Two murders unsolved for 20 years lead police to the ‘Hunter of Zombie”, who turned out to be a new Jack the Ripper. The gruesome murders of two young women near a popular bike path in Phoenix, Arizona, have troubled police authorities for more than two decades.
Traces of blood led the police to identify the two victims. They were Angela Brosseau and Melanie Bernas. They were found dead in the early 90s. Brosso’s head had been severed. A child’s clothing – a bodysuit – had been placed on Bernas’ body. Both had been sexually assaulted. But their deaths went unsolved and had become almost a terrifying urban legend in the city, until DNA technology stepped up and led police to Brian Miller.
Miller was known as a personality, nicknamed “The Zombie Slayer”. He often dressed up as a “zombie hunter” and posed with police officers, in front of the “bloody” old police car he had bought. The old patrol car was an accessory to the hunter’s uniform. “I remember looking at that photo and thinking, ‘He’s hiding in plain sight,'” Troy Hillman, a former Phoenix police chief, said on “Snapped,” Sundays on Oxygen. “Right there. He’s making fun of us.”
How Angela Brosseau was murdered
On November 8, 1992, Angela Brosso’s boyfriend called 100 in Phoenix to report that his girlfriend had gone out for a bike ride and had not yet returned. She was going to celebrate her 22nd birthday and he had made her a cake while she was away.
When officers checked the Arizona Canal bike path, where Brosso usually rode, they found blood on the trail. Following the blood, they discovered a headless body, naked except for shoes and socks. She also had marks and wounds on her genital area and a cut, an incision, on her sternum.
“It appeared that the assailant had tried to cut her in half but was unsuccessful,” Hillman said.
Police said Brosso had no defensive injuries and was attacked from behind, with a stab wound to the back that pierced her heart.
“We’ve never seen a crime like this,” Darren Burts, a former Phoenix police detective, told Snapped. “This was brutal, beyond barbaric.”
Brosseau had been sexually assaulted – her bloody clothes had been ripped off her body and left at the crime scene. Experts were able to create a DNA profile of a suspect from the evidence, but were unable to identify anyone.
About 10 days after her murder, the police received a tip that a head had been found in the canal, about two miles south of the scene of the murder.
“Angela’s head — it didn’t fit,” Hillman said. “The degree of decomposition of the head was not compatible with how long the head could possibly have been in the water.”
This led police to believe the suspect had stored Brosso’s head in a freezer for days to preserve it, before dumping it in the canal.
Are the two murders connected?
Although the police did their best to investigate Angela Brosso’s murder, 10 months later, the suspect struck again. In September 1993, a body was found floating in the canal. Immediately the police noticed similarities between the two murders. It appeared that the new victim, who was also a woman, had been attacked on the cycle path and was stabbed in the back. The victim had been dragged a considerable distance, leaving a trail of blood. Her clothes had been cut off, but this time the assailant had re-dressed the victim in a child’s turquoise leotard.
Although the victim was not decapitated, she had stab wounds on her body similar to Brosso’s, and had also been sexually assaulted.
Police soon discovered the body belonged to 17-year-old Melanie Bernas, who had been reported missing by her mother the night before.
Experts also collected DNA, but the technology was not advanced enough to prove whether the suspect in Brosso’s murder was the same as the one in Bernas’ death. This lasted six years. In 1999, the murder cases were officially linked, but still yielded no suspects.
How new DNA technology led police to suspect Brian Miller
The murders of Bernas and Brosso remained unsolved for years. But in 2011, a local news station wanted to do an update on the murders, prompting cold case detectives to reopen the cases. This time, the technology existed to take the suspect’s DNA profile and link it to a relative in a genealogy database.
At the end of December 2014, specialist criminologists – genealogists analyzed the suspect’s DNA in detail and found an identification. The family name that matched the DNA profile was Miller, and there were five possible male suspects with the last name Miller.
Brian Miller’s name caught the attention of law enforcement. It turned out that the police had also overlooked an old tip that could connect the links and lead to Miller’s name.
“The hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Hillman said. “An anonymous person had called in 1994 and said he knew something about the body, that he believed it was the same body that was found on Melanie’s body, and that it belonged to Brian.”
As police dug deeper into Miller’s background, what they uncovered shocked them. In 1989, when he was a teenager, he told police authorities that he had seen a woman who looked like his mother. He ran, caught her and stabbed her in the back. Because he was a minor, Miller was sent to juvenile detention. When he was due to be released on his 18th birthday, his mother presented the court with a letter she said she found in his room.
“That letter was called ‘The Plan,'” reporter Briana Whitney told Snapped. “And on that piece of paper, Bryan had outlined step by step what he wanted to do to a woman. This included brutal sexual acts against her, graphic descriptions of the kind of sexual things he wanted to do to her, and ultimately killing her.”
Despite the letter, Miller was released in 1990. When detectives learned of the letter in 2014, they were stunned. Only then did they suddenly think that this might be the man the police had been looking for for so many years, for the two murders.
The police then began looking into Miller’s background, even if he had been released. He married a woman in the mid-90s, after the murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas, and they moved to Washington state, where they had a daughter together.
They also learned that he had been involved in another stabbing while in Washington, of a woman named Melissa Ramirez. When he was arrested, he claimed that Ramirez tried to rob him and that the stabbing was therefore self-defense. The jury acquitted him. Because he was not convicted, his DNA profile was never entered into police systems.
In 2006, Miller and his wife divorced and he returned to Phoenix with his daughter. Police learned that his hobbies included steampunk. It is a subgenre of science fiction that features technology and design aesthetics inspired by the industrial steam engines of the 19th century
“The easiest way to explain steampunk would be, it’s almost like a fictional historical reenactment of the 1800s,” Mike Syfritt, a former friend of Bryan Miller, told Snapped.
Police also found that Miller created a persona, a character he publicly “played” called “The Zombie Hunter.” His outfit included a trench coat, goggles, helmet and gun. He also bought an old police car, painted it to look bloody and took it to parades and festivals where he played the character. The zombie hunter.
The police needed his DNA. Miller was now 42 years old. But he hadn’t done anything to force himself to give a DNA sample. So the police could not confirm their suspicions. But the police pretended to have hired him to help with “security” at the distribution facilities where he worked and thus managed to get his DNA from a glass of water. His DNA matched the suspect’s DNA profile.
His ex burned him
When police asked him about his DNA linking him to the murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas, he said, “I don’t see how that’s possible. I didn’t kill anyone.” Miller’s ex-wife has agreed to testify against him in court during his trial in 2022.
“He told us some disturbing things about their sex life,” Hillman said. “Specifically, she said he was carrying a knife and he was cutting her and licking her blood.” She also said that his behavior is what led to their divorce.
“She started wanting violent role-playing games that bothered her and led to the end of their marriage,” Phoenix Police Detective Stuart Somershaw told Snapped.
At trial, Miller’s defense argued not that he did not kill the women, but that his difficult and abusive childhood made him not responsible for his actions. The jury didn’t believe it.
On April 11, 2023, more than thirty years later, Bryan Miller was found guilty of the murders, kidnappings and sexual assaults of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas.
“This is our version of Jack the Ripper,” said Somershaw. “We had victims who were murdered in a horrible way and no one knew who had done it. It instilled great fear in many people.”
The judge sentenced Miller to death. His defense is expected to appeal.