Millionaire murder

The fast times and tragic end of a Calgary developer turned reality television star

Millionaire murderRyan Alexander Jenkins last showed up in Calgary in early June and found himself strangely alone. For several months he had been travelling back and forth between Calgary, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where he had just completed filming a reality television program. “I think he came back without a lot of friends,” says an old drinking buddy, Chris Tutty, who, like Jenkins, is both a realtor and an aspiring actor. “It was almost like he was following me around to different places where I was at, casually running into me and buying me drinks.”

In fact, Jenkins wanted badly to talk. His relationship with 28-year-old Jasmine Fiore, the Las Vegas model he’d married in March, only days after meeting her, was in trouble. “He was saying that he was just being used and lied to and that everyone was making fun of him,” says Tutty. Tutty did not think much of Fiore, whom he’d met at a private party in the spring during one of her visits to Canada with Jenkins. And he had reason to be skeptical of his friend’s professed feelings for the woman he still called his wife: Jenkins was working the Living Room—a trendy Calgary hotspot—collecting telephone numbers from the buxom blonds he had always found so irresistible. “He was like a hawk that had seen his prey,” says Michelle Hull, one woman who met his criteria that night. “He said that he had an open relationship,” says Tutty. “I laughed at that one.”

Now, after Fiore and Jenkins’s bizarre and tragic ends, Tutty is more reflective. “I feel really bad,” he says, his voice breaking. “Maybe I could have prevented this by giving him the time of day and talking to him. And I just didn’t.” In interviews with Maclean’s this week, friends described Jenkins as at once charming and insecure—too eager to please his male buddies, too quick to throw tantrums when girlfriends failed to do as he asked. His intensity with women—he committed quickly, more than once falling in love in sensation-laden Las Vegas—may have made him a poor fit for Fiore, whom they call demanding and manipulative. Fiore’s friends, meanwhile, maintain she was sincere but strangely secretive about the marriage that would be her downfall.

The artifacts of the pair’s brief life together—photographs and love letters—began proliferating on the Internet the day a bottle collector poking around an Orange County dumpster discovered Fiore’s nude body in a suitcase last week. Eeriest are the videos: in one, from Jenkins’s shuttered MySpace page and first posted by the gossip website TMZ, a bikini-clad Fiore gyrates with a stripper’s prowess—tossing her dark hair back expertly, teasing the camera—somewhere where palm trees grow. “Wow,” gasps a man’s voice. “God, I love my life. And I love my wife.” Then Jenkins, ever the reality TV actor, turns the camera on himself. “Luckiest guy in the world,” he says, pointing at his chest. “Right here.” Within a few weeks, Fiore would be dead—savagely beaten, strangled, her fingers severed, her teeth removed—and Jenkins hanging from his neck by a belt in a British Columbia town called Hope.

It has become increasingly difficult to disentangle Jenkins’s reality from reality television. After the discovery last week of Fiore’s body, the U.S. tabloid shows seized on the story of the 32-year-old Megan Wants a Millionaire contestant, fusing life with the shimmering spectacle of Nancy Grace and Larry King. The circus perhaps reached its strange apotheosis when Duane Chapman, the TV star of Dog the Bounty Hunter, offered to help authorities in Canada find Jenkins after he disappeared by boat to B.C. “The media just went bananas,” Ryan’s mother, Nada Jenkins, told Maclean’s. “Had he not been in a reality show, I don’t think they even would have bothered with him. It would have been a regular . . . ” She paused, weeping. “I think this whole situation would have turned out differently.” Despite it all—his flight from authorities, the high-speed boat chases along the Washington coast and, later, his apparent suicide—Nada maintains her son played no role in the murder. “Ryan is a good young man and I have to prove his innocence—that’s my goal in life,” she says. “I believe my son is innocent.”

Judging from his youth, things should have turned out differently. “The kid had everything, man! Everything,” says one close friend, a 33-year-old Calgary entrepreneur. “If you know Ryan, everything is cool. The guy had a great lifestyle and good people around him.” The son of Dan Jenkins, an internationally known Calgary architect, he attended Western Canada High School, a downtown, old-worldy institution that services the city’s affluent Mount Royal neighbourhood. A bright student, he nevertheless fell in with a bad crowd, prompting his parents to send him to boarding school in Victoria.

By 2001, Jenkins, now 24, was in business with his father developing smartly appointed condos through Townscape Developments Inc.; he was installed as president. He would go on to work as a developer and realtor at the height of Calgary’s easy-money heyday. His early projects were “very chic, very stylish, very contemporary,” recalls Tony Parrottino, a 48-year-old Calgary engineer. Jenkins, too, cut a stylish figure. “He had a good sense of taste—he was a good dresser,” says Parrottino, part of the group of friends who hit Calgary’s bar scene on weekends, favouring such loud, boisterous clubs as Tantra, Morgan’s and Cowboys. “He was just a wonderful guy, a very easygoing, happy fellow.”

He was younger than most of his buddies, a collection of well-born oil-and-gas and real-estate phenoms whose deep pockets allowed them to play as hard as they worked. “A lot of times we were rolling around in limos, kind of L.A. style,” says Tutty. “We were rolling around in one because the four of us can pay a fourth of the limo and fill the rest of it up with booze and chicks.” Carousing and cruising for women came easily to Jenkins, whose rakish smile and hale-fellow-well-met attitude appealed to both men and women. “The girls, either you liked him or you didn’t,” says a friend. “If you were a guy, you loved him, man. He was smooth but he didn’t have an ego. He made me feel like one of the boys and he was always very good to me.”

Yet he could also come on too strong. “He’s a creepazoid,” one 30-year-old woman who knew him told Maclean’s. “He was a bit of a weird sexual person. He would corner me and try and kiss me. He’d be like, ‘I know exactly what it would be like.’ And I said, ‘You know what, actually I’m pretty frigid.’ He was like that with every girl.” Just as often the strategy worked. His appetites were pronounced and narrow. He was a well-known connoisseur of large breasts, blond hair and kinky sex. For his 30th birthday party, a swank affair at his Marda Loop home—one of the infills he developed with his father—Jenkins hired a pair of strippers to simulate sex. “They put on a wild show with whipped cream, and it was right out of Vegas—it was fun,” says a friend. Others found the spectacle, put on for a mixed crowd, in poor taste.

But many of his male friends also knew a different man. “We knew him as little Ryan,” says Parrottino. “Even his voice was ironically very feminine.” Another friend describes it as “kind of a squeaky, kind of a higher voice.” To Tutty, Jenkins was “a real people-pleaser. Maybe that was part of his obsession—he just really wanted to always make people happy. He was just putting up a fake front and a big-grin smile on his face all the time, but was very scared or very intimidated.”

Some of his encounters with women belied his “Smooth Operator” handle on Megan Wants a Millionaire. Stories of Jenkins’s aggressive sexual demands began making the rounds among his friends. Unknown to most of his friends, Jenkins pleaded guilty to assaulting a girlfriend in January 2007, earning him 15 months probation; a judge ordered that he undergo psychological counselling for sexual addiction and domestic violence. (Alain Hepner, Jenkins’s lawyer, noted he saw “a great deal of parental and family support” in his dealings with Jenkins and his parents, who helped Jenkins through the crisis.)

He fell in love fast and hard. Before he met Fiore he had become infatuated with Paulina Chmielecka, during an earlier Las Vegas jaunt. According to a friend, the Polish-born, Toronto-raised Chmielecka, a statuesque blond with delicate features, was engaged and living in Vegas when they met. “A week later they moved to Calgary together,” says the friend. “He does that with women. Years ago, I remember, at Cowboys, he proposed to a stripper.” His relationship with Chmielecka, now in her early 30s, lasted 2½ years; the couple appears to have broken up last fall (“I think his close family and friends are all devastated by everything that’s happened and obviously the conclusion of it all,” she told Maclean’s before hanging the phone up in tears). Chmielecka, who describes herself on her website as an actress, TV host and model but now works as an executive assistant at a small oil and gas production company, has denied the relationship was violent. Friends say she was good for him.

The couple’s separation coincided with the collapse of Calgary’s real estate market. Although he had found success during the boom, friends note Jenkins relied heavily on his father. (Few take seriously his claim, on Megan Wants a Millionaire, that he was worth $2.5 million.) “It’s not too hard when your dad has a whole bunch of money in equity and just before the turn in real estate you buy any empty lot and put up a cool bungalow infill and sell it,” says Tutty. At a loss for work, Jenkins, again aided by his father, got a job last October as a sales consultant at a Calgary real-estate investment firm.

He was working there when he learned he had won a spot as a contestant on Megan Wants a Millionaire, in which bachelors compete for the affections of a money-hungry blond. Though Parrottino does not recall him voicing aspirations to become a Hollywood actor, others say he took Alberta’s bust as an opportunity to try and break into the business. “He wanted to become a star,” says a female friend. “He was like a prince.” Jenkins took a leave of absence in March to shoot the program. When he returned, he surprised everyone by announcing he was married.

To those who knew her well, it was no secret that Jasmine Fiore had cast several leading men in her life. There was her ex Nick Runeare. Though the romance had long since fizzled, they remained close; some even suspected Runeare, a childhood friend, would one day be her husband. There was Las Vegas investment broker Robert Hasman. The pair had dated for several years, and it was never quite clear whether the relationship was over. And, through it all, there was Grady Huber, a close friend and former manager to whom Fiore felt “like a sister.” She sometimes joked that if she never found “the right guy,” they would “get married for tax purposes,” he says. Finally, there was Ryan Jenkins, a new husband who, for reasons we will likely never know, friends say Fiore kept hidden from them all.

Fiore, née Lepore, was born in Arizona in 1981. Soon after, her family moved to Bonny Doon, Calif., a small hippie community in the hills northwest of Santa Cruz. She was raised by her mother, Lisa, a landscaper whom Huber describes as “a free spirit.” (Fiore rarely talked about her father.) Her mother struggled financially, and Fiore, an only child, spent a great deal of time in the home of Gwendolyn and Jim Beauregard, whose sons attended her school. Gwen became a sort of “second mother” to her; one of Fiore’s first jobs was as a crew member on her yacht.

From a young age, it was apparent Fiore was “a little bit different,” says Gwen. She had big eyes that could change from blue to green, a tiny nose and full lips. People were drawn to her, says Gwen, who describes her as a “wholesome young lady.” That youthful appeal developed into a knack for attracting men. She first met Huber in 2002 while working as a receptionist; he was immediately drawn to her “amazing, magnetic aura” and the fact that “she could never fake a smile,” he says. Huber was not alone. Fiore’s ability to “make you feel like you were the only person on earth,” Huber says, provoked varying degrees of obsession among her suitors. “Every guy she dated just fell head over heels in love with her,” he says. She was engaged several times, and briefly married in her early 20s. And she always found a way to stay connected with her exes and keep them in her life.

Though she never went to college, Fiore had “street smarts,” says Gwen, and made an effort to speak properly—never saying “ ‘Yeah,’ or ‘That’s cool.’ ” Such efforts reflected a desire to flee the quaint confines of Santa Cruz. Huber had plans for her too. Aside from hair dye, the occasional botox treatment and her breasts, which she had augmented twice—after Fiore’s death, authorities used the serial number on her implants to identify her body—Huber says, “What you saw was all her.” With her athletic figure and short stature, he knew she was not cut out for the modelling runway, but he thought she was suited to swimsuit modelling. Huber and Fiore distributed headshots to local agencies, and posted her profile online. She had never been fond of the name “Lepore.” A fan of luxury cars, she considered “Bentley”; Huber convinced her “Jasmine Bentley” sounded “too much like a porn star.” In the end, they settled on “Fiore,” Italian for “flower.”

As her career took off, Fiore distanced herself from her modelling persona. She “could play the part” of a vacuous swimsuit or lingerie model, but “it was just a job,” says Huber. “It wasn’t who she was.” Moving to Las Vegas, she became a Playboy representative and did TV commercials for a hotel and a late-night chat line. By the time she met Jenkins at a Hawaiian Tropic Party in March, she had changed her last name again. She was planning to get into real estate, and decided on the more professional-sounding “Kinkade.”

Fiore kept most people in the dark about her relationship with Jenkins. As always, however, she confided in Gwen. Shortly after she reported she’d “fallen in love,” says Gwen, Fiore’s grandmother passed away; Jenkins accompanied her to South Carolina for the funeral. Upon her return, Gwen, unaware that she and Jenkins had wed, asked about the romance. “She told me, ‘He was too controlling. We broke up. It’s over.’ ”

“It popped up on Facebook! ‘I just got married,’ ” a friend of Jenkins says of how he learned of the marriage. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’ But I guess if you’re living in Vegas and you’re a cool cat and like to have fun you’re going to meet some girl and maybe do the Britney Spears marriage thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” Still, early indications suggested all was not well. Parrottino recalls from conversations with Jenkins that he was “infatuated” with his new wife but stressed by her demands. “She made it relatively clear that money was important to her,” he says. “I think that for Ryan that was somewhat stressful. I don’t think Ryan had the means for supporting that kind of lifestyle.” Still, Jenkins brought Fiore to Canada at least twice, showing her Banff, parading her before friends at Cowboys, even taking her camping.

Travelling back and forth between Calgary, L.A. and Vegas—he filmed a second reality TV series, I Love Money 3, during this period—he fell below the radar in his hometown. When he reappeared in early June, it was without Fiore. Alone, he hit the bars. “He’s back in Canada but he’s supposed to be married, yet he’s kind of out on the bar scene again,” Tutty recalls. “He didn’t seem happy about it.”

Soon, however, he was again spending time with Fiore—not all of it peaceful: her ongoing contact with other men continued to irk him. Authorities in Nevada charged him with a misdemeanour count of “battery constituting domestic violence” after he allegedly hit Fiore in the arm (his trial was slated for December). The Edmonton Journal this week quoted Dan Jenkins defending his son, who he said merely pushed Fiore into a pool during a fight. “He turns around and his wife’s kissing another guy and he grabs her hand and starts walking away, and they’re arguing and he just pushes her in the pool,” he said.

Unlike her relationship with Jenkins, Fiore was open about her long romance with Hasman, the investment broker. Former lovers, they remained in touch. In July, they reportedly vacationed together in Mexico, and in the days leading up to Fiore’s death they exchanged texts and emails. Hasman later told the media: “She wanted to come and see me.” The last message he received: “I’m coming.” Fiore was last seen alive in Jenkins’s company, at an Aug. 13 San Diego poker game. Later, apparently after her death, Hasman received another text from Fiore’s cellphone. “Suck it,” the message read.

On Saturday, Aug. 15—the day police recovered her body from the Buena Park, Calif., dump—Jenkins reported her missing, then disappeared. He headed for Washington, took to the sea in a boat he’d tastefully christened Night Rideher. Last Wednesday, after eluding police on the waters south of Point Roberts, Wash., he apparently walked across a particularly porous section of the Canada-U.S. border. The next day, a “very pretty” blond in her early 20s deposited him at the Thunderbird Motel, in Hope, B.C., paying cash for a three-night stay. The RCMP say they know who she was, but haven’t made the name public. Whoever the woman was, she ended up the boatman for Jenkins’s trip across the river Styx. On Sunday, motel staff found his body hanging from a coat rack, his feet touching the floor. “I can tell you he panicked, we were trying to bring him in,” his mother said. Reality television’s realest star had exited the frame; there is nothing more real than a motel in Hope, B.C.

With Tom Henheffer