In the book Green River, Running Red Kimi-Kai’s mother recalled that “…She wanted to see how life worked and never took anyone’s word for anything. She had to see for herself. I remember telling her, ‘Be a little girl for a while. Enjoy yourself. You have all the time to be a grown-up with all those problems.’ But she wanted to be an adult so bad.”
Marie M. Malvar
17 year old Marie Malvar moved out of her family home by 1983 and, working as a waitress in the restaurant her father owned, still saw her family quite often. Marie was popular around customers for being so friendly. She was outgoing, trusting and loved to dance. And, unbeknownst to her family, Marie was also a sex worker. Marie was last seen on S216th and Pacific Highway South where her boyfriend/pimp witnessed Marie getting into a truck with a primer spot up by the tailgate.
Carol Ann Christensen
21 year old Carol Ann Christensen was last seen leaving Barn Door Tavern on Pacific Avenue South on May 3rd, 1983. While she was walking in an area where the Green River Killer was known to operate, Carol Ann was not a sex worker; she’d just finished having lunch at the Tavern and was planning to return there later that night for her shift as a waitress. It would have been her second day on the job. A a registered member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Browning, Montana, Carol moved to Grays Harbor, Washington, in 1969. In 1980 she married a man named Dennis Christensen. By 1983 Carol was a young mother separated from her husband but she was determined to make it work for the sake of her daughter, Sarah, her absolute pride and joy.