Crime & Courts

Anchorage woman pleads guilty to 2019 murder of teen near Thunderbird Falls

A 22-year-old Anchorage woman pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder for killing a developmentally disabled teenager near Thunderbird Falls in 2019, according to the state Department of Law.

Denali Brehmer was 18 at the time of the crime that authorities say was part of an elaborate catfishing scheme by an Indiana man accused of telling a group of teenagers he would pay them $9 million or more to rape and kill someone and send him videos of it.

Brehmer recruited four friends to kill 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman, according to documents filed with charges in the case. Kayden McIntosh, 16 at the time, and Caleb Leyland, who was then 19, are still facing numerous charges in state court, including first-degree murder. The other two teens accused in the killing entered the juvenile justice system, where proceedings are generally confidential.

Darin Schilmiller, whom authorities identified as the mastermind behind the murder plot, is facing numerous charges in state and federal courts.

Schilmiller, who was then 21, posed as a millionaire and began an online relationship with Brehmer, according to court documents. Brehmer agreed to carry out the murder for him, and charges said the teens met to plan before carrying out the act on June 2, 2019.

Hoffman was developmentally disabled, according to her family, and called Brehmer her best friend.

The teens took her to Thunderbird Falls under the guise of going for a hike, and McIntosh shot Hoffman before pushing her body into the river, charges said. Brehmer was accused of sending photos and videos of the violence to Schilmiller through Snapchat.


Schilmiller and Brehmer discussed killing a second victim, but the plan was ultimately abandoned, according to charges. He blackmailed her in the days after the murder to sexually assault a 15-year-old girl and send him photos, charges said. Brehmer is also facing numerous charges in federal court related to child pornography in that incident.

Brehmer originally entered a not guilty plea to numerous charges against her. As part of a plea agreement, Brehmer pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree murder during a hearing in Anchorage Superior Court on Wednesday, according to the Department of Law. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed charges of conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation of murder, tampering with physical evidence and two counts of second-degree murder.

Brehmer is scheduled for sentencing in August, a hearing prosecutors say is expected to span several days. She faces a minimum of 30 years in prison. A trial on federal charges against Brehmer and Schilmiller is scheduled to begin in July.