Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Girl Named Alie, A Dog Named Yogi

When Alie Died 
by Robert A. Waters 

On May 18, 1993, at 7:02 p.m., the Englewood, Colorado Police Department received a phone call from Marivel Berrelez who stated that her daughter was missing.  Officers sped to the Golden Nugget Apartments on 200 West Grand Avenue and learned that five-year-old Aleszandra Ariel "Alie" Berrelez had been playing with her two brothers in the courtyard when she vanished. 

Marivel informed police that Alie had asthma, and needed medicine four times a day.  Gayle C. Shirley, author of Amazing Animals of Colorado, described the missing child: "A spunky five-year-old, [Alie] had dimples when she laughed and soft doe-like eyes that sparkled below a ragged fringe of coffee-colored hair.  She loved to fly kites, to dance to Little Richard songs, and to watch The Little Mermaid on television.  Alie giggled her way into the hearts of her neighbors and had just shared a pizza with one of them when she disappeared."     

Within minutes, one of the largest searches in Colorado history began.  Alie's three-year-old brother, Sam, told police that "an old man" had driven away with his sister.  Sam pointed out apartment 106A as the room where the old man lived.  When detectives knocked on the door of Nicholas Raymond Stofer, a drifter who worked sporadically as a welder, he didn't answer.  Like Alie, he was nowhere to be seen. 

The Denver Post reported that "three days after she vanished, a police bloodhound named Yogi led officers on a 14-mile odyssey—from [apartment 106A], down Broadway, along C-470 and into Deer Creek Canyon.  The search was halted for the day because Yogi was too exhausted to continue, but the next day, just yards from where the dog had stopped, investigators discovered Alie's body stuffed into a green canvas bag." 

Yogi had done something amazing.  He'd sniffed out the remains of a murder victim who had been driven by car for 14 miles and thrown down a steep ravine.  Through the blazing heat, the bloodhound had tracked skin cells emitted from the car's air conditioning vent to find Alie. 

A few days later, Yogi and another bloodhound named Becky led detectives from Deer Creek Canyon back to the Golden Nugget Apartment complex.  They alerted outside the door of apartment 106A. 

Detectives learned that shortly after Alie vanished, Stofer had boarded an Amtrak train to California. 

An autopsy determined that Alie had not been raped.  Her cause of death was inconclusive—the coroner stated it could have been strangulation or asthma. 

At the time, DNA was in its infancy.  The duffel bag and Alie's clothing were tested, but Stofer's DNA was not found on any of the items.  Even though police suspicions were high, prosecutors refused to indict the suspect. 

As the years ticked by, police learned more about Stofer.  Police reports stated that at the age of 15, he had been arrested for using drugs and alcohol.  He joined the Navy, but was given an "other than honorable discharge."  Stofer became a drifter, working odd jobs and using "massive amounts of drugs and alcohol."  According to the Denver Post, "Alie was barefoot when she was found, and seven people described Stofer as having a 'foot fetish'—two of them said he talked of [him] being sexually attracted to small, female feet..."  

In 2001, eight years after Alie's death, Phoenix, Arizona police alerted Englewood cops that Stofer had died from a drug overdose. 

In 2011, Englewood detectives resubmitted Alie's clothing to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, hoping new advances in DNA testing would lead them to the killer. 

A few months later, the Deseret News reported that "investigators said Stofer's DNA matched genetic material found on Alie's underwear and that it also matched a partial DNA profile developed from the waistband of the underwear." 

After the abduction and murder, Alie's grieving grandfather, Richard Berrelez, started the ALIE Foundation.  Its mission is to supply bloodhounds to law enforcement agenciesso far, the foundation has donated more than 500 bloodhoundsThe dogs have helped solve many cases and located numerous missing persons.  In one case, an unknown assailant kidnapped a nine-year-old girl from her Riverton, California bedroom, raped her, and left her wandering the streets Doc Holiday, a bloodhound supplied by the ALIE Foundation, sniffed out the culprit, leading police from the child's bedroom to David Wayne Brock's back door.  Brock was later convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. 

Yogi died in 1998.  During his career, he worked 478 cases, and had an amazing success record.  Yogi is buried at the Aurora Police Memorial Cemetery in Arapahoe County, Colorado.
 
Justice for the Berrelez family never came.  Alie, beloved by her family, was buried in Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens in Littleton, never having a chance to fulfill her destiny. 

Her grandfather, Richard, said, "There are a lot of questions that we have as a family that we will never have the answer to.  All we can do is guess at why and how and what time everything happened during the different days... [But] Alie's not a victimI 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."