“The Shadow Girls” is a new true crime podcast chronicling the hunt for the Green River Killer, the women he killed, and where society went wrong. Our host, Carolyn Ossorio, grew up near the banks of the Green River in Washington state. The journalist grew up in the shadow of this serial killer, who took the lives of numerous girls her own age. She’s never forgotten how his victims were portrayed, nor how adults turned on their own children, telling them that bad things only happen to bad girls.
This new serialized podcast only has a handful of episodes out so far, but each one has us more and more hooked. From iHeartPodcast and Cavalry Audio, the podcasting studio that created “The Devil Within,” “The Shadow Girls” only refers to the killer, Gary Ridgway, as GRK to pull focus towards the women who were forced to be a part of his story.
À la “Bad Women: The Ripper Retold” (although, Ossorio began her journey before the release of Rubenhold’s podcast), “The Shadow Girls” is focusing in on the 49 young women GRK has been convicted of murdering, although GRK has confessed to killing as many as 71. While GRK’s victims are far too numerous to create a succinct podcast about, like Rubenhold has done with the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper, Ossorio takes many different approaches to his crimes.
Her first episode focuses on July of 1982, when the first victim, Wendy Lee Coffield, was found by two young boys. When police first found the body and were unable to identify her, they asked for help from the public. They described her as a woman in her mid-to-late 20s, probably a “prostitute” (we would call them sex workers now), and described her many distinct tattoos. Shockingly, a tattoo artist recognized his own work and identified her as Coffield, who was actually just 15 years old.
This is the revolving theme of the podcast: how society brushed off so many of these women’s deaths as expendable and deplorable, and how parents used them as a lesson: bad things happen to bad girls. What shocked Ossorio even more than Coffield’s age was actually that the vast majority of Ridgway’s victims were teenagers.
From the police department, she speaks with Sheriff Dave Reichert, the first King County Detective on the scene after Coffield’s murder. He was also in the King County forest when four more victims were found in the same area in less than a month. From the police, Ossorio also received a box of tapes, hours of Ridgway’s interviews and confessions. To her dismay, and the “The Shadow Girls'” main point, only two of the many tapes were labeled “Victims.”
Episodes dive into Sheriff Reichert’s lengthy assignment on this case. He would eventually become the person to announce to the world that the Green River Killer had finally been apprehended in 2001. “The Shadow Girls” looks at the media flurry and serial killer infatuation caused by Ted Bundy, as well as the distinctions people began to make between the victims of the two killers. It dives into the most pivotal victims who helped distinguish the killer that law enforcement was looking for.
“The Shadow Girls” goes beyond the brutality of murder, instead looking at how society both shaped and was shaped by GRK. By declaring his victims as prostitutes (once again, sex workers, but this was the demonizing aspect of that line of work) who had it coming, people were able to shift their blame and their empathy from the devastatingly young girls who lives were ripped from them. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays for more episodes of “The Shadow Girls.”