How the "How to Murder Your Husband" Author Actually Murdered Her Husband

Nancy Crampton Brophy, a writer of romantic thrillers, was sentenced to life in prison for shooting husband Daniel Brophy to death in cold blood, a surprise ending for everyone who knew them.

By Natalie Finn Jun 24, 2022 4:00 PMTags
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In her 2011 essay "How to Murder Your Husband," romantic-thriller author Nancy Crampton Brophy listed five possible reasons why a wife might kill her spouse.

No. 1 was money. The next, she wrote, he's a "lying, cheating bastard." Third option, she continued, he "fell in love with someone else." Fourth, as she put it, was "abuser." And lastly, Nancy wrote, "It's your profession," as in you "possess both skill and knowledge" and "have the moral ambiguity necessary to carry it off."

Prosecutors said No. 1 was the motive for Nancy when she shot and killed her husband of 27 years, Daniel Brophy, in 2018. And was it, ultimately, her profession?

"I spend a lot of time thinking about murder and, consequently, about police procedure," Nancy, a self-published novelist, wrote in her now infamous essay. "After all, if the murder is supposed to set me free, I certainly don't want to spend any time in jail."

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A few weeks after being found guilty of second-degree murder, on June 13 the 71-year-old was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Nancy maintained her innocence throughout, her defense countering each of the prosecution's points with her side of the story. But she did not get the ending she was hoping for.

Who Is Nancy Crampton Brophy?

As was detailed at trial, Nancy met Daniel at the Oregon Culinary Institute in the '90s when she was a student and he was her teacher. They married in 1999.

"I love story-telling," Nancy wrote in the "About" section of her website, which she last updated in 2018. "My imaginary friends have rich, larger-than-life lives encompassed in a few hundred pages with definite beginnings, snappy middles, and above all, happy endings. My personal life is never as clearly defined. Beginnings are hard to locate."

The author of titles such as Hell on the Heart and The Wrong Lover lived with her chef husband in the Northwest where, she explained, there were "chickens and turkeys in my backyard, a fabulous vegetable garden which also grows tobacco for an insecticide and a hot meal on the table every night."

Youtube/ Oregon Culinary Institute

"I can't tell you when I fell in love with my husband," she wrote, "but I relate the moment I decided to marry him. I was in the bath. It was a big tub. I expected him to join me and when he was delayed, I called out, 'Are you coming?'"

"His answer convinced me he was Mr. Right," she continued. "'Yes, but I'm making hors d'oeuvres.' Can you imagine spending the rest of your life without a man like that?"

She noted that they'd had their "ups and downs, more good times than bad." In another blog post since made private on See Jane Publish, she wrote it was the "second (and final—trust me!) marriage" for both of them.

The Murder of Daniel Brophy

Daniel, 63, was found fatally wounded the morning of June 2, 2018, in a kitchen space at the Oregon Culinary Institute, where he was a longtime instructor. 

Students discovered his body when they showed up for class, Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson told reporters at the time. First responders arrived at 8:30 a.m. but life-saving measures didn't work and he died at the scene.

According to The Oregonian, Daniel's faculty bio on the school's website described him as "an expert in marine biology, master gardener, and mushroom expert," as well as the "most active faculty member leading field trips, organizing student projects, and speaking in the community."

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The day after the man Nancy described as her "husband and best friend" was killed, she wrote on Facebook, "For those of you who are close to me and feel this deserved a phone call, you are right, but I'm struggling to make sense of everything right now. While I appreciate all of your loving responses, I am overwhelmed. Please save phone calls for a few days until I can function."

More than 100 people attended a candlelight vigil held outside the school, where Nancy told the assembled mourners, "Daniel was one of the few people I've ever known who did exactly what he wanted in life and loved doing it. He was a person who did what he loved: he loved teaching, he loved mushrooms, he loved his family."

Police didn't identify any suspects until Sept. 7, 2018, when they announced that Nancy had been arrested two days earlier on suspicion of murdering her husband, "based on information learned during the investigation," Portland authorities said in a statement, per NBC News.

The Oregonian via AP, File

The Woman Who Wrote "How to Murder Your Husband" Is Accused of Murdering Her Husband

The probable cause affidavit detailing the charges was initially sealed at the request of the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, citing their ongoing investigation, leaving those who knew Nancy and Daniel at a loss for an explanation.

The case quickly went national once the "How to Murder Your Husband" angle caught on. Daniel's mother, Karen Brophy, when contacted by the Washington Post, called Nancy's arrest "a big shock."

Family friend Tania Medlin told NBC affiliate KGW-TV, "I've known her 30 years. I can't imagine. I just don't think she's capable."

Tamara Alva, who'd done yard work for the couple for more than a year, told the station that Nancy seemed genuinely devastated in the days after Daniel's death. "She wasn't some conniving, don't care, don't-give-a-darn-type person," Tamara said. "This is a woman who truly loved her husband and all she could think about it is, he's gone, what is she going to do?"

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But the couple's neighbor Don McConnell told The Oregonian that Nancy didn't seem too broken up. "I would say she had an air of relief," he said, "like it was almost a godsend."

He had asked Nancy over the summer how the investigation was going, whether police were keeping in touch with her, and as he told the publication, she told him, "'No, I'm a suspect.'" At the time, Don recalled, "I thought she must have been one tough woman to handle that the way she did."

Nancy pleaded not guilty to murder and unlawful use of a weapon on Sept. 17. The trial was originally scheduled to begin the following month, but wouldn't get underway for more than three years.

Dave Killen/AP/Shutterstock

The Murder Case Against Nancy Crampton Brophy

"Dan Brophy was content in his simplistic lifestyle, but Nancy Brophy wanted something more," the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office alleged in court documents, per CNN. "As Nancy Brophy became more financially desperate and her writing career was floundering, she was left with few options."

In its opening statement at trial, which began April 4, the prosecution laid out its case: Nancy and Daniel had withdrawn $35,000 from his retirement account to help pay their mortgage, taxes and other bills in 2016 and were underwater financially.

Nancy bought a ghost gun kit online on Christmas Eve, 2017, a 9-mm Glock 17 at a gun show on Feb. 17, 2018, and a Glock 17 slide and barrel on eBay later that month, prosecutors detailed in court. She practiced shooting at a public range on March 27, they continued, and on June 2, her blue Toyota minivan was spotted by a traffic camera on a street near the culinary institute at 7:08 a.m. 

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Security footage played in court showed Daniel arriving at the institute at 7:20 a.m. At 7:28, Nancy's van was seen leaving the area.

Daniel was shot twice, once in the back and again in the chest at close range. There was no sign of a struggle, and cash and credit cards were in his wallet, an indication that robbery wasn't a motive, prosecutors said. Two 9-mm shell casings were found at the scene.

She told police that she had been home all morning and didn't leave until she got the call about her husband, prosecutors said. In a recording played in court, Nancy was also heard asking detectives if they could write a letter clearing her in his death so that she could collect on his $40,000 life insurance policy.

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As argued by the prosecution, Nancy killed Daniel to collect on 10 insurance policies, plus home equity and workers compensation, altogether worth more than $1.4 million. She followed Daniel to work that morning and shot him with a Glock, they charged—though, per the probable cause affidavit (which was unsealed in 2019), the gun she turned over to them didn't appear to be the murder weapon.

According to another court filing made public in April 2020, when Nancy unsuccessfully petitioned to be released on bail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, detectives suspected that she had purchased the extra gun parts, which they hadn't been able to locate, so she could "present a new, fully intact firearm to police that would not be a match to the shell casings left at the crime scene."

Youtube/ Oregon Culinary Institute

Nancy Crampton Brophy Testifies She Didn't Kill Her Husband

Nancy's attorney Lisa Maxfield argued that the D.A.'s case was entirely circumstantial and that the defendant loved her husband and had nothing to do with his death. They had been planning a trip to Mount Rushmore for later that summer, Maxfield said.

On the witness stand, Nancy maintained she had no reason to kill Daniel, that they were figuring out their money troubles and she was far worse off with him gone.

"I'm a flawed person, Dan was a flawed person," Nancy said. "Together we made a really good team."

Shutterstock/ The Oregonian via AP

However, while she also testified that she had gone to Starbucks and then was writing at home the morning Daniel was killed, the next day under cross-examination she said she had gone out driving while trying to write. She couldn't recall exactly where, but "I know I didn't go in the building because I didn't kill Dan," she said. "I know that for a fact."

Asked why she never told police about buying a ghost gun—which investigators later found, still unassembled, in a storage facility—she replied, "How is a gun kit relative evidence?...I'm asking you because I don't think it is." As for purchasing the kit, as well as any gun or accessories, she countered that it was all research for her writing. "It was not, as you would believe," she testified, "to murder my husband."

Nancy also said on the stand, "I don't think people murder willy-nilly out of the—just because. Yeah, financial reason's a big reason, but going back to my case, there's not enough financial reason there to make out. I do better with Dan alive, financially, than I do with Dan dead."


What's Next for Nancy Crampton Brophy?

After less than two days of deliberations, the jury found Nancy guilty of murdering Daniel on May 25, 2022. Defense attorney Maxfield told reporters outside the courthouse it wasn't the outcome they were hoping for but they planned to file an appeal.

Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Shawn Overstreet said in a statement to KPTV that he applauded the "thoughtfulness, compassion, and patience of the jury during what was a strenuous eight-week trial that included an array of expert witnesses, witnesses who were there the day Daniel Brophy lost his life, individuals who knew the Brophy's, and the defendant herself."

Daniel's mom, Karen, told the station that her family felt justice had been served. "That was our prayer," she said. "We had a lot of people praying for this trial all over the country."

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Daniel's son from his previous marriage, Nathaniel Stillwaterfiled a $1.7 million wrongful death lawsuit against Nancy in 2019 but at her attorney's request the lawsuit was put on hold and remained so upon the conclusion of the trial.

Before she was sentenced to life in prison, Nathaniel addressed Nancy in court. "You executed my father in an act of cold-blooded premeditated murder," he said. "A man that did everything for you. Cooked you meals, washed your clothes, accepted your sedentary nature, supported your failed endeavors, and brought you into the warm embrace of our family. Your payment for decades of dedication, trust and love, plot his murder on Christmas Eve in the presence of his parents and grandchildren."

Ironically, Nancy is now more well-known than ever before, though it's unlikely that demand for her books could ever match the morbid interest in "How to Murder Your Husband."

"I find it is easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them," Nancy wrote in her 2011 piece. "I don't want to worry about blood and brains splattered on my walls. And really, I'm not good at remembering lies. But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough."

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