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Arizona Man Who Calls Himself “The Zombie Hunter” Brutally Beheads Women Off Bike Trail
It took police more than two decades to finally get a DNA match linking Bryan Miller to the vicious murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas.
The gruesome murders of two young women near a popular bike trail in Phoenix, Arizona baffled law enforcement for more than twenty years.
Blood trails led police to the bodies of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas in the early ‘90s. Brosso’s head had been cut off. A children’s leotard had been placed onto Bernas’ body. Both had been sexually assaulted. But their deaths went unsolved, and became almost a spooky urban legend in the town, until DNA technology advanced, leading police to Bryan Miller.
Miller’s persona in public was known as “The Zombie Killer.” In his twisted take on law enforcement, he often posed with officers in costume in front of his bloodied police vehicle.
“I remember looking at that photo and thinking, ‘He’s hiding in plain sight,’” Troy Hillman, a former Phoenix police sergeant said on Snapped, airing at 6/5c on Sundays on Oxygen. “Just right there. He’s taunting us.”
How was Angela Brosso murdered?
On Nov. 8, 1992, Angela Brosso's boyfriend called 911 in Phoenix to report she had gone out for a bike ride and not yet returned. She was about to celebrate her 22nd birthday, and he’d made a cake for her while she was out.
When officers checked out the Arizona Canal bike trail, the place Brosso typically 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 to her genital area, and a cut down her sternum.
“It looked like the perpetrator had actually tried to cut her in half, but was unsuccessful,” Hillman said.
Police said Brosso had no defensive wounds, and was attacked from behind, with a stab wound to the back that penetrated her heart.
“We had never had a crime like this,” Darren Burch, a former Phoenix police detective said on Snapped. “This was brutal beyond brutality.”
Brosso had been sexually assaulted — her bloodied clothes torn from her body and left at the murder scene. Experts were able to create a suspect DNA profile from the evidence, but did not come up with a match.
About 10 days after her murder, police got a tip that a head had been found in the canal, about two miles south of the murder site.
“Angela’s head — it didn’t match up,” Hillman said. “The level of decomposition of the head was not consistent with how long the head could have potentially 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.
Was Melanie Bernas' murder tied to Angela Brosso's murder?
Although police did everything they could to investigate the murder of Angela Brosso, 10 months later, the suspect struck again. In September 1993, a body was found floating in the canal.
Immediately police found similarities between the two murders. It appeared the victim had been attacked on the bike path — with the female again stabbed in the back. The victim had been dragged a considerable distance, leaving a blood trail. Her clothing had been cut off, but this time she had been redressed in a child-size turquoise bodysuit.
Although the victim was not decapitated, she had knife carvings in her body similar to those on Brosso, 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.
DNA was also collected by experts, but the technology wasn’t advanced enough to prove if the suspect in Brosso’s murder was the same as in Bernas’ death — until six years later. In 1999, the murder cases were officially connected, but still didn’t yield any suspects.
How did new DNA technology lead police to murder suspect Bryan 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, causing cold case detectives to reopen the cases. This time, the technology existed to use the suspect DNA profile and connect it to a relative in a genealogy database.
In late December 2014, forensic genealogists ran the suspect's DNA, and got a match. The family name that matched the DNA profile was Miller, with five potential male suspects.
Bryan Miller’s name caught law enforcement's attention. It turned out police had also overlooked an old tip that they were able to piece together with Miller’s name.
“The hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Hillman said. “An anonymous caller called back in 1994 and said that they knew something about the bodysuit, that he believed it to be the same bodysuit put on Melanie, in the possession of Bryan.”
As police dug further into Miller’s history, what they uncovered shocked them. In 1989, when he was a teenager, he told law enforcement he’d seen a woman who looked like his mother, who allegedly had a history of abusing him, ran up and stabbed the woman in the back.
Because he was underage, Miller was sent to juvenile detention. When he was set to be released on his 18th birthday, his mother presented a letter to the court that she said she found in his bedroom.
“That letter was called ‘The Plan,’” reporter Briana Whitney said on Snapped. “And in this piece of paper, Bryan had outlined step by step what he wanted to do to a woman. That included vicious sexual acts against her, graphic descriptions of the kind of sexual things he wanted to do, ultimately, killing her.”
Despite the letter, Miller was released in 1990. When detectives heard about this letter in 2014, they were stunned.
“It was just silence in the room of, ‘Whoa, we’ve been looking for this guy, this may be him,’” Hillman said.
Police tracked Miller’s history after his release. 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 he was involved in another stabbing while in Washington, of a woman named Melissa Ramirez.
When he was arrested, he claimed Ramirez had been trying to rob him, and the stabbing was self-defense. A jury acquitted him. Because he wasn’t convicted, his DNA profile was never put into law enforcement systems.
In 2006, Miller and his wife divorced, and he moved back to Phoenix with his daughter. Police learned his hobbies included steampunk.
“The easiest way to explain steampunk would be, it’s almost like a fantasy historical reenactment of the 1800s," Mike Syfritt, a former friend of Bryan Miller's, said on Snapped.
Miller created a character he played in public called “The Zombie Hunter.” His costume included a trench coat, goggles, helmet, and gun. He also bought an old police car that he would drive to parades and festivals when he portrayed the character.
Police needed DNA from the now 42-year-old to confirm their suspicions. Officers pretended to hire him to help with “security” at the distribution facility where he worked and were able to get his DNA off a water glass. He was a match.
When police questioned him about his DNA linking him to the murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas, he said in a police interview, “I don’t see how that’s possible. I didn’t kill anyone.”
Miller’s ex-wife agreed to testify against him in court during his murder trial in 2022.
“She told us some troubling stuff about their sex life,” Hillman said. “Particularly, he would bring a knife and carve on her and lick the blood.”
She also said his behavior is what led to their divorce.
“He began to engage in violent roleplay that disturbed her, and led to the end of their marriage,” Stuart Somershoe, a Phoenix police detective, said on Snapped.
At trial, Miller’s defense argued not that he didn’t kill the women, but that his difficult and abusive childhood made him not responsible for his actions. A 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,” Somershoe said. “You had victims that were horribly murdered, and nobody knew who had done it. He instilled a lot of fear in a lot of people.”
A judge sentenced Miller to death. He’s expected to appeal.
Watch new episodes of Snapped at 6/5c on Oxygen on Sundays, and the next day on Peacock.