Alaska teens allegedly kill friend in twisted catfishing scheme after $9M offer

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What started as a case of catfishing in Alaska spurred a twisted series of events that U.S. prosecutors say led an 18-year-old to murder her best friend.

Investigators in Anchorage say Denali Brehmer unraveled a plot to murder 19-year-old Cynthia Hoffman on the promise she would get paid.

Brehmer was allegedly offered $9 million to “rape and murder someone in Alaska” by a man she met online.

That man, identified in court documents as 21-year-old Darin Schilmiller, told Brehmer that she needed to provide “photographs and/or videos of the murder” and send it to him if she wanted the money.

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“Brehmer agreed to commit the murder for him,” the documents say.

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With the help of four friends, police say Hoffman was coaxed on a June 2 hike where she was ambushed, bound with duct tape and shot once in the back of the head.

Police say her body was then thrown into a river. It was discovered by police officers two days later.

Evidence in the case allegedly shows that Brehmer was sending messages, including photos and videos of the incident, “through the duration of the event,” the documents say.

Investigators uncovered nothing to suggest Hoffman was sexually assaulted.

Cynthia Hoffman appears in this undated photo.

While prosecutors don’t believe Brehmer pulled the trigger, she was later charged with first-degree murder, among other offences.

The others allegedly involved, 19-year-old Caleb Leyland, 16-year-old Kayden McIntosh and two unnamed youth, face the same. McIntosh is being tried as an adult.

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Court documents show Brehmer was wooed by Schilmiller who was posing as a man named “Tyler” – a young millionaire who claimed to live in Kansas. The two started an online relationship which went on for several months.

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As court documents put it, Schilmiller “does not look like the young man he portrayed himself to look like, he is not a millionaire, and he lives in Indiana.”

When Schilmiller was interviewed by authorities one week later, the documents say he admitted to being “Tyler” and confessed to being the mastermind behind the plot.

He is being extradited to Alaska on a slew of offences, including child pornography charges, coercion, and enticement of a minor.

A bail memorandum later indicated Brehmer had not in fact known she was being catfished until after the killing.

“Once Brehmer realized she had been catfished by Schilmiller, she ultimately admitted to being solicited by Schilmiller to commit the murder,” the documents say.

Two other women later came forward with claims that Schilmiller – someone they went to high school with – also tried to catfish them online.

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The women told Anchorage Daily News that they communicated with Schilmiller, who was then going by the names “Austin” or “Dylan,” on Meet Me and Snapchat.

Eventually, he told each of them he “had a problem,” but wouldn’t divulge the details unless they sent inappropriate videos of their young children.

Both women denied the request. When one of the two women became suspicious and challenged the man named “Austin,” she said Schilmiller confessed his true identity.

Catfishing — the act of deceiving someone using a fake online persona — is not a new phenomenon.

The act took on new life in part thanks to a 2010 documentary Catfish where Nev Schulman learns the nine-month relationship he’s had with a woman online is actually fake.

Schulman eventually discovers the person he had been communicating with was married and had used photos of a model to create the moniker.

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While catfishing isn’t outright illegal, the actions of the person engaging in the catfishing usually ends “in some form of illegal activity at some point,” according to Legal Resources.

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In Canada, it is a criminal offence to impersonate someone or use their identity if it’s done for financial or personal gain. The Criminal Code defines impersonation as another form or identity fraud or theft, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

However, there is no law specifically forbidding a person to create a fake account online.

In the U.S., online impersonation laws vary from state to state. Currently, there are no federally mandated internet impersonation laws.

Some states, such as California, have ruled the impersonation of somebody online as a misdemeanor or a third-degree felony. Those convicted could face fines and depending on the crime, some jail time.

Arizona attempted in 2013 to couch online impersonation with identity theft laws in the state, but free speech advocates killed the bill.