Real Name: Aleszandra Ariel Berrelez
Location: Englewood, Colorado
Date: May 23, 1993
Details: On the afternoon of May 18, 1993, five-year-old Alie Berrelez went out to play with her three-year-old brother in the courtyard of their apartment complex in Englewood, Colorado. At one point, their babysitter went inside for a few minutes. When she came back out, Alie was missing. Police believed that she had been abducted, but had few clues. Four days later, a bloodhound named Yogi and his handler, Jerry Nichols, were brought in to trace her scent and help find her.
Yogi took Alie's scent from clothes she had recently worn and soon started moving. He first went up the stairs and zeroed in on a specific apartment; the one she lived in. This meant that he was on the right track. He then led Jerry out of the apartment complex and down the street, heading south. Television news reporters followed close behind, but he wasn't bothered at all.
Bloodhounds use their saliva to help smell the scent trail better. Their ears and mouth also help. A scent trail, whether animal or human, comes from thousands of dead skin cells that are constantly being shed. If they are not disrupted by weather changes, then they can remain for up to a month. Despite the many of them in the air, a bloodhound is able to focus in on one specific scent.
While they walked, Jerry noticed that Yogi was picking up the scent more sporadically. This meant to him that Alie had most likely been taken into a car and driven along that route. Interestingly, people leave scent trails from moving cars; the skin cells shoot out through the car's ventilation and exhaust system. They are then deposited on the side of the road where the bloodhound's nose can pick them up. Jerry noted that in some training exercises, they have placed people in a trunk. Even during those exercises, the bloodhounds are still able to pick up the scent trail.
Yogi led the search party south for several miles, covering almost forty city blocks. At the entrance to a freeway, he headed straight up the westbound ramp. The search party drove west to the next exit. He went past it and continued to pick up the scent down the freeway. The search party did this several times at each exit. To save time, the police decided to skip the fourth exit and move on to the fifth one. When they got to it, Yogi lost the scent. He apparently realized that they had overshot the scent trail. They backtracked one-half mile to the fourth exit. He picked up the scent and led them off the freeway. He headed in the direction of a wooded area, Deer Creek Canyon. After seven hours, Jerry realized that Yogi was overworking himself. He decided to stop the search.
The next morning, human volunteers continued the search in Deer Creek Canyon. Tragically, an hour later, they discovered Alie's body. She had been stuffed into a khaki duffel bag and tossed off a twenty-foot embankment. She was found less than two miles from the point where Yogi was stopped. Without him, her body may have never been found.
Alie's family has set up a foundation for bloodhounds so that they can be available to search for missing people.
Suspects: None known. Yogi tracked the killer's scent back to an empty apartment at Alie's apartment complex. Police believe that the killer either lived there or had visited someone who lived there.
Former apartment resident Nicholas Stofer was questioned as a suspect; however, there was never enough evidence to charge him.
Extra Notes: This case first aired as part of the remarkable tracking abilities of bloodhounds on November 10, 1995. It was also featured on Vanished with Beth Holloway.
Results: Solved. Detectives taking a new look at Alie's murder matched a DNA sample to Nicholas Raymond "Nick" Stofer, ending a decades-long saga for her family. As advancements in technology emerged, evidence gathered in this case was resubmitted for additional testing and comparison. On February 8, 2011, several items of evidence were submitted to the CBI for new DNA testing. A CBI agent developed a complete DNA profile from an area of Alie's underwear and from the waistband. On September 13, it was announced that the DNA profile was matched to Stofer. "We had to wait 18 years for forensic science to catch up to the evidence we had on hand," said Englewood police Chief John Collins, announcing the end to this case on Tuesday. "It was unequivocally his DNA in her underwear and it had no business being there."
Detective Bobbie Garrett, who was in charge of the new investigation, found that there was a large amount of circumstantial evidence against Stofer as well. At the time of the abduction, he lived in Alie's apartment complex. He had been there for three weeks prior to her abduction and abruptly moved to California just five days after it. He made the reservations for his flight on the morning of May 18, the day she disappeared. He also did not show up for work the day after. He was a focus of the investigation within days when her three-year-old brother told the police, "the old man" took her and then took them to Stofer's apartment. A second bloodhound also took police there. The two bloodhounds also found her scent on him and two cars he was driving.
Detectives traveled to Redlands, California to take blood and hair samples from Stofer. However, a full DNA profile from the killer was not found at that time. When questioned, he claimed to have been with two other tenants of the apartment complex when Alie was discovered to be missing. He claimed that he then went to a nearby pay phone and made some calls. However, the tenants claimed that when they left him, Alie was still in the courtyard. Furthermore, phone records proved that he had not made any calls that day. Two days after she vanished, he borrowed a Buick, claiming he needed to get his last paycheck from a railroad job; however, in reality, he had been fired and paid for the job two months earlier.
Detectives learned during the investigation that as a teenager Stofer frequently partied in Deer Creek Canyon. A friend who helped him move into the apartment said that he had in his possession a green military style canvas bag similar to the one Alie's body was found in. He denied ever having one. He was a welder, and police said they found metal shavings in the duffel bag her body was found in. He had also once expressed a fantasy about abducting a small girl. Carpet fibers found on her blouse matched the carpet in his apartment and did not match any other in the apartment complex.
Over the years, the investigation into Alie's abduction and murder continued. Stofer remained a prime suspect but police could not arrest him because there wasn't enough evidence. On October 7, 2001, he was found dead inside his Phoenix apartment of an apparent drug overdose. Police were called there on a welfare check after his family had not heard from him in some time. When his body was discovered, he had been dead for two days.
Since Stofer is now dead, this case is considered closed.
- Alie Berrelez on Unsolved.com
- The Alie Foundation
- Bloodhound, students find body of Alie Berrelez
- Searchers find body
- Kidnap victim's body found in canyon
- Abducted girl found dead in canyon
- 5-year-old suffocated
- Hound donated to track lost kids (Page 1) (Page 2)
- In Alie's Memory (People Magazine Article)
- Police: Suspect found in girl's 1993 death
- 1993 killing of Englewood 5-year-old Alie Berrelez solved: It was neighbor long suspected and now dead
- DNA Evidence Shows Neighbor Killed Alie Berrelez
- DNA ID's dead suspect in killing
- Resolving 1993 murder of Englewood 5-year-old took an advances in forensic science
- After 5-year-old murdered, grandfather starts foundation to supply police dogs to help find missing children
- Alie Berrelez on Find a Grave