25 Years Later, Steven H. Downs of Maine Arrested for the Rape & Murder of Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (February 15, 2019)

Alaska State Troopers announce arrest of Steven H. Downs, accused of murdering Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993. -News Center Maine (February 15, 2019)

It was late April 1993 when the University of Alaska Fairbanks community learned that Sophie Sergie was raped and murdered in Bartlett Hall, one of the many dorms on campus. I was living off-campus at the time and remembered thinking this was crazy because the killer was never located. It was around the timeframe of semester finals so most students were studying and getting ready to return home for the summer. I stayed in Alaska the summer of 1993 because I took some courses to ensure I graduated in the spring of 1994. I grew up in Maine so going to college at UAF was a treat. I took full advantage of my college years and went somewhere I might never visit again. It was an incredible experience despite the cold temps. But the murder of Sophie Sergie changed everything. Students were shaken and panic ensued because as the days went on, nobody was held accountable for killing Sophie. This could have happened to anyone.

I had never come close to murder until this crime occurred. I used to live in Bartlett Hall and thought to myself this could have just as likely been me, as anyone. What shocked most of us is that Sophie was shot and killed in the dorm bathroom yet nobody heard the gunshot. We just couldn’t wrap our heads around how this killer could get away with this crime with ZERO witnesses. And he would get away with this crime for twenty-five years. He would walk among us and personify the frequently used media headline “A Killer Roams Free.” All these years we assumed the killer was from Alaska yet as it turns out he was from Maine, going to college at UAF just like I was, and yet another Mainer who chose this university. And as it turns out, he returned to Maine after living in Arizona for a short time after he left the university. Steven H. Downs was arrested in Auburn, Maine which is roughly a 45 minute drive from where I live. All this time, I just assumed this was someone from Alaska, and never really thought about this crime being perpetrated by another student. At the time of his arrest, we learned Downs was employed as a nurse…and there were red flags.

I never imagined this case would be solved until I learned that DNA was collected. As the years went on, I looked into the case to see if there had been any updates. Not only was I alarmed that there was little information found on the unsolved homicide but there wouldn’t be even as the years went on. I thought to myself well if they aren’t going to do it, I am going to use my social media to highlight the case. As a result, I came in contact with a private investigator and a cold case advocate, both wanted the crime solved as much as I did. I just kept thinking if we keep the information out there, someone is bound to pay attention and maybe just maybe we can give this cold case some traction. If there is anything positive that came from this tragedy, its that I found others who cared about the case as much as I did. It was especially refreshing after noticing throughout the years that not even cold case crime shows had featured Sophie’s case. She got little attention in the digital media age. The crime occurred in 1993 before we had full access to the internet and social media. In this case, the lack of digital coverage was troubling. And it was the reason I was going to make this my life’s mission, along with other unsolved cases in the military.

Sophie Sergie
Sophie Sergie (1993)

One article I read stated after Downs was arrested, he tried blaming his crimes on Fort Wainwright soldiers. If there wasn’t DNA linking him to the crime, he might have a case of reasonable doubt because before the murder, anyone could enter and exit the dorms with little to no detection. Although the floors were dedicated to gender, there was no way of preventing men from going on women’s floors and vice versa. We did it all the time. And here’s the thing, had he not raped Sophie, he might never have been caught. He raped and murdered Sophie and investigators were savvy enough to collect DNA even before it was regularly tested against the national database. It took years before the DNA evidence was entered into the system but nonetheless in this case, time was our friend. In 2019, the police made a partial DNA match with familial DNA found in open DNA registries. Many people use them to learn more about their family tree and heritage. In this case, someone related to Downs entered their DNA into a genealogy website and police were able to make a partial match after testing their stored DNA against the open registries. This is exactly how the Golden State Killer in California was eventually arrested and charged. We are still awaiting trial on that case. Downs is being held in a Maine jail awaiting extradition back to Alaska to face rape and homicide charges. Finally.

I want to end this with my realization that Steven Downs was a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks with us. I don’t think we ever considered that this crime was committed by a student because there were literally zero safety precautions prior to the murder. Anyone could have walked into the dorms and killed someone at any time. No other homicides occurred; it was a single incident, leading one to believe maybe it’s an outsider. It’s creepy to think that he watched the rest of us panic and look for new ways to protect ourselves because the killer was never apprehended. It was an unsolved murder on our campus and nothing would be the same again. As a result of this crime, the university responded with a campus safety task force. It was a collection of students who were formed to help find ways to make the campus safer. Doors were locked, sign ins were required, and campus police were on high alert, only to find out that the enemy we were trying to keep out was actually allowed in and out of the dorms everyday. He watched as the university reacted, amongst the rest of us students, quietly going about his day as if he never brutally raped and fatally shot a young woman in the dorm bathroom.

The question remains. Why didn’t the media give this case more coverage? The media timeline reveals how little attention was given to Sophie’s cold case and we had DNA! Thankful for the family’s sake that this cold case was finally solved. Every death has a ripple effect and there is nothing more painful than losing your loved one for absolutely no reason to a violent crime. Quite honestly, I never thought this case would be solved in my lifetime until I learned that DNA was collected. DNA is the finger of God pointing down and saying YOU DID THIS. Steven Downs will have a difficult time claiming the sex was “consensual” when he killed Sophie too. And depending on what the police find in the search of his home, they may even find the murder weapon. I look forward to the State of Alaska holding Downs accountable and look forward to the day justice is served and he is behind bars. We finally got some justice for Sophie. Maybe we can move forward now with naming one of the buildings on the UAF campus in her honor, as a reminder that anyone can be betrayed, and we must never give up.  Read the Defrosting Cold Cases arrest update here.

In the News:

Most of the time when you live in a dorm, the worst you have to deal with is a horrible roommate or terrible neighbors. However, some people had much worse experiences and were actually killed. Even more terrifying, these four killers may still be on the loose today. -Criminally Listed (December 4, 2016)

New details are emerging after Steven Downs of Auburn was accused on Friday of killing a girl in Alaska in 1993. -News Center Maine (February 16, 2019)

Officials in Alaska have arrested a 44-year-old man in Maine, Steven Downs, in the 1993 murder of Sophie Sergie, a 20-year-old woman found slain at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993. They used genetic genealogy, the same technique used to identify the “Golden State Killer” suspect. WGME’s Taylor Gleason reports. -CBS News (February 18, 2019)

A 44-year-old nurse from Maine has been arrested in the murder of a 20-year-old woman on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks nearly 26 years after she was killed, authorities say. Steven Downs is facing murder, sexual assault and other charges in the death of Sophie Sergie after DNA obtained through a genealogical database linked him to the case, investigators say. -HK News (February 19, 2019)

Stevens Downs of Auburn is fighting an extradition to Alaska after he was charged with the 1993 murder of a young female. -News Center Maine (February 19, 2019)

UAF Statement Sophie Sergie
Statement on Sophie Sergie by UAF Chancellor Dan White

Media Timeline:

Death in Bartlett Hall

2009
Cold-case review finds new lead in 1993 slaying

2011
Sergie case heats up
Active Pursuit
Killer’s “Comfort Zone”
Bad Guy Knows
Were People Missed?
Detective’s bottom line about Sophie’s killer
Victims of unsolved murder cases remembered

2012
Despite Policy, Weapons Still Appear on University Campus

2014
Unsolved: The murder of Sophie Sergie | UAF Sun Star
Fairbanks remembers unsolved murder victims & their loved ones
Murder in the Dorm at University of Alaska Fairbanks (1993)

2015
A look into the Cold Case murder of Sophie Sergie
Part 2: A look into the cold case murder of Sophie Sergie

2016
4 Haunting Unsolved Dorm Mysteries | Criminally Listed

2017
Case of the Month: Sophie Sergie (1973 – 1993)

2018
Murder in a College Dorm
3: 3 – Sophie Sergie’s Unsolved Murder | Murder Under the Midnight Sun Podcast
New report on missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Murkowski Highlights Findings of New Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls
Sen. Murkowski urges government to respond to missing, murdered indigenous women, girls report

2019
Statement on 25-year-old Fairbanks Cold Case | Alaska Office of Governor
Alaska State Troopers announce arrest of Steven H. Downs
Alaska troopers announce 26-year-old cold-case murder arrest
Timeline in Sophie Sergie murder investigation
Arrest made in 1993 murder of Sophie Sergie at UAF
Arrest made in Fairbanks cold case murder
Troopers make Maine arrest in 25-year-old Fairbanks murder
Alaska Troopers Announce Cold-Case Murder Arrest
Maine Man Arrested In Alaska Cold Case Homicide
Auburn Man Arrested for 1993 Murder in Alaska
Troopers annouce arrest in cold case murder on UAF campus
25 years after Sophie Sergie was found dead in a UAF bathtub, Alaska State Troopers make an arrest
Auburn man charged with rape and murder in 1993 Alaska cold case
New testing helps nab nurse, 44, in brutal Alaska killing from 25 years ago, authorities say
Alaska State Troopers arrest Auburn man in connection with 1993 murder
Breaking: Cold case solved? DNA links to the Sophie Sergie murder
New testing helps nab nurse, 44, in brutal Alaska killing from 25 years in the past, authorities say
Alaska troopers announce cold-case murder arrest
Arrest in 1993 Sophie Sergie murder
New details emerge about Maine man’s role in Alaska murder
New DNA technique leads to arrest in 1993 Alaska murder
Steven Downs: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know | Heavy.com (YouTube)
Steven Downs: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know
Accused killer in ’93 Sophie Sergie case in court Tuesday
Update from University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White
DNA technology leads to arrest in 20-year-old’s 1993 murder
Court document details how Alaska State Troopers tracked down murder suspect in Maine
Accused Killer in Cold Case Fights Extradition
Maine man charged in 1993 murder fights extradition to Alaska
Maine man arrested in Alaska cold case killing fights extradition
Auburn man fights murder extradition to Alaska
Auburn man charged with 1993 murder in Alaska tells judge ‘there must be some mistake’
Maine man arrested in Alaska cold case contests extradition
‘There must be some mistake’: Cold case murder suspect fights extradition to Alaska
Auburn man fights murder extradition to Alaska
Steven Downs fights extradition to Alaska
Maine man is accused of killing young woman at University of Alaska in ’93
Emerging DNA technique leads to arrest in 1993 murder of woman found in dorm bathtub
Man, 44, appears in court for the first time accused of the rape and murder of a former Alaska University student in 1993 after being tracked using controversial new DNA technique
Man arrested in Sophie Sergie’s 1993 murder in Alaska over DNA: Officials
Maine man accused of Alaska murder held without bail, awaiting extradition

Related Links:
Philadelphia’s Vidocq Society Battles Age and Dead Ends to Stay Hot on the Trail of Cold Cases


One thought on “25 Years Later, Steven H. Downs of Maine Arrested for the Rape & Murder of Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (February 15, 2019)

  1. Great story about this investigation! You are the first one (that I have found) to mention the dorm check-in and security measures as a result of the task force. I lived in Bartlett Hall and was asleep on the 4th floor when Sophie’s life was taken from her. I returned the following school year and lived on the 6th floor. I also was hired to work the at the front check in desk of Bartlett Hall. It was staffed from 7 pm-7 am daily (and I think 24 hours a day for the weekends). We worked in pairs in shifts of 4 hours. After the first month or so, we knew our residents and no longer had to check their ID’s but any guests would have to sign in and leave a photo ID with the check-in desk until they checked out.

    I have not been able to find out if Steven Downs lived in Bartlett Hall that next school year as well. We know he went to UAF until 1996, but where did he live? For an entire school year, did I let a murderer walk past the check in desk and greet him with a smile and acknowledge him as part of the “safe known resident” group that we were there to protect? If so, it infuriates me that every time one of us did that he had to be thinking he was getting away with murder. He probably thought that he was so smart to fool an entire campus of check-in desks and security measures that were there because of him.

    I am also bothered by the lack of coverage regarding his roommate Nicholas Dazer. I know you were at UAF and had no family ties to Alaska. But I still find it “odd” or at least interesting that both Downs and Dazer ended up as roommates and neither seem to have any family or connection to Alaska. It is strange to me that Dazer worked for Campus Security and guarded the crime scene at one point and later was fired for a weapons violation. Also it seems that Dazer threw Downs under the bus at one point by telling the police that his roommate had a gun like the one they were asking about. Also of note, Dazer is now a lawyer. My gut tells me he had to know “something”.

    I am so curious about what Downs has been doing since 1996. It literally seems like he was a ghost until 2011 when he was licensed as an RN.

    Please continue digging into this!! I am so glad you have been thinking about Sophie all these years. I have thought about her often and even more so since 2014. This is when I dropped my oldest daughter off at her college dorm at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. The security measures were top notch and it made me think how naive I was arriving on campus at UAF from Kodiak, Alaska in 1990. I am sure Sophie was even more naive coming from an even smaller town….we didn’t grow up to be wary of strangers…as Alaskans we were taught that meeting a stranger was just a good opportunity to make a new friend. I moved back to Alaska about 3 years ago, and it has changed a lot. Crime is up and the Alaska friendliness is becoming rarer and rarer.

    Thanks for your work on this case!

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