Pretending to be someone you are not online is known as catfishing, and it happens often, with some 20,000 reported victims every year. Catfishers generally pose as attractive men or women to lure strangers into a web of lies for their gain or benefit.
Catfishers pretend to be someone else for a personal game of some type. It can be carried out in an act of retaliation, anger, sadness, to boost their ego, or mere pettiness. Each catfish has a different motive for their actions.
Catfishing for Murder
The catfish who befriended Anchorage, Alaska, woman Denali Brehmer in 2019 had far more sinister desires. He wanted Denali to sexually assault and murder someone. If she videotaped the crimes and sent him photographs, he’d pay her $9 million, a small amount of money for a millionaire.
He said his name was Tyler, a Kansas millionaire who fell madly in love with 22-year-old Denali after meeting her online. The two quickly formed a close bond and within months, had begun making murder plans.
Tyler was actually Darin Schilmiller, an average Joe living in Indiana
Darin and Denali exchanged numerous messages discussing how she would ‘rape’ and ‘murder’ someone in Alaska. It took Denali no time to choose the victim. She’d kill her best friend, 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman, aka CeCee, with help from four of her closest friends.
Denali promised two unnamed juveniles and Kayden McIntosh and Caleb Leyland part of the $9 million she had been promised to help her carry out Hoffman’s murder.
According to Denali’s dad, his daughter suffered from learning disabilities that made it difficult to find friends. He said Denali would do anything asked of her if it meant making a new friend.
Cynthia Hoffman Disappears From Home
On June 2, 2019, CeCe left the house to hang out with friends. When she never returned home, Timothy Hoffman knew something was wrong. He tried to report her missing when she had not returned home that evening, only to be told he must wait 24 hours to report her missing.
Denali called Timothy several times throughout the night, telling him how she hoped CeCe was okay. The two had been best friends for years, so Timothy did not find the calls strange, at least not initially.
CeCe’s body was found two days later in the Eklutna River. She suffered a gunshot wound to the back of the head. As Anchorage police investigated the death, they found evidence that helped them piece together details pretty quickly. As a result, they brought Denali into the station for questioning.
Denali Confesses to Murder
Denali told police the group played a game where they’d all take turns being duct-taped. CeCe went first, allowing the others to tape up her mouth, arms, hands, and feet.
CeCe knew it wasn't a game when Denali retrieved a gun and pointed it at her. Seconds later, Tyler grabbed the gun and shot CeCe in the head.
Cece never agreed to be tied up, of course.
Excited about her deed, Denali told Tyler what she had done. She immediately knew that she had been duped.
Denali led detectives to the others who participated in the murder. The individuals Denali recruited had been arrested for murder within a few days. Katie was a minor at the time, although was charged as an adult.
Schilmiller was also arrested and charged with murder and other crimes.
Denali accepted a plea deal in the case in February 2023. She will spend at least 30 years behind bars. Schilmiller pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in August 2023. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Leyland pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in November 2023. He is expected to be sentenced to 75 years in prison with 25 years suspended at his June 2024 sentencing hearing.