Breaking: Cold case solved? DNA links to the Sophie Sergie murder - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, September 15, 2019
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Breaking: Cold case solved? DNA links to the Sophie Sergie murder

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.

Steve Downs, booking photo

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.

Last known photo of Sophie Sergie, taken just hours before her murder.

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.

[Read: Death in Bartlett Hall]

 

Commissioner of Public Safety Amanda Price makes the announcement with the family of Sophie Sergie in attendance.

“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.”

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Super Sleuth Jim McCann of the Alaska State Troopers worked this case from its first reporting. He always suspected who Sophie’s murderer was. Jim will be very happy that this case is closed out.

  • Hope the new Attorney General gets into the three-year-old batch of “rape” kits that were hung up at APD by Bullhorn Berkowitz for proper analyzing. They made it to a crime lab somewhere, out of state, but where? What contractor?
    Hope the new Attorney General and the new Gov. Dunleavy can and will put an end to procrastination and make it happen so the culprits of those crimes, of the last four years, are brought to JUSTICE!!!! No thanks to “Bullhorn Berkowitz!”

  • All the times the cops took heat and hate from people who claimed they were not interested in solving the case because she was Native, need to step up and apologize. Glad her family will have some closure and hope it will give them peace. Thanks to the troopers, who kept on it.

  • Take a look at his name on the Maine Board of Nursing website. If you search by his name you will see he got disciplined by the nursing board and State, in 2017, for a few different reasons. What a piece of sh&t!

    • Stephen Harris Downs. Active Registered Nurse. RN59476 State of Maine 2011. Holds a multi-state nursing license.

  • So the question is: How many other murders did he get a way with? It is highly unlikely that he would do this one time and then never again. They likely caught another serial killer/rapist.

  • It’s always great to hear that law enforcement solved a cold-case murder. Even better when they catch the killer.

    However, if you believe in privacy protections which are supposed to be afforded us under the Constitution…..should we also be asking about Constitutional and privacy violation ramifications of websites like 23andMe.com and Ancestry.com selling their DNA databases to link your (or a distant relatives) DNA to unsolved crimes without a warrant?

    Did you know that those companies lose money selling you those DNA tests?

    Did you know their entire business model is based on selling your (and your relatives) DNA data?

    They sell them to the highest bidder, which ofttimes is big Pharma and Insurance companies.

    Those companies also enter into contracts to share your DNA data with the FBI & law enforcement.

    Without your knowledge.

    It is a real dilemma if you believe in the Constitution as it is written.

    • The constitution restricts the actions of government, not business. If you give your DNA info to a business, they are not violating the constitution by selling or giving it, as they are not government. The government in this case did nothing to violate the constitution.

      • True but they didn’t use his DNA but rather a relative’s therefore his privacy is being violated. Not that I care much in these type of cases but imagine in the future you are denied health insurance due to a relative’s choice to share DNA results

  • At the time of Sophie’s death there was a lot of racial tension including the Fairbanks Four case. It’s not totally unfounded nationally that race plays a role in whether or not a case gets the attention it deserves or innocent people go to jail

    • Sophie’s case was much before the Fairbanks Four.

      • Your comment makes perfect sense.

    • The fairbanks four was muder was in 1997, and Sophie’s murder was in 1993. Your comment makes no sense.

  • It is good to know that these cases are still being worked…that things are happening behind the scenes, waiting for the technology to some day be able to catch these sickos. This was a horrific event and sparked so much fear. While the work of the investigators is to be celebrated, I am guessing it is a bittersweet time for the family. I sincerely hope there won’t be a long, drawn out trial they will have to suffer through. Maybe there will be so much evidence on this POS they can get this done over and out – to one of those Arizona pens. Let the big boys take care of him.

  • Down’s booking picture can be seen at the Portland Press Herald. Looks like he’s in his nursing scrubs. He must have been arrested while “caring” for someone at the hospital.

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