Investigators have linked a Spokane woman, who once was a man, to two of three 1990 prostitute slayings in the Spokane area based on a recently discovered fingerprint and DNA evidence.
Donna R. Perry, 60, remains in Spokane County Jail on an unrelated federal weapons charge, but investigators are hoping to speak with anyone who had contact with her.
The suspect was known as Douglas R. Perry until he had gender reassignment surgery in 2000.
Detectives now have evidence linking Perry to the killings of Nickie Lowe and Kathy Brisbois. But they also believe Perry was involved in the killing of Yolanda Sapp because all three victims were killed within three months under similar circumstances in 1990, according to court records.
All three prostitutes were shot to death with a .22 caliber-gun and their nude bodies were found in or near the Spokane River.
The search warrant, released Tuesday, obtained permission to search Perry’s home at 2006 E. Empire Ave. and to review evidence collected by federal agents last March.
The search this month yielded women’s underwear and a piece of mattress, sheriff’s Deputy Craig Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin said detectives still are gathering evidence and would like to speak to people who knew any of the three victims, “as well as anyone who may have had contact with Douglas Perry” during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In particular, detectives want to speak with anyone who might have purchased a gun from Perry during that time, he said.
At the time, investigators considered the three deaths to be among the multiple prostitutes murdered by serial killer Robert L. Yates. He was convicted of killing 13 women in Spokane County and two women in Pierce County mostly in the late 1990s. Yates remains on death row.
The Lowe and Sapp killings were assigned to Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge as cold cases.
Yolanda Sapp, 26, was found Feb. 22, 1990, in the 4100 block of East Upriver Drive. On March 25, 1990, 34-year-old Nickie Lowe’s body was discovered in the 3200 block of East South Riverton underneath the Greene Street Bridge.
The 38-year-old Brisbois was found May 15, 1990, on the west side of the Spokane River near Trent Avenue and Pines Road in Spokane Valley. That case was assigned in 2005 to sheriff’s Detective James Dresback.
With advances in DNA technology, detectives resubmitted evidence for testing in 2009. A lab scientist alerted Dresback that a sample from under Brisbois’ fingernail yielded a full profile of a male but that the DNA didn’t match anyone in the federal database of convicted felons.
The case broke wide open on Sept. 14 when the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory technician found a database hit on Perry, who was arrested in March in Spokane and was in federal custody in Carswell, Texas.
Perry was arrested here after a retired detective saw her buying ammo and a pistol magazine at the White Elephant store in Spokane Valley. The detective knew Perry is a felon who is prohibited from possessing firearms.
Federal agents searched Perry’s Empire Avenue home in March. Besides a dozen firearms and 12,000 rounds of ammunition, she had women’s panties in a box in a closet, which investigators said were too small to fit Perry.
Special agent Todd Smith, of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, “remembered thinking at the time that, based on his previous experience in law enforcement, these panties impressed him as ‘trophies,’ ” court records state. Dresback noted that police reports indicated no panties were recovered from the 1990 crime scenes.
Dresback also spoke to a criminal investigator who in 1998 provided information about statements Perry made while being held in an Oregon prison in 1997.
“Unnamed inmates told prison staff that Perry used to talk to inmates about taking prostitutes home and feeding them,” the search warrant states. “Those unnamed inmates claimed Perry acted very strange and they believe he may be involved in prostitute murders.”
Dresback received confirmation in October that Perry’s fingerprints were found on items recovered from a Dumpster in the Nickie Lowe case.
“Latent fingerprints were photographed and lifted from (a) tube of sterile jelly,” Dresback wrote. “Those latent fingerprints were compared to Douglas Perry by the Spokane Forensic Unit and they matched the index and middle finger of Douglas Perry.”
Perry’s criminal history includes convictions for reckless endangerment in 1987 and assault in 1988 in Okanogan County.
As Douglas Perry, he was also arrested in 1989 in Spokane for patronizing a prostitute.
In addition to state charges, federal agents arrested Perry in 1988 for possessing a pipe bomb. During the search for that arrest, agents also found 49 guns and 20,000 rounds of ammunition. Some of the guns were .22-caliber handguns.
Federal agents arrested Perry again in 1994 for possessing firearms, including a .22-caliber handgun.
In early 2000, court records state, Perry traveled to Bangkok, where he received gender reassignment surgery.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.