Seven years ago this month, 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 interviews with her ex-boyfriend, John S. Captain, III. There have also been a cable TV show and at least two true-crime podcasts. These, combined with the vast amount of attention the case got on talk-show circuit have caused a great deal of attention to remain focused on Tiffany’s death.
The purpose of this page is to explain my understanding of what happened and to refute a few of the more egregious conspiracy-theory claims.
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 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 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 in with him about a year before her death, even though she knew that recovering alcoholics are discouraged from romantic relationships (and the unavoidable stress that comes with even the best of them) 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. (Mr. Captain insists that it was at precisely 2:30, but I’m not sure why. It is possible that he did his own canvass of the neighborhood and got more detailed information than the police were able to obtain.)
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 indicted 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 (probation only). By that standard, a year in jail was a stiff sentence and the DA had to fight to get even that. 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 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. 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. 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 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. 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 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 them 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 this will never convince you. But if you’re someone trying to figure out what all the flap is about, hopefully this helps.
The original post ended here. These are the updates.
Specific issues raised by Mr. Captain (revised 29 August 2020)
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 that Tiffany had had (and for some reason recorded) with a friend named Josh, sometime before her death. All that this conversation proves, however, is that Tiffany had a friend named Josh who knew her father. In her age-group, Josh is a very common name.
Updated (8/7/2020). Mr. Captain has apparently appeared on multiple onsite locations over the past several weeks, asserting that he has absolute proof that the voice on the tapes is indeed Joshua Robinett. In support, he references a radio interview in Casper, Wyoming, with a PVT Joshua Robinett in the Marine Corps. I presume he thinks the voices match, but the radio station has taken down the audio link, so it’s impossible to verify. Not that it matters. The interview was in April 2013, when this Josh was stationed in Camp Pendleton, CA–when the Joshua Robinett who killed Tiffany was working in Oakland, CA. More to the point, Pvt Robinett was on leave in Casper in November 2015, when the Joshua Robinett involved in Tiffany’s murder was in prison. I.e., they CANNOT be the same person. I hope he’s not being harassed like the man incorrectly identified as her therapist has been.
Updated (10/10/2020). Mr. Captain is correct that Tiffany had a friend named Josh who knew her father. Her recording of her conversation with him proves that. He also says he has proof that she used his computer to search the web for info about the above Marine private. If that is correct (and I have no reason to doubt him on this) I have no idea what it means. PVT Joshua Robinett appears to be from Casper Wyoming. 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. A Marine would have had access to lots of guns. And, the Joshua Robinett who was involved in Tiffany’s death was SELLING a gun, not BUYING one. Not to mention that if that Josh had been a Marine, surely someone would have known about it at the time. Please note: I am not accusing Mr. Captain of lying. I’m just saying that his argument doesn’t make sense.
(2) Mr. Captain claims that Tiffany also knew Worden-Brosey. His argument for this 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 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 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, even if Mr. Captain is correct. They were convicted of obstruction in a murder case, which would seem to be a lesser included crime in 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. I’d love to hear from a criminal lawyer who can correct me if I’m wrong. Feel free to comment.
(4) Mr. Captain has audio recordings of two of Tiffany’s therapy sessions conducted a few days before her death. (She apparently is the one who recorded them.) He is correct that they are very weird and that the therapist was not following anything close to appropriate professional practice. However, he has incorrectly denounced the therapist as Jonathan Weedman. When this began, I called Dr. Weedman’s voice mail after hours, and the voice on his outgoing message tape isn’t even remotely close to that on the therapy tapes. Instead, it appears to be a different Jonathon who is not a licensed therapist, who has an office nearby. The fact he doesn’t have a license doesn’t prevent him from doing “life coaching” which is what he appears to be doing. Also, this Jonathon writes occult mysteries based on Taoist philosophy. He’s even read one of them online. Not only is his voice a perfect match for the one on the therapy tapes, but he’s talking about exactly the same things–sometimes in the same words–as the things said on Tiffany’s therapy tapes.
(5) This is for those who really want to go into the weeds of whatever the current controversy is. I may (or may not) update it periodically.
- 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. (Five bags, if I remember correctly.) 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 various 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. The whole thing has never made much sense to me. It seems equally likely that the cab driver who took her away from Mr. Captain’s place misremembered. (The police never revealed how many bags were found in the hotel that she went to from Mr. Captain’s place.)
- 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 that Tiffany had been in the bar where the police later found the killers’ ID scans. Mr. Captain says that what actually happened was that Mercedes called him, and he told her to report it to the police, then put her on a conference call and dialed in himself, after which she talked to him. His argument is that he called the police, not her, because he was the one who dialed the number and that the police report covered this up by saying that she called. I do not see why this distinction matters, though it is very important to Mr. Captain. He seems to see it as proof of police misconduct. It looks more likely that whoever took the notes on that call was more interested in its content than in the type of minutiae that later come to fuel conspiracy theories.
- 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, which he say is due to severe ADHD, to talk at warp speed…and not always linearly. I know: three or four days after Tiffany’s murder he called me multiple times, and he was barely comprehensible. He also called the police, the DA, and the judge. Since then, he has become a much better public speaker, but in those first days I have no problem thinking in his initial shock and grief that what he thought he said, and what the police thought he said, might not match. I.e., neither of them is lying. More likely, he just said something that got misinterpreted.
I could go on, but this is why I am uninterested in Mr. Captain’s 152 clues. Too many of the big ones simply don’t check out.
I do agree with him that Robinett and Worden-Brosey were probably guilty of more than they were convicted of doing. But if I’m right about double jeopardy, they can’t be prosecuted for more, even if Mr. Captain proves it, so at some point this all becomes a bit academic. After nearly seven years, it’s more than time to let Tiffany’s family heal.