By Scott North and Diana Hefley Herald Writers
EVERETT — More than 17 years have passed since two Snohomish County women were taken from their families forever.
Prosecutors have decided it’s time to prove the prime suspect, a convicted rapist, is responsible.
Danny Ross Giles earlier this week was quietly charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the 1995 death of Patti Berry, 26, and the disappearance of Tracey Brazzel, 22.
He was arrested Friday at the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, where he’s been locked up since 2011, awaiting a separate civil trial to determine whether he is a sexually violent predator.
Giles, 44, was expected to be booked into the county jail Friday afternoon. A judge already has set bail at $4 million. The defendant is expected to make his first appearance on the new charges Monday.
He allegedly is linked to both Berry and Brazzel through genetic tests on evidence that detectives gathered at crime scenes years ago. Since learning of those results, Giles has made a series of contradictory statements, initially denying that he knew either woman, but recently writing a friend that he’d been inside Brazzel’s home to buy drugs prior to her disappearance, deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said in court papers. View the charging papers (PDF).
Giles spent much of his life in the area where Berry and Brazzel most likely encountered their killer, Matheson wrote. In an eight-page affidavit, he detailed Giles’ suspected connections to the pair, including his frequenting a south Everett bar called Kodiak Ron’s. Both Berry and Brazzel were last seen alive in that same block at about the same time of night, a couple of months apart, according to court papers.
Giles “is intimately familiar with the area in which both young women went missing, where Patti Berry worked, where Tracey Brazzel lived, where (Berry’s) car was located, and where Patti’s body was located,” Matheson wrote.
Brazzel disappeared May 26, 1995. Her car was found days later parked along the street near her Lynnwood-area apartment. The passenger side window had been shattered. The lights were on in her apartment and the sheets missing from the bed.
Snohomish County sheriff’s Sgt. Gregg Rinta, then a homicide detective, spotted small droplets of blood on the outside of Brazzel’s car. He gathered them into evidence.
Key locations in the case:
View Key locations in the case against Danny R. Giles in a larger map
Over the years multiple attempts have been made to find any sign of Brazzel, all without success. Investigators determined that she was last seen alive at Kodiak Ron’s, a pub that in 1995 was located along Highway 99 at the intersection with Airport Road, but has since moved.
Berry went missing July 31, 1995. A single mom to a daughter, then just 2, she failed to reach home after working a shift at Honey’s, a nude nightclub that used to be in south Everett. Her car had a leaking tire when she left work, and she was last spotted at a convenience store in the same parking lot as Kodiak Ron’s. Her blood-spattered vehicle turned up behind a south Everett car wash. Children discovered her body about a week later in a wooded area behind the Everett Mall. She died from multiple stab wounds to the neck.
Both cases eventually wound up under investigation by the county’s cold-case detectives, a special team that was created within the sheriff’s office after years of lobbying by Berry’s mother, Nancy Stensrud, and other parents who had lost loved ones to homicide.
Stensrud said she’s grateful for all of the time and effort investigators expended over the years trying to solve the mystery behind her daughter’s killing. She’s hopeful that soon there will be some healing for the people Patti Berry left behind.
She also wants answers for Brazzel’s family, in particular what happened to the missing woman.
“They’ve been through hell. They need all the answers they can get,” Stensrud said. “I know where Patti’s body is. I can go there. They can’t.”
Reached at his home in New Jersey, Tracey Brazzel’s father said time has helped temper some of his grief. The early years were filled with anger and tears and searching. Bill Brazzel hired private investigators and took his daughter’s disappearance to psychics and national media.
“I’m not looking for vengeance,” he said. “All I want is my daughter back. I want to be able to bury her and have some closure.”
Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick said he’s proud of the work done by detectives.
The Patti Berry story (1999)
• Part 1: Four years of grief and pain
• Part 4: Investigator narrows in on a key suspect
In 1995, Giles wasn’t suspected in either woman’s case. A prolific thief, he was wanted on an arrest warrant for property crimes when Brazzel dropped from sight and Berry was killed.
Suspicion turned toward Giles because of persistence and scientific advances over the years that have allowed DNA testing on increasingly smaller traces of genetic material, Matheson said.
From the outset, the foundation for the case was anchored in smart police work, he said.
In 1995, sheriff’s Sgt. Shawn Stich, who now leads the county’s major crime detectives, preserved the steering wheel from Berry’s blood-spattered car. It was placed into evidence and kept secure.
In 2004, cold-case detective Jim Scharf asked that the steering wheel be searched for trace genetic evidence. Forensic scientists reported finding DNA from an unknown man, mixed in with material from Berry.
In 2008, the DNA was linked to Giles, with the statistical probability of a random match calculated at 1 in 580 million, according to court papers. Giles’ DNA by then was in a database of known offenders. He was behind bars, serving time for exposing himself to two college-aged women near the University of Washington in 2005. Giles also has convictions for a 1987 rape in Lynnwood, peeping and other offenses against women and girls, starting in his teens and continuing into middle age. Over the years Giles repeatedly refused to cooperate with sex offender treatment, court papers show.
Scharf requested tests on the blood spatters found in 1995 on the outside of Brazzel’s car. The DNA in that blood was linked to Giles in 2010, with the statistical probability of a random match calculated at 1 in 56 quadrillion.
“Although police had long theorized that the disappearance of Tracey Brazzel and the murder of Patti Berry were linked, (based on age, gender, area taken, lifestyles, timeframe of their disappearance) there had previously been no solid connection between the two,” Matheson wrote.
And there was more. In 1999, The Herald published a series of articles about the hunt for Berry’s killer. The stories prompted a witness to come forward with a previously unreported tip. He described a dark-haired man hosing himself off at the car wash the night Berry was killed. He did this standing just feet away from where her car was later recovered. Police released a sketch, looking for clues.
“The composite that was drawn in 1999 of the purported ‘killer’ was compared to a photograph of Giles taken in 1996,” Matheson wrote. “There is a remarkable similarity between the composite and a photograph of defendant.”
Scharf is convinced that the witness got it right.
“I think the person who made that sketch saw Danny Giles cleaning out a car at the car wash,” Scharf said.
Giles was publicly named as the prime suspect after search warrants were filed in May 2011 seeking more genetic testing. At the time, he was nearing the completion of his prison term for the Seattle exposure. He was sent to McNeil Island and the state’s sex offender treatment center after King County prosecutors in July 2011 filed a civil case seeking to have Giles declared a sexually violent predator. It isn’t immediately clear what will happen with that case.
Detectives since have been working to bolster their case. They’ve interviewed people who knew Giles. Scharf has spoken to him on several occasions. Detectives sent more evidence to the crime lab to be tested. Even now, more evidence is being worked on, Scharf said.
Investigators had Giles’ communications monitored. That’s how they discovered the letter he wrote offering an explanation to why his DNA could show up in certain locations.
His explanations were inconsistent with earlier statements, according to court papers.
“We’re always looking for new information, specifically we’d like to know what vehicles the suspect was driving the summer of 1995. If I can find that car, I can search it for evidence,” Scharf said.
Giles was known to get around on a bicycle, but investigators believe he may have had access to vehicles. They’ve heard he may have used a yellow Toyota, or dark-colored or grayish-blue sedans.
Scharf said he’d also like to speak with anyone who may have seen Berry, Brazzel or Giles at Kodiak Ron’s. He wants to hear from anyone who has knowledge of Honey’s employees who frequented the bar.
Prosecutors expect they’ll face challenges over whether Giles should be tried on both counts at the same time. Meanwhile trying to prove he killed Brazzel means making the case without a body.
Detectives have developed a long paper trail documenting their nationwide efforts to find Brazzel, Matheson said, but he added “a body would really be helpful.”
Major challenges also can be expected over the evidence gathered 17 years ago. The detective who originally investigated Berry’s murder was fired in part because some evidence in the case was found in his closet by his ex-wife during their messy divorce in 2004. That attracted news coverage in 2006, but tests showed the evidence — five hairs — came from Berry, not her killer.
The evidence linking Giles has a clear record showing that it was properly gathered, stored and kept secure over the years, Matheson said.
Scharf said years of hard work led to the charges.
“I think as a detective you’re always looking for answers and finding the truth. You just have to be patient,” Scharf said. “By having it charged, we’re there. We’re finding the truth. You don’t always get all the answers when you get the truth. You’re still always searching for those answers.”
Scott North: 425-339-3431, email@example.com