Sara Berg, left, and Ed Berg, center, talk with artist Brad Hughes, right at Hughes’ Homer, Alaska, studio in June 2021 about the Loved & Lost Memorial Bench project Berg and other family and friends of Anesha Murnane commissioned to honor Murnane and other missing woman and children. (Photo by Christina Whiting)

Sara Berg, left, and Ed Berg, center, talk with artist Brad Hughes, right at Hughes’ Homer, Alaska, studio in June 2021 about the Loved & Lost Memorial Bench project Berg and other family and friends of Anesha Murnane commissioned to honor Murnane and other missing woman and children. (Photo by Christina Whiting)

Missing Homer woman presumed dead

A six-person jury determined Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, then 38, died of a homicide.

A Homer jury last month decided that a woman missing for almost two years can be presumed dead. In a presumptive death hearing held June 17, the six-member jury also determined that Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, then 38, died of a homicide.

According to online court records, Homer Superior Court Judge Bride Seifert issued a death certificate for Murnane on June 25.

Murnane has been missing since Oct. 17, 2019, after she was last seen in a security camera image leaving her Main Street apartment. Murnane’s mother is Sara Berg and her step-father is Ed Berg. Sara Berg filed a presumptive death petition for her daughter in April.

Under Alaska law, a presumptive death petition is the process for determining someone has died when no body has been found. A person missing for five years or more is automatically presumed dead, but family can file a petition asking for such a ruling earlier. In a hearing, a jury inquires into the facts of the case and considers the testimony of witnesses and other evidence. The jury then makes a decision on if the person is presumed dead, and if so, how and when the person died. A finding of presumptive death and the issuance of a death certificate allows a missing person’s estate to be settled.

If a missing person is found alive, or if their body is found, the court holds a hearing to consider the facts and enters an order for a correction or substitution of the death certificate.

Ed Berg said they filed a petition because “We were interested in getting a presumptive death to close various accounts and paperwork.”

Berg said Murnane had a modest estate.

The finding that her daughter died of homicide surprised her, Sara Berg said. They did not expect that. The jury could have ruled that Murnane died of unspecified causes.

“It validated me,” Sara Berg said. “I know she was murdered. There was never any question in my mind about that.”

Murnane disappeared after leaving her Main Street apartment, presumably heading for an appointment at the SVT Health & Wellness clinic on East End Road. The last confirmed sighting is the security camera photo showing her leaving the Maintree Apartments, a supported housing complex, about 12:15 p.m. that day. Murnane had a 1 p.m. appointment at SVT Health and Wellness Center on East End Road, about a 1-mile walk from her home. She did not show up for that appointment.

Murnane was wearing a blue jacket, light-blue shirt and blue jeans the last time she was seen. She was almost 6 feet tall, weighed about 160 pounds, had shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes. She carried a pink-and-black plaid purse with a shoulder strap and carried her wallet, cellphone and identification. Police said she did not drive or own a vehicle and got around by walking.

The weekend after Murnane went missing, search and rescue dog teams from Anchorage tracked her in the downtown area, picking up scents from Main Street to Lee Drive, Svedlund Street, Pioneer Avenue and Kachemak Way — the path Murnane would have taken to get to the SVT Health and Wellness Center. Search dogs followed strong scents to Pioneer Avenue area near Thai Cosmic Kitchen, in front of Homer’s Jeans and the Kachemak Bay Campus. There the dogs acted as if there had been what search dog handlers call a “car pickup.” Volunteers did ground searches, and in 2020, search dogs also did another search. Nothing was found.

Based on those circumstances, the Bergs have said since November of 2019 that they believe Murnane was abducted.

“There is no other explanation. There is no other explanation,” Sara Berg said. “She was picked up by somebody she knew well and then murdered. There was no way she would have gotten in a car with a stranger. Someone she knew well murdered her. I’ve never seen that any other way.”

Homer Police consider Murnane’s case to be active and under investigation, according to a June 23 press release.

“We will not close it or shelf it. We are committed to finding Duffy’s remains and the person or persons responsible for her disappearance,” the statement said.

At the presumptive death hearing, the jury heard testimony from Homer Police Detective Matt Haney, a special investigator hired to assist in the case. Haney worked for Homer Police more than 20 years ago, leaving the department in 2000. He then went on to gain experience investigating missing person’s cases in Washington and other states. Haney confirmed in the hearing many of the facts known in Murnane’s case: that she left behind a passport and other possessions, that she did not use plane tickets for planned trips in late 2019 to Oregon and Mexico, and that her cellphone only had one brief signal or “ping.” Haney said he interviewed 158 people and reviewed numerous records. He said he had no suspects in a possible abduction.

According to court records, when asked by a juror what he thought happened to her, Haney said, “I don’t know how to phrase this. I have to maintain an open mind. I don’t have her existing after Oct. 17.”

The jury also heard testimony from a social worker and both Sara and Ed Berg. They all provided background on Murnane’s mental health issues. Murnane suffered from bipolar disorder and took medication, but she had shown improvement. Murnane was close to her mother, Ed Berg told the jury, and would not have left home and not gotten in touch with her.

“It was just another step toward closure,” Sara Berg said of the presumptive death verdict. “I don’t think we’re ever going to get real closure. We have to get through this.”

She said that in deaths of other family members, being able to see the body helped her know the person had died.

“And I can’t do that,” Berg said of her daughter. “… I know it’s a dumb little piece of paper. Six other people agree with me.”

Ed Berg said that before Murnane went missing, he didn’t understand why the military went to great lengths to recover remains of lost soldiers. He remembered reading a book about a Vietnamese man who worked to find graves from the Vietnam War.

“What’s the point?” Berg said he thought when he read the book. “I think I understand better. For the relatives, it’s important to have that closure.”

As part of that grieving process, the Bergs have commissioned Homer artist Brad Hughes to design and create a memorial bench, the Loved & Lost bench. This summer, Hughes has been working with fellow artists Gary Lyon and Murnane’s brother, Gregory Murnane, to make a clay mold that will then be used to make a cast for the bench supports. In a statement, the Bergs explained why they wanted to create a bench.

“Because her body has not been found, we don’t have a grave and we want to create a memorial. Since she went missing, we have learned just how many women and children are taken every year, especially among the Native populations, and indeed around the world,” they wrote. “We are certainly not alone in our plight and our grief, and so we decided to create this memorial for not just our daughter, but for all the others who are suffering as well. We want the bench to serve as a memorial and to raise awareness of this tragedy. This bench will be dedicated to all the lost ones, to all the taken ones, and to all those who loved them, left behind with so many questions.”

Homer Police said they seek any information regarding Murnane, including people who might have had any contact with her in the months before she disappeared.

“‘Any contact with her’ means just that, anything at all,” according to the press release. “Even seeing her at some type of event without actually speaking with her, walking somewhere or in a vehicle could prove helpful.”

Anyone with information on Murnane can call Homer Police at 907-235-3150.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

Sara Berg, right, talks with artist Brad Hughes, left, at Hughes’ Homer, Alaska, studio in June 2021 about the Loved & Lost Memorial Bench project Berg and other family and friends of Anesha Murnane commissioned to honor Murnane and other missing woman and children. (Photo by Christina Whiting)

Sara Berg, right, talks with artist Brad Hughes, left, at Hughes’ Homer, Alaska, studio in June 2021 about the Loved & Lost Memorial Bench project Berg and other family and friends of Anesha Murnane commissioned to honor Murnane and other missing woman and children. (Photo by Christina Whiting)

A recent photo of Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, missing since Oct. 17, 2019, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided, Homer Police Department)

A recent photo of Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, missing since Oct. 17, 2019, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided, Homer Police Department)

More in News

A group spanning the length of five blocks marches in downtown Soldotna, Alaska, to celebrate Pride Month on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Housing org seeks to create safe homestays for queer youth

Choosing Our Roots houses LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24 with a host person or family

File
Kasilof man arrested in connection to alleged death threats

Tarbell began in August making threats to individuals in Vermont and others states, according to an FBI affidavit.

Ashlyn O’Hara / Peninsula Clarion 
From left: Kenai City Council candidates Alex Douthit, Deborah Sounart and Victoria Askin attend an election forum Wednesday at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
Council candidates discuss Kenai’s future at forum

Three of the five candidates vying for seats on the council participated in the event.

A podium marks the beginning of a StoryWalk at Soldotna Creek Park on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. The project was discontinued in August due to vandalism. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
StoryWalk vandalism results in project’s early end

The StoryWalk was made possible by a $2,500 donation from the Soldotna Library Friends.

In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases, a day after the state’s largest hospital announced it had entered crisis protocol and began rationing care. When many people become ill at the same time, it overwhelms the state’s health care system. “And then we start to see excess mortality where more people dying from other things such as heart attacks and strokes and car accidents and bear maulings or whatever else happens,” Zink said. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Alaska records most daily COVID cases amid health care strain

By Mark Thiessen Associated Press ANCHORAGE — Alaska on Wednesday reported its… Continue reading

Alaskans pick up and turn in Permanent Fund Dividend applications at the Department of Revenue office in the State Office Building in March 2011. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Dividend payments expected in 30 days

Payments of $1,100 set for mid-October

A vote-by-mail ballot box is photographed at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration building in Soldotna, Alaska, in October 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Soldotna to allow voters to fix affidavits

About 16 absentee ballots were rejected due to a variety of reasons in the 2020 elections.

A sign instructing patients and visitors on the COVID-19 screening process is seen in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, on April 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Hospital ‘dealing with’ overcapacity

Central Peninsula Hospital was operating at a 112% occupancy rate Wednesday morning.

In this Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, file photo, a syringe containing a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine sits in a container during a vaccine clinic at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 patients, Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska’s largest hospital, on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, implemented crisis standards of care, prioritizing resources and treatments to those patients who have the potential to benefit the most.(Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News via AP, Pool, File)
Alaska’s largest hospital implements crisis care standards

The emergency room is overflowing at Providence, with patients wait for hours in their cars to see a doctor for emergency care.

Most Read