Breaking: Cold case Jessica Baggen’s 1996 Sitka murder solved by Troopers



The Alaska State Troopers have solved another cold case, and this time it looks like the killer took care of justice himself.

In 1996 on a May Day, 17-year-old Jessica Baggen was walking home from her sister’s home after her 17th birthday party. She was attacked on a foot path and her body was found the May 6 in the woods along the trail near Sheldon Jackson College campus near Sawmill Creek Road. Jessica had been sexually assaulted and asphyxiated, and buried under a hollowed out tree.

Several days afterward, Richard Bingham confessed to the murder, but none of the physical evidence could back up his claim. At trial in 1997, Bingham was found “not guilty” by a jury trial. Bingham suffered from alcoholism and was prone to blacking out, and the videotape of the interrogation convinced jurors that he had no actual memory of the crime to which he was admitting.

The search for the suspect continued but remained unsolved despite investigations by State Troopers, Sitka Police, and a private investigator brought in by the Baggens family. The trail grew cold.

In 2018 the Troopers began using genetic genealogy and found a fragment of DNA that was usable. The snipped profile of DNA was uploaded into a nationwide database, and a hit was found for Steve Allen Branch.

Branch had since moved from Alaska to Arkansas in 2010. This year, law enforcement investigators were able to get a match from DNA samples from a relative.

On Aug. 3, investigators interviewed Branch at his residence. He denied involvement and refused to provide a DNA sample. Investigators continued to look for ways to get DNA from Branch, leaving the residence to regroup on the problem. After they left the residence, Branch committed suicide. An investigation showed that Branch had shot himself.

Recently, the CCIU has had several major successes. The two most recent being the arrest of Steven H. Downs for the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie; and the arrest in connection to the 1978 murder and sexual assault of 16-year-old Shelley Connolly.

[Read: Cold case Sophie Sergie breakthrough]

[Read: Cold case Shelley Connolly arrest made]

Commissioner Amanda Price, Department of Public Safety.

The announcement was made today by Commissioner Amanda Price, Alaska State Troopers Major David Hanson, Alaska Bureau of Investigation Captain Andrew Gorn, Cold Case Investigator Randy McPherron, and Chief David Kanaris of the Alaska Crime Detection Laboratory.

“Each cold case represents a victim and that victim has loved ones who struggle and suffer from the loss,” said Commissioner Price.


  1. Good job! How come the Troopers can’t solve the 1982 cold case murders (8 died) on the fishing boat in Craig, AK? Largest unsolved mass murder in Alaska, and one of the largest unsolved cases in the U.S.

  2. This murder rocked the town of Sitka. These things are always bitter-sweet in a way. It drums up so much emotion even though a scumbag has been identified and no longer walks among us. I know the Baggen family and the effects this tragedy had on them. Peace to them.

  3. Very good and excellent. I would love to see justice for Erin Gilbert now. I hope the police start bird dogging the guy she was last with as his story was an obvious lie. I believe that he’s still in AK.

  4. It would be great if someone could hold the local police staff accountable who screwed up the initial investigation and blamed the murder on a mentally disabled janitor. Obviously after pursuing that person to trial they lost years that could have focused on catching the perpetrator so that it didn’t become a cold case. I am not a “de-fund the police” libtard, but I think that the police need to up-their-game. Sitka Police department is filled with problems and dysfunction. A whistle-blower just released a letter outlining the major problems within the department a few weeks ago. This case is part of a long history of problems. Very glad that the killer was found, the crime was solved, and that the dirtbag is gone from this world. So sad for the family and the pain it caused. Closure is so needed. Better police and a more functional police culture with a higher level of performance and work ethic is also needed.

  5. To those of us who were there, this case has as much to do with prosecutorial misconduct as it does with cold-case crime solving. Even while the prosecutors were trying an innocent man, they were still conducting investigations into other suspects. Seriously. This is a tragic story on many levels. We hope the Baggen family can find some measure of peace.

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