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Alaska woman pleads guilty to killing ‘best friend’ after man catfished her and offered to pay $9 million

Denali Brehmer, 22, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the June 2019 death of Cynthia Hoffman.
/ Source: NBC News

An Alaska woman pleaded guilty to killing her “best friend” after a man she met online said he would pay her $9 million if she sent him photos and videos of her committing murder.

Denali Brehmer, 22, pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder in the June 2019 death of Cynthia Hoffman, the Alaska Department of Law said.

Cynthia Hoffman
Cynthia Hoffman, 19, was found dead along a river bank near Thunderbird Falls in Alaska on June 4, 2019. via Facebook

Hoffman, 19, died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Her body was dumped in the Eklutna River, about 27 miles northeast of Anchorage, court documents state.

The Anchorage District Attorney’s Office previously said that Brehmer, who was 18 at the time of the crime, started planning the murder after a man she met online told her that he would give her money in exchange for evidence of her killing someone.

Brehmer knew the man as “Tyler” and had begun a relationship with him, but authorities said he had catfished her and created a fake persona as a millionaire from Kansas. His real name is Darin Schilmiller from Indiana, authorities said.

Court documents state that Brehmer and Schilmiller started planning several crimes in exchange for money, including the “rape and murder of someone in Alaska.”

Brehmer chose Hoffman as the victim and recruited four friends —Kayden McIntosh, Caleb Leyland, and two other unnamed juveniles — to help her, according to authorities. Brehmer told them they would get “substantial shares of money” for helping her kill Hoffman.

Denali Brehmer stands at her arraignment in the Anchorage Correctional Center in Anchorage, Alaska
Denali Brehmer stands at her arraignment in the Anchorage Correctional Center in Anchorage, Alaska on June 9, 2019.Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News via AP file

Authorities said that Brehmer and two of the teens tricked Hoffman into coming to Thunderbird Falls under the guise of a hiking trip. They bound her hands, feet and mouth with duct tape, shot her in the back of the head, and dumped her body in the river, court documents state.

As the crime was being committed, Brehmer sent photos and videos to Schilmiller, authorities said.

After killing Hoffman, the group destroyed some of her personal belongings and texted her parents that they had dropped her off at a park. Police said there was no evidence Hoffman was sexually assaulted.

Alaska Department of Law said Wednesday that Brehmer “admitted the facts contained in the complaint initially filed in the case.” The Anchorage Police Department, FBI and other agencies assisted in investigating Hoffman’s death.

Brehmer was arrested in 2019 and indicted on first-degree murder, first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree solicitation of murder, tampering with physical evidence and two charges of second-degree murder.

Following her plea of guilty to first-degree murder, the other charges were dismissed, the Alaska Department of Law said. She is scheduled to be sentenced in August and faces 30 to 99 years in prison. Her attorney did not immediately return a request for comment on Saturday.

Schilmiller was arrested and indicted on five murder counts, online court records show.

McIntosh and Leyland were indicted on four murder counts, according to court records. McIntosh was also indicted on tampering with evidence. All three have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Their attorneys could not immediately be reached.

Hoffman’s family previously said that they believe she was targeted because she had a learning disability that “put her at a younger developmental age than her 19 years,” according to The Anchorage Daily News.

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