Eight years ago, my friend and former housemate Tiffany Jenks was murdered.
Since then, her death has produced vast amounts of discussion on conspiracy websites and talk radio, much featuring her ex-boyfriend, John S. Captain, III. There has also been a cable TV show and multiple true-crime podcasts.
The basics 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 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 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 attempt to provide her with an inexpensive location from which to work on her recovery. It worked for a while, but about a year before her death, she met Mr. Captain, moved out, and began an on-and-off relationship with him. 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. (Mr. Captain insists that it was at precisely 2:30, but I’m not sure why.)
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 Robinett 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 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 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. By that standard, a year in jail was a stiff sentence and the DA had to fight to get even that.
Bruynell’s sentence has produced even greater anger, again from people unaware of the nuances.
Part of the anger came 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. For a plea bargain, it therefore has to be called 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. The court ruled that, given where it had been found (with Bruynell’s girlfriend), the police would have found it without the confession, but still, that was guaranteed to be appealed.
• The defendants were only identified 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. 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. For those seeking closure, 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 threats I’ve gotten over the years from his followers, who think I’m holding back. 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 them on talk radio.
I agree that they are extremely odd, though publishing them all over the Internet and on talk radio seems to be a violation of her privacy. 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 life coach (or perhaps a spiritual advisor, depending on how you view it). There is no licensing board in Oregon for life coaches.
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 this will never convince you. But if you’re someone trying to figure out what all the flap is about, hopefully this helps.
Specific issues raised by Mr. Captain (revised 25 Nov. 2021)
Mr. Captain claims to have 152 “clues” to Tiffany’s murder. I’ve never seen the full list, but a few of the ones I know of are worth addressing.
(1) He claims that Tiffany knew Robinett, and that Robinett also knew Tiffany’s father, based on a conversation Tiffany had (and for some reason recorded) with a friend named Josh, sometime before her death. All that this conversation proves, though, is that Tiffany had a friend named Josh who knew her father. In her age-group, Josh is a very common name. Furthermore, the voice does not appear to match Robinett’s, as heard in police interviews with him. More importantly, the Josh on the tapes is talking about needing to buy a new gun because he’d thrown his off a bridge when he was feeling suicidal. The Josh involved in Tiffany’s death was SELLING a gun, not BUYING one.
(2) Mr. Captain claims that Tiffany also knew Worden-Brosey. His argument is that Worden-Brosey worked for a mortuary (true) and knew the owner of a limousine service that also had a hearse, which he claims she drove. Tiffany, he says, used a cab from the limousine service for a trip, probably to or from the airport. The chain of connection goes: taxi driver/limo company/hearse/Worden-Brosey. I have no idea if he’s actually proven that. Nor do I know if it means Tiffany actually knew Worden-Brosey. What I do know is that the police spent weeks looking for connections between Tiffany and any of her killers, and came up with nothing.
(3) Mr. Captain argues that because of these alleged links. Robinett and Worden-Brosey should be re-arrested and charged with murder or conspiracy to commit murder. I am not a criminal law specialist, but as far as I can tell, that’s not possible. They were convicted of obstruction in a murder case, which would seem to be a lesser included crime to the murder itself. Under my admittedly rather basic understanding of double jeopardy, one cannot be re-prosecuted for a larger offense after being convicted of a lesser included offense contained within it. In simplest terms, you can’t convict someone of manslaughter, then, after they’ve served their time, go back and try them for murder on the same homicide. Prosecuting Robinett and Worden-Brosey for murder or conspiracy would, at this point, seem to be the same basic thing, legally.
(4) Tiffany’s bags. In her final 12 hours, Tiffany traveled from Pendleton to Portland. The police, not surprisingly traced her steps, and encountered people she’d worked with (airline personnel, cab drivers, etc.). All commented on the fact she had a mountain of luggage. It probably made her memorable, and the police report dutifully recorded this information. Her first destination was Mr. Captain’s home, and according to the cab drivers, she left with 3 fewer bags than she arrived with. Mr. Captain denies that she left any bags at his place, and asserts that claims to the contrary are proof the police were lying. There is clearly some form of confusion, probably due to mixed memories of the cab drivers. I don’t see how this is relevant to anything, but Mr. Captain makes a big deal out of it.
(5) Phoning the police. Mr. Captain makes an even bigger deal out of the fact that one of the police reports says that a woman named Mercedes called the police after Tiffany’s murder hit the news to tell them what bar she’d been in. According to Mr. Captain, he placed the call as a conference call then turned the discussion over to Mercedes. He is unhappy that the police didn’t give him credit for making the call. He sees that as wrongdoing, but I suspect it’s more likely that the police were more interested in what Mercedes had to say than in who’d dialed the phone.
(6) Asking for a lawyer. The police report says that when interviewed, Mr. Captain asked if he needed a lawyer. Mr. Captain says he never said that. This is a bigger disparity, and potentially more significant. But those who’ve seen it as a sign of something nefarious are missing something important. In the days and months after Tiffany’s death, Mr. Captain was extremely distraught. He also had a tendency to talk at warp speed…and not always linearly. Since then, he has become a much better public speaker, but back then he might have said something that got misinterpreted.
Update (1/4/21): Tiffany Was Not in “Full Control” of Dams
One of Mr. Captain’s recurring claims about Tiffany is that her job at the Bonneville Power Administration put her in total control of the dams on the Columbia River. This is simply not true. Tiffany was a Power Operations Specialist, also known as a Real-time Generation Scheduler. Basically, she was part of a team of a dozen or so people who operated in pairs on rotating shifts to set power generation levels at the dams to meet customer demand. That was an important job, but Tiffany did not control a single dam, let alone the whole system. The confusion comes because she liked to tell friends that she “ran the river,” but she didn’t mean that in the sense Mr. Captain understood it to mean.