Eight-and-a-half 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 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. 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. A year before her death, she met Mr. Captain, moved out, and began an on-and-off relationship with him, accompanied by intermittent relapses. On the night of her death she had been 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 people in two nearby houses, who heard it. (John Captain insists 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 John Captain believes, or killed as much as half an hour afterward. Or perhaps the drive to the park was circuitous and it took longer than 15-20 minutes to get there.
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, 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 involving Worden-Brosey’s daughter), and 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 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 the crime was called manslaughter, not murder. That anger is understandable–it was clearly murder–but 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. Lawyers call this a “legal fiction,” where you agree to call something one thing in order to obtain the desired result, even though everyone knows it was something else. This is common in plea bargains in states with minimum sentencing laws.
Many have said that the case should have gone to trial and that Bruynell got a sweetheart deal. But 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. It is true that he never asked specifically for an attorney, but the trial judged ruled that the police needed to halt the interrogation and clarify the request by directly asking if he wanted a lawyer.)
• The murder weapon had been found due to the confession. That could have made it inadmissible. The court ruled, however 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, and might have been reversed. Without the gun, there was no case.
• 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. Had the police requested it themselves, it would almost certainly have been inadmissible–an indication that the cops were breaking the law. The bar, however, offered it, which meant that it was the bar that had broken the rule, not the police. That seemingly minor difference made the IDs admissible, but that too was guaranteed to be appealed. And without the IDs, there would, again, have been 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. (Not to mention the risk that a jury would have returned a not guilty verdict.)
It should have ended there, but John Captain turned the case into an online cause célèbre, looking for reasons 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). John 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 5/15/22): Recently, I learned that the producer of a true-crime podcast about Tiffany’s murder was able to secure a prison interview with Daniel Bruynell. Unfortunately, the interview didn’t come through in time to be included in the podcast, but the producer said on Reddit that Bruynell had 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 in the car or doing things he interpreted as flirting. When he made his move, however, she rebuffed him. So the motive may have been very mundane: she refused the advances of a man with a newly purchased gun and a history of violence.
Now for a few specifics:
1. In the course of arguing his case, John Captain keeps demanding that I give him documents (and threatening to subpoena them from me). These range from Tiffany’s bank records to phone records, medical records, and surveillance tapes from various locations related to her murder. I don’t know why he thinks I would have such things, but I don’t.
2. Another major controversy centers around some very weird tapes of Tiffany’s therapy sessions with a man she calls Jonathan. John Captain has obtained these, published them online, and used them on talk radio. He has, however, misidentified the therapist. It isn’t actually the therapist who John Captain and his followers have repeatedly harassed, but a man by the same first name who has an office on the same street. There is very clear proof of this, but John Captain has rejected it. This man is not even a therapist, but is instead an occult mystery writer who doubles as a life coach using Taoist occult philosophy. Life coaches are unlicensed and unregulated, so while he does appear to have done things that might cost a licensed clinical therapist his license, there’s not much that can be done about it.
3. John Captain 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 in the recording does not appear to match Robinett’s, as heard in police interviews with him. Just as importantly, the Josh on the tapes is talking about needing to buy a 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.
4. John Captain also claims that Tiffany was connected with 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, on at least one occasion rode in a cab from the same limousine service. The chain of connection goes: taxi driver/limo company/hearse/Worden-Brosey. If John Captain has actually proven that entire chain, including the vital last step that Worden-Brosey was once Tiffany’s cab driver, he’s kept that proof to himself. And even if Worden-Brosey did once drive a cab for Tiffany the link is rather tenuous–you can draw such chains to link a lot of people who don’t actually know each other. 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.
5. Tiffany Was Not in “Full Control” of the Dams. One of John Captain’s recurring claims is that Tiffany’s 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. Her job was to use projected river flows to predict power generation capacity at the various dams, so the marketing department knew how much power they had to sell. The confusion comes because she liked to tell friends that she “ran the river,” but she didn’t mean that in the sense John Captain takes it to mean.
6. John Captain was not under a gag order. He was under a no-contact order, requiring him to keep away from Tiffany’s mother. He chose to interpret the order as a gag order, but it was not. (It should be noted that he also complied with it, quite scrupulously.) He also had the right, under that order, to attend court hearings regarding Tiffany. At some point, however, the defense (not the prosecution) obtained a witness sequestration order that prevented him from attending them, presumably because the defense attorneys were considering using him as a witness on behalf of Bruynell. (Why, I’m not sure.) He has misinterpreted that order as coming from the prosecution, but I’ve seen a copy, and it came from the defense.
7. John Captain was not a “witness to a murder” as he so often claims. He was a witness “in” a murder case, which is not the same thing.
8. There are claims that Tiffany was writing a book at the time of her death and that this book was highly valuable. To the best of my knowledge, she never started it.
9. John Captain keeps asking if Tiffany’s family and I took victims’ compensation money. He insinuates that this would be tantamount to making money off Tiffany’s death, which is silly. Victims’ compensation money is to reimburse out-of-pocket expenses for such things as travel to the trial. Most people know this. For the record, I probably didn’t even qualify, and never even asked