UnResolved Docuseries Episode 4: The Zombie Hunter
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Tempe police are looking at the possibility that an accused serial killer may be responsible for the disappearance and death of a college student nine years ago. They are not referring to Bryan Patrick Miller as a suspect. But they have not closed the door on the possibility that Miller is the killer.
For starters, Miller was in the area where Adrienne Salinas was last seen on the morning she disappeared. Miller first caught the attention of law enforcement when he was 17 years old. It was 1989, and he was arrested and charged with attempted murder for stabbing another teenager, a woman, in the Paradise Valley Mall parking lot. Miller pleaded guilty, but because he was a minor, he spent just one year in custody.
When he was released, Miller lived in Phoenix’s Sunnyslope neighborhood. That was the location of a series of gruesome murders Miller would later be linked to. Former Arizona Republic newspaper reporter William Hermann remembers that time vividly. He was a crime reporter.
“My best estimate is it was at more than 500 homicides,” said Hermann, who has since retired. “I would sometimes in a night be at three homicides. The death, the killing rate was much higher in those days.”
He remembers Sunnyslope as a neighborhood with some good schools and good areas but also having a darker side.
“There was a certain reputation of some biker bars. And people sort of living in desert houses and cooking up a little methamphetamine. The police referred to it as the ‘Slope,’” said Hermann. “Sunnyslope had its share of shootings and killings and at some of those biker bars they’d really get into it.”
On November 8, 1992, Sunnyslope’s random bar brawls took a back seat to the first act of a real murder mystery. It came to be known as the Phoenix Canal Murders. That night, a 22-year-old woman named Angela Brasso left her apartment for a bike ride and never returned.
“She led a blameless life, was a good employee where she worked,” said Hermann, who covered the story from the beginning. “She was just a very nice young woman, hoping to build a new life, who had a nice boyfriend,” said Hermann.
Phoenix police found Brasso’s body the next morning. The scene was like nothing most of the detectives had witnessed before.
“The body is decapitated,” said Det. Leo Speliopoulos, who was the police spokesman at the time. “There are multiple injuries, which our homicide detectives do not want to discuss at this point. That is, other than the decapitation.”
Hermann found a TV news photographer with a telephoto lens and looked into the viewfinder.
“Her breasts had fallen to the side of her body. So she (was) completely cut open. And her head gone, and by accounts, quickly with an extraordinarily sharp blade,” said Hermann. “I mean, this was extraordinary in its horror, you know. Who would do a thing like this? Do what he did to the body.”
Brasso’s bicycle was also missing. Police looked for it and sent divers into the nearby Arizona Canal to search for the missing head.
“Just a few days after, a guy who hung around the canal, a neighborhood eccentric, looked up at one of those grates in the canal, and what did he see? He saw a head,” said Hermann. “I quickly found out that the head was in amazingly good shape. So what does that mean? It was in a refrigerator. It had been cooled and preserved during that time.”
“He had the guts to go to the canal and throw it in. Just like he had the guts to be out where anybody could have seen him and pull her off her bike and do what he did,” said Hermann.
Hermann says his normal police sources went silent. It was difficult to get anyone in uniform to talk about the case. But he remembers one statement one detective said to him.
“Count on it. This guy is going to do something like this again,” said Hermann. It took nearly a year. But then, a 17-year-old girl named Melanie Bernas disappeared while riding her bike along the Arizona Canal.
“I think I got a call just to go out to the canal bank,” said Hermann. “There was Leo, you know. And I walked up and said, ‘What do you got?’ And he said, ‘Well, we got a body in the canal. With some real damage done to the chest area.’”
“And I said, ‘A bicycle?’ And I said, ‘Now tell me this: you got the bicycle?’ So I said, ‘We got the same guy.’ He said, ‘We’re not jumping to conclusions,’” said Hermann.
But police did believe the same killer had struck again. Both victims were young females. Both were stabbed in the upper torso. They were killed while on evening bike rides. Both bikes were taken, and neither was recovered. Hermann believes the killer took the bikes as trophies.
“A talisman. A thing that symbolizes it. And in the case of Angela, it was her head for God’s sake, as well as her bicycle,” said Hermann.
Police had no suspects and no motive. They looked into other similar cases around the country. According to Hermann, they even briefly looked at a surgeon from France. But they came up empty. Years passed. Hermann says he would occasionally check with Phoenix police to see if there was anything new.
“For kind of self-preservation for people in the news, when you’re at homicides you’ve got to kind of wash your brain out a little bit. Because if you take it home with you, you’re not going to last long,” said Hermann.
“But this one got to me. These two innocent decent human beings who, out of the blue, were taken. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time where a crazy man was.”
Twenty-two years later, detectives made a breakthrough. DNA left at both crime scenes led to an arrest.
“Undercover Phoenix police detectives were able to obtain a DNA sample from the suspect just last week,” said Sgt. Trent Crump, during a news conference in 2015. “Within literally hours, we had a hit from those two murders scientifically linking him by DNA to those two murders over 20 years ago.”
The “him” in his statement was Bryan Patrick Miller. Miller had grown up to be an oddball. A single father who lived in a hoarder’s home and drove around in a retired police car splattered with fake blood, a zombie mannequin in the back seat, and a decal that read, “Zombie Hunter” on the back.
“He was one of the few, and I would say he was probably my best friend in the state since I moved here,” said Keen Azariah, who met Miller around 2010.
Azariah and Miller shared an interest in cosplay, the steampunk subculture, and horror movies.
“I mean I can’t remember a time when I was actually speechless. That was one of them. I said, ‘My God. I think they’re accusing my friend of being a serial killer,’” said Azariah.
Azariah continued to communicate with Miller after he was arrested, first believing that he may be able to help clear his friend.
“I would say he was bitter. He had issues with women and how they respond to this actions. And I think it really, really burnt him. I think it boiled inside him,” said Azariah.
While police were certain Miller was the person responsible for the Brasso and Bernas murders, they did not believe those were Miller’s only two victims.
“To think that somebody who killed in that fashion, that there weren’t other crimes related to this is unlikely,” said Sgt. Crump in 2015.
Their suspicions were soon reinforced when Bryan Miller’s ex-wife, Amy Miller, consented to an interview with detectives. During the interview, she claimed that Miller had told her about a murder in May of 1992. The victim was a teenage girl. She stated that Miller told her he lured the girl into his home, stabbed her, slit her throat, and intended to keep her preserved in his bathtub. She said when neighbors complained about the smell, Miller dismembered the body, put it in a trash bag, and sent it to the dump.
“So Brandy went to the landfill, like something of no importance. And she’s been there for 29 years,” said Kristin Dennis, who is Brandy Myers’ sister. Myers disappeared in May of 1992 and was never found.
“I know everything I know today because when he was arrested, connected to Angela Brasso, Melani Bernas and the canal killings, his ex-wife came forward and told police about these stories he would tell her. And one of these stories was a confession about killing my sister,” said Dennis.
“This is where I last saw Brandy,” said Dennis, pointing down a street in the Sunnyslope neighborhood. “She was a slow learner, so she had that naiveness to her. And she was older than me, but it was like she was younger. Or I was the big sister. She was last seen two doors down from Bryan’s house walking in the direction of his house.”
“Her case is considered solved, but not resolved. We know who killed her. We know every detail. We know why we didn’t get her body back. We know the color of the trash bag,” said Dennis. “He’s a monster. An absolute monster,” she said.
Phoenix police detectives forwarded the Myers case to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for prosecution, but the case was rejected. A single entry in the police reports states that the case was declined due to “No reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
“I don’t understand how one branch of the government, which is the Phoenix Police Department, they can solve a crime, conclude it, and then there are no official charges,” said Dennis.
Bryan Miller’s friend, Keen Azariah, says the Brandy Myers case did come up during one of their conversations. “He told me he remembers when they were searching for her. It was a long time ago, but for some reason, he remembers them searching for her,” said Azariah.
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