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True crime. Casually done.

Nancy Crampton Brophy: How to Murder Your Husband

Written by Kevin Jennings

              Nobody could hear the creaky cellar door open over the deafening cacophony of their mechanic keyboards and the rattling of their chains. As the footsteps descending the staircase became louder and closer, everyone suddenly froze. What could be the purpose of this unscheduled visit? It was only Thurdsay (March 26, 2022 to be exact), and their next meal wasn’t until closing time on Friday. Whatever the reason for this unexpected audience with their feared leader, it couldn’t be good. As the outline of the bald, bearded figure came into view in the dimly lit basement, he was seen carrying a puppy in one hand and a pistol in the other.

              His voice echoed throughout the small room, “Listen up, infidels! There’s an ironic murder making headlines right now, and I want those views! You have 24 hours to write me a script, or the puppy gets it.” And that brings us to today’s story.

https://edition.cnn.com/2022/06/13/us/nancy-crampton-brophy-murder-sentence/index.html

The Mundane Life of Nancy Crampton Brophy

            Nancy Lee Crampton was born in Wichita Falls, Texas on June 16, 1950. It was back at a time when most families were still able to survive off a single income, and less than a third of married women had careers. Not only did both of Nancy’s parents work, but they were both lawyers, and successful ones at that. Though her mother’s attempt to be elected to the position of District Judge was unsuccessful, the family’s private practice of Crampton and Crampton saw a balloon in activity as a result; name recognition is a powerful thing. Her father also became chief appellant attorney for Tarrant County. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what that job means, but I have been able to figure out what it pays. They wouldn’t have been millionaires, but I’m sure Nancy could have anything she wanted growing up.

Not a whole lot is available about her early life, but it was probably extraordinarily mundane. I’m sure it was filled with sock hops and Saddie Hawkins dances and whatever else kids in Texas did in the 1950s.

Nancy graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in economics before going on to marry a police officer. Why their marriage failed isn’t really known. What we do know is Nancy said she would not let him keep his gun collection in the house, a bit ironic since she would later go on to purchase her very own Glock at a gun show. You know, for “research”. One of her books also contained depictions of domestic abuse that are cited as being too detailed to come from anything but personal experience. That’s pure speculation and even if true there’s no telling who it would be about, but figured I’d put it out there.

Following her failed married Nancy decided she wanted a fresh start, so in the early 1990s, she moved from Texas to Oregon. For everyone’s sake, I’ll mention that Oregon is directly above California, just so Simon doesn’t have to spend the next five minutes guessing. While in Oregon, she enrolled in the Western Culinary Institute. It was there that she would meet Daniel Brophy.

It was Nancy’s first class in culinary school and Daniel’s first semester as a teacher. They remained friends at first, which is allegedly just the polite way of saying that Daniel was sleeping with his student behind his wife’s back. But this was a university not a high school, and she was in her 30s, so whatever.

In 1994, Daniel divorced from his first wife. Five years later, Nancy and Daniel held a large ceremony. For the next 17 years they would live as husband and wife, despite not actually being husband and wife. There was no reason they couldn’t be, and maybe they thought they were, but they had never actually bothered to file the legal paperwork until June of 2016. Why, after 17 years, would they suddenly realize that they weren’t legally married, or if they had known why would they suddenly decide now was the time to fix it? Well they weren’t doing great financially, and it’s a lot harder to collect life insurance on a roommate than it is a husband.

Daniel was making $50,000-60,000/year teaching, and Nancy owned a successful catering company…maybe. According to a 1999 tax return presented in court, her business was earning around $500,000 at the time. This document does not appear to be available to the public, so it’s unclear whether that is just revenue or actual profit after all the overhead and cost of goods and employees and whatnot. Her company had a 25 person catering staff so if it was $500,000 in revenue, that would be not great. Even if it was profit, that was 20 years ago, and things have taken a massive downward turn.

After 9/11, the local restaurant scene in Oregon took a massive hit. With everything that’s happened since then it seems so hard to remember, but the nation’s economy took a big hit immediately following the terrorist attack. Of course people hoped things would get better, but then there was the small issue of The Great Recession. Her business may not have been doing great anymore, but Nancy had another passion to occupy her time.

“Award-Winning” Author Nancy Brophy

https://www.eastidahonews.com/2022/04/novelist-who-wrote-how-to-murder-your-husband-essay-on-trial-for-husbands-murder/

              Writing had always been a passion of Nancy’s. Her first published work was an article in a pamphlet for the University of Houston, and perhaps it would have been better if it ended there. Most of her writing career was focused on non-fiction, particularly technical writing. But technical writing is boring as Hell, so it was only a matter of time before she turned to fiction. Specifically, trashy romance novels.

              Nancy is reported as having been published since 2011, though it’s important to note that she was self published. I’m not saying self published authors are terrible by default, and there absolutely are financial and legal reasons why a person would rather self publish a novel instead of going through a major publisher. In Nancy’s case, however, I’m pretty confident that it was her only choice.

              I haven’t read all of Nancy’s work, but I feel that I’ve read enough to say with confidence that it is really bad (allegedly in my opinion?). She said she wrote out of passion and was never in it for the money, which is a good thing because she doesn’t seem to have made much of any money off her books. Checking the Amazon reviews for one of her books, there is only a single one written before her arrest for the murder of her husband. That review is also allegedly a plant, reading more like the back cover of the book than an actual review.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Writing_with_a_fountain_pen_(Unsplash).jpg

              But  Kevin, you’re just some faceless asshole writing for Simon! What gives you the right to criticize an award-winning author? Well the thing about that is, did she actually win anything? Every news article refers to here as an award-winning author, but I can’t find any source for that other than the bio she wrote herself on Amazon. The search for her awards started as a curiosity, but it became an obsession.

              I can tell you that 86 year old Nancy Brophy out of Pennsylvania became the oldest person to ever hit a hole-in-one at the Llanerch Country Club, remarkably done while receiving wound care treatment on her leg. I can also tell you that Nancy Brophy from Montclair State University’s class of 2006 won three separate athletic awards and scholarships. What I cannot tell you is a single award that Nancy Clampton Brophy won. I’m not calling her a liar, I’m just saying that if anyone can actually find an award she won for writing, by all means GET IN THE COMMENTS to let me know.

              However, what makes this case interesting isn’t her accomplishments and accolades as a writer, it’s her subject matter. Her novels seem to be all about forbidden love and murder, with titles like Wrong Husband and Wrong Lover. Oh yeah, and while many refer to it as either a novel or essay, in 2011 she published a blog post on her website entitled How to Murder Your Husband.

              Unfortunately, this blog post was not nearly as clever or prescient as we all would have liked. It doesn’t purport to advise on how to actually get away with murder, it just lists a series of motives for why someone would kill their husband as well as the pros and cons of various types of murder.

              There is one line in her blog post that was of particular interest, especially to the prosecution, “The thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough.”

The Murder of Daniel Brophy

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/05/26/novelist-wrote-murder-husband-found-guilty-murdering-husband/

            On the morning of June 2, 2018, Daniel Brophy left for work at the Oregon Culinary Institute. He had the title of lead chef instructor, and it was also a Saturday, so Daniel was the first one to the building. He unlocked the doors and disabled the security alarm so he could prepare for the weekend classes he taught. Another teacher arrived at 7:30 am to prepare for her class. When she opened the doors to students at 8 am, they found Daniel in the rear kitchen of the building, bleeding on the floor.

              The 63 year old expert of seafood and mushrooms had been shot twice. One bullet went through his back, the second through his chest. Both bullets had pierced his heart. He was declared dead at the scene by EMTs.

              Police arrived shortly thereafter, as did Nancy, having received a phone call about what happened. Police were puzzled by the scene. Here was this chef/teacher, murdered in the back of the building and with no apparent motive. His wallet, keys, and everything else was still on his person, so it didn’t look like a robbery. Nancy couldn’t think of any enemies he had or anyone who would want to hurt him.

              The next evening, they held a candlelight vigil at the school for Daniel. He was a popular and well respected teacher, and his presence was going to be sorely missed. I’m not 100% sure whether everyone got the memo or not though, because the postcard pictured below seems like it was written by someone who may have thought this was a retirement party rather than a candlelight vigil. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not sure that smiley faces are appropriate for a solemn vigil mourning the loss of a dear friend. Maybe that’s just the sort of guy Daniel was though.

              Police may have been puzzled at first, but they obviously weren’t for very long. As the daughter of two lawyers, ex-wife of a police officer, and author of novels featuring murder, you would think Nancy would understand the next step. She even mentioned it in How to Murder Your Husband, “The police aren’t stupid. They are looking at you first.” She was right, and they did. And once they looked at her, they didn’t need to look anywhere else.

              Perhaps Nancy had thought she was in the clear when nothing was heard from the police for a couple months. She told them she was out walking her two dogs that morning and then came home, at which point she received the phone call about her husband. Maybe in her mind they simply believed her and this would be some unsolved mystery for decades to come.

              But as it turns out police aren’t stupid, and when there was no signs of a break in or robbery, naturally they suspected the wife. The reason it took three months before they arrested her was that they needed to make sure they had all the evidence they needed for her conviction.

The Trial

https://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/legal09/j/jury-trial.html

              “Never put anything in writing you will have to defend in court.” That is a line Nancy wrote in Plotting Your Story Arc, a guidebook for fiction writers who can’t afford something better.  I know that we here at the Casual Criminalist always say not to write down your crimes, but this a true crime podcast, not a writing manual. That very statement feels like it would need to be defended, because what so called “fiction” are you writing that you think will come up in court?              However, despite having authored, or more accurately blogged, How to Murder Your Husband she had much more to answer for than just the works of alleged fiction she had written.             

              In her book The Wrong Husband, a woman is shipwrecked on a cruise and her husband sends a group of mercenaries named Black Adder to make sure she shows up dead so he can collect her insurance worth millions. Unfortunately for him, the mercenaries were about as effective as Mr. Bean. And unfortunately for Nancy, insurance money is the oldest trick in the book.

              Four days after her husband’s murder, Nancy had contacted the police department. She requested a letter from them saying she was not considered a suspect in the murder so she could collect Daniel’s $400,000 life insurance policy. Her plan must have been to just photocopy their letter, because she would need more than one to claim the four separate life insurance policies on her husband totaling nearly $1.4 million.

              So now motive is firmly established. The Brophys were not doing very well financially, and she stood to gain a lot of money from her husband’s murder. In court she testified that things were turning around for them and that it made no sense to murder him. She claimed she would be better off financially with Daniel alive than with him dead. Thing is, we know both his salary and age, and there’s no way that he was going to be alive and working long enough to make another $1.4 million. Things hadn’t really turned around, either.

              Nancy had left the catering industry do to the physical demands and was now selling life insurance. Daniel had his regular teaching job, was now teaching weekend classes, and was also working a third job. The main change was that he had cashed in $35,000 of his retirement plan to pay down some of their credit card debt and lower their mortgage payments. Having focused mainly on the administrative side of the catering business, Nancy no doubt understood that this was just a bandaid and not an actual solution.

              Her defense argued that Daniel must have been murdered by a stray homeless person because he was in a bad part of town. Portland does have a large homeless population and a few bad neighborhoods, but this was the sort of “bad part of town” that had a culinary school, concert hall, and museum. Were it a random homeless person, they probably would have taken his wallet or some food from the massive kitchen as well, but nothing was taken.

              The prosecution countered this claim by providing video evidence of Nancy driving to and from the school during a 13 minute window in which her husband was killed. She would claim in court to suffer from retrograde amnesia and not remember this at all, asserting both that she had no memory of what happened, but also that there’s no way she could have gone there. How she can claim to not remember what she did while also asserting with absolute certainty she did not go there is beyond me. I don’t know if I mentioned yet, but this was not a particularly long trial.

              So they have Nancy on camera in the area of the school, something she lied about to police. Her initial story when presented with the video proof of her location was that she must just have been making a coffee run that she forgot about because of all the trauma from the day. That’s technically possible. If she hadn’t lied about being in the area it might have even been believable. The location wasn’t enough though, so what about the murder weapon?

              Daniel was killed with a 9mm Glock pistol. Nancy had purchased a Glock one day when Daniel was at work. She claimed the purchase was in response to a wave of mass shootings that had taken place and was for Daniel to take when he went out foraging for mushrooms. This would absolutely be necessary, because everyone knows how vicious mushrooms can be if you let your guard down. Ballistics experts checked the gun and confirmed the bullets that killed her husband could not have been fired by that gun.

              So what about that ghost gun kit that Nancy purchased online in 2017? It’s probably not important. The full details aren’t reported, but it most likely sounds like she purchased an 80% kit and was unable to figure out how to build it as it would require some amount of machining. She claimed to have purchased it as research for a book about a woman who builds a gun piece by piece to murder her husband, but she also claimed to be home at the time of the murder so, you know.

              The theory is that Nancy swapped out the slide and barrel of the Glock with the ones from her kit, killed her husband, then put the original pieces back on the gun. This should be a simple theory to test, except the slide and barrel are mysteriously missing. I’d speculate they were stolen by ghosts, but that’s for Simon’s other channel. What is not speculation is that shortly before her husband’s murder, Nancy went to a gun range to practice with her weapon. You know, for research.

              Another piece of evidence and fun little twist of irony is that when searching Daniel’s cell phone, police found an article about how to get away with murder that he had shared with his wife, presumably for her writing. I guess she never got around to reading it.

              There may not have been a literal smoking gun, but there was a mountain of circumstantial evidence. That evidence didn’t even include How to Murder Your Husband, which the judge ruled inadmissible because it would be overly prejudicial and confuse the issue.

              It took the jury two days of deliberation, but Nancy Clampton Brophy was found guilty of the murder of her husband. Her sentencing hearing is still a few weeks away, and while Oregon does have the death penalty on the books, there is currently a moratorium on executions with the last one having taken place over 20 years ago. Regardless of the sentence, considering that Nancy is already 71 years old, it is almost certain she will spend the rest of her life in jail. At least it will give her some more time to work on her prose.

Wrap Up

              Everyone waited anxiously as the hours ticked by. Soon, it was no longer a matter of hours, but of minutes, and then seconds. There was a life at stake, and a deadline that must be met. Would the script be completed in time, and if not, would the kidnapper be true to his word?

              As the final seconds ticked away without a completed script, the tension finally dissipated. There was no way of knowing whether it was a genuine threat or just a bluff, but either way what was done was done. There was some dissent among the ranks, and a single tear rolled down Danny’s cheek, but deep down they understood that sometimes the work simply takes longer than they have. Ninety minutes after the deadline had passed, the document was finally sent to the office printer upstairs.

              The basement is not just designed to be a prison, but also to maximize efficiency. That is why our chains don’t allow us the freedom of motion to see one another’s computer monitors, lest we get too distracted by the editors’ memeing to stay focused. In theory it makes sense, but I regret to admit it may have been a bit of an oversight. You see, for the past three hours I’ve just been watching the clock while playing Minesweeper. I forgot to mention, but I’ve always been a cat person anyway; consider your bluff called.

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