A cold case involving the unsolved murder of a 5-year-old girl in 1993 was finally closed today, but the suspect will not be arrested.
"It's been a long 18 years," said Richard Berrelez, grandfather of Alie Berrelez, who was killed in Englewood, Colo., 1993. "But Alie's not a victim, I don't want people to think of her as a victim. She's a hero, and she's been a hero for the past 18 years."
Englewood police said today what they had long suspected: the DNA of neighbor Nick Stofer, 41, was found on the girl's underwear when they recovered her body. Stofer, however, will not face charges. He died of natural causes in 2001, never having stood trial for the crime.
Alie Berrelez was kidnapped from her apartment complex where she was sitting eating pizza with other children in the parking lot, in Englewood on May 18, 1993. Following a massive search by police and fire workers and volunteers, and the use of scent-tracking dogs, the little girl was found four days later in a canvas bag near a creek 14 miles away from her home.
Cold Case Killing of Little Girl Solved 18 Years Later
Stofer had been the primary suspect in the crime since it occurred, but police did not mount a case against him because of a lack of evidence, according to Englewood Police Chief John Collins.
Police said that the only evidence they had against Stofer was circumstantial, including the testimony of Berrelez's 3-year-old brother who may have witnessed the kidnapping .
According to ABC News affiliate ABC7, Alie's young brother told police "the old man" took Alie. The boy then walked to the door of apartment where Stofer had lived (he had just moved out) and indicated it was the apartment of the "old man."
Detectives traveled to Redlands, Calif., to take blood samples and hair samples from Stofer. However, DNA testing did not exist at that time.
An autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death and showed no indication of sexual assault or significant trauma, according to ABC7.
The scent tracking dogs that helped lead police to Berrelez's body then followed the scent back to the apartment complex where she lived, which police said pointed to a neighbor being the culprit, according to the report.
"We wanted to put the cuffs on (Stofer) so bad, but we couldn't because the evidence was not there," Collins said today.
"So over time, the pain, the anguish of not being able to do that kept the fire alive and it was terribly frustrating. That's why we're here today. It may be therapy for us to be able to say it's over. All of the work the police and the family and everyone put into it finally came to a conclusion," Collins said.
Collins said that advancements in DNA technology had finally allowed authorities to confirm the match.
"Over time, DNA analysis has advanced," said Katie Featherston, forensic scientist at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. "In 1993 it was not available at the CBI lab, but over time we have been able to deal with samples that are smaller and smaller, and/or less pristine. Those advances allowed us to do the DNA analysis on this case."
Collins could not speculate on a motive for the crime, saying only that Stofer was known to have a problem with alcohol and drugs. He had a criminal record including alcohol and minor drug charges, but no history of sex offenses, Collins said.
Richard Berrelez said he wished Stofer was alive so he could confront him and ask him those questions, as well as see him stand trial.
"There are a lot of questions that we have as a family that we will never have the answer to," Richard Berrelez said. "All we can do is guess at why and how and what time everything happened during the different days."