Catfished and driven to kill by the lure of millions of dollars by a man pretending to be wealthy, a woman in Alaska pleaded guilty this week to murdering a young girl who thought her killer was her “best friend.”
Denali Brehmer, 22, was 18 years old when the offer came.
A person who identified himself as “Tyler” and who claimed to be from Kansas said he would pay her $9 million to kidnap and murder 18-year-old Cynthia “CeeCee” Hoffman – and to send the mysterious benefactor photographic evidence of the horrific crime along the way.
Tantalized by the promise of money, Brehmer admittedly tricked the girl into going on a hike through Thunderbird Falls after a trip to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in Chugiak, Alaska, north of Anchorage.
There, the defendant and an accomplice bound the girl with duct tape and shot her in the head – all the while documenting the murder for the man who had asked. Her body was dumped into a river near the waterfall, police believe, possibly while Hoffman was still alive, according to Anchorage-based NBC affiliate KTUU.
According to her father, CeeCee Hoffman had a learning disability that kept her from being the best at academics, but she followed through and graduated in 2018 from Service High. After school, she and her sisters worked with their dad on job sites, measuring windows, churning concrete, and working hard. The weekend she disappeared, she was supposed to get some cash from her dad and go to the mall – a reward for helping him prepare a camper. She told her dad she was on the way to get her portion of the money. But she never did.
“In this family, you all have phones,” the girl’s father, Timothy Hoffman, Sr. told the TV station hours after learning of her death in early June 2019. “When dad calls, you answer. I don’t care if you’re at church and the holy pastor is preaching. I don’t care if you’re at school taking the high school diploma test. If dad calls, you answer.”
There never was an answer. The victim was killed on June, 2, 2019. Her body was found by police a few days later.
19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman was last seen @ the Polar Bear Playground @ Russian Jack Springs Park in Anchorage, Alaska on Sunday @ 4:40PM. She is developmentally disabled & has the mind of a 12-year-old. Contact Anchorage PD @ 907-786-8900 with any info about her disappearance. pic.twitter.com/RDGebGcZpM
— Missing Persons Planet (@Home4theMissing) June 5, 2019
Initially, then-homeless 16-year-old Kayden McIntosh was arrested in connection with Hoffman’s death. Authorities said he quickly confessed to the killing – but insisted Brehmer brought the gun.
“[T]he three of them agreed to duct tape each other and take photographs,” Anchorage Police detective Brendan Lee wrote in an affidavit describing Brehmer’s narrative of the murder obtained by KTUU. “CeeCee was bound by her ankles and wrists with duct tape. She also had grey duct tape placed over her mouth. However, CeeCee started to panic. They removed the duct tape from CeeCee’s mouth and hands. CeeCee began to tell them she was going to call the police and tell them they had kidnapped her and sexually assaulted her.”
Lee also recounted what McIntosh allegedly said happened that day.
“CeeCee started panicking and threatening to call the police on them,” the detective wrote. “He stated he ‘blacked out’, but that he remembers shooting CeeCee and pushing her into the river.”
On Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Law announced that Brehmer pleaded guilty to one count of murder in the first degree. Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Peterson accepted the plea.
As part of her plea agreement, prosecutors dropped charges of conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree, solicitation of murder in the first degree, tampering with physical evidence, and two charges of murder in the second degree. The admission did not come with any agreement about Brehmer’s potential sentence, the DOL said. She faces a minimum sentence of 30 years and a maximum sentence of 99 years. A three-day sentencing hearing is slated to begin Aug. 22.
“It was a sign of relief in that this is almost over,” Hoffman Sr. told KTUU after Judge Peterson accepted the plea. “All I want is me and my daughter to have peace, and to have peace this has to be done. But my job is to make sure that all (involved) do time for what they’ve done.”
In text messages after the crime, the grieving father said, Brehmer assured him his daughter would “come home safe.”
An Indiana man, Darin Mitchell Schilmiller, was interviewed by FBI agents in late June 2019. He allegedly confessed to being the mastermind behind it all and told federal authorities that he selected CeeCee Hoffman as the victim. He is charged with numerous federal child pornography charges. He is also charged with murder in Alaska.
Brehmer also faces federal child pornography charges.
A third identified defendant, Caleb Leyland, 23, allegedly let Brehmer and McIntosh borrow the car the three traveled in that day. He is also charged with murder by Alaskan authorities.
Two other unnamed individuals are alleged to have been involved.
Trial dates are not yet set for Schilmiller, Leyland, and McIntosh. They have a shared court appearance set for Mar. 15.
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