Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Brianna Denison

Snatched in the Dead of Night

Brianna Denison, 19, was known for being security conscious. A sophomore psychology student at Santa Barbara City College, she had returned to her Reno, Nev., home for winter break and planned to attend a number of events associated with the SWAT 72 snowboarding festival on Saturday night, January 19, 2008, before heading back to college the next week. She made a list of the events she was planning to attend, gave it to her mother and informed her that she would be ending the night at the home of a friend, K.T. Hunter, also 19. Denison, Hunter and one of Hunter's housemates then proceeded to the SWAT events, ending with an early breakfast at Mel's Diner inside the Sands Regency Casino Hotel.

View: Reno, Nevada
View: Reno, Nevada

It was about 4:00 a.m. when Brianna and Hunter returned home, dropped off by four male companions who drove away as the two young women entered the house. Hunter's housemate had returned hours earlier and had already gone to bed. After they changed into sleeping attire, Hunter gave Denison two blankets, a pillow and a teddy bear to bolster the pillow.

Denison slept on the leather sofa downstairs, while Hunter retired to her bedroom that she shared with another girl. She took her dog with her and locked the bedroom door behind her. The five-foot, ninety-eight pound Denison presumably went to sleep on the sofa, in view of a glass-paneled front door that was left unlocked, as Hunter and the other girls living in the house typically left their doors. When Hunter awoke some five hours later and began looking for her friend, all she found was a silver dollar-sized bloodstain on the pillow that investigators would later determine had come from Denison.

"Someone walked into my house and took my friend and did God knows what with her," Hunter said later. "It seems unreal...she is the nicest person, honest to God. She has such a good heart. It's so sad this happened."

Brianna Denison
Brianna Denison
Hunter, who had been friends with Denison since high school, told police officers that she had not heard any noises after going to bed that Sunday morning, and that her dog had never barked. She explained that when she discovered that Denison was gone, she had telephoned Denison's mother and then had called the police.

There were no signs of forced entry. There also were no signs of a struggle inside the home.

Perplexed by the attractive, blue-eyed brunette's disappearance and deeply concerned that no one had heard from her, Hunter and Denison's family members worked assiduously to assist the police with their investigation. Police, including Lt. Robert McDonald, head of the robbery/homicide unit, and Detective David Jenkins, a 32-year veteran of the department, inspected the burnt-orange, two-story rental house on the 1300 block of MacKay Court, near the University of Nevada-Reno (UNR) campus, shortly after the first investigating officers had arrived to begin what initially had seemed to be a simple missing person case. Soon it became clear that it would be much more than that.


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