Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Murder of Brianna Denison

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Brianna Denison vanished under suspicious circumstances on January 20th, 2008. Her body was later found hidden under some tree limbs in a roadside ditch in Reno, Nevada. The 19 year-old college student had been raped and strangled to death.

The night before she vanished, Brianna and a friend attended a party together at the Sands Regency in Reno. Brianna and her friend later returned to her friend’s home near the University of Nevada Reno. The two girls went to bed upon their return, however when Brianna’s friend awoke the following morning, she realized that Brianna was missing. She also noticed that there was a bloodstain on the pillow that Brianna had slept on the night before. The police were called, and a massive search for Brianna was launched in the Reno area.

Brianna’s disappearance occurred after a string of sexual assaults were reported at the University of Nevada Reno. Three months before Brianna’s disappearance, in October 2007, a female UNR student was reportedly raped inside a parking garage. Nearly two months later, in December 2007, another female UNR student was abducted from her apartment and sexually assaulted. After Brianna disappeared, investigators conducted forensic testing on the pillow found with a bloodstain. DNA from both Brianna and an unidentified male who had been linked to the December 2007 assault were found on said pillow.  At that point, It was clear that whomever was responsible for the December 2007 assault was also responsible for Brianna’s disappearance. Around two weeks after this discovery was made, on February 15th, 2008, a man returning to work from his lunch break spotted Brianna’s body under some tree limbs in south Reno. The case then shifted to a murder investigation. Investigators believed they had the perpetrator’s DNA, however they still were unable to identify him.

Finally, in November 2008, an anonymous person told police that a man named James Biela had behaved in a way that matched the behavior of the reported suspect in Brianna’s case. Biela was interviewed, but reportedly refused to provide a DNA sample to police. However, police later spoke to Biela’s girlfriend, who provided them with a DNA sample from her’s and Biela’s son. Investigators were then able to positively match the DNA from both the 2007 assault and Brianna’s murder to Biela. He was arrested shortly thereafter and charged with raping and killing Brianna, kidnapping and sexually assaulting another student, and raping a third student. Biela pleaded not guilty but was ultimately convicted by a jury in June 2010. He is currently on death row.

James Biela
Tragedy struck the Denison family once again nearly 10 years later, when Brianna’s relative Caitlin Denison (19) vanished on January 15th, 2018. The young woman remains missing today. A write-up on her case can be found here.

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