Note: sometime soon, I hope to retire this page, but whenever there’s a TV show or podcast it gets hundreds of hits, and I’d rather people get an accurate story, rather than something from a QAnon-style conspiracy site.
Eight-and-a-half years ago, my friend and former housemate Tiffany Jenks was murdered.
Since then, her death has produced much discussion on conspiracy websites and talk radio, mostly featuring her ex-boyfriend, John S. Captain, III. There has also been a cable TV show and multiple true-crime podcasts. The purpose of this page is to provide background and quell some of the crazier conspiracy theories.
The basics are simple. On October 8, 2013, Tiffany was found dead at the entrance to Blue Lake Regional Park on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, killed by a single gunshot to the head.
Three people were arrested: Michelle Worden-Brosey, Joshua Robinett, and Daniel Bruynell. From the outset, there were signs it was a thrill kill, with Bruynell as the shooter, possibly egged on by the other two.
Tiffany had multiple college degrees, had been a state-champion 1500m runner, a wilderness firefighter (she liked adventure), and played the cello. But she had been struggling with alcohol and drugs since the death of her father three years earlier, and the intense off-and-on relationship she fell into with Mr. Captain was not the type of thing 12-step programs see as conducive to recovery. On the night of her death she was drinking and would have made an easy victim.
Surveillance tapes from a bar nine miles from where she died showed her and the other three getting into Worden-Brosey’s car at 2:09 am. The shot that killed her was fired sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 am, according to local residents who heard it.
When Worden-Brosey, Robinett, and Bruynell were caught, they were charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, obstruction of justice, and filing off the serial numbers from the murder weapon. The grand jury, however, found insufficient evidence for conspiracy, and the gun charge was dropped because police didn’t know who, specifically, filed off the numbers. That left Bruynell (the shooter) indicted for murder and the other two for obstruction of justice for helping him flee.
All three eventually pled guilty. Worden-Brosey and Robinette got roughly one-year sentences for obstruction (plus another ~5 years for Robinett on an unrelated child-abuse charge involving Worden-Brosey’s daughter). Bruynell accepted an 18-year sentence for the reduced charge of manslaughter.
John Captain and others have complained about the light sentences for Worden-Brosey and Robinett, but the fact is they slipped through a crack in Oregon law. Oregon does not recognize “accessory after the fact” as a crime. Instead, it relies on conspiracy and obstruction. With the grand jury refusing to indict for conspiracy, all that was left was obstruction, which carries a maximum penalty of 18 months. In fact, for first offenders, as these two were, the sentencing guidelines call for no jail time at all. By that standard, a year in jail was a stiff sentence and the prosecutor had to fight to get even that.
Bruynell’s sentence produced even greater anger, again from people unaware of the nuances. Part of the anger came from the fact the crime was called manslaughter, not murder. That was because in Oregon, if you call it murder, the minimum is 25 years. For a plea bargain, it therefore has to be called something else–a commonly used type of “legal fiction,” in which you fudge the terminology to get the agreed-upon result.
Why a plea bargain?
1. Bruynell’s confession was inadmissible. It came after he repeatedly asked the police if he needed “someone” with him—an inquiry the court understandably saw as a request for a lawyer. That meant it couldn’t be used against him.
2. The murder weapon had been found due to the confession. That could have made it inadmissible. The court ruled that given where it had been found (with Bruynell’s girlfriend), it was still admissible because the police would have found it without the confession. Still, that was guaranteed to be appealed, and without the gun, there was no case.
3. The defendants were identified only because the bar where they met Tiffany had scanned their IDs as they walked in. Oregon liquor law does not allow bars to retain these scans, and they shouldn’t have been available for the police to see. In fact, had the police requested them, they would almost certainly have been inadmissible. But because the bar volunteered the information, it was treated a bit like a whistleblower, and the scans were deemed admissible. That too, however, was guaranteed to be appealed, and without the ID scans there would have been no case.
All of this made a plea bargain appealing. For those seeking closure, a sure-thing 18-year-sentence beats a 25-year sentence reversed on appeal.
It should have ended there, but Mr. Captain turned the case into an online cause célèbre, looking for more complex reasons for why Tiffany was killed. He and his followers’ theories have ranged from the mundane (she ran afoul of drug dealers) to the exotic (she was an Illuminati mind-control agent who slipped her programming and was killed to keep her from going rogue). Mr. Captain also has a theory that she was killed by her former employer, Bonneville Power Administration, in order to keep her from reporting financial misdoings.
I still think thrill kill is one the most likely explanation, but the only accurate answer has always been “nobody knows.” The best summary came from the prosecutor. “Sometimes,” he said, “you never know why. Luckily, you don’t need motive to convict.”
NEW INFORMATION (as of 12/29/22). Michelle Worden Brosey is working as an addiction counselor at a faith-based center that (I think) is the one that helped her following her arrest and imprisonment. John Captain sees this as a travesty and is out to get her license revoked. He will not succeed, because (a) she doesn’t have (or need) a license for the job, and (b) clinics like this seek out counselors who’ve hit bottom and recovered. I will take much flak on this, but I see this as the one good thing to come out of this tragedy. The Tiffany I knew would agree.
NEW INFORMATION (as of 5/15/22): Recently, I learned that the producer of a true-crime podcast was able to get an interview with Daniel Bruynell. Unfortunately, it didn’t come through in time to be included in the podcast, but he posted on Reddit that Bruynell said he didn’t know why he did it. “It just happened,” is pretty much his best explanation. He did say, however, that Tiffany had been either flirting with him or doing things he interpreted as flirting. When he made his move, she rebuffed him. So the motive may have been very mundane: a man with a wounded ego, a gun, and an anger-management problem.
I will leave it with that, because arguing details with a conspiracy theorist like Mr. Captain is a game of Whack-a-Mole. For every argument you refute, there are numerous new ones. If you are inclined to believe him, I won’t be able to talk you out of it, and after 9+ years, I really don’t care. Just don’t harass Tiffany’s family. How would you feel in their shoes? Thanks in part to Mr. Captain’s unending conspiracy theories, they are being attacked by the same type of people who attacked the Sandy Hook families.