EVERETT — Snohomish County cold case detectives believe they have found the man who is responsible for the 1995 death of Patricia Berry and the disappearance of Tracey Brazzel earlier that same year.
Detectives on Thursday filed a search warrant seeking genetic samples from Danny Ross Giles
, a convicted sex offender now serving time for a 2005 indecent exposure case. Investigators say the Lynnwood man’s DNA was found in both women’s cars. They expect to confirm those results through further genetic testing, according to the search warrant.
“We know we’ve got our guy,” c
old case detective Jim Scharf said Thursday.
Investigators don’t believe either woman knew Giles, but 16 years ago their paths somehow crossed and ended in violence. Over the years detectives wondered whether the same person was responsible for Berry’s homicide and Brazzel’s disappearance. They say they now have the evidence to prove Giles is responsible for both.
“For 16 years I’ve waited for this day, and justice has finally come to my family,” said Berry’s mother, Nancy Stensrud of Camano Island. “When the cold-case team first started in Snohomish County, I remember saying, ‘Don’t commit a crime here because you will be found.’ Today, these words ring true.”
Detectives believe their suspect killed Brazzel and Berry just weeks apart.
Brazzel, 22, was last seen May 26, 1995, at Kodiak Ron’s Pub and Grill, then located off Highway 99 in south Everett. When she didn’t meet up with her friends, her family began to worry. Then her empty car was found parked outside the Keeler Corner Apartments in Lynnwood, where she lived. The passenger door window was broken. A small spot of blood was recovered from the passenger door.
There was no sign of Brazzel.
Her mother, Peggy Brady, held out hope her daughter was alive.
“I can’t mourn because there’s nothing to mourn because I don’t have answers,” Brady told The Herald in 2008.
The Patti Berry story (1999)
Cold case detectives met with Brady Wednesday to share the latest developments in her daughter’s case.
“We are so pleased there has been a prime suspect identified,” Brady said in a statement. “We understand it could be a death penalty case, which her father and I feel is appropriate in this case, but we’re more interested in the closure of getting our daughter back. We feel that this is a giant step forward, and her dad and I have hope of bringing her home to us.”
“This is a very emotional time for us and we hope everyone will respect our privacy,” she added.
Detectives also met with Stensrud on Wednesday.
She was among the family members of victims of unsolved killings who spent years pressing for the creation of a cold case team in Snohomish County after growing frustrated over the apparent lack of progress on her daughter’s case.
She was tearful Thursday morning, but resolved to see through this next chapter in her daughter’s case. She praised investigators for their work.
“The Snohomish County cold case detectives have never stopped working my daughter’s case and detective Jim Scharf and his team of cold case detectives are prepared with rock-solid evidence,” she said in a statement. “The information I have received from them gives me more than enough hope that he will be convicted when he goes to trial. Thanks to their dedication, I am convinced there will be a conviction. There is no doubt about it.”
Detectives showed her a photo of the suspect. She said he’s somebody she does not know.
Both Berry, 26, and Brazzel were featured in the county’s first-ever cold case playing cards. Berry’s killing also was highlighted in a six-part series that appeared in The Herald in July 1999. It was one of many unsolved homicides that led to the formation of a cold case unit in the sheriff’s office.
On July 31, 1995, Berry left after finishing her shift dancing a Honey’s, a nude nightclub that used to be along Highway 99 in south Everett. Her blood-spattered car was found about two days later, hidden behind a nearby car wash off the 400 block of 128th Street SW.
Not far from the car, detectives found Berry’s dance costumes and the blue jeans she was wearing when she left the club. The jeans were stained with blood. Berry’s killer dumped her in the woods between the Everett Mall and an apartment complex. Children found her body nine days later beneath a canopy of spindly alder and hemlock trees.
She had been stabbed repeatedly. She left behind a 2-year-old daughter.
Detectives on Thursday said they believe Berry encountered Giles, then 27, while she was looking for a place to inflate a low tire on her car. Evidence suggests he attacked her outside the vehicle.
Scharf called Berry’s investigation one of the largest in sheriff’s office history. Detectives over the years have accumulated 18 volumes of information and collected 285 pieces of evidence. Despite some media reports that years ago a piece of evidence from the case was mishandled, there is a clear chain of custody for the materials that link the suspect to Berry, detectives said.
Scharf on Thursday commended John Padilla, a former homicide detective at the sheriff’s office, for thoroughly documenting the case.
“He gathered as much as he could between I-5 and Honey’s,” Scharf said.
Scharf also praised the work of the scientists at the Washington State Crime Lab in Seattle and Marysville.
“We’ve gotten where we are today because of we have the finest team working on processing the information,” he said.
A break came in Berry’s case in 2004 when crime lab scientists discovered a mixture of DNA on evidence preserved from Berry’s car during the initial investigation. Part of the sample matched Berry’s DNA. Another part belonged to an unknown male. That profile was entered into the state database. No match was made.
Then in the summer of 2008, a crime lab scientist determined that the male profile matched a sample in the database belonging to Giles, the search warrant said.
Giles has been in prison since 2005 after being convicted of exposing himself to a underage girl in the University District. He had previous sex crime convictions, including a second-degree rape in 1987. In that case, he broke in and sexually assaulted a woman in a tanning bed room at a Lynnwood apartment complex. In 2001, he was convicted of criminal trespassing after a woman reported finding him crouched down looking at her while she was in a tanning bed at a salon in Shoreline. He fled the salon but was tracked down by police. He is currently at Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen and was expected to be released in July.
Giles, 43, grew up in Snohomish County. He had his first felony conviction before the age of 14 and has been in and out of prison over the years.
At the time of Brazzel’s disappearance and Berry’s homicide, Giles was wanted on an outstanding warrant for failing to show up in court to be sentenced for burglary and theft convictions.
Everett police arrested Giles on Nov. 11, 1995, near the mall, about a half mile from where Berry’s body was found earlier in the year. He was living with his mother in an apartment off 204th Street SW, less than five miles from Brazzel’s apartment and about six miles from where Berry’s car was found. He’d previously lived closer to Brazzel, Scharf said. Investigators also learned that he’d visited a pawn shop across the street from Brazzel’s apartment in 1994 and 1995.
Giles also left behind genetic evidence in Brazzel’s disappearance, detectives said. Sheriff’s detective Gregg Rinta recovered some blood from her car in 1995. Crime lab scientists in Marysville in 2010 tested the blood and entered the profile into the state database. The sample matched Giles’ DNA on file in the system, police said.
Investigators have been building their case against Giles over the years, Scharf said. They knew he was in prison and wasn’t getting out anytime soon. They waited to get the search warrant and to speak with him until their case was solid.
They have interviewed him a couple of times in the past two weeks. Detectives obtained saliva samples from him on Tuesday. Those will be tested against the evidence already on file.
“The tests will confirm what we already know. We have the right guy and he realizes that,” Scharf said.
Their priority now is to return Brazzel home to her family.
Scharf said one of the most difficult parts of the job is seeing what families of missing persons are going through. They suspect that something awful has happened to their loved one but hold out hope.
“They don’t have the body to have the answer,” Scharf said. “Personally, the most important part of this investigation is to get Tracey’s body recovered.”
This is the second time in less than a month that the team have announced a major break in an unsolved case. Late last month they arrested a Seattle man in connection with the 1979 homicide of Susan Schwarz.
“The work is paying off because we’ve been getting results in the past few months,” cold case detective Patrick VanderWeyst said.
The detectives attribute their success in great part to federal and state grants the sheriff’s office received a couple years ago. The grants helped pay for more detectives and additional genetic testing. The federal grant runs out next month.
Advances in technology helped catch up with the hard work that went into these cases, Scharf said.
It’s the dedication and diligence of the cold case team that’s helping bring answers to families, said Chuck Wright, who volunteers with the team, along with another civilian, Mikelle Gaines. Wright carries some of the cold case cards in his wallet.
“Science only goes so far. People put hours and hours and their lives into finding a solution to death,” he said. “The caring for human life is the major motivator.”
Eric Stevick contributed to this report.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.