Murder suspect possibly in Reno |

Murder suspect possibly in Reno

by F.T. Norton

Working on a tip from a relative, ground crews and investigators scoured Reno’s Peavine Peak on Friday morning in the search for a Virginia City man suspected in the Monday shooting death of his girlfriend.

Gary Brown, 51, contacted a relative Friday and apparently shared where he was in the brief conversation the two had, said Lt. Mike Allen of the investigation division of the Department of Public Safety.

“We know he was in Reno in the morning. Since the afternoon there have been helicopters and planes searching the area,” he said. About 5 p.m. air patrols were stopped, Allen said, but foot patrols continued on the northwest Reno mountain.

On Tuesday afternoon, the body of Linda Ziegler, 52, was found in her Virginia City Highlands home by Storey County deputies. The retired career San Francisco police officer was dead from a gunshot wound to the forehead, Allen said. It’s believed she was killed the day before her body was discovered, he said.

Police were unable to locate Brown, who lived at the home with Ziegler since 2002. A murder warrant was issued for his arrest Wednesday.

Brown was known to Storey County deputies from a standoff in December 2002.

In that case, Brown allegedly beat Ziegler and held her at gunpoint following an argument about his employment plans and living arrangements. When he left the room to retrieve bullets for the shotgun, Ziegler escaped to a neighbor’s home.

Storey County District Attorney Harold Swafford dismissed a charge of assault with a deadly weapon when Brown agreed to plead to misdemeanor domestic battery.

On Friday, the freshman district attorney defended his decision to reduce the charges.

“I couldn’t charge assault with a deadly weapon because there was no assault with a deadly weapon,” he said from his Virginia City office. “The gun was not loaded, she knew it wasn’t loaded.”

But Ziegler’s killing has given Swafford’s critics ammunition.

In a letter to Storey County Commissioner Greg “Bum” Hess on Thursday, resident M.A. Edwards charged Swafford is light on domestic battery and drunken driving cases and should be removed from office pending an investigation.

“Swafford (should) be relieved of his duties until a complete investigation of his performance in office can be conducted. Upon personal review of reams of official and public documents, it’s painfully obvious that malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance have become the operational bywords of his tenure to date,” Edwards said.

To the letter, Edwards attached four cases from 2003 – a restraining order violation, simple battery, drunken driving and reckless driving – in which Swafford either offered plea deals, dismissed or deferred judgment.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Swafford said. “Sometimes the officers will file the case and I’ll look at it and decide it is not there – I can’t charge a certain crime.

“I feel I’m the best attorney they’ve ever had here. I do a lot of soul searching when I dismiss a charge or a whole case. I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.”

Contact reporter F.T. Norton at or 881-1213.