Detectives break trio of 1990 cold case homicides

Suspected serial killer back in Spokane

Detectives have a person of interest in custody and have broken a trio of cold cases homicides from the spring of 1990.

On Tuesday morning, Spokane Police and Spokane Sheriff’s deputies identified Douglas Perry, 60, as a person of interest in the murders of three Spokane women in the spring of 1990.

The three murders, between February and May of 1990, involved prostitutes who were shot with a small-caliber handgun, their bodies dumped in various locations around the Spokane area.

Detectives get break in 1990 cold case

Yolanda Sapp was found dead in the 4100 block of East Upriver Drive on Feb. 22, 1990. She was nude and had three small caliber gunshot wounds. Nickie Lowe’s remains were found in the 3200 block of South Riverton on March 25. She had one gunshot wound and was missing her tennis shoes and billfold. Kathleen Brisbois was found nude with three gunshot wounds along the Spokane River, near Trent Avenue and Pines Road on May 15.

Each of the three victims were known prostitutes, used drugs, and were killed in a similar fashion with a small caliber handgun. Clothes belonging to Brisbois were scattered around the area where her body was found, Lowe was found partially clothed and Sapp’s clothes were never found.

The cases went cold for a number of years, and while a number of other prostitute murders that took placed in the 1990s in Spokane were eventually linked to convicted serial killer Robert Yates, the murders of Sapp, Brisbois and Lowe remained unsolved.

In 2005, two detectives with the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office were assigned to the cold cases. Those detectives — Mark Burbridge with the police department and Jim Dresbeck with the sheriff’s office — began working the cases and Dresbeck submitted evidence to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in order to find suspect DNA.

Four years later the crime lab was able to develop a full male profile of the suspect and that information was submitted to the CODIS database to search for a match. CODIS is the national Combined DNA Index System, which compiles local, state and federal databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders.

In September of this year, three years after a full profile was developed, the crime lab called Detective Dresbeck and let him known they had linked suspect DNA found on some of the evidence to Douglas Perry.

Perry, who underwent gender reassignment surgery in Bangkok, Thailand in 2000 and now identifies himself as Donna Perry, was already in custody at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center in September following his arrest by the ATF on charges of unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

It was unlawful for him to possess firearms and ammunition due to a string of assault and weapons charges in Okanogan County that stretched from 1974 to 1988. The following year, in August of 1989, he was arrested by the Spokane Police Department for patronizing a prostitute.

The first victim, Yolanda Sapp, was found six months later.

In addition to those local charges, because he was a convicted felon, Perry had been arrested on federal firearms charges on several occasions. In 1988 he was arrested for possessing a pipe bomb and then again in 1994 for unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition. While searching his home, investigators found 49 firearms and 49,000 rounds of ammunition in the wake of his 1988 arrest.

When he was arrested in 1994 authorities again searched his residence and found numerous weapons and ammunition. During both the 1988 and 1994 searches authorities recovered .22 caliber handguns, the same caliber of the weapons used in the Sapp, Brisbois and Lowe slayings.

On March 14, 2012, Perry was again arrested on firearms charges by the ATF, a search warrant was again executed at his home at 2006 E. Empire and more weapons and ammunition were seized during the search.

And then one ATF agent found something unusual. While searching the bedroom, ATF Special Agent Todd Smith found that the bedroom closet had been painted shut. The closet door was pried open and numerous items were found inside.

Since they were looking for guns and ammunition, the contents of the closet were not inventoried, however Agent Smith found something that caught his eye: He found several boxes in which there were women’s underwear, too small for Perry to wear. The panties looked old and were lacy or frilly, but what struck Smith was that they were kept it struck him that they were being kept as if they were trophies; articles of clothing a murder suspect keeps of their victims as a way to remember — or re-live — the crime.

In October, detectives got one more break that would link Perry to the killings.

Two items missing from the scene where murder victim Nickie Lowe was found — her tennis shoes and her red billfold — were found by a Spokane resident in a dumpster along South Riverton the same morning she was found. Also found with Lowe’s personal items was a tube of “sterile jelly” from which detectives were able to lift several fingerprints. On Oct. 12, two fingerprints found on those items left in the dumpster were matched to Perry.

Perry was transferred on Oct. 17 from federal custody and brought back to the Spokane County Jail where he is currently being held.