Crime & Courts

Final defendant in Thunderbird Falls murder pleads guilty

The fourth and final defendant charged in Anchorage Superior Court for a bizarre catfishing plot to murder a teenager at Thunderbird Falls in 2019 pleaded guilty Friday.

Kayden McIntosh, who was 16 when he was arrested, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Additional charges of first- and second-degree murder and evidence tampering will be dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Superior Court Judge Andrew Peterson will determine McIntosh’s sentence, which could range from 30 to 85 years, during a hearing in November.

McIntosh was responsible for shooting 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman, charges filed in the case said. He was one of three people brought into the scheme by then-18-year-old Denali Brehmer.

Brehmer had started an online relationship with Darin Schilmiller, who pretended online to be a handsome millionaire but was really a 21-year-old living in his grandfather’s Indiana basement, his attorney wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

During their relationship, Schilmiller told Brehmer about his fetishes, which included child pornography, rape and killing people, according to testimony from an FBI agent during the sentencing hearing. He promised Brehmer he would pay her $9 million to kill someone and send him photos and videos of it, authorities have said.

She recruited four friends, including McIntosh, Kaleb Leyland and two other teens, to help her kill Hoffman, charges said. Hoffman had a developmental disability and described Brehmer as her best friend, her family has said.


The group of teens brought Hoffman to Thunderbird Falls under the guise of a hike on June 2, 2019, charges said. Once there, they veered from the trail and bound her with duct tape before McIntosh fatally shot her, investigators said. The group dumped her body in the Eklutna River, and Brehmer sent photos of the crime to Schilmiller, according to investigators.

Brehmer and Schilmiller were both sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Brehmer was also sentenced to 30 years in prison for child pornography charges in a separate but related federal case. Schilmiller had also directed Brehmer to sexually assault a young teenager in the days after Hoffman’s murder and send him photos and videos of it, according to the charges filed against him and Brehmer.

Schilmiller has pleaded guilty in the federal case but has yet to be sentenced.

Leyland pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in November. He’s scheduled for sentencing in August. Leyland could serve up to 50 years in prison, but the judge will determine his sentence at the hearing.

Cynthia Hoffman’s father, Timothy Hoffman, has attended every hearing in the case, including McIntosh’s change of plea on Friday. He said after the hearing that he believes his daughter is getting justice, but also wants all the defendants to serve maximum sentences.

Timothy Hoffman said he wants to celebrate his daughter’s life at this point. He’s organizing a motorcycle ride to Thunderbird Falls on June 2, the fifth anniversary of her death.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at