Brian Smith now indicted in the murders of 2 Alaska Native women
CONTENT WARNING: This report contains details that some readers might find disturbing.
A man arrested earlier this month for the torture and murder of a woman in an Anchorage hotel room is now charged with a second killing.
Law enforcement officials announced the new charges against Brian Steven Smith, 48, Thursday.
The two crimes happened more than a year apart, according to a release from the Department of Law. Both victims have been identified as Alaska Native women.
Smith, an immigrant from South Africa, was initially indicted on eight felony charges: one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of second-degree sexual assault, and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.
He was arrested on Oct. 8, six days after human remains were found at mile 108 of the Seward Highway on Oct. 2.
Kathleen Henry, a 30-year-old Alaska Native woman originally from the village of Eek, Alaska, has been identified as the victim in that case.
According to court documents, a woman called APD on Sept. 30 and said she found an SD card containing evidence of a crime. Detectives reviewed the card that was labeled "Homicide at midtown Marriott" finding 39 photos and 12 videos, the document states. The digital files show a man beating Henry and strangling her repeatedly, telling her to die and, at times, laughing while he did it.
Detectives recognized Smith as the man in the video by his "English-sounding" accent. He was already part of another ongoing investigation, according to APD. Police have declined to elaborate on the nature of that investigation.
According to court documents, a hotel reservation under Smith's name and cell phone location data place him at the crime scenes, and detectives matched photos from the memory card showing a partial license plate on a black pickup truck with the 1999 Ford Ranger pickup registered to Smith and his wife.
A second victim
The second victim announced Thursday is Veronica Abouchuk, 53, who was last seen by her family in July 2018.
According to Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll, Alaska State Troopers learned human remains had been found at mile 4.5 of the Old Glenn Highway in Anchorage. Court documents describe the remains as a skull with a gunshot wound.
Once Smith was arrested, Doll said, detectives determined the Smith was also responsible for the death of Abouchuk.
According to Doll, dental records were used to identify her remains on Oct. 11, three days after Smith’s arrest, and the investigation was re-classified as a homicide investigation.
Smith is indicted on five additional felony charges related to Abouchuk’s death: one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence.
He’s also indicted on a misdemeanor charge of misconduct involving a corpse. The document alleges:
“…sometime between 2017-2018, at or near Anchorage, BRIAN STEVEN SMITH engaged in sexual penetration of a corpse.”
According to a bail memo, Smith spoke with detectives after his arrest and admitted he was the man shown in the videos assaulting Henry, that he disposed Henry's body along the Seward Highway.
During that interview, he also told investigators that between 2017 and 2018 he shot a woman. He then provided the location of where he disposed of her body. When detectives showed him a photo of Abouchuk, he identified her as the woman he shot.
Authorities involved in the case have declined to say whether they believe there are more victims.
'A significant public safety risk'
The state has requested that Smith’s bond be increased to $2 million cash with a third-party custodian, an issue that is expected to be decided at his next scheduled court appearance on Monday, Oct. 21.
The request describes Smith as both a public safety and flight risk:
“The defendant has now been indicted on 13 counts for the brutal deaths of two Alaska Native women. After he committed each murder, he dumped the body along the side of the road like unwanted trash. He poses a significant public safety risk, especially to the vulnerable, homeless women currently living on the streets of Anchorage.”
Smith came to Alaska from South Africa five years ago, according to the document, but only became a naturalized citizen of the United States last month.
In addition to the indictments, the grand jury returned a special finding that Smith subjected Henry to "substantial physical torture." If Smith is convicted in her death and that finding is upheld, Smith will receive a mandatory 99-year sentence.
Anyone with information about these cases or Smith is urged to contact Anchorage police at 311.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, resources are available on the Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) website or by calling the statewide crisis hotline at (800) 478-8999.
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