Cold Case: What happened to ‘Rita Lang’? Did you know her?

SEATTLE — For nearly 20 years, Green River Killer Gary Ridgway preyed on women, murdering at least 49, leaving many of their bodies along the Green River. As detectives worked to track those cases, they focused on every new missing female, especially prostitutes. And that’s how this mystery began to unfold.

“This story starts back in 1977 in Sacramento, Calif.  A woman was booked on a petty theft charge in the jail there and released before she was truly identified,” explains detective Scott Tompkins with the King County Major Crimes Unit.

ritaThe name that she gave police was Brenda O’Neil, with an alias of Brenda Victor.

Tompkins said, “She was fingerprinted, but back in ’77 they didn’t have  AFIS (automated fingerprint identification system) to run her prints through. But she was assigned an FBI number, which is a unique number assigned to a person’s fingerprints, and we were able to track that number through subsequent bookings.”

Through the years, police arrested her time and time again for drugs and prostitution. Eventually, she worked her way up the I-5 corridor and into King County. That’s where she gave police yet another name.

“In the mid-’80s she has several bookings into the King County Jail under the aka of Rita Lang. And again, that’s not her true name, but it was an alias that she used and we know it’s the same person because all of these arrests have the same FBI number,” Tompkins said.

Rita Lang would be the final name given by this elusive drifter.

“When she got out of jail in 1988, that’s the last time we know that she was alive,” Tompkins explained.

In November 1988, Rita failed to appear in court on drug-related charges. One year later, the unidentified skeletal remains of a female with similarities to Rita were discovered by construction workers along a fence at a freight company in Seattle. Police believe those remains had been there for about a year.

“When her body was found, there were some tree boughs that were covering the body,” Tompkins said. “Seattle police detectives went back and interviewed the business whose property her body was found on, and they confirmed that those branches had been cut down about a year prior in October, which is consistent with a time that she was last seen.”

Forensic artist Natalie Murry created mock overlays from Jane Doe’s skeleton and “Rita Lang’s” booking photos.

“In looking at her booking photos here at the King County Jail, we feel there’s a strong possibility that Rita Lang is actually the Jane Doe homicide victim from the SPD case.”

But police want to be sure and that’s where you come in.

Retired King County sheriff’s detective Tom Jensen worked on the task force that caught the Green River Killer. He has investigated this case for years and isn’t giving up on helping to solve it.

“We really need the public’s help … somebody who knows who Rita Lang really is, because Rita Lang isn’t her real name,” Jensen said.

Tomkins adds, “The Medical Examiner’s Office has determined that the Jane Doe homicide victim did have a lot of extensive dental work, including a partial upper, and so she has seen a dentist, there are records out there somewhere that can identify her, we just need to know this woman’s true name.”

It is answers that they need to solve this lingering mystery of both who she was, how she died and whether she, too, was a victim of a serial killer.

The woman who called herself Rita Lang had a tattoo on her left forearm and an 18-inch scar, She also had a tattoo on her right arm. In addition, two items were found on Jane Doe: a woman’s gold watch with the Baylor brand name and a pair of Diadora’s shoes, size 7.5.

If you know anything about the true identity of Rita Lang or her possible murder, please call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-T-I-P-S. All calls are guaranteed to be anonymous and you could get up to $1000 cash reward.

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