Troopers make arrest in 1993 Bartlett Hall cold case murder
Alaska State Troopers arrested 44-year-old Steven Harris Downs in Auburn, Maine on Friday for the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Sophie Sergie in a UAF dormitory bathroom.
“This arrest is the culmination of [over 20] years of effort and tenacious attention by this department to solve a horrendous murder,” said Amanda Price, Department of Public Safety Commissioner at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Downs has been charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault. He will be extradited for prosecution in Alaska.
20-year-old Sergie made plans to return home to Pitkas Point after her stay with her friend, Shirley Wasuli, in Fairbanks for an orthodontic appointment. She disappeared after midnight to smoke a cigarette next to the exhaust vent in the tub room off the main bathroom area because it was cold outside. Case investigator Sgt. Jim McCann said Sergie was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
A custodian found Sergie’s body in the second-floor bathtub of UAF’s Bartlett Hall in the early afternoon of April 26, 1993. She lay strewn in a pool of blood, pants at her ankles, with facial stab wounds and the fatal bullet of a .22 caliber in the back of her head. No one recalled hearing the gunshot.
At 18, Downs was a UAF student living in Bartlett Hall and working as a university security guard with his roommate, Nicholas Dazar. Dazar was interviewed in 2010 after investigators learned he was fired for possessing a firearm in the dorm. He did not own a .22-caliber revolver at the time he lived in Bartlett Hall, but as he told investigators, his 1993 roommate did. Forensic scientists confirmed the bullet from the crime scene would have been fired from such a gun.
Downs was identified as a suspect in the cold case through the use of genetic genealogy. An investigator for Alaska State Troopers’ Cold Case Investigation Unit decided to try the technique in July 2018, after its use to identify and arrest the suspected Golden State Serial Killer. Blood relatives of suspects are found by comparing DNA collected at crime scenes to that submitted to public genealogy databases. Such DNA technology was not used in Alaska in 1993, rendering the DNA found on Sergie’s body useless for 26 years.
Downs had been working as a registered nurse in Maine and was noted with disciplinary action and unprofessional conduct. In the days leading to his arrest, Downs still denied knowing Sergie and stated he was with his girlfriend most of the night she was killed. He told authorities he “remember[s] the pictures, it’s terrible, poor girl.” He also said if he had known anything he would have come forward immediately. Downs voiced his suspicions of Ft. Wainwright soldiers to troopers “repeatedly” as they were “often in the building.”
With the help of Maine authorities, AST later arrested Downs and he is set to for transfer to Alaska to face justice.
“The impact of [the] murder was felt statewide,” Price said. “The many investigators who have continued to work this case never let the loss of Sophie leave their mind.”
According to AST Director Barry Wilson, “Justice for Sophie is finally within reach.”