A woman who was showering just a few yards from where an Alaskan woman was slain 28 years ago said Tuesday in court that she heard noises nearby that sounded like “firecrackers” and “rustling” and had an uneasy feeling that she wasn’t alone.

A photo of Sophie Sergie is shown Tuesday during the trial of Steven H. Downs of Auburn, charged with her murder in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1993. The photo was taken by a friend in 1993 at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks less than 48 hours before she was slain. Screenshot used with permission from Fairbanks Superior Court

Vanessa Allen had been a first-year student at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks when the body of Sophie Sergie, 20, of Pitkas Point, Alaska, was discovered later in the day on April 26, 1993, in the tub area of that bathroom where Allen had been showering.

Investigators said Sergie had been shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber gun, stabbed in the cheek and eye, struck with a blunt instrument, gagged with a ligature and shocked with a stun gun. The medical examiner said Sergie died from a bullet fired into her head.

Auburn, Maine, resident Steven Downs, 47, is on trial at the Fairbanks Superior Court charge with the murder and sexual assault of Sergie.

Sergie had been staying that weekend with her friend, Shirley Wasuli, who was a student who lived on the second floor of Bartlett Hall, the dorm where Allen lived. Downs, also a freshman that year, lived on the third floor of the dorm.

Sergie had been a student there, but was taking a year off to work so she could get health insurance to help pay for needed orthodontia.


She had gone to a movie earlier that Sunday evening with friends from another dorm and had been dropped off at Bartlett Hall late that night, where she met up with Wasuli and her boyfriend, Noah, for pizza in Wasuli’s room, where Sergie was staying.

Afterward, Sergie was headed to the bathroom to have a cigarette in the tub room at Wasuli’s suggestion because it was cold outside and there was a large vent in the tub room. Wasuli and her boyfriend left her room shortly afterward and went to Noah’s dorm for the night.

Investigators believe Sergie was killed roughly at the same time Allen was taking a shower in a stall that was separated from the tub area by another shower stall.

Allen testified Tuesday via videoconference that she was the only one in the woman’s bathroom when she started taking her shower.

She had noticed that a light was on in the tub area and the door was closed, which was unusual.

“I went in and I turned on the shower and I kept looking at the light because I was like, ‘that light is just, it’s just never on, it’s just never on,'” she said.


“Ladies only came in to use the shower area,” she said. “We never used the tub area.”

Allen said she felt “uneasy” about the situation.

“I just felt like something was out of place. It wasn’t right,” she said.

A floor plan of a University of Alaska at Fairbanks bathroom indicates where an Alaskan woman’s slain body was found in 1993. Screenshot used with permission from Fairbanks Superior Court

A female student came into the bathroom to use the sink while Allen was in the shower and called out: “Is anyone there?’

Allen came out of the shower and the two women spoke briefly before Allen left the bathroom and went to her single room down the hallway, locking the door behind her, she said.

While she was in the shower, she said she heard a noise that came from the direction of the tub area, behind which is the woman’s bathroom on the other side of the second floor of the dorm.


“It sounded like firecrackers,” she said. “It was like someone telling me I need to get out of the shower.”

She also testified Tuesday that she heard a “rustling” sound, like bodies make when they’re moving, coming from the same direction.

As she was getting ready to go to sleep, her doorknob shook as if someone was trying to enter her room, she said.

“I think, ‘OK, that’s kind of odd,'” she said, making her feel uneasy again.

Wasuli, whose married name is Akelkok, testified Tuesday that she had seen two men, dressed head to toe in denim, walking down the hallway in the direction of the bathroom as she and her boyfriend were headed for the stairwell to leave the dorm. She described them as ethnic, either Black or Hispanic, and they appeared to be loud and animated.

In the stairwell, she encountered three people who were together, one of whom she identified to investigators in 2019 as Downs, after she was shown a photo of him around the time of his freshman year in college.


She said she made eye contact with him and said he had been wearing a white T-shirt and jeans.

Wasuli said he was with a woman with brown hair who wore dark clothing. Another male was with them.

Asked by defense attorney James Howaniec if she noticed whether Downs was carrying any weapons, Wasuli said she would have told investigators if she had seen any.

Howaniec asked her why she hadn’t mentioned having seen Downs in the stairwell during earlier interviews with police. She said the photo caused her to have a flashback to that time.

Other friends of Sergie testified Tuesday about spending time with her before she was killed.

Eric Newlin and Jolene Nanouk said they went to see the movie “Indian Summer” with Sergie that Sunday night, just hours before she was slain.


Another friend, Joann Sundown, said Sergie had visited her at her dorm room that Saturday night, where the two thumbed through catalogs and Sundown took a photo of her.

The next day, Sundown and her brother gave Sergie a ride to a beauty salon. That was the last time Sundown saw her friend alive, she said.

Police arrested Downs after his DNA was matched in late 2018 to evidence found in Sergie’s body through a random hit after Downs’ aunt had submitted her DNA to a genealogy website.

Prosecutors said Downs had possessed the same type of weapons — a gun and a knife — that had inflicted injuries found on Sergie’s body.

Defense attorneys argue Downs’ DNA is the only physical evidence linking Downs to Sergie.

The trial is scheduled to last six weeks, but has been delayed twice due to COVID-19 exposures.

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