Report: Suspect confessed to killing Bremerton man, 87

PORT ORCHARD (Kitsap Sun) — The suspect in the 2015 murder of an 87-year-old Bremerton man confessed to his jail cellmate he killed Floyd Zumwalt over outstanding debts – as well as confessing to an unsolved murder of a woman in Illinois more than 10 years ago, prosecutors alleged in court documents.

But on Wednesday, the attorney for Craig Warren Miller Jr., 45, told Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull that he wants to present jurors with evidence that might implicate another man.

The attorney said this other man went to Zumwalt’s Lebo Boulevard apartment the same day as Zumwalt’s homicide and, after returning home, removed his clothes and washed them in a bathtub.

Miller is scheduled for trial Oct. 24 on a charge of second-degree murder.

The other man was questioned by Bremerton police, who considered him a person of interest in the case. He told them he had planned to see Zumwalt but gave a vague explanation for why he didn't.

“Something told him not to go,” Miller’s attorney, Tim Drury, wrote in court documents, quoting police reports.  

Drury wrote Zumwalt “routinely had unsavory people coming and going from his apartment,” had sold opioid medication and had been involved in money disputes.

Zumwalt was found dead Nov. 7, 2015, in his apartment. Miller, a neighbor, called 911 claiming he found Zumwalt on the floor, drunk and bleeding but alive. When police arrived Zumwalt was dead.

Miller was arrested in April, 17 months after Zumwalt’s death.

Investigators allege that while on the phone with 911 dispatchers, Miller declined to provide aid to Zumwalt and later told neighbors Zumwalt was stabbed, but the stab wound was not immediately apparent until investigators moved Zumwalt’s body. Zumwalt also had a head wound.

Further, investigators allege between the time police arrived at the scene and spoke to Miller and hours later when they spoke to him again, he had changed his pants. Police did not recover the pants Miller was wearing earlier.

Crime lab technicians identified Zumwalt’s blood on the top of Miller’s shoes, documents allege, even though Miller said he never got that close to the body.

The jailhouse informant told investigators he had been housed with Miller for four months, gaining his trust, and said Miller confided that he had killed Zumwalt as part of his duties as a “hitman” because Zumwalt owed people money, according to documents.

The informant, who is charged with felony violation of a no contact order, reported that Miller said he stabbed Zumwalt with a “cake knife” but the blade broke and Miller said he tossed the handle into nearby bushes.

Over the Labor Day weekend Bremerton Police and volunteers searched the bushes near Zumwalt’s apartment for evidence and claimed they located what they sought. However, Bremerton Police Lt. Randy Plumb declined to say what they found.

According to the informant: “The defendant (Miller) said that sometime later, he took the murder pants to the Goodwill and exchanged them in the dressing room for another pair,” Deputy Prosecutor Kellie Pendras wrote in court documents.

The informant also told investigators Miller confessed to killing a woman in Illinois. Bremerton police called authorities in Bartonville, Illinois, who confirmed an unsolved murder matching the details Miller had confided, documents allege.

The police chief there, Brian Fengel, told the Bremerton detective in August that he had investigated the case of Bonnie Sue Fife, whose remains were identified in 2005, and said it was Miller who reported finding Fife's body. Miller was working as a security guard at the industrial plant where Fife's remains were discovered.

“The defendant called law enforcement and told them that he had found a ‘femur,’ but when police responded, they determined that it was a deer bone,” Pendras wrote, recounting what Fengel told a Bremerton detective. “The defendant then returned to the scene and found Ms. Fife’s pelvis, another femur and her skull in a tree stump, which he again reported to police. The defendant was not considered a suspect at the time because there was a serial killer, Larry Bright, who had recently been caught.”

According to media reports, Bright cooperated with authorities in identifying his victims but denied killing Fife, who he knew from the Peoria, Illinois, area. Bright also tended to prey on black women and Fife was white.

“The defendant said that (Fife) had owed someone money, so he took her out into the woods where he slit her throat,” Pendras wrote.

Reporter Josh Farley contributed to this report.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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