Eighteen years after the murder-abduction case went cold, Englewood Police say they have now positively ID'd a suspect linked to the disappearance of five-year-old Alie "Aliezandra" Berrelez.
Alie's body was tracked by an Aurora Police bloodhound named Yogi, and found stuffed into a khaki duffel bag at the bottom of Deer Creek Canyon just four days after she went missing. Investigators believed that her abductor had thrown the bag to the bottom of the 20-foot embankment.
At the time, police were hopeful that the bag would contain DNA clues about Berrelez's abductor.
The Berrelez family's neighbor, Nicholas "Nick" Stofer, has been positively ID'd in the case of her disappearance from DNA found on an area of Alie's underwear. Stofer had been the only primary suspect in the case and had been interviewed by police detectives shortly after Alie's body was found, but died in 2001 without ever being formally charged.
Police officials say that they were only able to identify Stofer now because of technological advancements in DNA. Though Englewood Police Detectives gathered serology and hair samples from Stofer at the beginning of their investigation, they were unable to positively link him to Alie's disappearance. After resubmitting DNA samples they had saved since 1993, police say they are certain and will close Alie's case after 18 years.
Prosecutors in Arapahoe County also declined to press charges on Stofer at the time, alleging there was not enough evidence.
"Over time, DNA analysis has advanced. Back in 1993, DNA analysis was not available at the CBI laboratory and over time we have been able to deal with samples that are smaller and/or less pristine. And it was those advances that allowed us to do the DNA analysis on this particular case," CBI Forensic Scientist Gentry Roth told reporters at the press conference. According to a press release, Roth is the forensic scientist who found the DNA linking Stofer to Alie.
Englewood Police Chief John Collins discussed the DNA testing results at the press conference:
All I can tell you is, and I would imagine that one of the CBI folks would tell you the same. It was DNA that was either saliva--it could have been saliva, it could have been something else but it was very rich in DNA and that's what was found in there. What was it, I'm not sure we can totally explain what it was...All we know is that it was unequivocally his DNA in her underwear, and it had no business being there.
Police interviews with various people that Stofer had met and associated with at bars revealed that Stofer once expressed a fantasy about abducting a small girl, Englewood Police Chief Collins told The Huffington Post. In addition, a witness told police that Stofer had had a green canvas bag that was similar to the one Alie was found in, which Stofer denied.
Yet Alie's younger brother Sam, who was three years old at the time and the only eye witness, told police that "the old man" took her, and walked up to apartment door 106A where Stofer in fact lived.
Just days after Alie's murder and only three weeks of residing in the Golden Nugget apartments where she was taken, Stofer abruptly moved to California and further heightened suspicions. In October 2001 Stofer was found dead in his Phoenix, Ariz. apartment of an apparent drug or alcohol overdose, but a search of this apartment also did not yield any positive connection to Alie.
"You really can't put it into words," Collins said about his frustration that Stofer was never charged with his crime. "In my layman's opinion, (the bloodhounds) gave us so much circumstantial evidence. They told me that Nick Stofer did this terrible act, and you wouldn't believe it until you saw it and what they did. So from that day, from that moment, we wanted to put handcuffs on him so bad but we couldn't because the evidence just was not there."
Alie's grandfather, Richard Berrelez said that a part of him did not want it to be Stofer because it meant that his family couldn't get any answers.
It's been a long time--18 years--but it seems like one long day. Sometimes it feels like we haven't had Alie for one long day.
I wanted it to be somebody else, maybe. That I could confront. And if Nick Stofer had not died, today I would have requested to talk with him, confront him, put him in the spot and ask him questions like "Why did you do it? You know? Why did you have to do it to our granddaughter? Where did you take her? How did you get her out of the apartment?" There's a lot of questions that we have as a family that we will never know the answers to because all we can do is guess...and I wish that he was alive. I wish that he was alive so that I could confront him.
You never stop being a survivor of a crime against your family.
The Berrelez family formed the Alie Foundation shortly after a bloodhound named Yogi led police to find Alie's body almost 15 miles away. Richard began training bloodhounds for police in other child abduction cases, and his first dog--named Alie--saved a young girl within hours who went missing in 1994.
To date, the Alie Foundation has donated over 400 dogs to law enforcement around the country.
From a Denver Post article dated May 23, 1993:
Englewood police spokesman Tim Mitchell said the duffel bag could prove useful to the case because it could contain fibers, hairs and other minute evidence. He also said that if the abductor is what medical experts refer to as a "secreter," they also could find out the person's blood type from sweat on the bag. "I think there's a pretty good chance we can find somebody," said Mitchell.
Alie vanished from her home at the Golden Nugget apartment complex at 200 W. Grand Ave. in Englewood on May 18 while the neighbor who was watching her and her older brother went inside to put away their pizza leftovers.
Since Alie went missing, there has only been one suspect, Nicholas Randolph Stofer, 41, named. Stofer lived in the apartment complex where Alie lived with her family, but he passed away in 2001 and was never prosecuted since Arapahoe County prosecutors said there wasn't enough evidence according to 7News.
Alie's family later created The Alie Foundation, a nonprofit that educates parents and children about child abduction and has helped send approximately 300 bloodhounds to police departments.
According to the Denver Post, a court order has prohibited releasing the cause of Alie's death and no arrests were ever made.
Englewood Police Public Information Officer Brad Johnson told the Huffington Post that the suspect would be identified at a press conference Tuesday morning, along with an overview of Alie's case.
From Alie's mother, Marivel Berrelez's Facebook page:
THE DAY HAS COME, AFTER 18 YEARS OF WAITING... YOU WILL HAVE YOUR JUSTICE!!!!! WE LOVE YOU MY SWEET "ALIE" [.....] They have a DNA match, we will know tomarro after 18 long years of waiting. It will be on the news.
This photo released by the Englewood Police Department on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, shows Nicholas Stofer the lone suspect in the 1993 kidnapping and killing of five-year-old Alie Berrelez. Englewood Police Chief John Collins announced Tuesday that investigators used DNA to identify Nicholas Stofer as the suspect in the 1993 kidnapping and killing. Stofer was found dead in an apartment in Phoenix in 2001. (AP Photo/ Englewood Police Department)
This photo released by the Englewood Police Department on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, shows Alie Berrelez, 5, who was kidnapped and killed 18 years ago. Englewood Police Chief John Collins announced Tuesday that investigators used DNA to identify Nicholas Stofer as the suspect in the 1993 kidnapping and killing. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Marivel Berrelez, center, the motherof Alie Berrelez is comforted by son Samuel, left, and another family member during a news conference at the police department in Englewood, Colo., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. Englewood Police Chief John Collins announced that investigators used DNA to identify Nicholas Stofer as the suspect in the 1993 kidnapping and killing during the news conference. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)