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  • Mark Rein

Friendly Treachery: The Murder of Cynthia Hoffman


She went along even when she didn't really understand. Sometimes it was like they were speaking another language. When things were overwhelming, Cece just turned it off. Even when they were mean. Having friends was worth the bad stuff, most of the time.


Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement and issues crime fighters face. This podcast highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein using publicly available information, court records, and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.


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Cece was just happy to be out with her friends. Earlier that morning, Angela, her BFF since high school, called, and Surprise wanted to take her on an adventure. It was okay with her dad. And here they were, driving around in a car that Angela had borrowed just for us.

Angela brought along Caden. A boy Cece didn't really know, but he seemed cool. She said they needed Caden to take pictures and video of them acting crazy. They drove around town, stopping at different places. It was a nice summer day and Angela wanted to show Alaska to her rich boyfriend, Tyler, who lived very far away.

After a few stops and videos, Angela had an idea. Wouldn't it be fun to make like we were kidnapped and taken into the woods? Yeah. She said the best place to go would be… Caden yelled out Thunder Bird Falls! Angela said she liked that place. It would be perfect. It was beautiful there. The pictures would be great. People were gonna freak.

They all jumped back into the car and headed outta town. On the way, Angela talked with her Tyler on the phone. He wasn't even there, but they all talked about him like he was the boss. Angela thought it was important to do what Tyler wanted. They said things Cece didn't understand, but that was okay. All Cece knew was that Angela was in L O V E. Cece had never been in love like Angela. Someday.

Angela could talk for hours about her dreams with Tyler, how rich he was, how he was gonna come and get her, and they would live in a big house far away. It was nice to hear about Angela's dreams. Cece was just happy to be out on this adventure with her BFF.

After a while, they left the highway and parked in a gravel lot on a wooded hillside. Between the trees below, Cece could see ocean water. On the other side, the mouth of the trail led up into thick woods. As Cece looked at the slope, she could hear the distant rumble of water falling.

Angela took a small pack from the car and talked with Caden. When they came to the edge of the parking lot, the trail down looked steep, hardly a path at all. Angela encouraged Cece. It wasn't that steep. Everyone walks to the main path. They couldn't get good pictures with everyone around. Caden and Angela told Cece that she could wait for them, but it would be a shame that she wouldn't be in any of the pictures. Cece didn't wanna disappoint her friends, so she followed slowly but steadily.

The trail was hard, slippery, and steep at points, but after a while, it finally leveled out. Cece looked back up the hill, worried about getting lost. The brush was so thick she couldn't see the main trail or the parking lot.

Eventually, when they reached the flat gravel bar at the edge of the slower-moving water, the group stopped. Here, Caden asked. Angela nodded. She said something into the phone and panned it around. Cece could hear some reply from the phone. Caden and Angela stepped away. They were talking serious about something which Cece mainly ignored.

She was used to being left outta conversations. It was okay. They were her friends. Angela stood beside some large rocks, using them as a shelf to unload her pack. Cece saw a roll of duct tape and then a gun. That captured her attention and made her a little nervous. Seeing the concern. Angela told her friend, it's just a toy.

Cece asked what all this stuff was for. Angela told her they were gonna pretend to be kidnapped. They would put on the tape and take funny pictures that they could send to their friends. They had talked about kidnap and rape videos before, just fooling around with the idea. Sometimes Angela's friends made Cece nervous, tried to do things she didn't like, but mostly they were cool.

She went along even when she didn't really understand. Sometimes it was like they were speaking another language. When things were overwhelming, Cece just turned it off. Even when they were mean. Having friends was worth the bad stuff, most of the time.

Cece thought Angela didn't look like she was having fun. She looked serious. This whole thing must be what Tyler wanted them to do. She didn't like it, but Cece would help her friend. With that compromise, she said she wanted to see the gun. She just wanted to hold it and couldn't understand why they wouldn't let her. After all, it was just a toy. Angela made a show of putting a few strips of tape on herself. Then she asked Cece to sit. Caden took pictures of the two girls. One doing the taping, while the other sat docile on the rocks.

As Cece was bound, she felt increasingly nervous. Both of her friends looked serious. On the phone, they were talking about rape, what pictures to take. It wasn't as fun as Angela said. She noticed Angela didn't have that much tape on. Cece looked around. The deep wooded canyon loomed over her. She felt helpless. Her breathing became faster. Angela wasn't stopping. She was wrapping tape across her face, covering Cece's mouth. Next would be her eyes. She looked at her friend and saw not a friend. That was the moment Cece lost control. This whole situation wasn't right. It wasn't fun. She wanted to jump up and run, but her feet and hands were tied. She couldn't even talk right. As these realizations hit her. Cece tried to suck in more air. It wasn't enough. Her chest heaved with the realization. She tried to scream past the gag. Her eyes bulging as waves of panic hit. Cece screamed as loud as she could, violently pitching backward, rolling off the rock, and onto the gravel bank.

Angela was close, saying things, trying to get her friend to calm down. They were just gonna take some funny pictures., but that was it for Cece. She didn't wanna be taped; she didn't wanna be kidnapped; she didn't want to be raped. She screamed, muffled again and again, struggling against the bonds.

Even as Angela crawled after her, trying to pin her down. Angela pulled the tape off of Cece's mouth. Cece pulled in a deep breath and was racked with sobs. A few seconds later, she yelled, demanding to be untied.

Angela, trying to save the photo shoot, unwrapped her wrists. Fear mixed with anger fueled Cece's tirade. She demanded they let her go. If they didn't, she was gonna call the cops.

With this, Angela stood up and backed up a couple of steps. Looking down at Cece. She handed Caden the pistol. Angela, her face expressionless, stared into her friend's eyes. Cece didn't want this game. She just wanted to go home. Caden, who had stepped off to the side, raised the pistol and shot Cece through the back of her head. Cece writhed and convulsed on the gravel while Angela took her turn as photographer.


The call came into the Anchorage Police Department Dispatch on June 3rd, 2019. A father, Timothy Hoffman, wanted to report his 19-year-old daughter, Cynthia, missing. Hoffman said his daughter had gone out with friends the day before and had not returned. She wasn't answering her cell phone. An added cause of concern Cynthia experienced a developmental disability and was, therefore, potentially more vulnerable than the average person.

Hoffman told the dispatcher that he and other family members had been out looking for her but had no luck. He had talked to Angela, Cynthia's best friend, who she was supposed to have been with, but Angela had said they had dropped her off in one of the city parks during the day. Angela seemed surprised that Cynthia hadn't been home yet.

The police dispatcher assured Hoffman that they were listing Cynthia's missing. They would provide her name and her description to patrol officers who'd be on the lookout. That police response did not satisfy Hoffman. He was sure his daughter, known in the family as Cece, was in trouble.

She had always answered or at least returned her cell phone calls. He had money for her from a recent contracting job she'd helped with, and it was very unusual for her not to be counting the minutes until payday. He texted Cece's friend Angela again. It did make sense that Cece would wanna leave her pal and wander off, but Angela seemed worried about Cece too, and she reassured him that his daughter would be home soon.

Timothy rounded up some friends and family and they continued the search downtown, the malls, the hospitals. Hours passed with no signs. None of Cece's friends had seen her, and there was only silence from the police.

The second night with no Cece came and went. Still no return texts or calls. The family again reached out to friends and rechecked the usual places. They were sick with worry, and the silence took on an ominous weight. Then, the police knocked on the door. As unbearable as the silence had been, it was preferable to the tidings they brought with them. Cece was dead. They had found her body floating in the water in Eklutna. She had suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

The police, who hadn't seemed to want any information before, now wanted to check and double-check every detail. Places, times, friends, associates, phone numbers, internet access codes. The Hoffman family, dazed and disbelieving, gave them everything.

What police knew was the hikers had spotted and reported the body. Death at Thunder Bird Falls was not a common call, but over the years, there had been several reported at that location. Some homicides, mostly body dumps, but also accidental and suicide.

The water there drops almost 200 vertical feet at the top of a ravine with sheer sides. The accidental deaths and injuries are mostly climbers who underestimate the difficulty of the cliffs. As far as the hikers go about a mile back, the primary trail overlooks the falls on one side of the ravine. The viewing deck there has historically been a jumper location several times.

On this day, when the first patrol officers arrived, it was immediately apparent that Cynthia Hoffman's body floating alone in one of the pools below the falls was not the result of an accidental slip or an act of self-harm. Her legs were bound at the ankles with duct tape. She had head trauma, probably a bullet wound to the back of her head.

As they started their investigation. Cynthia's level of sophistication was a source of interest to the detectives. She experienced a developmental disability. What did that mean? Her dad simplified it, giving the comparison he had used hundreds of times over the years. He said developmentally, she was like a seventh grader, which meant she was a 12-year-old in a 19-year-old's body.

However, some of the descriptions the investigators were getting showed Cynthia was functionally even younger than that. She could perform simple instructions, help with task handle most activities of daily life, but had to be watched, had to be kept track of by a responsible adult. Her disability might not be immediately obvious to the casual observer, but anyone who spent any time around Cynthia would know there was something amiss.

Her parents didn't trust that she could avoid being led astray. They constantly worried that someone would take advantage of her. According to her dad, Cynthia was childlike in her trust, and her greatest desire was to have friends. He knew this endearing trait made her vulnerable.

The Hoffman family were vigilant, and until a few days prior, Angela Cynthia's BFF was one of those people they thought was looking out for their daughter. The two had known each other through high school, and from dad's perspective, Angela had earned a spot in the circle of trust.

Now Angela's story of dropping Cynthia off at a park in Anchorage looked like bullshit. She was the last person known to have been with Cynthia, and they had gone hiking at Thunder Bird Falls.

Detectives walked away from the death notification with a greater understanding of the situation. They had a person of interest now. They had her phone number and the names of some of her friends. It was a good starting point.

It did not take long to identify Angela. Her real name was Denali Brehmer, an 18-year-old who lived a semi-homeless lifestyle. She and friends would stay here and there, flopping where they could couch-surfing friends' houses. Sometimes they were shelter rats. Because of the nomadic lifestyle and active avoidance, it took detectives two days to track her down.

By the time investigators had Brehmer in the box, they had some leverage. They had processed the crime scene and Cynthia's body. They had Brehmer's cell phone data on order. If they were lucky, they could track that phone right up to the murder scene.

From the moment Brehmer sat down in the interview room chair, detectives started backing her into a corner. Before they even asked her any questions, they casually went over the basics of what they knew, holding back some of the key details.

When the show and tell was over, the question they put to Brehmer was not explain what happened. They already knew the answer to that. What they asked her to talk about was why.

Brehmer took the theme the detectives cast like a bass to a lure, and she gave them her first account of the crime. It was simple and deflected blame onto one of her friends. Bemer said that on the day of the incident, she, Cynthia, and 16-year-old Caden McIntosh were driving around Anchorage, looking for a place to take interesting photos.

They decided that Thunder Bird Falls would be a good backdrop. When they arrived at the Trailhead, they went down to the water instead of walking the main trail. And once down there, they found a wide gravel bank beside the water. Brehmer and Cynthia played with duct tape, pretending they were kidnapping victims with McIntosh and Brehmer taking turns filming. They put more and more tape on Cynthia, until Cynthia was sitting on the ground with her hands and feet bound, and her mouth was covered. Brehmer said Cynthia suddenly freaked out. So she pulled the tape off, but Cynthia remained scared and angry.

Yelling that she was gonna call the cops and accused them of trying to rape her.

At that point, McIntosh unexpectedly pulled the gun and shot Cynthia in the head. Brehmer said she was so freaked out. All she could do was watch. She describes Cynthia's convulsions as McIntosh shoved her body down the slope and into the water.

After that, they climbed back into the car and drove back to Anchorage. At McIntosh's direction, Brehmer said she burned Cynthia's belongings and made a call to Cynthia's father.