‘Zombie Hunter’ Bryan Patrick Miller found guilty in Phoenix Canal murders
Bryan Patrick Miller was on trial in the deaths of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas along the Arizona Canal
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A Maricopa County Superior Court Judge found Bryan Patrick Miller, charged in connection with the Phoenix Canal killings in 1992 and 1993, guilty on all six counts. Miller was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, one count of sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault. The counts relate to the deaths of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas along the Arizona Canal in Phoenix.
As a bench trial, the judge who heard the case, Judge Suzanne Cohen, also served on the jury. Miller elected to have the judge decide the case, rather than bringing in a jury to hear the case.
It took 22 years for investigators to make an arrest in the deaths of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas. The victim’s family members waited seven years since then, until the trial began in October 2022.
THE PHOENIX CANAL KILLINGS
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 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.
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.
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.
HOW DNA LED TO MILLER’S ARREST
The key to arresting Bryan Patrick Miller for the Phoenix Canal murders was his DNA and last name. That is according to the genetic genealogist credited with helping solve the case.
Colleen Fitzpatrick was trained as a nuclear physicist. But ten years ago, she was toying with the idea of using DNA databases to solve cold cases. At that time, people were using the databases and companies that operated them to track down relatives and complete family trees. Adopted children were using the databases to track down their genetic parents.
“It occurred to many of us, ‘Why can’t we use it to solve cold cases?’ Because a John Doe or Jane Doe or an unidentified assailant is the same as an adoptee. You don’t know who they are. You don’t know their parents but you can use DNA to find out,” said Fitzpatrick.
She was attending a conference in Phoenix in 2014 when she approached the Phoenix Police Department with her idea. She offered to apply this technique to one of their cold cases. “And then several weeks later, they sent me the Y DNA profile for the crime scene from the Phoenix canal murders,” said Fitzpatrick.
Those murders took place in 1992 and 1993. They were brutal. The killer used a knife to murder and mutilate the victims, 22-year-old Angela Brosso and 17-year-old Melanie Bernas. “And so we entered the numbers from the forensic profile into our software, and I did the search, and that’s when I came up with six matches to the name, ‘Miller,’” said Fitzpatrick.
That meant six people with the last name Miller had submitted DNA samples to one of the commercially available DNA home test kits. And the canal killer’s DNA matched them perfectly. It didn’t mean that one of those people was the killer, but it meant that the killer was likely to be related to them and the Miller family. “Y DNA is passed intact from father to son through the generations,” said Fitzpatrick.
When Phoenix police received the information, their detectives identified someone with the last name of Miller, who they had spoken to about the murders years before. They devised a plan to obtain the man’s DNA, which turned out to be a match.
On January 13, 2015, police arrested Bryan Patrick Miller and charged him with the murders of Brosso and Bernas. “It’s amazing to me that after so many years, exactly one word cracked that case. And that word was ‘Miller,” said Fitzpatrick.
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