Portland, OR

Author Who Penned 'How to Kill Your Husband' Arrested for Murder

True Crime Mysteries (Megan)

“I don't know how to defend myself against the truth.”

Dan Brophy image courtesy of Oregon Culinary Institute via Facebook

Can you ever truly know someone?

What if you found out your spouse, who you trusted implicitly and never thought would hurt you, had been fantasizing about your murder, possibly even for years? This is not advice, but if one were to murder their spouse, they certainly shouldn’t write about it on their blog. Detailing inner thoughts on exactly how one might carry out the attack and get away with it.

Nancy Cranston-Brophy did just that in 2011, penning the article “How to Murder Your Husband” and starting the article by saying,

“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 Portland community felt the shock of Nancy Brophy’s arrest. Nancy appeared to have been a devoted wife, and their marriage had seemed very solid. A couple nearing retirement seemed to be heading into the next chapter of their lives together. Her arrest made people question how well they truly knew Nancy.

We are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start from the beginning.

It was early Saturday morning on June 2, 2018, at the Oregon Culinary Institute located in downtown Portland. A group of Culinary Arts students gathered outside the school, waiting for the building to be unlocked for class to begin. This was unusual but not necessarily an immediate cause for concern.

Typically, their instructor, sixty-three-year-old Dan Brophy or “Chef Brophy,” was first to arrive on campus and set up the classroom for the students. Saturday classes were a little different than the normal Monday to Friday. No office staff worked over the weekend, and the school only ran two classrooms, so it was usually only the weekend Culinary Arts instructor and the Pastry instructor. There weren’t even janitorial staff over the weekend due to budget cuts.

This morning was a little more unique than most. It was a portion of the program called the “live fire” class, where near the end of the program, students would be setting up their school restaurant and opening it up to real guests. It was something the students had been working towards for months and an opportunity to show off their skills. On these “live fire” class days, Dan would always come in a little earlier than expected. In addition to his regular routine of opening up the kitchens, he would also ensure the students had everything they needed for a day doing restaurant service.

It wasn’t initially known what had caused Dan’s collapse. Those at the school assumed it was a heart attack or stroke. Nothing else in the classroom had seemed out of place. Nothing looked ransacked; there wasn’t any broken glass or open doors, and it was when paramedics arrived, and they moved him. They saw the blood that had pooled underneath his body.

Paramedics examined the wounds and discovered they were two bullet wounds; further investigation confirmed that they found bullet fragments in the room. The school was then locked down while the Oregan Police Department searched the building for the possibility of an active shooter or additional victims.

Officers eventually cleared the building, and it became clear that Dan Brophy had been the only victim. He was declared deceased at the scene. Through interviews, they also learned that Dan typically arrived around 7:30 AM to set up the classroom. Dan had been making coffee for the students and filling water jugs to keep them hydrated when he had been shot. Paramedics noted that the sink had still been running when they arrived.

Dan was shot once in the back and then once in the chest. Though they couldn’t determine exactly which had been first, investigators theorized that Dan had been at the sink, filling the water jugs with his back facing the door. They believed that he had been shot first in the back, spun around, faced the shooter, and then was shot again before collapsing.

Once the scene was deemed safe, officers started interviewing all the students at the school and going into the first phase of a murder investigation. This also included notifying the victim’s next of kin, which in this case was Dan’s wife, Nancy Brophy.

The crime scene gave little indication of what had happened or why. Robbery had made the most sense, but Dan’s keys were located in the room, his wallet was on him, and he also had a bag of small cash Dan used for a little snack box for the students. Students could buy little snacks or treats from Dan, and he would collect money or little paper IOUs. It was a little something he did for the students.

The second route of the investigation was that a disgruntled student or person may have wanted to hurt Dan, but when investigators spoke with those around him, nearly everyone said the same thing. Dan was a kind and dedicated instructor. He taught many students in his career and several different generations of chefs in the Portland area, which included the President of OCI, who had worked under Dan decades earlier.

Dan would give the shirt off his back to someone who needed it and used his skills to help others, including volunteering with a soup kitchen to repurpose unused ingredients from the Culinary program to ensure nothing was wasted. Dan was passionate about teaching sustainability in the food industry.

He would keep in contact with students and follow their careers. He would help students find jobs and call in personal favors to help out where he could.

The attack seemed targeted. Dan had been the only victim, it happened at a time when it was known he would be alone, but detectives could not find a single individual who held a grudge or a bad feeling towards him. In general, Dan Brophy seemed well-loved in the community.

The third avenue for investigators to look at was to look closer into Dan and Nancy’s marriage. Though it is impossible to predict how someone will react to the devastating news of the murder of a loved one, Nancy’s reaction has raised eyebrows. Had this woman who sat in front of them just killed their husband in cold blood?

Nancy Brophy image courtesy of Nancy Brophy author website

After the first interview with detectives, Nancy gets a police escort back to her home. This also allowed detectives to retrieve the gun that Nancy said was in the closet. The first thought was that Dan may have had that gun in his possession, and perhaps it had been stolen and used against him, but it was in the closet, just as Nancy had said.

They took photos of it and snapped a few pictures of her vehicle, a grey minivan.

During the investigation of the area surrounding the Culinary Institute, one of the first things detectives did was pull security footage from the surrounding areas, retracing Dan’s steps from when he arrived until his body was found.

As they began collecting more footage from traffic cams and security footage from businesses, they began to piece together more sightings of Dan’s truck and Nancy’s van. Nancy had not been at home the morning her husband was killed. Cellphone records also confirmed that Nancy’s phone was pinging in downtown Portland, further solidifying to detectives that Nancy was lying.

Nancy Brophy's van on surveillance (image courtesy of Portland Police Bureau)

Detectives noted that there was something odd about the gun that Nancy had surrendered to them. They noticed that the gun slide was “out of battery,” meaning that the slide was not locked into position. Therefore, not safe nor stored correctly. Nancy claimed that the weapon had never been fired, nor had she handled it since she had purchased it from a gun show. Detectives went back to the retailer of the gun, who assured them they would never let a gun leave their stall “out of battery,” leading detectives to believe the gun had been taken apart and put back together by someone with limited knowledge about firearms.

Officers compared the gun to the shell casings found at the crime scene and noted that they didn’t match.

But still, detectives were missing a key element, motive. Why did a woman nearing retirement kill her husband after decades of marriage?

Dan and Nancy had met in the nineties. Nancy was making a career change and attended a culinary arts program, where she met Dan Brophy, a new divorcee. They were friends for a while, and when she was finished with culinary school, they began dating, and it seemed from the outside to be an idyllic marriage. The couple regularly took vacations abroad and had similar interests and passions. They routinely entertained guests, where Dan created impressive spreads.

Dan was often described as reserved, quiet, and content with his own company. He foraged and had many gardening “experiments” on the acreage property he shared with Nancy. He raised chickens and was devoted to their care. He had a dry sense of humor and a “get it done” attitude toward work, his garden, and life. He was always up to something, and no one ever knew him to slow down. Retirement had never seemed an option for Dan.

Dan had a son from his first marriage who was a teenager when the divorce happened. When Dan remarried, they began to cultivate a strong bond. His son also got to know Nancy and, for a brief time, worked for her when she owned a catering company. When his son had his own kids, Nancy and Dan would watch them and were doting grandparents.

After all the time he had spent with his father and Nancy, he could only count a handful of times when he saw the couple argue, but he said he wouldn’t even call it a fight. He described it as “tension.”

That was a common perception from those who knew Dan and Nancy well. Everyone said they never fought or argued. Maybe they disagreed, but they would always apologize and hug it out. They seemed to have a very healthy, loving relationship.

The couple seemed to really start struggling financially in 2014. Nancy had sold her catering company at a loss, and it was then that she wanted to focus on writing. She wrote suspense and romance novels and penned fourteen books in total. None of them came to much success, and certainly weren’t paying back the thousands of dollars that Nancy spent to “invest” in herself. Writers retreats, classes, conventions, and marketing, among other expenses.

In the marriage, Nancy was definitely the bigger spender. While Dan occasionally purchased larger ticket items, he didn’t bleed money the way Nancy did. If Dan didn’t cook, Nancy would eat out. Nancy boasted that in her 25-year marriage, she never cooked. We see from her bank statements that Nancy went to Starbucks daily, often multiple times daily. Nancy hired housekeepers to come in and clean “her areas” of the house. Her bank statements show just a constant outpouring of cash that often wasn’t there. Her bank statements showed that she had no concern with spending. Even when they were absolutely strapped for cash, Nancy always spent what she wanted, even if that meant a mortgage payment went unpaid.

Significantly more money was going out than was coming in, and Dan’s teacher salary wasn’t enough to cover their mortgage, let alone all the other household expenditures. When Nancy sold the business, they were left with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They refinanced their home several times, and financial audits of their bank accounts showed that despite their financial troubles, they never changed their spending habits. Still taking vacations, maxing out credit, refinancing their mortgage to catch up, and then doing it all over again, they began to dip into their retirement money when they couldn’t pull from their mortgage.

Nancy eventually did go back to work as an insurance broker. First, she sold life insurance but later switched to Medicaid, where she worked off commissions. The only problem with this line of work is that commissions were only paid out sporadically, which left the Brophy’s with a cashflow issue.

It was also at this time when Nancy started taking out numerous policies for herself and Dan to get the commissions, and these policies had monthly payments. At one point, the Brophys were paying nearly two thousand dollars per month in various life and medical insurance policies.

According to Nancy, the couple decided they were going to subdivide the property and sell it. Downsize to something smaller and less expensive. They spent almost a year preparing the property for sale, but it hadn’t been a welcomed change for Dan, who was also working a second job in the evenings at a retirement home.

In the months before Dan’s murder, people noticed that he seemed depressed, tired, and lacked his “get up and go” attitude. He never talked about what was bothering him. Still, some speculate it was the idea of leaving a home he loved, a property he never imagined leaving, which would also mean giving up his garden and his chickens and getting rid of many projects he had yet to complete.

It wasn’t just a move for Dan. This would be a complete lifestyle change and one he wasn’t keen to make. Nancy, on the other hand, was ecstatic. She hated the chickens and the “mess” that surrounded Dan. She described him as “a collector of things” and often commented on how cluttered her home was with Dan’s projects. Dan didn’t like throwing things away and often brought things from the school to repair or repurpose.

Dan had a hard time parting with these things, making the process of getting the home ready for sale slow. After Dan’s death, Nancy made quick work of gutting the home and putting the house on the market. Nancy had stated that she and Dan would have been ready to put the house on the market in the fall, but after his death, Nancy had the help of thirty-five friends and family to help sort, pack, clean, and do repairs, and it had taken weeks for them to get the house ready for market. Nancy admitted that she and Dan were making slow headway on the house, saying they had completed only one area before his death, a bathroom.

It was also discovered through those financial audits that, in total, Dan had numerous life insurance policies taken out on his behalf, totaling around one and a half million dollars. Policies that Nancy almost immediately started to attempt to cash in. Four days after Dan’s murder, the lead detective got a call from Nancy with a request he had never heard before.

Nancy asked to be exonerated so that she could claim life insurance for her husband’s death.

The call stood out to detectives as unique. In the following months of the investigation, the key piece of evidence so far was the surveillance footage placing Nancy in the area of the murder, and she lied to detectives about where she had been that morning. She wasn’t at home, and several different cameras placed her around the Culinary Institute in the window of time that Dan had been murdered.

She also had a gun, and although the weapon in police custody was determined not to have been the murder weapon, it did show that Nancy could possibly be more familiar with guns than she had led on.

The Oregan Culinary Institute was a maze. Anyone familiar with older colleges or universities can agree that, generally, they are difficult to navigate. OCI was no different; there were multiple kitchens, adjoining classrooms, storage rooms, a full restaurant, a reception area, student areas, and teacher areas. It is not simple to walk in and immediately find what you are looking for.

Dan was alone at the school for only twelve minutes. From the moment he disabled the alarm and when his coworker arrived at the school was only twelve minutes. That is such a small time frame. The door was locked behind him because students couldn’t get in, and his coworker unlocked the door.

Dan wasn’t startled. He had been bent over a kitchen sink when he was first shot. To suggest a stranger, or someone Dan didn’t know, had come into the school, and that person happened to find the only person in the school on a day when Dan didn’t normally arrive that early. No one was expected to be there at that time. The school wasn’t robbed, Dan wasn’t robbed, and they left the building undetected and not picked up on surrounding surveillance is too big a coincidence.

Nancy was seen on surveillance leaving the downtown area at 7:28 AM, only minutes before Dan’s body was found. It was the only vehicle to have been seen arriving, stopping, and leaving OCI in the exact window that detectives were looking for. They even pulled every Toyota Sienna minivan with an Oregan plate in the area, there had been nine total, and only one matched the vehicle seen on surveillance, and there was no doubt who was driving, Nancy.

Nancy Cranston-Brophy (image courtesy of Multnomah County Sheriff's office)

On September 5, 2018, Nancy Cranston-Brophy was arrested on one charge of second-degree murder. She was held without bond while she awaited trial, which began on April 5, 2022.

On the same day of her arrest, a search warrant was executed for Nancy’s house and storage units. Nancy had a large group of people helping her organize, pack and clean the house, so officers spent most of the day sorting through boxes. They were looking for the potential second weapon, documents, or anything that might be of value to the investigation.

During the trial, we start to see just how much evidence detectives gained after Nancy’s arrest.

In the home, law enforcement seized two laptops, and while going through a series of boxes in a bedroom closet, they came across a box that said “scarves, purses, GK.” Officers didn’t know what GK stood for, but under a bunch of scarves, officers recognized a handgun case.

Inside the case, officers didn’t find a whole handgun but instead all the parts to build an unserialized Glock nineteen handgun. Nancy had never disclosed she had ever purchased a second weapon, and a “build a gun kit” was certainly more advanced than the average gun owner. It certainly didn’t fit with Nancy’s story that she and Dan had only purchased a gun for self-defense.

When going through the laptops, detectives discovered that Nancy had recently started obsessively researching guns, how to build a gun, gun kits, and ghost guns. On December 24, 2017, she purchased the ghost gun kit from “ghostguns.com.” The following February was when she purchased the handgun she had handed over to law enforcement.

Gun that had been removed from the Brophy home (image courtesy of Portland Police Bureau)

She had done a lot of research, particularly in swapping out barrels. She watched several YouTube videos on how to do it. The slide and barrel from the ghost kit were slightly larger than the slide and barrel she purchased from the gun show.

When law enforcement is doing ballistic testing, the marks or striations we see are compared to see if they come from the barrel of a gun. The striations on the gun Nancy purchased from the gun show didn’t match the striations on the shell casings found at the crime scene. However, if that slide and barrel had been swapped out, that could explain why they didn’t match.

The barrel from the ghost kit wouldn’t fit, so if Nancy had planned to swap out the barrel to deliver a “clean” gun to law enforcement, she would need another one that did fit.

Nancy had two laptops, one that was newer, working, and functional, and then she had an older one that wasn’t working. The screen was broken, but the hard drive was still fine, and law enforcement was able to access the information from that computer.

On it, experts found that Nancy had made an eBay account and made one purchase. On February 22, she purchased just a slide and barrel that would fit the gun she bought from the gun show, not the ghost gun.

Nancy claimed that the ghost kit had been purchased as research for one of her novels. She said she hadn’t told law enforcement about it because she didn’t consider it a weapon because it was in parts. When asked about the additional slide Nancy bought, Nancy said it was research for her book, like the ghost gun. She said that she was writing about a character who would be escaping a captive situation by ordering pieces to a gun bit by bit in the mail but if that were true, why get an additional slide and barrel that didn’t fit the gun you were researching?

Initially, Nancy told detectives neither she nor Dan handled the gun, but at her trial, she said they had.

Nancy claimed that while she had been packing the house for sale, she specifically packed the ghost kit and even marked it in the event that detectives wanted it. However, the only piece missing is the sliding barrel, which wasn’t with the ghost kit and wasn’t packed in the house, storage units, or anywhere else. She stated that the last place she remembered seeing it was on the floor of her bedroom closet. The evidence that would have exonerated her as a suspect if it didn’t match the shell casings found at the crime scene was the only item not recovered, nor is it one of the only things Nancy couldn’t remember.

We also see from Nancy’s cellphone records that she goes to a gun range two days in a row once the eBay slide and barrel arrive. She claimed she was in the area looking for property, but the area she was in wasn’t residential land or even private land, and it was government-owned land that wasn’t for sale. Because it was used as a gun range, there really wasn’t anything else out there for miles.

Another lie from Nancy.

When faced with the evidence of her car being seen on surveillance footage, Nancy could never fully explain why or how she got downtown that morning.

Her first story was that she was home all morning, but during the trial, she changed her story to have gone to Starbucks to get a coffee but having said earlier that it was Dan who went and got her coffee nearly every morning.

When faced with further evidence that her bank statements didn’t show that she went to Starbucks that morning, she said she paid in cash, but we see from her bank statements that would have been very unusual. She said she often utilized the drive-through and consistently used her debit card to make those purchases.

Nancy’s demeanor at trial was also very relaxed. She was very emotionless during the numerous testimonies in this trial, and when she took the stand, she was allowed to remove her mask.

It was shocking when they announced that Nancy would take the stand. Not a good idea, which was confirmed when she sat down. Nancy smiled at people in the courtroom, laughed with her lawyers, and told little jokes and funny stories. You would never guess she was there because she was on trial for murder.

Now Nancy seemed to have an excellent memory but claimed several times to have cognition issues, telling the courts that her mother had dementia and expressed her greatest fear was also experiencing dementia.

She could remember everything she did the day Dan died, except what she did that morning. The prosecution did an excellent job during their cross-examination of Nancy.

During her cross-examination, Nancy became flustered. she looked to her lawyers numerous times and, at one point, even asked them to confirm what she had said.

She had excellent recall when it came to insignificant questions. When she got flustered, it was because she had been caught in several “variations” of her stories during the trial, which came off as her inability to remember what she had lied about.

Nancy will likely never admit what she did, but it is evident in this case that the mountain of evidence, though circumstantial, is undeniable. Her legal team was never successful in identifying another suspect.

Nancy obviously wore a mask during her trial. Slipping when she spoke of the woman who called 911 and tried to save Dan’s life. We see it drop again when the prosecutor starts to read back her own statements from her article, “How to Murder Your Husband.”

The prosecution well handled the trial. The judge was patient and kind to everyone in the courtroom. Nancy’s lawyers did their best to represent their client. As a result.

On May 25, 2022, after nearly four years of waiting for justice, the jury returned with their final verdict.

Nancy Brophy was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband.

And remember when Nancy said orange wasn’t her color? Well, as luck would have it, the uniforms at the Multnomah County Detention Center are blue. Nancy will be eligible for parole when she is ninety-six years old. Enjoy prison, Nancy.

If you would like to see a video version of this story, or key trial moments, check out my video on Youtube.https://youtu.be/h4Q3UbxS0gA

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