Trial begins today for suspect in Phoenix canal murders

Gruesome murders haunted city for two decades
Bryan Patrick Miller faces murder and sexual assault charges in the deaths of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 7:25 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- It took 22 years for investigators to make an arrest in the Phoenix canal murders case. The victim’s family members have waited seven years since then, but the case is finally set to go to trial Monday, October 3.

Bryan Patrick Miller faces murder and sexual assault charges in the deaths of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas. The murders shocked and haunted the Phoenix area. The victims were riding their bikes when they were attacked and killed.

Brosso, who was 22 years old, disappeared while taking a bike ride on a Sunday night in November 1992. The following morning, police discovered her naked and mutilated body near a bike trail at Cactus Road and Interstate 17. “There are multiple injuries, which our homicide detectives do not want to discuss at this point. Well, the body is decapitated,” said Phoenix Police Detective Leo Speliopoulos, who was at the scene that day.

Police believe the killer knocked Brosso off her bicycle, stabbed her, and dragged her off the trail. He removed her clothes and cut her head off. “I mean, this was extraordinary in its horror, you know. Who would do a thing like this? Do what he did to the body?” said William Hermann, a crime reporter with the Arizona Republic Newspaper who covered the case.

Hermann remembers looking through the viewfinder of a TV news camera with a telephoto lens and seeing the crime scene. “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. Brosso’s head was missing. So was her bicycle.

Several days later, someone spotted Brosso’s head in the Arizona Canal, about a mile from the crime scene. “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,” said Hermann.

Police interviewed dozens of people who lived in or were in the area at the time of the murder. In addition, they looked into possible connections to decapitation murders in other parts of the country. But they could not identify a suspect.

And then, ten months later, 17-year-old Melanie Bernas failed to come home after riding her bike at night along the Arizona Canal. The following morning, police found her body. Bernas had also been killed similarly with a knife. Bernas was not decapitated, but her bicycle was missing.

Hermann says he believed the killer was taking trophies from the crime scenes. “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 developed theories and followed leads. They looked at a surgeon from Europe. They thought the killer might be a special forces operative who visited the Valley, but they still had no witnesses and no suspect. What they did have was DNA. But at that time, the DNA from the crime scene did not match anyone who was or had been in the criminal justice system.

“I was sure they were going to solve it,” said Hermann. But months turned into years. The killer did not appear to strike again. At least no subsequent murders in the area matched the Canal Killer’s signature.

“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. But this one got to me. These two innocent decent human beings who, out of the blue, were taken away. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time where a crazy man was,” said Hermann.

It wasn’t until 2015, 22 years later, that Phoenix police made an arrest. The DNA at the crime scene matched Miller’s. He was known to many in Phoenix’s sci-fi and horror convention crowd as The Zombie Hunter.