ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A 2017 graduate of North Harrison High School in Indiana is under arrest in a gruesome murder-for-hire killing carried out by teenagers in Alaska. State of Alaska prosecutors say 21-year-old Darin Schilmiller of New Salisbury, a small, rural farming community near Indiana's southern border with Kentucky, "is one of the primary actors in Ms. Hoffman's murder."
Cynthia Hoffman was found dead near Thunderbird Falls on June 4. (Courtesy Timothy Hoffman)
The State of Alaska filed murder charges just days after federal prosecutors arrested Schilmiller in a separate but tangential case: production and attempted solicitation of child pornography.
Evidence of sexual violence against minors was discovered on Schilmiller's phone and the phone of an 18-year-old in Alaska he'd become involved with while using a fake online identity.
Alaska's Denali Brehmer and a man she thought was a millionaire named Tyler from Kansas traded "I love you's" on their iPhones and discussed raping and killing someone for weeks leading up to the murder, according an affidavit from an FBI agent filed in court, which also states Schilmiller had offered to pay $9 million for the murder.
Now, Schilmiller, who until his arrest was living with an older relative in a single-story brick home on nearly two acres of land, is in the custody of U.S. Marshals, held on a $1 million bail requirement and facing state and federal charges that could result in life in prison.
"Please leave me and my family alone," a man who answered a phone call at the Schilmiller residence told KTUU Monday. "We have nothing to say."
The man, who did not identify himself, said only that the family was itself trying to make sense of what was going on. And that it "would be up to the courts to decide."
Several former schoolmates of Schilmiller's described an incredibly shy young man who struggled in school, treated others well, and was more likely to be bullied than to bully others.
But a troubling side also emerged among the descriptions.
"I don't think that anybody thought he would ever kill anybody but the child pornography--he definitely had a problem there," Jaden Pohle, 18, told KTUU in a phone interview. She attended middle school and high school two years behind Schilmiller, who is older.
Pohle left her home and drove up the road to have a cellular signal strong enough for a good connection to speak with us.
She said Schilmiller used to relentlessly ask her for bikini photos, and once, tried to friend her with a fake profile.
As the years went on and classmates became parents, it was well known among the town on some 600 people that Schilmiller asked the moms he knew for images of their children, Pohle said.
Another woman, Shiann Arnold, told KTUU she'd had first-hand experience with the disturbing requests, conned by Schilmiller, she said, under a fake name and dating profile as recently as this January.
KTUU found numerous online profiles for Schilmiller spanning many years across multiple social media platforms. The common themes? A strong desire to find friends and connect with women.
Arnold told Channel 2 that after the fraudulent courtship began, Schilmiller, using a fake name, confessed: "I have a problem I want to tell someone and I don't know how."
But, before he would reveal his secret, Arnold said he first wanted her to send diaper change photos of her daughters.
Distressed at the request, and growing suspicious of the profile, she ended their interaction, she said.
The sequence of events echoes a 2018 child pornography investigation detailed by the FBI in court records. As agents looked into his past, they learned Harrison County had looked into a claim by a California woman that Schilmiller had contacted her and requested images of infants and dirty diapers. The case was closed with no action taken.
In his relationship with Brehmer, investigators say the familiar refrain surfaced again. In text messages to Brehmer. Schilmiller--under the identity of "Tyler"--confesses to a child porn fetish and rape fantasies, according to excerpts of conversations detailed by an agent with the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force.
Several acquaintances of Schilmiller's have told KTUU Schilmiller's affinity for images of young children was well-known--an open secret they didn't recognize as a deepening problem.
"I think most people just thought it was because he didn't know... like he was just slow," Pohle said.
Now, the tight-knit community is looking at that odd vibe they said Schilmiller exuded in hindsight, wondering how he became involved in a bizarre murder plot centered on sex and lies and carried out from afar. A plot that relied, prosecutors have said, on the willing participation of teenagers in Alaska.
The FBI has said there is no evidence murder victim Cynthia Hoffman was sexually assaulted. But she was bound and executed--shot in the head and pushed into a river--violence prosecutors say Brehmer and a 16-year-old carried out themselves, but which relied on planning from all six individuals involved.
According to prosecutors, Brehmer was in direct contact with Schilmiller as the kidnapping and murder unfolded at a scenic Alaska hiking spot and overlook one day before the Indiana man's twenty-first birthday.
"He knew the difference between right and wrong. He didn't steal. He really didn't do anything bad," Pohle said. "I guess he just didn't understand life."
Co-defendants Denali Brehmer, 18, Kayden McIntosh, 16, and Caleb Leyland, 19, are scheduled for arraignment Tuesday on the murder charges.
Schilmiller is in the custody of U.S. Marshals and is expected to be transferred to Alaska to face charges.
Two unnamed juveniles are also charged with murder. McIntosh, who is accused of firing the gun the day of the murder, is being tried as an adult.
Channel 2 will be in the courtroom Tuesday to see at least three of the suspects arraigned for their accused roles in the death of Cynthia Hoffman: Denali Brehmer, Kayden Mcintosh, and Caleb Leyland.
It’s unclear if Darin Schilmiller will be present for the arraignment. Nor is Channel 2 expecting the appearance of the two unnamed juveniles charged in connection with Cynthia Hoffman’s murder.
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