It was a regular day at the Oregon Culinary Institute on the morning of June 2, 2018. Well, at least instructor Dan Brophy thought it would be. He was filling buckets of ice and water at the kitchen sink, preparing for the day with his students. But then someone came in and shot him in the back.
As Dan fell to the ground, he was shot again in the chest at close range. His students found him lifeless a little while later. It seemed like a mystery at first. That is, until his wife’s blog came to light. Nancy Brophy had written a blog called “How to Murder Your Husband.” No, this is not a joke.
How to Murder Your Husband
Nancy Brophy is a romance novelist who wrote an essay in 2011 titled “How to Murder Your Husband.” Nancy wrote, “As a romantic suspense writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about murder and, consequently, about police procedure.”
“After all, if the murder is supposed to set me free, I certainly don’t want to spend any time in jail. And let me say clearly for the record, I don’t like jumpsuits and orange isn’t my color.” The essay ran as a guest post on another writer’s blog. Seven years later, her very own husband was murdered.
The Death Shook the Community
Dan Brophy’s death shook the community, especially the Oregon culinary world where he was working as a chef. Among those in distress was his wife. Nancy, the novelist who sold Medicare and life insurance policies, seemed quite distraught about Dan’s death.
“For those of you who are close to me and feel this deserved a phone call, you are right, but I’m struggling to make sense of everything right now,” Nancy wrote on Facebook a day after his death. Almost everyone who knew Dan was in shock and disbelief that anyone would want to harm him, let alone take his life.
Who Would Want to Kill This Man?
“I was in complete shock,” Dan’s student, Madison Amburgy, told PEOPLE in 2018. Dan, who had a particular expertise in mushrooms, was well-known in his community. In addition to his talents in the kitchen, Dan was known for his generosity, especially with the local homeless community.
His friends and students loved his dry wit; he was known for his witticisms, or “Brophyisms.” He was charming and quirky, making his students wear oven mitts when they didn’t wash their hands, or making them don a sombrero or a clown hat if they left their chef’s hats at home.
Maybe It Was for His Pension Money
Why, then, if Dan was such a stellar guy, would someone want him dead? It didn’t take long for authorities to look toward Nancy, his 71- year-old wife of over two decades and the author of the eerily relevant essay. In September 2018, she was officially charged with her husband’s murder.
The way the prosecution saw it, Nancy had it all planned out. They claim that she killed Dan to benefit from a $1.5 million life insurance policy. She “executed what she perhaps believed to be the perfect plan,” Attorney Shawn Overstreet told the jury.
Struggling Month to Month
Reportedly, the Brophys had been struggling financially for years leading up to the murder, barely surviving month-to-month. They were falling behind on their mortgage repayments. Her self-published novels were financial flops. After Dan’s death, she was supposed to receive $300,000 in home equity and $1.15 million in insurance payouts.
Let’s not forget that she was an insurance agent, and she reportedly had sold the policies to herself. “Dan Brophy was content in his simplistic lifestyle, but Nancy Brophy wanted something more,” the prosecution argued. “As Nancy Brophy became more financially desperate and her writing career was floundering, she was left with few options.”
A Seemingly Perfect Relationship
“All of the leads that detectives followed up with all pointed back at Nancy Brophy.” As for Nancy’s defense attorney, Lisa Maxfield, she argued that Nancy had no reason to kill her husband and did not benefit from his death.
Maxfield told the jury that Nancy “has always been thoroughly, madly, crazy in love with Daniel Brophy, and she still is today.” Apparently, she was the love of his life. They had a seemingly perfect relationship. Even Dan’s students could see it; he would fondly refer to his wife in his classroom as his “management.”
She Was the “Love of His Life”
“She was the love of his life,” Dan’s student Travis Richartz told PEOPLE. Furthermore, the affection looked to be mutual. On Nancy’s website, she described her marriage honestly as having “ups and downs” but there were “more good times than bad.”
She added, “for those of you who have longed for this, let me caution you. The old adage is true. Be careful what you wish for, when the gods are truly angry, they grant us their wishes.” Incriminating or not, Nancy wrote a lot about her husband.
She Found “Mr. Right”
“I can’t tell you when I fell in love with my husband, but I can relate the moment I decided to marry him. I was in the bath. It was a big tub. I expected him to join me and when he was delayed, I called out, ‘Are you coming?'”
She wrote that Dan’s answer convinced her that he was “Mr. Right.” He called out to her, “Yes, but I’m making hors d’oeuvres.” She then offered the question to her readers, “Can you imagine spending the rest of your life without a man like that?”
Authorities Didn’t Buy It
She wrote, “in the beautiful, green and very wet Northwest, married to a Chef whose mantra is: life is a science project. As a result, there are chickens and turkeys in my backyard, a fabulous vegetable garden… and a hot meal on the table every night.”
Those who knew the couple saw it as a good relationship. But the authorities weren’t convinced. One issue was the fact that there were no surveillance cameras in the culinary institute (which is now defunct). Still, prosecutors argued that Nancy was seen on video surveillance driving her minivan around the institute on the morning of his murder.
On the Morning of the Murder
It was discovered that Nancy bought a 9mm pistol at a Portland gun show prior to that day. She then switched out the gun’s barrel with a Glock slide and barrel, which she purchased on eBay. According to prosecutors, she was thus “able to present a new, fully intact firearm to police that would not be a match to the shell casings that she left at the crime scene.”
Nancy told detectives that she and Dan bought the pistol after the Parkland, Florida school shooting, but she insisted that they never used it and never even bought ammunition for the gun. Nancy’s lawyer claimed Nancy bought the slide and barrel for “research purposes.”
The Perfect Murder
For several months after Dan was killed, the murder was a mystery. There were no signs of a struggle and no known enemies of his. Some mystery man (or woman) literally walked up, killed him, and vanished. But then investigators started digging into Nancy’s online activity.
The detectives unearthed evidence, but the truth is Nancy’s writing was considered circumstantial. Juicy, for sure, but anecdotal. What there was, however, was a motive. There were six life insurance policies that Nancy stood to collect upon her husband’s untimely death.
Motive: Check. Murder Weapon: Check
The sum was boosted by several hundred thousand dollars if Dan were to die on the job. Motive: check. As for the murder weapon, there was the pistol Nancy allegedly bought on eBay after visiting www.ghostguns.com. It matched the 9mm handgun she said she and Dan bought but never used.
Murder weapon: check. Detectives never recovered the slide and barrel that she bought on eBay. And Nancy deleted her eBay account days after the murder. Then, there was the security footage, which contradicted what Nancy told the police about the morning of the murder.
The Surveillance Footage Reveals
She had told police that she stayed home after Dan left for work that morning, but the surveillance footage revealed she was near the scene of the crime, driving her Toyota minivan in two directions: once at 6:39 a.m., toward the shooting, and again at 7:28 a.m., driving towards the exit.
Dan had been killed in that window of time. “Although that first shot likely paralyzed Dan Brophy and rendered him immobile, lying on his back, Nancy Brophy then walked over to the helpless victim and shot him again at close range, also piercing the heart and ensuring that Daniel Brophy would die,” prosecutors claimed.
Making National Headlines
The most sensational aspect of the case was, by far, Nancy’s writing. Hell, the woman wrote a how-to guide on killing a husband. Can it get any more suspicious? Nancy wrote in a post on her website, “Writers are liars. I don’t remember who said that, but it’s not true.”
“In writing fiction, you dig deep and unearth portions of your own life that you’ve long forgotten or had purposely buried deep.” Once The Oregonian unearthed Nancy’s piece of How to Murder Your Husband, the case made national headlines.
First Things First: Motives
In an early section of the notorious essay, titled Motives, Nancy details the financial motive for murdering your husband. It was all very tongue-in-cheek, but creepy, nonetheless. “This is big. Divorce is expensive, and do you really want to split your possessions? Or if you married for money, aren’t you entitled to all of it?”
“The draw back,” she wrote, is that “the police aren’t stupid.” She told her female readers that they would be targeted. “So, you have to be organized, ruthless and very clever. Husbands have disappeared from cruise ships before. Why not yours?”
Next Up: The Weapon of Choice
Nancy advises her readers to avoid crimes of passion, because there’s “a trail that leads directly to you,” and “does not look like a stranger was involved.” Besides, “who’s going to clean the blood from your carpeting?” she asks.
The next step is getting the job done, and Nancy started with guns as a murder weapon. She acknowledged that they’re “loud, messy, [and] require some skill.” She wrote that if it takes “10 shots for the sucker to die,” then you either suck at aiming or the man’s on drugs.
Knives, Poison, and Hitmen: No
And forget about knives. Knives mean “blood everywhere,” which for Nancy, is “Eww.” A garrote (or a throttle) is not worth it since it requires a lot of upper body strength to strangle a person. There’s the option of poison, what she calls “a woman’s weapon,” but it takes too long.
“Plus, they are sick the entire time. Who wants to hang out with a sick husband?” Again, all very tongue-in-cheek. As for hiring a hitman. “Who knows hitmen?” she asked her readers. “And an amazing number of hit men rat you out to the police. Or blackmail you later.”
Everyone Has It in Them
Nancy also considered the options of a “heavy piece of equipment” or “hiring a lover,” but both are problematic for different reasons that she explains in the essay. In the end, she made it a point to add, “I find it easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them.”
The thing she knows about murder, she wrote, “is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough.” Was Nancy pushed to her limit? To commit the very act she wrote about in such detail?
She Knew the Day Was Coming
Not only did detectives find the ghost gun purchase, but they also discovered that Nancy had bookmarked a post called “10 Ways to Cover Up a Murder” in an iTunes account that she and her husband shared.
When arrested in the fall of 2018, she was quoted as asking the police “You’re arresting me? You must think I murdered my husband.” Next came the murder charge. For Dan’s family members, “there’s no question in their minds who caused his death.” The problem, though, was that it was all circumstantial evidence. Nothing concrete.
In the Name of Covid
It took three years for Nancy to face trial, which began in early April 2022. That means Dan’s family had to wait all that time for justice. Nancy, meanwhile, had been waiting behind bars in her least favorite color, orange.
Why did it take three years? Well, the pandemic is largely to blame, and Nancy’s lawyers were accused of using the pandemic to squirm out of the consequences. They tried to set a motion to let her await trial in a guest house – so she would’nt get Covid.
Not Guilty, Your Honor
They also tried to delay the trial on the idea that older jurors – who would be more likely to view the defendant in a favorable light – would probably skip jury duty for fears of catching the virus. They tried, failed, and finally had to face the music. The trial was set.
She pleaded not guilty to the murder. What might come as a surprise to some is that on the first day of the trial, Nancy’s blog post, How to Murder Your Husband, was already excluded from the trial’s evidence.
On a Path of Financial Ruin? Or Not…
Judge Ramras agreed to exclude the blog since “Any minimal probative value of an article written that long ago is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues.”
Also on the first day, the financial challenges of the Brophys were discussed. While the prosecution argued that Nancy was “on a path of financial ruin” at the time of the murder, the defense claimed that things were actually starting to look up for the couple. The prosecution then pointed to all of Nancy’s gun purchases…
A Plot to Murder? Or Research for a Novel…
Nancy was spending a lot of money on firearms. In late 2017, she began researching “ghost guns” online, which the prosecution argued was the first step in plotting her husband’s murder. The defense? That she was doing research for her new novel.
What was the novel about? A woman in an abusive relationship who wanted to get a gun but she couldn’t because she had been previously hospitalized for depression. In the end, Nancy bought a ghost gun build kit. When she couldn’t figure out how to assemble it, the prosecution argued she looked for another gun.
She Had Reasons for the Guns
Investigators did find the first two guns she purchased, but not the slide and barrel that she bought on eBay. But, as the defense pointed out, Nancy has bought unusual items for her research before, like night-vision goggles and a telescope.
Besides, Nancy “felt compelled” to buy a gun after learning that many Brophy family members owned guns, and after hearing about the mass shootings that had recently occurred. Apparently, she also wanted Dan to take a gun with him whenever he went out mushroom picking.
Finding the Body
The first witnesses on the stand were Kathleen Dooley, a student at the institute, and Dorothy Sadie Damon, the only other instructor in the building at the time. Dooley was the one who called 911 the morning of Dan’s murder.
But it was another student, Clarinda Perez, who found Dan dead on the floor and performed CPR while Dooley called for help. Dooley had located Damon, who was in the bathroom when Dooley found her. Damon said that Dan usually arrived at the building before her and unlocked the doors.
“It Was Obvious That Dan Was Gone”
Damon said she hadn’t seen Dan yet that morning, which wasn’t unusual. She also said that as the students were trying to help Dan, no one realized that he had been shot. Eventually, she said, “it was obvious that Dan was gone.” Soon enough, emergency personnel arrived.
Perez described what it was like to use CPR on her instructor. “His chest was really squishy,” she told the courtroom in sobs, “and I thought I had broken a rib because as I continued to do compressions, my hands started getting full of blood.” She didn’t know he was shot.
Nancy Gets the Call
She stopped the compressions once the paramedics arrived. The students only learned of the gunshots from one of the parole officers. Maxine Borcherding, who taught with Dan at OCI for several years, was called about an “incident” at the building that day.
After trying to reach Dan without success, she decided to call Nancy. Nancy then told her that she would go down there “to see what was going on.” Next in line to hear of the news was Dan’s mother, Karen Brophy. Nancy was the one to call her. At that point, Karen didn’t know her son was shot.
Dan’s Mom Gets the Call
Karen told the courtroom that Nancy told her she didn’t want to go down to the institute because of all the police cars that would be in the area. “She sounded like Nancy, calm,” Karen testified. “It didn’t sound like she was panicking.”
Karen urged Nancy to go and see what was going on. Finally, Karen heard from Nancy who was “in the car speaking to police” and that “It was Dan.” It was then that Nancy started crying. Karen was “devastated” after hearing of her son’s death and can’t remember the rest of her conversation with Nancy.
Officer Cassandra Wells, one of the first Portland Police Officers at the scene, stood with Nancy after she learned her husband was dead. Wells said Nancy started crying right away and she gave her a hug.
He Wasn’t a Gun Guy
Another witness in the trial was Woodson Bailey. He worked with Dan and the two would spend time together outside of work. Bailey said that Dan never told him about any financial troubles. All four witnesses who testified on day four of the trial agreed on one thing: Dan was not a gun guy.
“Dan didn’t like guns. Dan did not have a gun,” Bailey said. Jack Brophy, Dan’s father, also testified and said he never knew his son and Nancy owned a firearm. Karen, however, recalled talking to Nancy about guns, and her desire to own one, about a year before the murder.
Loans and Missing Cars
Jack and Karen Brophy were very supportive of Dan and Nancy. They gave Nancy a $50,000 loan about seven years prior to help her open a sandwich shop. Jack said Nancy said Dan only paid back about 25% of the loan. Eventually, they told the couple to forget about paying them aback.
Jack and Karen also gave Daniel and Nancy $2,000 and their own Toyota minivan after Nancy’s Prius “disappeared.” Nancy had told Jack that she sold the Prius to a friend, only to later find out that wasn’t true. Nancy spoke about selling the house before Dan died, and after his murder, she wasted little time in prepping the house for a sale.
Dan Had “Changed”
Both of Dan’s parents believe Nancy was pushing Dan to sell; he liked their home and was happy to stay put. Something else that “disappeared” quickly after the murder were Dan’s chickens on their property. Karen also told the court that her son had apparently “changed” in his final years.
About a year before he died, Nancy had told Karen that Dan was different. She told Karen that all he wanted to do was lie down on the couch and watch sports (Karen said her son was never a sports guy). Jack said he believed Nancy and Dan were sleeping in separate bedrooms.
“I Want Him Back!”
At the crime scene, detectives interviewed Nancy, which is when she told them that she had been home when her husband left for work. She also told them of the gun they bought at the gun show, but insisted that they never used it.
“It was heavy and it felt terrible,” she was heard saying in the recording. “Frankly, I couldn’t imagine ever needing it.” During her interview, she grew emotional a number of times. She would cry, then organize her thoughts, and then continue giving the police more information. At one point, she cried, “I want him back! That’s the part I want. I don’t care who shot him. I just want him back.”
Nancy Becomes the Main Suspect
At the time of her interview, detective Anthony Merrill testified, Nancy was not considered a suspect. But once they found surveillance footage of the van that matched her Toyota Sienna minivan near the scene of the crime, they started to suspect the wife.
No one else in the entire investigation proved suspicious. “I feel like we went the extra mile on this investigation. I feel like we worked our butts off on this investigation,” Merrill testified. “We were searching for information about anybody and everybody.” Nancy remained the main suspect.
Nancy Asks for a Favor
Cell tower records showed that Nancy’s cellphone had stayed in her home until about 10:20 a.m., which is when she drove down to the institute to see what was happening. So, if she committed the crime, she knew to leave her cellphone at home.
Four days after the murder, Nancy called the police to ask the detective on the case to write a letter for her. She wanted a statement in writing that she was no longer a suspect in her husband’s death; she wanted to give the letter to her insurance company.
They Would Never Do That
Nancy told the detective that she needed the letter “Because they don’t want to pay if it turns out that I secretly went down to the school and shot my husband because I thought ‘hey, going into old age without Dan after 25 years is really what I’m looking for.’”
Detective Darren Posey told her on the phone that they “would never do something like that” – that it’s never been done. It turns out Nancy had filed several insurance policies, valued in the “hundreds of thousands” on the same day as that call with the detective.
Matching the Vans
When the surveillance footage of the minivan was seen in court, it was claimed that the van matched Nancy’s. “After looking at [the van] through the other video footage… it did appear to be the same subject vehicle,” Detective Guay stated.
The van in the footage also had a scratch that matched the photos of Nancy’s van. Then it came time to review the gun Nancy told them about. It was a Glock 17 gen. 4, 9 mm pistol. According to a detective, the slide lock was not in its natural resting position as was when it was first presented to him.
The Next-Door-Neighbor Story
The trial discussed the “unusual” interaction Nancy had with her neighbor on the morning of Dan’s murder. Next-door-neighbor Heidi Hutchinson told the court that she spotted Nancy in her car before Nancy asked her if she had seen their missing dogs. It occurred to Hutchison as strange since they had looked for their dogs before, but never by car.
“To look for the dogs, it’s always been walking with the leashes, and we’d help her go down the backyard without gates…,” Hutchinson testified. “So, that early in the morning to drive looking for them was different.”
The Verdict Is In
Prosecutors called in Andrea Jacobs, a former cellmate of Nancy’s, to testify. “She told me that he was shot two times to the heart, and she showed me the distance,” Jacobs testified. She said Nancy stretched out her arms and said, “it was about this far.”
Finally, in May 2022, Nancy was found guilty by a jury of murdering Daniel Brophy. By mid June, she was sentenced to life in prison. “(I’m) just very, very thankful that everything has turned out the way it has,” Brophy’s mother, Karen, said outside the courtroom. “It’s been a long three and a half years.”