Six years ago, my friend and former housemate Tiffany Jenks was murdered. Not only was it a tremendous shock, but it became one of Portland’s most sensational killings, partly because the motive was never fully determined.
Since then, her death has produced vast amounts of discussion on conspiracy websites and talk-radio shows, much of it featuring her ex-boyfriend, John S. Captain, III.
The basic facts are simple. On October 8, 2013, Tiffany was found dead at the entrance to Blue Lake Regional Park, on the outskirts of the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan region. She had been shot once in the head, directly between the eyes.
Three people were arrested: Michelle Worden-Brosey, Joshua Robinette, and Daniel Bruynell.
From the outset, there were signs that this was a thrill kill, with Bruynell as the shooter, possibly egged on by the other two.
Tiffany had been struggling with alcohol and drugs since the death of her father three years earlier, and had lost her job because of it. Her stay in my spare bedroom was an unsuccessful attempt to provide her with a safe location away from her usual haunts, from which to work on her recovery. She met Mr. Captain and moved out of my home about a year before her death, even though she knew that recovering alcoholics are discouraged from romantic relationships until their sobriety is well established.
On the night of her death she was extremely drunk 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 people in two nearby houses, who heard it.
It takes about 15-20 minutes to get from the bar to the park, so she might have been driven there directly and summarily killed, as Mr. Captain believes, or killed as much as half an hour afterward.
When the deadly trio was 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 the police didn’t know who, specifically, had 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 Robinette on an unrelated child-abuse charge), and Bruynell accepted an 18-year sentence for the reduced charge of manslaughter.
Mr. Captain and others have complained about the light sentences for Worden-Brosey and Robinette, 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 or 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 (probation only). By that standard, a year in jail was a stiff sentence (and the DA had to fight to get it). If you don’t like that, get Oregon to change the law.
Bruynell’s sentence has produced even greater anger, again from people unaware of the nuances.
Part of the anger comes from the fact his crime was called manslaughter, not murder.
However, Oregon has a minimum sentencing law. If you call it murder, the minimum is 25 years. If you want to plea bargain, you have to call it something else. And even though Bruynell had confessed to the shooting, there were good reasons for a plea bargain:
• His confession was inadmissible. It came after he repeatedly asked the police if he needed “someone” with him—an inquiry the court saw as a request for a lawyer.
• The murder weapon had been found due to the confession. That could have made it inadmissible, but the court ruled that, given where it had been found (with Bruynell’s girlfriend) the police would have found it without the confession. Still, that was guaranteed to be appealed.
• 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 such information, and it shouldn’t have been available for the police to find. Luckily, the trial court ruled that because it was the bar that broke the law, not the police, the IDs were admissible. But that too was guaranteed to be appealed, and without the scanned IDs, there was no case.
All of this made a plea bargain appealing. A sure-thing 18-year-sentence is a lot better than a 25-year sentence reversed on appeal.
It should have ended there, but Mr. Captain turned the case into an online cause célèbre.
His 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). He also has a theory that she was killed by her former employer, Bonneville Power Administration, in order to keep her from reporting financial misdoings to the authorities.
I still think thrill kill is 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.”
None of which will placate the conspiracy theorists who at one point had turned Mr. Captain into a talk-radio celebrity and Facebook influencer with 80,000 followers.
Now for a few specifics:
In the course of arguing his case, Mr. Captain keeps demanding that I give him documents, ranging from Tiffany’s bank records to phone records, medical records, and surveillance tapes from various locations related to her murder.
It would be laughable were it not for the number of death threats I’ve gotten over the years from his followers, who think I’m holding back. But the reality is that if I had that type of stuff, I’d long ago have given it to him. It’s no skin off my back if he pores over it looking for clues.
Another major controversy centers around some very weird tapes of Tiffany’s therapy sessions with a doctor she calls Jonathan. Mr. Captain has obtained these, published them online, and used on talk radio.
I agree that they are extremely odd, though publishing them all over the Internet and on talk radio looks to me like a HIPPA violation. But Mr. Captain has wrongly identified the therapist, exposing him to endless harassment.
I am 99.9 percent sure I know who the real voice on the therapy tapes belongs to, but I won’t name him, because I don’t want his kids (if he has any) to get the same threats the wrong person’s kids have encountered. He happens to have an office on the same street as the “Jonathan” who took the flak, but he’s not a therapist. He’s an occult mystery writer who doubles as a life coach using Taoist occult philosophy.
I.e., he was Tiffany’s spiritual advisor.
I could go on from there, but there really isn’t any point. Mr. Captain is an energetic and relentless investigator who has dug up an enormous trove of information about Tiffany’s last months. But a lot of his “clues” make no sense and are poorly fact checked.
If you are a devotee of Mr. Captain reading this, I realize that this will never convince you. But if you’re someone trying to figure out what all the flap is about, hopefully this helps.