Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Brianna Denison

Secret Witness

On November 1, 2008, the Reno Police Department received a report from an anonymous caller through the Secret Witness tip line that a man by the name of James Biela, 27, was exhibiting strange behavior and fit some of the suspect criteria that police had developed in the various cases over the past year. Detective Adam Wygnanski was assigned to follow up on the tip, and met with Biela on November 7.

Surveillance video of suspect's vehicle
Surveillance video of suspect's vehicle
Wygnanski explained to Biela that he was working the Brianna Denison case, and that Biela's name had come up along with a number of other male subjects. He asked Biela for a saliva swab to eliminate him as a suspect, but Biela refused to provide it. Wygnanski noted that Biela was very nervous during their meeting, and would not make eye contact with him. Wygnanski also observed that Biela matched the physical characteristics of the attacker provided by the December 2007 victim. Before the interview concluded, Wygnanski confronted Biela with reports that Biela had worked as a pipefitter on a construction project on the UNR campus, but Biela denied them.

Although Wygnanski determined that Biela was the registered owner and frequent driver of a 2006 4-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma pickup truck with an extended cab, with gray colored interior, during the timeframe of the sexual assaults and Brianna's disappearance. Biela denied having anything to do with Denison's murder, and he claimed that his girlfriend, who was also the mother of his child, would provide him with an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of Denison's disappearance. Wygnanski, lacking physical evidence that would ensure a conviction, had little choice but to let Biela go.

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