20 years later, canal killer still out there - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

20 years later, canal killer still out there

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Angela Brosso Angela Brosso
Melanie Bernas Melanie Bernas
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PHOENIX -

Could a serial killer be responsible for the murders of two young women, murdered while riding their bikes along the Arizona canal?

The brutal and brazen killings made headlines in the early 90s. The killer has never been caught.

We spoke with cold case investigators who are now reexamining the cases. Twenty years have passed, but time can't diminish the heinous nature of the crime.

"Oh my God, took her head right off, cut it right there."

A woman's decapitated and naked body was found in a field along a bike path near 25th Avenue and Cactus in 1992. Police identified her as Angela Brosso. They found her body on November 9, 1992 -- her 22nd birthday.

Now retired homicide detective Russ Davis believes this was the work of a serial killer. He was the case agent in the Brosso murder.

"The suspect evidently didn't have much respect for a human life."

The night before, Brosso had gone on an evening bike ride alone. Her purple diamondback "Topanga" mountain bike was never found.

"He took the bicycle with him and the body part with him," says Davis.

11 days later, Brosso's head was found floating in a canal about 2 miles away. Because of the condition the head was in, police believe it may have been refrigerated before it was dumped.

10 months later, September 22, 1993, the body of 17-year-old Melanie Bernas was found floating in the canal at 1-17 and Dunlap, very near where Brosso's head was found.

"When we found Melanie I immediately thought it was probably the same person."

She too, took an evening bike ride along the canal the night she was murdered. Her green and blue bike was also missing.

"We did all kinds of stakeouts and bike riding, put up metal signs with information on it."

Detective William Schira, an officer at the time, remembers patrolling the area on his bike.

"I don't remember seeing a lot of people out and about on the bike trails," says Schira.

Schira is now one of the Phoenix Police Department's cold case investigators re-examining the cases. There are a lot of similarities.

"They were stabbed multiple times but there was one very distinctive stab wound."

In both cases, investigators believe the girls were killed between 7 and 9 p.m., murdered within yards of the bike paths.

In the Brosso murder, apartments were within earshot of the murder scene. In the Bernas murder, hotels were nearby. But nobody ever reported seeing or hearing anything.

It seems pretty bold that it would be dusk, maybe night when this happened. There's a chance people could have been riding by.

The girls were on separate bike paths but each within yards of tunnels when they were initially stabbed. So what roles do these tunnels play in the investigation? Detectives aren't sure if the killer used them for cover or for a getaway.

"Was there a ploy that made the girls stop to talk to this person or did he knock them off their bikes? We'll never know that."

Police always believed the same person was responsible for both murders. Several years ago DNA taken from both crime scenes was tested and sealed their theory.

"Obviously we know it's a match because the DNA sample is the same."

While there are many similarities in the murders, there are also some differences that have detectives scratching their heads.

While Brosso was found naked in a field, Bernas' body was found in the canal. She was dressed in a swimsuit that police reproduced. It was not hers and she did not leave her house wearing it.

"My thought she was killed and then redressed."

And only the first victim, Brosso, was decapitated.

"Usually a serial killer in my estimation will graduate in his violence and stuff -- this one here backed off," says Davis.

Definitions differ on the number of victims it takes to qualify as a serial killer. Even now, police believe whoever killed Brosso and Bernas killed others.

Detectives have searched national databases looking for similar crimes to no avail.

"That doesn't mean anything because at these two crime scenes, he changed."

Investigators are now re-examining the 800 tips that came in on the cases, looking for leads.

"We have a list of over 300 people we've made based on tips that have come in that we would like to contact," says Schira.

Using DNA testing, investigators have eliminated at least 30 potential suspects. Detectives have theories on why the killer hasn't been caught. They say he could either be dead, in a prison, a mental facility or...

"There's also the off chance he stopped," says Schira. "Look at the BTK guy. He didn't kill for 25 years and he was a normal person for that time frame."

20 years later, detectives are still hoping the canal killer is caught.

"We got a lot more developed technology now and there's a good chance if the person's still alive it could happen," says Davis.

"Our hope is with our whole squad looking at it maybe somebody will pick up something I don't see, my boss doesn't see," says Schira.

"There's certain cases that just kind of go with you, ya know. This is one of them, this is two of them," says Davis.

To this day, neither of the girls' bikes have been found.

The killer's DNA is in a national database so if he's ever arrested for something and his DNA is collected, they could match it. If you have any information call Silent Witness.


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