ARREST MADE IN MAINE
The Alaska State Troopers think they have arrested the murderer of Sophie Sergie, who was found dead in a dorm bathroom at University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993.
Law enforcement executed an arrest warrant today in Auburn, Maine for a man, Steven H. Downs, believed to be the murderer. He is a 44-year-old nurse. The news was announced during a 3 pm press conference at the State’s crime laboratory in Anchorage. The man will be brought to Alaska to face charges.
The perpetrator’s DNA was found at the scene, Troopers said today. But until recent technology, no link had been made to any person, although the hunt for the killer went on for decades.
Last year, the investigators began working with a lab in Virginia that had more sophisticated systems for linking DNA and genetic histories of families.
Must Read Alaska has learned that the man’s aunt took a DNA test, and the link was made to someone who may have once been interviewed about the death.
Sergie was 20 years old when she was murdered early on April 26, 1993. She was from Pitkas Point, a Native village of about 125 people in Western Alaska. At about 2 pm on the second floor of the Bartlett Hall dormitory, a janitor found Sergie’s body stuffed in a bathtub.
Sergie had been brutally raped, her pants pulled down around her ankles. The cause of death was a gunshot and investigators determined she’d been dead about 13 hours. Her body had gone undiscovered because it was in a private tub room.
Sergie was not a student at the time. She had taken the semester off, but had returned to Fairbanks to have her braces adjusted by an orthodontist, so she was staying in the dorm with a friend.
In those days, people came and went freely from the dorms and it was not uncommon for friends to come from out of town to stay a night or two with a student. It was the end of the term and people were coming and going from campus. Anyone could have accessed the women’s floor via the elevator or the stairs, and the student population was in a state of transition.
Investigators concluded that it was a random killing, and that Sergie didn’t know her murderer. One of the mysteries in the case was why no one in the dorm heard the gunshot, and later theories developed that the woman was killed elsewhere and then her body placed in the bathtub.
The solving of this case closely follows that of the Golden State Killer case, where the culprit was found through a family member’s DNA test.
“Despite the arduous and meticulous effort done by a variety of investigators over the years, a suspect had not been identified. However, in April of 2018, the Golden State Serial Killer was arrested following identification through Genetic Genealogy. Encouraged by the new investigative method, the Cold Case Unit (CCU) submitted the unknown DNA profile from Sophie’s case in July of 2018 to Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company which utilizes extracted DNA to perform the genetic genealogy testing,” the Troopers wrote in a press release.
“Finally, after a little over a quarter of a century, CCU had a likely suspect, identified through the same method that lead to the Golden State Killer, that was alive and living on the opposite end of the country. Armed with the new information, the CCU was able to conduct follow up investigation to determine that Downs (18 at the time of the killing) had been a student at UAF at the time Sophie was killed. Furthermore, Downs lived in Bartlett Hall at UAF. From there, CCU worked with Maine authorities to bring the case to fruition. Steven H. Downs was taken into custody at a local business in Maine. He will be extradited to Alaska to face charges in connection to the murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie.”
“I commend the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Law for their exemplary work in cracking open a cold case that has haunted the family of Sophie Sergie and the UAF community for decades,” said Gov. Michael Dunleavy. “While today’s arrest may bring a measure of relief to Sophie’s family and friends, First Lady Rose and I know nothing can completely heal their pain and sense of loss. We hope and pray for Sophie’s family as the case unfolds in the judicial system in the months ahead.”