Report on Alaskan MMIW

~ Carol Dixon


Alaska is the fourth most dangerous

state in the country relating to the murder

and disappearance of Indigenous women.

Anchorage is the third most dangerous city

in the country. Information is hard to get

in many cases because it's common to

charge money for the release of police

records. This article will highlight the cases and lives of only a few of the many Alaskan Indigenous women who have fallen prey to violence. Sophie's case was the most high profile case because of the circumstances since it happened at the University.  Some of the cases have been solved and others remain unsolved.
 


         Report on Alaska Native Women Who Have Been Missing or Murdered


Sophie Sergie
 
Sophie Sergie was a 20 year old Yupik woman

from Pitkas Point, a small village of 150 people

located near St. Mary's, about 525 miles southwest

of Fairbanks. She was found murdered in a

bathtub in a dormitory on the University of Alaska

Fairbanks campus on April 26, 1993.
 
Sophie had attended UAF the year before on a full academic scholarship from British Petroleum. She was a marine biology major. She had some major orthodontic work done in December and took the spring semester off to work in her home village as a teaching aide and a village clerk in St. Mary's to earn money to cover the cost of the dental work. She made frequent trips to Anchorage during that time to get adjustments on her braces and check ups. On the Friday before her death she was in Anchorage and ran into a former teacher who took her to the airport to go to Fairbanks the following day. She planned to stay for a few days, visiting friends at the dorm at UAF, while she finished up some course work for her studies.
 
It was final exam week. She was staying on a floor of the dorm which was  for only female residents. Male visitors sometimes used the bathroom when visiting on the floor. The bathroom had showers, and one private room with a bathtub. People had come and gone in the bathroom with nothing noticed, until 2 PM when one of the custodians discovered her body in the bathtub. She had suffered a gunshot wound, multiple stab wounds, and her pants were down around her ankles.
 
The dorm is an eight story building that shares a common ground level floor with two other dorms. About 670 students occupied the three dorms in 1993. Anyone could have had access. There was an elevator in the building as well as stairs, making it very difficult to track the comings and goings of that many people. Officers were called in immediately and remained on campus until late that night trying to find witnesses and piece together what happened.  They couldn't find anyone who heard anything, including the gun shot.
 
The University held vigils for her and memorial services were held publicly and in her home village. Police were stumped.  Fairbanks was in shock. The Crime Stoppers posted a $20,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of her rapist/killer. Two years later the investigation was still going on. Many suspects were interviewed, but nothing panned out. In 1994 Sophies's grandmother filed a $4 million lawsuit against the University, stating that lack of security caused her granddaughter's death. The lawsuit, which revealed a lot of information, reportedly got in the way of the criminal investigation because the information it revealed could easily have given the actual killer a warning about what to do or say. The detective from the Alaska State Troopers believed that the killer was more than likely a student or former student and that Sophie was not a targeted victim, but one of random convenience. Sophie had been last seen around midnight before the murder outside smoking a cigarette, leading troopers to believe she could have been killed at a location other than where her body was found.
 
Over the years, troopers kept looking for leads and trying to unravel the complicated circumstances of her murder. Unlike too many of these cases, this one actually had a closure for the family. As detectives continued to follow the leads they got inspired by the Golden State Killer case in 2018 where DNA provided the link they needed to solve the case. Troopers had samples of DNA from the killer and used a genealogical data base and a Kentucky based firm to find genetic leads. They found an aunt of the killer who lived in Maine. From that information they then determined that ((name withheld)) was an 18 year old student at UAF who lived in the same dorm at the time of the murder. They also found that he owned a handgun. They finally caught up with him and did a DNA sample of him and got a match. Twenty six years after the rape and murder, ((name withheld)) was arrested in February, 2019. He is being held without bail while he awaits trial.
 
“While an arrest doesn’t bring Sophie back, we are relieved to provide this closure. This case has haunted and frustrated Sophie’s family and friends, the investigators and beyond,” said Colonel Barry Wilson, director of the Alaska State Troopers, in a statement. “However, we did it. Investigators never gave up on Sophie.”
 
 
Sandra Frye
 
Sandra Frye, a 26 year old Yupik mother of

four from Nunapitchuk, near Bethel, was found

dead by Bethel Search and Rescue in late

November of 2017 after police received a

report of two men trying to start a snow

machine on the trail near Bethel. They were

told that a woman was seen lying on the snow

nearby. She was rushed to the hospital where she died the next day of her injuries. The autopsy showed that she died of blunt force trauma and that it was the result of foul play. It was turned over to the district attorney.
 
Online research didn't reveal the outcome of this case, so I called the Bethel District Attorney's office. They said they would get back to me and let me know if anyone had been charged, and let me know the results of their investigation. The District Attorney returned my call eventually (after I called several times) and said the case was referred to the Special Prosecutor in Anchorage. I called that office and again had to request a return call. As of this writing, the Special Prosecutor’s office still has not returned my call.  I was negatively impressed with the availability of information, and feel that highlighting these cases would be much easier and more effective if the information were more readily accessible.
 


Annie Mann
 
Annie Mann's remains were found behind

an abandoned warehouse in Anchorage on

August 8, 1999. Sources list Annie as

“aboriginal” and “Native” but her specific

tribal information appears unavailable.

She is one of at least 10 women

(most Alaska Native) who were murdered

around the same time in the Anchorage area. Her case is still open and is on Crime Stoppers in hopes of getting  information that may lead to a suspect. Because of the number of women killed in the area at that time and the similarities, she is believed to be the victim of a serial killer.
 
 
Vera Hopoff

Vera Hopoff's body was found on June 8, 1999

in Anchorage. Vera had not been reported

missing, and initially it was believed that she

drowned in Ship Creek. Her body was found

on a fishing ladder. The police changed that

assessment to homicide. Neighbors said

she was a good swimmer

(not a candidate for drowning) and that she

was a friendly person who volunteered at the soup kitchen and worked at a local cafe. She is described as Native American and specific tribal information was not available. Her case is still open and is on Crime Stoppers in an attempt to find leads. She, also, is believed to be a victim of a serial killer because of the number of women killed at that time in Anchorage.
 


Nancy Brower
 
(No image available)
 
Nancy Brower was a 15 year old Inupiat girl from Barrow. She was living with her grandparents in Anchorage in the summer of 2002 when she was murdered on August 1, 2002  by her uncle, Marshall Ahvaakana, who was age 26 at the time. He was eventually accused of and arrested for raping and murdering her, as well as tampering with evidence. Nancy's body was beaten and cause of death was blunt force trauma. Ahvaakana's DNA was then linked to an unsolved rape from 2003. He pled no contest to second degree murder and the other charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder of Nancy and an additional 10 years for the unrelated rape crime, for a total of 70 years.
 
~ ~ ~


Note from the Author


As I researched for this article I was dismayed at how little information was actually available on the internet. I believe that the examples in this article show an array of  the kinds of cases that are most common in Alaska, but more than likely, elsewhere as well. It certainly shows that this whole crisis needs to be given higher priority in the public eye.