A savvy entrepreneur with 25 employees and $500,000 in revenue. A self-published novelist who invented steamy scenes that found few readers. A garrulous stepgrandmother with a java jones. And, according to prosecutors, a killer.
For 25 days, courtroom observers and thousands of viewers watching the televised murder trial have learned in voluminous detail why prosecutors believe Nancy Crampton Brophy gunned down her husband, Oregon Culinary Institute chef Daniel Brophy, in 2018.
Crampton Brophy herself, however, had remained an enigma — a plot hole so irksome that the storyteller said she had to take the stand herself to dispel the narrative put forth by prosecutors and police.
“I have not done press interviews. I have not done any of the things where I could have told my story,” she testified Tuesday. “I have been absolutely quiet … from the day Dan died until now.”
Police say Crampton Brophy shot her husband in the back and then slipped away from the culinary school on June 2, 2018, leaving her partner of 25 years to be found dead by students arriving for class about 7:45 a.m.
She transformed from a grieving widow to a suspect hours later, investigators testified, after police obtained surveillance video showing Crampton Brophy inside a minivan, circling the streets surrounding the school just minutes before the shooting.
Detectives waited three months before arresting her. In that time, they also found that Crampton Brophy had bought a gun and spare gun parts and was seeking to collect on life insurance policies worth a combined $1.4 million.
Defense attorney Lisa Maxfield laid out a different take, arguing that the couple’s financial situation was trending in a better direction and suggesting that an unidentified homeless person killed Brophy during a botched robbery in a rough part of town.
Neither person in the relationship was perfect, Crampton Brophy said, but their strengths and weaknesses complemented each other.
On the stand, Crampton Brophy told the jury that nearly four years of incarceration have prevented her from truly grieving the loss of her husband. It’s hard for her to believe he’s gone, she said.
“I expected him to walk into the trial until fairly recently and say, ‘What the hell is going on,’” she said.
FROM TEXAS TO OREGON
The middle child of two Texas lawyers, Nancy Lee Crampton, now 71, was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, on June 16, 1950. She graduated from the local high school in 1968 and went on to major in economics at the University of Houston.
She married a police officer — but wouldn’t let him store a gun collection in the house, she has said. It’s unclear why the marriage sputtered.
Ready for a fresh start, Crampton Brophy said she moved from Texas to Oregon in 1990 or 1991, where she enrolled at the now-closed Western Culinary Institute, which was later renamed the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
There, she met Brophy. It was her first class, she said, and his first term as an instructor.
The couple, born nine days and four years apart in June, were friends at first. Records show Brophy divorced his first wife in 1994 and was largely estranged from their son as he grew up.
Crampton Brophy, the older of the two, was first struck by his intelligence, she said, and was later wooed by his gastronomic prowess.
Eight years after they met, they held a large marriage ceremony in 1999 and began referring to each other as husband and wife, although they neglected to file the legal paperwork until June 14, 2016, according to a Washington County clerk.
While Brophy earned $50,000 to $60,000 a year teaching, Crampton Brophy spent 10 years running Chef Du Jour Catering in Northwest Portland. At times, the business earned about $500,000 a year, according to a 1999 tax return presented in court.
The company’s fortunes faltered after 9/11, forcing her to pare down the catering staff from 25 people to about 15, according to an account that year in The Oregonian covering cutbacks in the local restaurant scene.
“Everyone’s hanging on, hoping the economy is going to turn,” Crampton Brophy told a reporter. “If you laid off 40 people this year, you’re not thinking, ‘Let’s have a holiday party.’ You’re thinking, ‘Nobody is in the mood to celebrate.’”
‘THE WRONG HUSBAND’
But when it came to writing, Crampton Brophy was never in it for the money. It was something she said she was simply drawn to do.
After graduating from the culinary school, Crampton Brophy spent years dabbling in literary crafts and joining local writers groups. Though she had published her first pamphlet in college and had some experience with technical writing, her pursuit of fiction didn’t blossom until 2013, when she published her first in a series of five linked romance novels.
With titles like “The Wrong Husband” and “The Wrong Lover,” the works featured star-crossed lovers, police procedures and, in one instance, a multimillion-dollar life insurance policy.
“Slowly he eased the gun out of the pocket, each shot had to count” went a typical description of gunplay in “The Wrong SEAL,” according to an excerpt read aloud in court.
Crampton Brophy’s nine self-published novels, most of which have less than a dozen reviews each on Amazon, netted little income, according to prosecutors. But they took on outsized significance after her arrest, not the least because she had once published an essay titled “How to Murder Your Husband.”
The essay described several modes of killing and suggested the crime was only worth doing if it couldn’t be solved.
Crampton Brophy testified that she bought an unregistered “ghost gun” kit and the barrel for a Glock pistol online to help inspire a novel about a woman who assembled a gun piece by piece to fend off a threatening ex-lover.
Prosecutors allege Crampton Brophy used a Glock she purchased at a gun show to shoot her husband, swapping in the gun barrel she got online. Then she put the original barrel back on and disposed of the second one to prevent police from identifying the murder weapon, they say.
“I’m kind of obsessed with these gun parts, and I’m kind of amazed at how obsessed I am,” she testified, describing her acquisitions.
Her writing avocation also came into play as Crampton Brophy explained why she didn’t tell detectives that she had driven near the culinary school at the time her 63-year-old husband was shot. Instead, Crampton Brophy told detectives she had been in bed all morning writing, according to an audio recording of her police interview.
Expert witnesses hired by her lawyers said Crampton Brophy was so shocked by the news of her husband’s death that she suffered retrograde amnesia and forgot the details of her morning.
Crampton Brophy testified that she still doesn’t remember the trip but that it wouldn’t be unusual for her to be in the neighborhood because she often liked to cruise the area for inspiration, stopping to jot down notes in the car as she went.
“It was a place that I would have felt very comfortable writing, and so I’m sure that it’s a true memory,” she said.
LIFE AND DEATH
Despite the couple’s money troubles, Crampton Brophy has described the months leading up to her husband’s death as some of the best times in their rock-steady relationship.
Their marriage, in Crampton Brophy’s telling, was a study in contrasts. He was an early-riser, tea drinker and closet hoarder who could hide his humor and affection beneath a gruff demeanor, she said.
Always loquacious, Crampton Brophy said she liked to sleep in, kept her spaces in the house tidy and, according to a police forensic accountant, managed to spend nearly $1,000 a year at Starbucks.
And though they were both self-professed gourmets with culinary training, Crampton Brophy had little interest in stewarding her food from farm to table. She largely handled the administrative side of her catering business.
She eventually left the catering business in the early 2000s due to the physical strain and took up selling life insurance and Medicare policies on commission.
But it wasn’t enough, forcing Brophy to cash in a $35,000 chunk of his retirement savings in November 2017 to pay off the couple’s credit card debt.
Crampton Brophy said the loan had largely resolved their financial woes, telling the jury that their relationship had entered its “happiest” moments in the months before Brophy’s death.
“I was his cheerleader. And this was not a one-way street. He was mine as well,” she said. “He loved me … and I loved him back.”
Whether her husband looked as favorably on the relationship is now unknowable.
Brophy often referred to his wife as “management” or the “cruise director,” according to several of his colleagues who testified during the trial, though on the witness stand Crampton Brophy said it was her husband who was better at researching projects ahead of time.
“I’m already in the middle of the water,” she said, “before I think, ‘Hmm, maybe a plan would have been a good idea.’”
Brophy foraged ingredients with his students on day trips to the Oregon coast, managed a verdant to overgrown garden in the couple’s backyard and sold herbs from a cart kept at the culinary institute. Prosecutors noted that one of Crampton Brophy’s first acts after the killing was to find another home for the chef’s beloved chickens.
Brophy also was an expert wild mushroom forager in the Willamette National Forest.
“I clipped out an article from the newspaper a while ago about a 93-year-old mushroom hunter,” he told The Oregonian/OregonLive in 2013. “I hope that’s me at 93.”
The trial heads to closing arguments on Monday.
— Zane Sparling; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-319-7083; @pdxzane