Unlike the antagonists in her steamy romance thrillers, author Nancy Crampton-Brophy did not get away with murder.
A jury found her guilty Wednesday of second-degree murder in the 2018 death of her husband, chef Daniel Brophy, who was gunned down at the culinary school where he taught cooking classes.
Crampton-Brophy, who once wrote a notorious essay titled, “How to Murder Your Husband,” showed no visible emotion as the verdict was read in a Portland, Oregon, courtroom.
Prosecutors argued the couple was struggling with debt – Crampton-Brophy’s self-published novels were not big sellers – and that his death could have left her with more than $1 million in life insurance policies and other assets.
They told jurors that Crampton-Brophy followed her husband to work and shot him with a Glock 9mm handgun. Investigators found two 9mm shell casings at the scene. She had also bought a “ghost gun” assembly kit that investigators later found at a storage facility. “Ghost guns” are unregistered and untraceable firearms.
She was the only person who had a motive to kill her husband, Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Shawn Overstreet said in closing arguments this week.
“This wasn’t working for Nancy,” Overstreet said. “It isn’t just about money. It’s about the lifestyle that Dan couldn’t give to her.”
Crampton-Brophy, 71, took the witness stand and rejected that assertion, saying she was better off financially with her husband alive. She also testified that she couldn’t remember all the details from the morning her husband was killed and that her minivan’s sighting near the culinary school that morning was a mere coincidence.
On why she had bought a gun and a ghost-gun kit, she said it was part of research for a new book.
“What I can tell you is it was for writing,” she said. “It was not, as you would believe, to murder my husband.”
The jury didn’t buy it. Crampton-Brophy faces a minimum of 25 years in prison at her sentencing, set for June 13.
She painted a picture of a perfect life with her husband
Crampton-Brophy’s books were tales of attempted murder, lust, crime and infidelity – all common themes for romantic suspense novels. In “The Wrong Husband,” a woman tries to escape her abusive husband by hiding in Spain during their anniversary trip.
“My stories are about pretty men and strong women, about families that don’t always work and about the joy of finding love and the difficulty of making it stay,” she wrote on her website.
Her husband’s killing was a plot twist that could have been ripped from one of her books. And when she became a suspect, it was a stunning development for a woman who had portrayed life with her husband of almost two decades as anything but wrong.
The couple lived in a quiet suburb of Portland, where he raised turkeys and chickens, tended a vegetable garden and liked to whip up lavish meals for her.
“I’m a flawed person, Dan was a flawed person … together we made a really good team,” she testified.
Then came the morning of June 2, 2018, when someone shot Daniel Brophy in the kitchen of the Oregon Culinary Institute. Students arrived for class and found him bleeding on the floor.
In court documents, prosecutors said the 63-year-old man had been shot twice – once in the back as he stood at a sink filling ice and water buckets for the students, and then a second time in the chest at close range. Brophy’s wallet with cash and credit cards was found with him, and there were no signs of robbery or forced entry.
The slaying remained a public mystery for months. Then came Crampton-Brophy’s arrest in September 2018 – and the image of the couple’s happy marriage collapsed.
The couple was struggling financially, prosecutors said
Prosecutors allege in court documents that the Brophys were facing financial difficulties and had drained their retirement account two years prior to the shooting. Crampton-Brophy, whose books were not financially lucrative, hatched the plan to kill her husband to collect more than $1.5 million from multiple life insurance policies and other assets, prosecutors said.
“Dan Brophy was content in his simplistic lifestyle, but Nancy Brophy wanted something more,” prosecutors said in court documents. “As Nancy Brophy became more financially desperate and her writing career was floundering, she was left with few options ….
At the time of Brophy’s death, he was alone at the school, prosecutors said.
The school had no security cameras, but nearby traffic cameras showed Crampton-Brophy’s Toyota minivan on city streets near the institute around the time of the shooting, prosecutors said.
Investigators also discovered she was the beneficiary of “numerous” life insurance policies taken out on her husband, prosecutors said.
“Dan Brophy was worth almost $1.5 million to Nancy Brophy if he was dead and he was worth a life of financial hardship if he stayed alive,” prosecutors said in court documents. “Nancy Brophy planned and carried out what she believed was the perfect murder. A murder that she believed would free her from the grips of financial despair.”
But defense attorney Lisa Maxfield called the state’s case circumstantial.
She argued that Crampton-Brophy loved her husband and had nothing to do with the killing. The couple had taken several romantic getaways in the months before Brophy’s death and were planning a summer trip to Mount Rushmore, the defense said.
The murder drew new attention to Crampton-Brophy’s writings
News of the killing and resulting criminal charges made headlines everywhere – partly due to an essay Crampton-Brophy wrote seven years before her husband’s death.
In 2011, she published it in a notorious blog post titled, “How to Murder Your Husband.”
“As a romantic suspense writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about murder and, consequently, about police procedure,” the 700-word post began. It was published on a blog called “See Jane Publish” that has since been made private.
The essay was split into sections detailing the pros and cons of killing a villainous husband.
“If the murder is supposed to set me free, I certainly don’t want to spend any time in jail,” Crampton-Brophy wrote. “And let me say clearly for the record, I don’t like jumpsuits and orange isn’t my color.”
The trial judge ruled that the essay would not be permitted as evidence because it was written years ago as part of a writing seminar and could unfairly prejudice the jury.
As it turns out, jurors didn’t need to read it to reach their verdict.