Two Maple Valley men went missing in February 2015 and were quickly presumed dead, long before some of their remains were unearthed in rural Pierce County, about six miles south of Orting.
After a year-long investigation, King County Sheriff’s Detectives and state Department of Corrections officers arrested a 53-year-old man Friday from a metal shop in Tacoma and took him to the center Maleng Regional Court in Kent to investigate two counts of homicide, prison and court records show.
He was moved to Seattle’s downtown jail for his first court appearance on Saturday, where a judge found probable cause to hold the man instead of an $8 million bond, prosecutors say and the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.
On Sunday, he was found dead in a jail cell.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday identified the man as Leroy Brandt and determined that he died of asphyxiation due to a hanging ligature. His death was ruled a suicide.
Brandt was suspected of shooting dead Saul Manzo Rios, 29, and Asael Murillo, 27, on the night of February 16, 2015, in retaliation for a meth deal gone wrong, according to the probable cause statement outlining the case. of the sheriff. against him.
Brandt was also suspected of dismembering the men’s bodies and burying them at a large rural property in Pierce County and of committing a house robbery in an attempt to steal several pounds of methamphetamine that Manzo and Murillo had made. smuggled in from California, the statement said.
In the months following Manzo and Murillo’s disappearance by one of their housemates, Brandt was charged in Pierce County Superior Court with a series of crimes, including motor vehicle theft, identity theft, possession of stolen property and unlawful possession of a stolen object. vehicle in four separate cases, according to court records.
He ultimately pleaded guilty to the Pierce County charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to court records and the state Department of Corrections.
Brandt was released from prison at a Tacoma rehabilitation center in November, and in February he was transferred to a graduated rehabilitation program and placed under electronic monitoring at home, a DOC spokesperson said in an e- email Tuesday.
He was arrested Friday at the Tacoma metal shop where he worked after being released from jail, King County Sheriff’s Captain Tim Meyer said.
According to the sheriff’s probable cause statement, Manzo, Murillo, Brandt and a fourth man had all been targets of ongoing narcotics investigations by detectives in King and Pierce counties since late 2014 for their alleged involvement in the dealing and smuggling methamphetamines.
Manzo and Murillo, who lived together in Maple Valley with two other roommates, had at one point sold methamphetamine to Brandt and the fourth man, who later accused Manzo and Murillo of depriving them of drugs and scamming them, says the press release.
Just before the two men disappeared, Manzo, Murillo and one of their roommates had returned to Maple Valley with a large quantity of methamphetamine that they had smuggled back from California in Manzo’s Nissan Armada, according to the statement.
At around 10 p.m. on February 16, 2015, Manzo and Murillo told their roommates that they were going to meet Brandt and the fourth man at a horse farm near Black Diamond to discuss their dispute and drove off in Manzo’s Jeep Cherokee. They left the Nissan and the smuggled meth at home, the statement said.
Manzo and Murillo were never heard from again.
Twenty-four hours later, Manzo and Murillo’s other roommate called 911 and reported a home burglary, telling sheriff’s deputies he arrived at his home and found two men inside his residence. , which had been ransacked, according to the statement. One of the suspects pointed a gun at the roommate before the two thieves fled in Manzo’s Nissan, detectives say. The probable cause statement notes that Manzo allegedly had the only key to the Nissan.
On February 19, the roommate who had been to California with Manzo and Murillo reported them missing.
During the missing person investigation, detectives obtained CCTV footage showing Brandt driving to a Puyallup convenience store in Manzo’s Jeep on February 19, where he made a purchase with Manzo’s credit card , the statement said.
While searching for Manzo’s missing vehicles, detectives learned Brandt was living in a trailer on a property south of Orting, the statement said. Sheriff’s officials flew over the property in a helicopter and spotted a white Jeep Cherokee parked next to Brandt’s trailer, he said.
In April 2015, detectives obtained a warrant and seized Manzo’s Nissan and Jeep outside Brandt’s mother’s residence in Puyallup, according to the probable cause statement.
Detectives questioned Brandt, who claimed Manzo sold or gave him the two vehicles to settle a debt, although detectives noted that his statements were inconsistent with the timeline of Manzo and Murillo’s disappearance, the statement said.
Shortly after, Brandt was arrested on unrelated Pierce County felony charges.
As the investigation continued through the summer and fall of 2015, investigators searched Manzo’s Jeep and found bullet fragments and traces of blood, the statement said. State Patrol Crime Lab scientists ultimately determined that the blood found in the front passenger seat area belonged to Murillo.
It appears Murillo was shot inside the Jeep and Manzo was shot as he tried to flee, the statement said.
After residents of the Orting area property told detectives they had complained about the smell of decay in Brandt, detectives searched the forest area in October 2015 and found a set of remains , except for the head, in two separate places, the statement said.
It would take more than a year for DNA tests to positively confirm that the remains belonged to Murillo.
Detectives searched the Timberland property again in March 2017 and found a second set of remains, including parts of a broken skull that showed evidence of an obvious gunshot wound, the statement said.
“In March 2018, the second body found at the forest site was positively identified via DNA as Manzo…,” a detective wrote in the probable cause statement.