An Indiana man is accused of “catfishing” an Alaska teenager and convincing her to murder her supposed best friend for $9 million with the help of four others.
Months before the alleged hit job, 21-year-old Darin Schilmiller pretended to be a Kansas multimillionaire named “Tyler.” Using a phony moniker and headshot, he apparently wooed Denali Brehmer, 18, from nearly 4,000 miles away and solicited her to kill someone for him, according to court documents filed in Anchorage.
Brehmer and five co-conspirators picked a target for the assassination: 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman, who in charging documents was described as Brehmer’s closest friend. Cynthia went by the nickname “CeCe,” which is also spelled “CeeCee” in court papers.
Police say Brehmer and Kayden McIntosh, 16, lured Cynthia into a forest under the guise of going on a hike. But after the trio went off path, Cynthia ended up bound in duct-tape before McIntosh allegedly shot her in the head and dumped her in a river.
The disturbing killing is also tied to a child porn case filed against Schilmiller, who is accused of persuading Brehmer to create sexually explicit images and send them to him.
Last Friday, a grand jury indicted six people in Cynthia’s slaying.
Schilmiller, Brehmer, McIntosh, 19-year-old Caleb Leyland, and two minors are charged with murder in the first degree, along with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree and two counts of murder in the second degree.
Additionally, Brehmer and Schilmiller are charged with solicitation to commit murder in the first degree, and Brehmer was indicted on one count and McIntosh on four counts of tampering with physical evidence.
According to Alaska’s Department of Law, the defendants face up to 99 years behind bars for each of the murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges and up to five years in prison for each of the tampering with physical evidence charges.
Schilmiller, who is in FBI custody, will be extradited to Alaska. Arraignments for Brehemer, McIntosh, and Leyland are scheduled for tomorrow in Anchorage superior court.
The murder plot was allegedly hatched soon after Brehmer, who called herself “Angel,” and Schilmiller started their online romance.
Posing as “Tyler” from his home in New Salisbury, in southern Indiana, Schilmiller sent Brehmer a fake photograph of himself. “He does not look like the young man he portrayed himself to look like, he is not a millionaire, and he lives in Indiana,” a bail memorandum states.
Weeks before Cynthia’s murder, Schilmiller and Brehmer allegedly began to discuss raping and murdering someone in Alaska—a deed for which “Tyler” offered $9 million or more, so long as the killers sent him photos or videos of the act.
Brehmer only learned she’d been catfished after the fatal shooting, authorities say. It’s unclear if Schilmiller knew Brehmer’s real name.
Following Schilmiller’s solicitation, Brehmer recruited four of her friends, including two juvenile defendants identified as Jane Doe and John Doe. The alleged killers gathered in May or early June of this year, and all agreed to split substantial portions of the money for their roles in the execution, the memorandum states.
“Cynthia Hoffman, who was allegedly ‘best friends’ with Brehmer, was selected by the group as the murder victim,” court papers state.
Cynthia’s father, Timothy, told the Anchorage Daily News that Cynthia met Brehmer at Service High School in Anchorage. The victim, who had a developmental disability, had described Brehmer as her “best friend,” Timothy Hoffman said.
According to Timothy Hoffman, his daughter’s disability made her vulnerable, as she was intellectually at about a seventh-grade level.
“Her disability just made her want to have friends,” the grieving dad said. “That’s all she wanted, was just to be her friend.”
At an initial court appearance for McIntosh earlier this month, Timothy Hoffman said he grew worried on Sunday, June 2, when Cynthia never checked in with him; the teen usually texted him every three hours while she was out.
He described Cynthia as sweet and innocent and said she always tried to make him proud, the Daily News reported. She was studying in a post-high school life skills program and hoped to get her driving permit soon, Timothy Hoffman said.
According to her obituary, Cynthia “had worked in restaurants but truly enjoyed being her dad’s right-hand man in his handyman business.”
“Cynthia had such a kind heart and was a friend to many people. She is truly going to be missed,” the obituary stated.
The day she died, Cynthia believed she was going on a hike with her friend.
Brehmer allegedly drove McIntosh and Cynthia out to the Thunderbird Falls trail, which is along the Eklutna River. They tied Cynthia’s hands and feet with duct tape and also taped her mouth shut, according to court papers.
Leyland allowed Brehmer and Macintosh to use his car to pick up Cynthia and carry out the slaying in Thunderbird Falls, prosecutors claim.
Throughout the horrific incident, Brehmer allegedly sent videos or photos to Schilmiller. (Authorities say there’s no indication Cynthia was sexually assaulted).
After the killing, Brehmer texted Cynthia’s family and claimed to drop her off at Polar Bear Park in Anchorage. And she deleted all her messages with Schilmiller, court papers allege. Cynthia was reported missing the following day.
Authorities discovered Cynthia’s body in the creek on June 4.
Meanwhile, Schilmiller was charged with production of child pornography and attempted receipt of child pornography in federal court in Alaska.
An FBI agent’s affidavit in support of a criminal complaint details how Cynthia’s death led to a search warrant on Brehmer’s cellphone, which contained explicit images of children. Police obtained a second search warrant to look for evidence of sexual assault of a minor and photos and videos showing child porn.
Schilmiller was listed as “Babe” in the contacts section of Brehmer’s phone, and the explicit photos were sent to him in text messages from June 2 to June 4, court papers allege.
During a June 7 police interview, Brehmer informed police that Babe was a Kansas man named “Tyler,” the affidavit states.
When detectives subpoenaed Verizon for Tyler’s mobile account, they discovered the cellphone’s subscriber was an elder Schilmiller based in New Salisbury, Indiana. Police then searched the phone number on Facebook Messenger and found an account for Darin Schilmiller.
Brehmer told cops that “Tyler” directed her to sexually assault an 8- or 9-year-old and send him videos of the assaults. He allegedly directed her to also assault a 15-year-old.
The FBI affidavit detailed sickening text messages between Brehmer and Schilmiller, who wrote, “So are you going to the 14 year old??”
Brehmer replied, in part, “Gonna go buy weed first. I wanna get her high for it so she doesn’t fight me… I love you.”
Schilmiller later texted Brehmer: “I wish I never made a deal with you in the first place…we can meet but once I see a cop I’m telling him or her that I made you rape people and killed cece.”
In 2018, according to the affidavit, authorities in Harrison County, Indiana, identified Schilmiller as a person of interest in another child pornography investigation. He was allegedly using the same phone number in that case, for which no charges were filed against him.
Meanwhile, a charging document filed against McIntosh and published by Alaska Public Media details how Anchorage cops spoke with Brehmer’s mother on June 3.
The mother said Brehmer and a friend of Brehmer’s named “Anthony” were at her home the night of June 2. The pair allegedly told the woman that Anthony shot “CeeCee” in the head and dumped her in the water.
In a June 4 interview with cops, Brehmer allegedly stated that she, Cynthia and McIntosh were smoking weed and driving around Anchorage before the murder. The three friends stopped at a parking lot near Thunderbird Falls and decided to play around in the woods, before duct-taping each other and taking photos, Brehmer claimed.
“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,” the court filing states. Brehmer and McIntosh removed the tape from Cynthia’s mouth and hands, and she warned them she’d call the police and say they’d kidnapped her and sexually assaulted her, the complaint alleges.
According to Brehmer, McIntosh grabbed a 9 mm handgun from Brehmer’s hands and shot Cynthia in the back of the head. Brehmer said she thought the victim was trying to phone police as she lay wounded on the ground.
Brehmer said the victim was twitching before McIntosh shoved her into the creek, the complaint states.
McIntosh ordered Brehmer to text Cynthia’s sister and fabricate a story about dropping her off somewhere, Brehmer told police. Brehmer claimed she complied with McIntosh’s demand because she feared him.
After abandoning the victim’s body, the alleged killers took off for Anchorage, and McIntosh ended up burning Cynthia’s purse in the neighborhood of Mountain View, along with some of her clothing, her ID, and the murder weapon, court papers allege.
In his own police interview, McIntosh claimed he “blacked out” during the encounter in the wooded area, after everyone agreed to bind Cynthia with duct tape and snap photographs. McIntosh said he remembered shooting the victim and pushing her into the river. He didn’t know if Cynthia died from the gunshot or from drowning, the complaint says.
The bail memorandum states that Brehmer initially denied knowing her friend was about to be executed in the woods, telling cops McIntosh grabbed the gun from her hand.
But after cops discovered a Snapchat video in which Brehmer appeared to confess to the killing, and “once she realized she had been catfished by Schilmiller,” Brehmer admitted to participating in the murder during a second police interview, the memorandum says.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, one of Brehemer’s friends turned over one of the Snapchat videos to police.
“I just want to thank everyone that’s been there for me my whole life and these past few years and everything. I f—ed up, I know I did, if I could take back what I’ve done, I can’t,” Brehmer states, with McIntosh wandering in the background. “I’m sorry everybody, my family, my friends. I guess you will hear from me when you hear from me, but I won’t be back for a long time. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to do it.”
For his part, Leyland told cops he was going to receive $500,000 for allowing Brehmer to use his vehicle for the $9 million hit job proposed by “Tyler,” court papers allege.
Prosecutors say Schilmiller admitted to being “Tyler” and to catfishing Brehmer, who went by “Angel.” During an interview with federal agents and Indiana State Police on June 9, Schilmiller said he knew Brehmer and Cynthia were best friends. He and Brehmer had planned the rubout for three weeks, the memorandum states.
“Schilmiller stated that he chose Hoffman as the victim,” the document alleges.
According to Schilmiller, Brehmer was in touch with him throughout the murder and sent over Snapchat photos and videos of Cynthia tied up, and of her body after the shooting.
“He admitted to convincing Brehmer that he was a millionaire and that he would pay her millions of dollars to kill Hoffman,” the memorandum says. “Schilmiller further admitted he and Brehmer discussed murdering another person after Hoffman, but that the plan was ultimately abandoned.”
Schilmiller allegedly admitted to trying to blackmail Brehmer into raping people, following Cynthia’s murder, prosecutors say.
Brehmer’s half-sister, Rebekah Langdon, told the Daily News that Brehmer went by several different names both online and in person. Those aliases included Angel, Dakota Brehmer and Dakota Smith.
Langdon said that when she and her sisters were young, they were taken away from their biological mother over allegations of abuse. Brehmer was adopted and assumed the name Dakota, Langdon said.
According to Langdon, Brehmer had a baby which was put up for adoption.
Langdon told the newspaper she was horrified by the charges against Brehmer and the accusations she was involved in child porn.
“I can’t imagine what (the Hoffman) family is going through,” Langdon told the Daily News. “That’s the only reason I chose to say anything in the first place. I want people to know we’re not all like this. We want justice for Cynthia.”
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