In the end, after the women stopped disappearing from neighborhoods and parking lots, after their bodies, weighed down by auto parts, stopped surfacing in the Long Tom River, BJ Miller remembers a small piece of wire, just a scrap that he found on the floor of Jerome Brudos' garage.
It would be the evidence that helped lock away a serial killer who had lured, kidnapped, strangled and dismembered at least three Oregon women, Miller recalled last week.
Miller was assigned to a police task force in 1969, after the bodies of Linda Salee, 22, of Beaverton and Oregon State University student Karen Elena Sprinker, 19, were pulled from the Long Tom. Never before had he investigated a murder case.
But Miller said that hour after hour of dry, tedious, routine work led him and fellow officers to Brudos, who later confessed and was housed in the Oregon State Penitentiary until he died, at the age of 67, on March 28.
In the spring of 1969, Corvallis detectives began talking with OSU students, Miller said. Have you seen anything unusual? Has anyone approached you?
Then, an OSU student called, saying a strange man was trying to set up a blind date with her.
Miller, who is now 71 and retired from the force, met her on campus around the time Brudos arrived to see the girl. Miller recalls asking Brudos some basic, general questions.
Brudos tried to give the detective a false name, so Miller listed Brudos as a person of interest in the case.
A short time later, Miller and another officer drove to Brudos' home in Salem. Brudos, who was married and had two children, stepped from his front porch and agreed to talk inside the officers' car. Brudos was cooperative enough, Miller said, but his demeanor was challenging.
"There was a coldness about him," Miller said. "He kept drawing us in. He kept drawing us in to the point that we were aware that he was drawing us in."
So Miller and his partner asked to see Brudos' garage. He agreed. And, as they chatted in the little room just off an alley, Miller noticed an unusual knot, tied in some rope, similar to the knots that connected the women's bodies to the car parts that weighed them down in the river.
Miller also spotted some wire scraps on the garage floor. He quietly scooped them up.
A crime lab later determined that the wires were cut with the same tool that cut the wires attached to the bodies.
Miller helped arrest Brudos on June 3, 1969.
Brudos pleaded guilty to the murders of Sprinker, Salee and Jan Whitney, 23, of McMinnville, and later confessed to the murders of Linda Slawson, 19, and Stephanie Vikko, 16.
Oregon did not have the death penalty at the time, so Brudos was given three consecutive life sentences.
Miller went on to investigate Ted Bundy's activities in the Corvallis area, including the serial killer's murder of a Corvallis woman. He also started a private security firm and worked as a consultant to defense attorneys in roughly 300 murder cases.
Today, he thinks back to the little pieces of evidence that quickly came together - the wire on the floor, the OSU student whom Brudos had harassed.
Asked if the student would be alive today if she hadn't called the police, Miller said, "No way. No way. That lady would have been the next victim. I've never felt otherwise."