Madison County man charged in connection with missing Ennis woman
Michelle Sorrows last seen July 30
MADISON COUNTY—On Tuesday, December 4, Stanley Gordon Bernardini appeared in Gallatin County District Court and pleaded not guilty to three criminal counts, one of which may connect him to the disappearance of Michelle Marie Sorrows, a 37-year-old Ennis woman, earlier this year.
Bernardini was arrested by Madison County law enforcement on November 30 and his case was filed on December 3. Agents from the Montana Department of Criminal Investigations (DCI) received information earlier in November that incriminated Bernardini in Sorrows’ disappearance. Sorrows was last seen on July 30 and was reported missing on August 3.
According to a Madison County court affidavit, a confidential source (CS) who knows Bernardini personally spoke to DCI agent Mark Strangio, telling him that Bernardini, who was Sorrows’ boyfriend, had killed her and that her body had been buried in a remote part of a piece of property owned by the Jumping Horse Ranch Corporation outside Jeffers, on which Bernardini’s apartment is located.
The CS described the relationship of Bernardini and Sorrows as volatile and sometimes violent, the records state, and he told Strangio that Bernardini had told him about a physical altercation that ultimately led to her death. Bernardini also allegedly told the CS that he had researched things like “the benefits of shallow versus deep grave sites” and that he had placed her body in the bed of his truck to dispose of it, digging a grave with a backhoe.
The CS also recalled a conversation with Bernardini in July or August to Strangio, saying Bernardini had asked how to remove blood from clothing.
Law enforcement and the manager of the Jumping Horse Ranch property attempted to locate the spot where Bernardini is said to have buried Sorrows’ body, but the affidavit notes that bad weather and unpassable terrain hindered the search.
With the information provided by the CS, Agent Strangio obtained a search warrant for Bernardini’s apartment, which was searched on November 29.
On searching the apartment, law enforcement found bloodstain patterns on the living room floor and bedroom walls and droplets of blood in the hallway leading between the two rooms, the affidavit states. There was also evidence of efforts to clean the affected areas, and law enforcement also found an empty bottle of bleach. While searching, Agent Strangio also found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the apartment’s kitchen.
Strangio and another DCI agent, Bruce McDermott, interviewed Bernardini on November 30 according to the affidavit, and Bernardini “denied having anything to do with the disappearance and death of Sorrows.” The document also says he “gave no reason why “human blood” would be on the walls and floors of his apartment and denied having any knowledge of or partaking in any type of clean-up efforts.”
The affidavit cites Bernardini as also telling law enforcement that the truck allegedly used to transport Sorrows’ body had broken down in Reno, Nevada. Investigators contacted the Reno Police Department, and the truck was later found and impounded by Reno police. It will be returned to Madison County as soon as arrangements can be made.
The affidavit states that the investigation revealed “corroborating facts that incriminating evidence was altered, partially destroyed, concealed, or removed,” and that Bernardini may have been involved. Bernardini has been charged with three criminal counts, one of which is a felony, the only charge that directly relates to Sorrows’ disappearance:
• Tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, a felony
• Criminal possession of dangerous drugs, second or subsequent offense—a misdemeanor, for the marijuana found in the apartment upon DCI search
• Criminal possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor, for items including a butane torch also found in the apartment.
Bernardini appeared before the Gallatin County 18th District Court on December 4, where he pleaded not guilty to all three of the charges outlined in the affidavit. His bail was set to $100,000. His next court appearance date has not yet been set.
The disappearance of Michelle Sorrows remains an ongoing missing persons investigation by both the Madison County Sheriff’s Office (MSCO) and the Montana Department of Criminal Investigations, and is also being investigated as a homicide. Anyone who may have additional information about the case is encouraged to contact MSCO at (406) 843-5301.