ANCHORAGE, Alaska - An Alaska man has been charged with murder after police tracked him through an SD memory card -- which held photos and video of the crime -- that was found in the street, according to authorities.
Brian Steven Smith, 48, of Anchorage, is charged with first-degree murder, according to court records. A criminal complaint was filed against him Monday.
According to Anchorage police officials, Smith, a South African native, was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon at the Ted Stevens International Airport, where he had just flown in.
Police officials said officers were called the afternoon of Sept. 30 to meet with a woman who handed them an SD memory card that she said she’d found on the street in the Fairview neighborhood. SD cards are used to store data downloaded from portable electronic devices, such as cameras, laptops and some cellphones.
The card was labeled “homicide at midtown Marriott,” according to an arrest affidavit obtained by the the Anchorage Daily News.
“The SD card contained several videos which appeared to show the assault and subsequent homicide of an adult female,” Anchorage police said in a news release. “Detectives with the homicide unit were notified and began an investigation.”
Two days later, investigators were called to milepost 108 of Seward Highway, where human remains had been found that morning near the Rainbow Trailhead, the release said. The Daily News said the area is adjacent to Turnagain Arm, a narrow waterway at the north end of Cook Inlet in the Gulf of Alaska.
The newspaper reported at the time of the discovery that police had little information, including the identity of the victim or how long the remains had been there.
Authorities now believe the remains are those of the woman seen on the SD card.
In all, the card contained 12 videos and 39 still images depicting a brutal attack on an unidentified woman, the Daily News reported. The naked woman was lying on the floor of what appeared to be a hotel room as she was beaten.
Some footage shows the woman, described as having long dark hair and possibly being of Alaskan Native heritage, being strangled by a man who is screaming at her in what sounds like a foreign accent, the affidavit said. At one point, he stomps on the woman’s throat, the Daily News reported.
“Just die,” he shouted at the woman in one video, according to The Associated Press.
The affidavit said the woman fought for her life.
Some of the images, the first of which were time-stamped Sept. 4, show the woman wrapped in a white sheet and being moved through a parking lot to a truck, the Daily News reported. The final images, time-stamped Sept. 6, show the woman’s body face down in the bed of a pickup truck.
The AP reported that the affidavit indicates detectives reviewing the images recognized Smith, who has a South African accent, from his involvement in another ongoing investigation. They did not give details of the separate investigation or say if Smith is suspected of other crimes, the Daily News said.
Investigators found that Smith, who the Daily News reported lives in the Geneva Woods neighborhood of Anchorage, had a room registered in his name at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott the night the video was taken, the affidavit says.
The document states the carpeting in the room registered to Smith matches that seen in the footage of the woman’s killing, the AP said.
Smith’s truck matches the one seen in the images of the woman’s body being loaded for disposal and “pings” from his cellphone places him along Rainbow Valley Road, near the spot off Seward Highway where the unidentified remains were found Oct. 2, the Daily News reported.
KTUU in Anchorage reported that the cellphone records put Smith in that area within minutes of when the last photo on the SD card was created.
It is unclear how or why the SD card ended up on the street where it was found, less than 2 miles from the Marriott. The woman’s remains were found about 20 miles south of the hotel, along the edge of Chugach State Park.
Anchorage Police Department spokesman MJ Thim told the Daily News Wednesday that the State Medical Examiner’s Office was still working to identify the woman found alongside the road and determine her cause and manner of death.
“We still don’t know who she is and we don’t know much about her,” Thim said.
Little is known about her alleged killer, either. A Facebook profile that appears to belong to Smith indicates he is a native of Queenstown who moved to Anchorage in 2014, got engaged that same year and later married.
Photos on his profile show him and his wife, a former administrative officer at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Anchorage, visiting Washington, D.C., in 2014. More recent photos on the page of his wife, who is now a musician, appear to depict a loving relationship.
The Daily News reported that Smith’s wife is not implicated in the homicide.
Investigators and crime scene technicians spent Tuesday searching the couple’s home and hauling away Smith’s black pickup truck, neighbors told the newspaper.
Smith appeared Wednesday for his first appearance in court, where a judge set his bail at a $500,000 cash appearance bond and a $250,000 cash performance bond, the Daily News said. According to Avvo, an online marketplace for legal services, Alaska law requires an appearance bond, which guarantees a defendant’s appearance at all court dates, and a performance bond, which requires the person to also abide by court-ordered conditions of release.
It was not immediately clear what those conditions would be if Smith were released on bail. He claimed in court Wednesday that he had a total of about $2,000 in savings, the Daily News reported.
The judge appointed him a public defender.