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Crime & Courts

Indiana man offered millions of dollars to teens to kill Cynthia Hoffman, new charges say

A 21-year-old Indiana man implicated this week in the killing of Cynthia Hoffman promised millions of dollars to the teens who killed her in exchange for images of the killing, new charges against him claim.

Investigators believe Darin Schilmiller of New Salisbury, Indiana, posed as a millionaire named “Tyler” online and offered 18-year-old Denali Brehmer $9 million or more to “rape and murder someone in Alaska," according to court documents indicting the six people who are accused in Hoffman’s death.

In return, Brehmer was supposed to send photos and videos of the killing back to Schilmiller, according to the court documents.

Court documents say Brehmer recruited four of her friends -- Kayden McIntosh, 16; Caleb Leyland, 19; and two other teens whose names haven’t been released because of their ages -- to help plan and carry out the killing of 19-year-old Hoffman.

From left, Kayden McIntosh, 16, Denali Brehmer, 18, and Caleb Leyland, 19, have been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman near the Thunderbird Falls trail last week. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Investigators allege the five teens gathered at some point in May or early June to plan the killing and selected Hoffman, whose family said she has a developmental disability, as the victim. Hoffman had previously described Brehmer as her “best friend," according to family members.

The teens told police each of them was supposed to receive a share of Schilmiller’s promised reward for their role in the killing. Leyland, who is accused of lending his car to Brehmer and McIntosh to use in the killing, told police he was promised $500,000, according to documents in the case.

Prosecutors allege that after the killing, Brehmer learned she was being catfished.

[A bail memorandum in the case originally indicated that Brehmer went ahead with the killing even after realizing she had been catfished. The original bail memorandum said "the murder was planned once (Brehmer) realized she had been catfished by Schilmiller.” But on Sunday, the Department of Law issued a correction, saying the bail memorandum had been misinterpreted and Brehmer had not in fact known the Tyler story was false until after Hoffman’s slaying. The state’s updated bail memorandum says that “once Brehmer realized she had been catfished by Schilmiller, she ultimately admitted to being solicited by Schilmiller to commit the murder,” according to the Department of Law.]

Investigators believe Brehmer sent Snapchat videos and photos to Schilmiller that showed Hoffman bound with duct tape. She also sent images of Hoffman’s body after the killing, the charges say. The indictment alleges there is no evidence that Hoffman was sexually assaulted.

Brehmer and McIntosh are accused of driving with Hoffman to Thunderbird Falls in Chugiak on June 2 under the guise of going on a hiking trip. Once they arrived, the charges against them say, the trio went off the trail and walked along the bank of the Eklutna River until they came to a clearing, where McIntosh and Brehmer duct taped Hoffman’s hands, feet and mouth.

Cynthia Hoffman, 19, was killed Sunday, June 2, 2019, near the Thunderbird Falls trail in the Chugiak area. (Photo courtesy Hoffman family)

McIntosh then used Brehmer’s 9mm handgun to shoot Hoffman once in the head before pushing her body into the river, according to charging documents. Afterward, the charges say, two attempted to burn Hoffman’s belongings and sent misleading text messages to her family claiming she had been dropped off at Polar Bear Park.

Schilmiller was implicated in the homicide after Anchorage police found images on Brehmer’s phone that allegedly show the 18-year-old sexually assaulting girls between ages 8 and 15. Federal child pornography charges against Schilmiller claim he urged Brehmer via text to carry out and send pictures of the assault.

Their text conversation also contained a reference to Hoffman’s murder. Schilmiller told investigators he blackmailed Brehmer after the killing into committing the assaults, which happened the day after Hoffman’s death.

The two had apparently also discussed killing a second victim, but the plan was ultimately abandoned, Schilmiller told investigators.

Schilmiller was taken into custody in Indiana on federal charges related to the child pornography he allegedly received from Brehmer. He is awaiting extradition to Alaska on a $1 million arrest warrant.

Brehmer, McIntosh and Leyland are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, June 18.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Denali Brehmer realized she was being catfished by Darin Schilmiller before the slaying of Cynthia Hoffman, based on a state bail memorandum. The state Department of Law issued a correction to that filing on Sunday, saying Brehmer didn’t learn of the alleged catfishing scheme until after the murder.

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