'How to Murder Your Husband' author found guilty of murdering husband

A jury rejected the novelist's claims that she developed shock-induced amnesia and simply lost track of a missing gun barrel


By Zane Sparling
oregonlive.com

MULTNOMAH COUNTY, Ore. — In a climax worthy of one of her romance novels, a jury found writer Nancy Crampton Brophy shot her husband twice in the heart four years ago — rejecting her claims that she deeply cherished her truelove, developed shock-induced amnesia and simply lost track of a missing gun barrel.

Foreshadowing Wednesday’s verdict was the self-published author’s notorious essay, “How to Murder Your Husband.” But unlike in her fiction, Crampton Brophy didn’t get away with it.

Nancy Crampton Brophy (left), accused of killing her husband Dan Brophy in June 2018,  listens at her murder trial on May 25, 2022.
Nancy Crampton Brophy (left), accused of killing her husband Dan Brophy in June 2018, listens at her murder trial on May 25, 2022. (Dave Killen)

A Multnomah County jury of five men and seven women deliberated for about eight hours over two days before delivering a guilty verdict on a single count of second-degree murder in the death of chef Daniel Brophy, an instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute in Southwest Portland.

Crampton Brophy, now 71, displayed no visible reaction inside the packed courtroom.

Several members of Crampton Brophy’s family sat in the audience directly behind her during the 27-day televised trial. Some of them wrenched forward and audibly gasped, one emitting a sob, as the judge read the verdict aloud.

Daniel Brophy’s mother and son sat behind the prosecution’s table throughout the trial. When the decision was announced, Portland homicide Detective Anthony Merrill reached out from his spot in the public gallery to comfort some of Brophy’s relatives.

Jurors declined comment as they left the downtown county courthouse.

Lisa Maxfield, one of Crampton Brophy’s attorneys, called the jury “thoughtful and attentive,” but said the defense team was disappointed and plans to appeal.

“We were hoping (the jury) would see it as the ‘could’ve, should’ve would’ve’ that we did,” she said, “but they didn’t.”

Students found the 63-year-old chef bleeding on the floor of a classroom near a kitchen sink where he was working at the now-defunct cooking school about 8:30 a.m. on June 2, 2018.

In an interview, his mother, Karen Brophy, said the family never suspected his wife was the killer until the moment of Crampton Brophy’s arrest on Sept. 5, 2018.

“It’s been a long three and a half years,” she said. “Through the trial, Portland has learned that our son was a great guy, you know, and we really miss him.”

Brophy’s son from a previous marriage, Nathaniel Stillwater, said the family would mark the fourth anniversary of the chef’s death next week “to remember the man that he was, the father that he was, the grandfather that he was.”

“To finally have some closure has been very important and meaningful for our family to start to move on,” he said.

Crampton Brophy’s how-to-kill treatise detailed various options for committing an untraceable murder and professed a desire to avoid getting caught. Circuit Judge Christopher Ramras ultimately excluded the essay from the trial, noting it was published in 2011.

A prosecutor, however, alluded to the essay’s themes without naming it after Crampton Brophy took the stand in her own defense. His reference spurred a dramatic monologue from the novelist, who stood by her claim in the essay that anyone is capable of committing murder.

“I think if you’re going to murder someone, 10 to 1 that person knows that you are not happy with them,” she said last week during two days of testimony. “I think most people don’t murder for flimsy reasons.”

But, she said, she had no reason to kill her husband, insisting their financial woes touted by the prosecution had largely been solved by cashing in a chunk of Brophy’s retirement savings plan.

The plot lines of the trial attracted significant national media coverage, including by The New York Times and Washington Post, while producers from true-crime television shows and podcasts often followed along from the courtroom.

Crampton Brophy will remain in custody and is scheduled for sentencing on June 13. The presumptive punishment for second-degree murder is life in prison with a minimum of 25 years behind bars.

Lead prosecutor Shawn Overstreet relied mostly on circumstantial evidence to detail a monthslong plot by Crampton Brophy to kill her husband.

“It was a long road to this verdict,” he said in a statement released by his office. “Daniel Brophy’s family waited for justice for nearly four years. Today marks an inflection point in their journey to see accountability for the tragic murder of their loved one and move forward with their lives.”

Court exhibits and testimony showed Crampton Brophy owned the same make and model of gun used to kill her husband, was seen on surveillance camera footage driving to and from the culinary institute at the same time her husband was shot and sought to collect some $815,000 in life insurance following his death.

After more than a decade running a catering company, Crampton Brophy changed careers and began selling life insurance and Medicare policies on commission while writing on the side.

“It’s not just about the money. It’s about the lifestyle Nancy desired that Dan could not give her,” Overstreet said during his final rebuttal, noting the couple’s dire credit card debt had meant forgoing mortgage payments.

Police never found the gun that killed her husband. Prosecutors alleged Crampton Brophy swapped out the barrel of the gun used in the shooting and then discarded the barrel to foil forensic analysis.

Defense attorneys Maxfield and Kristen Winemiller offered much different theories, suggesting someone else might have killed Brophy during a robbery gone wrong and that Crampton Brophy had no motive to kill her husband. The couple’s finances were recovering and she ardently adored her partner of more than 25 years, they said.

“Nancy Brophy loved her husband,” Winemiller told the jury during her closing argument. “You can see that in her eyes every time she talked about him. Her eyes lit up, they absolutely twinkled.”

The attorneys said the gun parts were inspiration for Crampton Brophy’s writing.

They acknowledged Crampton Brophy was driving nearby on the morning of her husband’s death, but said it was to work on her writing. Then Crampton Brophy completely forgot about the coincidental trip due to trauma-triggered retrograde amnesia after she learned hours later that he had been killed, they said.

Overstreet narrated his own version of the fatal shooting in his rebuttal, theorizing that Brophy likely knew his wife was in the room just before the first shot severed his spine and struck his heart. He had trusted Crampton Brophy enough to turn his back, the prosecutor said.

Then, Overstreet said, Crampton Brophy would have loomed over her husband, preparing the second volley that would pierce the chef’s heart.

“She looked him in the eyes as he’s breathing in his last bit of life — paralyzed, injured — but he wasn’t dead yet,” Overstreet said. “She looked into his eyes and pulled the trigger, that’s the last time she saw him.”

Staff writer Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this report.

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