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'She’ll forever be a child': DNA testing identifies teen victim of Green River Killer 4 decades later

caption: Using modern DNA technology, Lori Anne Razpotnik's remains were identified in 2023, four decades after she was a victim of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer.
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Using modern DNA technology, Lori Anne Razpotnik's remains were identified in 2023, four decades after she was a victim of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer.
Courtesy of Donna Hurley

Donna Hurley was unloading groceries in front of her home in Juneau, Alaska when two King County Sheriff’s detectives approached her and asked, “Can we talk?”

She had no idea why they were there, but once inside detectives explained: They were trying to confirm the identity of a set of a set of remains referred to as "bones 17." They belonged to a victim of Gary Ridgway, a serial killer known as the Green River Killer, who admitted to murdering 71 people in the early 1980s through the 1990s.

Detectives believed the victim was Hurley’s daughter, Lori Anne Razpotnik, who had disappeared in 1982 at the age of 15.

“Her fuse was lit and she would look for a place to explode every day,” Hurley said about her daughter, adding that she was “just pure joy” and a “firecracker.”

“Be it baseball, fighting her brother's battles, doing dog shows, horseback riding, motorcycle riding — nothing deterred her … she was a straight-A student without even opening her books.”

RELATED: Youngest Green River Killer victim identified 37 years later using DNA technology

caption: Lori Anne Razpotnik is the most recent victim of the Green River Killer who was identified. At four years old  she poses for a photo with red ribbons in her hair
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1 of 3 Lori Anne Razpotnik is the most recent victim of the Green River Killer who was identified. At four years old she poses for a photo with red ribbons in her hair

Four decades after the teenager’s disappearance, Razpotnik’s remains were identified using modern forensic genetic profiling.

Hurley recalled when her daughter went missing from her Lewis County, Washington home after running away.

“Lori was in that rough and awkward teenage stage,” Hurley said. “It was just a tough period for her.”

To find her daughter, Hurley hired a private investigator, who told her that finding a female is “one of the hardest things to do because they can change their looks and names easily.” She also learned that even if her daughter was found, authorities could not force her to come home to her mother.

“You know, we were kind of bucking a brick wall,” Hurley said.

Over the years, she would look for her daughter on TV.

“There’d be something on TV about the Green River Killer and they’d start showing pictures of all the young girls that they had recovered. I would find myself looking at them, seeing if I saw her picture.”

Hurley didn’t recognize any of the pictures, so she “would take a sigh of relief and try not to think about that evil person.”

In an attempt to cope with her missing daughter, Hurley would often go to her “La La Land,” which she describes as a place where she could imagine Razpotnick being "happy." She could put aside "the hurt and the uncertainty that comes with the disappearance of a child". In "La la Land," her daughter was “living a life, raising [Hurley's] grandchildren, and she would reach out when she was ready.” That’s where Razpotnik lived since she went missing: in Hurley’s La La Land.

“You know — she’ll forever be a child to me.”

DNA tech arrives

To identify the remains, King County detectives needed a sample of Hurley’s saliva.

“Of course I agreed, there was no problem there,” Hurley said. “But I asked them how they got this far?”

Scientists at Parabon Nanolabs created a new DNA profile on “bones 17” and started a forensic genetic profiling process.

“Traditional DNA analysis uses 20 different spots in the genome,” said Ellen Greytak, director of bioinformatics at Parabon Nanolabs. “That’s great if you have someone to compare it to, but if the person is not in the database, it can’t really tell you anything else.”

RELATED: How DNA samples and genetic sleuths are solving WA cold cases

Parabon Nanolabs looks at 850,000 spots on the genome. It generates a lot of data, which can create DNA leads. That DNA information can be compared to shared DNA.

“Having one or more pieces of DNA that are so similar is not likely to happen by chance,” Greytak said. “It’s much more likely that somewhere in the past there is a common ancestor.”

Detectives ran DNA from the remains through their database. A sample was found with shared DNA. It belonged to Hurley’s granddaughter, also Razpotnik’s niece who she never got to meet. The granddaughter previously took a 23andMe DNA test, so she was in the database.

That made it possible for King County officials to confirm that “bones 17” had a name: Lori Anne Razpotnik.

“That was very overwhelming, and very shocking,” Hurley said.

Summer of 1982

Gary Ridgway, now 74, is one of the deadliest serial killers in U.S. history. He has been convicted of killing 49 people, but investigators believed he killed 65 people, or more. Many of his victims were young women and teenagers, just like Razpotnik.

Ridgway evaded authorities for nearly two decades after the body of his first known victim, 16-year-old Wendy Coffield, was found in the Green River on July 15, 1982.

Dave Reichert was a homicide detective with the King County Sheriff's Office at the time (currently, Reichert is running for Washington state governor). He was assigned the case of Debra Lynn Bonner, the first of the cases taken on by the King County Sheriff's Office. She was also found in the Green River on August 12, 1982. Three days later, Marcia Faye Chapman, Opal Charmaine Mills, and Cynthia Jean Hinds were also found in the Green River, leading to the creation of Green River Task Force.

“My personal feelings? ‘I am going to do whatever I can do to catch this guy.’ That's the only thing that was in my mind,” Reichert recalled.

Reichert said it was “difficult processing the scenes and collecting the remains of dead little girls. Sometimes it was six bodies a week.”

Reichert said collecting remains that were months or years old was intense and frustrating. These scenes would provide little evidence as it was destroyed by the elements.

“Each day you went to work hoping and praying that another body had not been found. But each day you also went to work hoping and praying that you would find that one big break — the forensic evidence that would solve the case.”

December 30, 1985

A car went off of Mountain View Drive and down a steep embankment. According to court documents, two men who worked at the cemetery nearby checked on the car. That’s when they found human bones.

Two years earlier, detectives had recovered only the head of Kimi-Kai Pitsor along the same road. When investigators returned to the site, they found three bodies. The rest of Pitsor’s remains were found among them. Investigators could not identify the other two bodies and dubbed them “bones 16” and “bones 17.”

RELATED: Missed crime lab evidence could've stopped Green River Killer decades earlier, investigation finds

In 2012, “bones 16” was identified with DNA testing as 20-year-old Sandra Major. She was last seen in 1982, climbing into a truck in North Seattle. This week, “bones 17” was confirmed to be the remains of Lorri Anne Razpotnik. One last set of remains, "bones 20," has yet to be identified.

Ridgway pleaded guilty to 49 murders in 2003. He accepted a plea deal that would avoid the death penalty. In exchange, he agreed to help investigators by leading them to where he dumped his victims and helping solve his murders.

'The only thing he is sorry for is that he got caught'

Reichert reflected on what it was like talking to Ridgway. He said it’s hard to describe.

“It was like looking into the eyes of the devil. I’ll tell you there is a deep hole. I’m not exaggerating, it’s as if you are looking into the eyes of pure evil.”

Reichert also talked to Ted Bundy, another notorious serial killer from Washington state. Before Bundy admitted to his murders, he sent a letter to Reichert. He alleged that he could “give insight into how a serial murderer thinks.”

“Those of us who talked to Ted Bundy, and Ridgeway, will tell you they both had that same evil look,” Reichert said.

Patty Eakes was part of the team that convicted Ridgway. She was also the lead prosecutor in the trial of the case of three Tacoma Police officers who were accused of killing Manuel Ellis in 2020.

“I was enormously relieved to read about it in the press,” Eakes said. “Every time an unidentified victim is identified, I feel like it's one more important step in this case to make sure everybody that he killed is accounted for.”

She added it’s tragic that a loved one could be killed and not be identified for decades.

Hurley also describes Ridgway as an “evil person.”

“He denied lives, they weren't just objects. They were sisters, mothers, sisters, and granddaughters,” she said. She doesn't believe Ridgway is sorry for killing her daughter or the other victims.

“I think the only thing he is sorry for is that he got caught.”

Hurley is trying to bring feelings of closure to the front of her mind and to “push the shock and the grief to the rear.” She is now the only surviving member of her family who knew Razpotnik. Finding her was the last request of her grandparents and brother.

“I know there is one more thing: that’s to claim her remains and bury her next to her father in Seattle.”

Razpotnik’s father passed away when she was 4 years old due to Hodgkin's lymphoma.

“I’ve buried my entire family now. She will be the last one.”

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