Crime & Courts

Bail set at $1 million for woman charged in what prosecutor calls ‘entirely senseless’ Sand Lake killings

Brianna S. Wassillie

An Anchorage judge on Tuesday set bail at $1 million for a woman who was charged in two separate killings that unfolded only hours and blocks apart from one another earlier this month.

Brianna Wassillie, 24, faces murder charges in the brutal deaths in the Sand Lake neighborhood of 34-year-old Gregory Pitka and 36-year-old Travis Sheldon on July 3.

Tuesday’s hearing provided few new details about the killings or how Wassillie may have known Pitka and Sheldon. Wassillie, who has no prior criminal history in Alaska, was described as homeless in a criminal complaint filed with murder charges.

A state prosecutor handling the case said the killings lacked a clear motive, but she also said Wassillie told detectives that she had wanted to become a serial killer since she was a child.

“That she had repeatedly wondered what it would be like to take a life,” Assistant District Attorney Alice Curci said during the hearing. “She admitted to killing several animals over the years — torturing them and taking videos of this.”

On July 3, Wassillie met Pitka in a walled-off parking space behind the Jewel Lake Alaska Club and beat him because he refused to steal alcohol for her, according to a criminal complaint filed with murder charges. She later told detectives she’d returned to the same location and choked him using the strings of his hoodie until he died, according to the complaint.

Wassillie sexually assaulted Pitka before covering his body with a blanket and leaving the area, according to the complaint. His body was not found until July 5, police said.

Later that same day, Wassillie came upon Sheldon in the woods several blocks away, gave him a beer and then took it away, the complaint said.

“For apparently no reason, she decides to strangle him, as well,” Curci said during Tuesday’s hearing. “And when Travis Sheldon lost consciousness, the defendant picked up a rock — in her own words, ‘to get it done.’ She hit him on the head with a rock several times and Travis Sheldon died.”

Detectives connected Wassillie to the crimes because a letter was found last week along with Pitka’s ID behind the Walmart on the Old Seward Highway in South Anchorage, according to the complaint.

In the letters, Wassillie described killing and sexually assaulting a man.

Wassillie admitted to killing both Pitka and Sheldon when she was brought to police headquarters Saturday for questioning, the complaint said.

It was not immediately clear whether Wassillie knew either Pitka or Sheldon before encountering them on July 3 and there are few details about what brought her to the Sand Lake area, where both of the killings happened.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Wassillie cast her gaze downward as Curci described the details of the crimes from the courtroom inside the Anchorage Correctional Complex. She appeared before the judge in an orange jail uniform with her hands cuffed.

The killings were brutal and “entirely senseless,” Curci said, and prove that Wassillie “is an absolute danger to the community.”

Anchorage District Court Judge David Nesbett set bail at $500,000 cash performance and $500,000 cash appearance and set conditions of release including third-party custodian, pretrial enforcement division monitoring and no alcohol.

No one spoke on behalf of Pitka or Sheldon.

Wassillie is being held at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River on two charges of first-degree murder and one misdemeanor count of misconduct involving a corpse.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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