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Oklahoma City’s Cathouse Murders – The star of HBO series Cathouse dies in mysterious fire (2009).

Cathouse murder house after fire

Liar, liar, house on fire

Cathouse murder - burnt home front door

At 5:30 a.m. on Monday, November 9, 2009, Oklahoma City’s 911 emergency dispatch center received a harrowing phone call reporting a house fire on the 1500 block of Southwest 56th Street. The caller, a neighbor down the street from the blaze, was calm as she described the scene to the 911 operator.

Within minutes, firefighters from the Oklahoma City Fire Department (OCFD) arrived on the scene and attempted to determine whether anyone was inside the burning single-level brick home.  After extinguishing the fire, which gutted much of the inside of the house as well as the roof, investigators located four bodies inside the residence.

The bodies, burned beyond recognition, were taken to the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office where autopsies were conducted on each. Local television reported that three women and one man died in the fire.  It was quickly discovered that the fire was not an accident.


Cathouse murder - Jennifer Ermey
Jennifer Ermey

Although homicide investigators, including Oklahoma City Police Detective (OCPD) Ryan Porter, revealed details in a controlled fashion to avoid compromising their case, it was clear from the outset that some form of homicide was involved. Despite this obvious conclusion, police officials did not immediately confirm that they were working the case as a homicide investigation, stating instead that they wanted to wait and see the results of the autopsies. Although local reporters had stated that two of the four victims had been identified, the OCPD would not release the names until family members were first notified.

“We believe we know [the victims’ identities], but we want to make sure and err on the side of caution.”

One of the victims, according to Sgt. Chris Miller, had lacerations to her stomach, face and neck, while the other three victims were burned beyond recognition.  Police investigators said that they had reason to believe that at least one other person had been inside the house but had left before firefighters arrived. Although they would not say how they had come to that conclusion, they did indicate that they wanted to speak with the unnamed person. Police officials neither confirmed nor denied that the person was a suspect, but a television news station reported that the person of interest may have been the renter of the house.

Although police officials had not released the victims’ names, it was not long before someone placed a makeshift memorial, including a large teddy bear, on the front lawn of the burned-out home in honor of one Jennifer Ermey. The name led to a MySpace tribute page that included a message that stated:

“Jennifer Ermey has gone onto heaven R.I.P. 11-09-09.”

The MySpace message appeared the same day as the fire.


Cathouse murder - Millagros Barrera
Millagros Barrera

When the autopsies concluded, coroners revealed that all four victims had been shot to death. Two of the female victims had also been pregnant bringing the official death toll to six.  Because the gunshots had been the cause of the victims’ deaths, it was apparent that the fire had been set to conceal the crime of murder.

The victims were eventually identified as Brooke Phillips, 22; her unborn baby; Milagros Barrera, 22, also known as Millie; her unborn baby; Jennifer Ermey, 25; and Casey Barrientos, 32.

Phillips’ body was identified by an obscene tattoo on the inside of her lip (relatives told police that she would pull her lip down and expose the tattoo to those with whom she became upset).  According to partial autopsy reports, Phillips’ death had been particularly gruesome.  She had suffered a “perforating gunshot wound” to her head, specifically to the right temple, her throat had been slit, and she had been stabbed in her abdomen. She also had suffered gunshots to her left arm, left index finger, and right leg, and had cuts to her hands and a wrist.

According to case documents filed in Oklahoma County District Court, all of the victims had sustained stabbing and gunshot wounds.

Soon, police were able to locate and interview an eyewitness who had been present inside the house when the shootings occurred. According to the witness, a person referred to as “Hooligan” had been arguing with one of the victims when the shooting began. Although “Hooligan” told the witness that his problem was not with the witness, the witness nonetheless ran from the house and escaped.  Detective Porter and his colleagues also learned from a neighbor that a car had been heard leaving the house approximately 20 minutes before anyone noticed that the house was on fire.  A short time later, Porter identified “Hooligan” as David Allen Tyner, 28. His whereabouts were unknown.

Search warrant reveals unusual items inside the home

28 year old David Allen Tyner
David Allen Tyner

Following the execution of a search warrant at the crime scene, investigators confiscated eight spent casings from two separate firearms, a folding knife, two box knives, a white Bic lighter, a digital scale, sandwich-sized Ziploc bags, and large garbage bags. They also seized plastic bags containing marijuana, varying in weight from .60 grams to 5.77 grams.

It appeared to some investigators that the house may have been the site of a possible drug-dealing operation. Small amounts of currency were also found, along with debit cards belonging to Brooke Phillips and other identification, several cell phones, and a pill bottle containing antibiotics that had been prescribed to Phillips. There were also a number of live rounds of ammunition found inside a sock.

In the aftermath of the horrific crime, investigators set up a tip line, and placed a sign with the tip line telephone number outside the crime scene. They also devoted a room on the third floor of the OCPD headquarters building for investigators to examine evidence retrieved from the burnt-out house, utilizing computers and dry-erase boards to document and develop the case.

“There’s a tremendous amount of evidence, a tremendous amount of information that they’re processing,” Sgt. Knight told reporters. “This is something we are taking very seriously, especially when we’re talking about a homicide with six victims in one event.”

Brooke Phillips identified as HBO Cathouse star

The evening news three days later announced that Phillips had worked as a prostitute at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothel in Mound House, Nevada, not far from Carson City and Reno. The Moonlite Bunny Ranch is a legal, licensed brothel (prostitution is legal in much of Nevada, with the notable exception of Clark County, where Las Vegas is located).  As the additional information about the case surfaced, it was learned that Brooke Phillips, while working as a prostitute in Nevada, had been featured on the HBO reality TV series, Cathouse. The television program, a documentary of sorts, depicted the lives of those working at the brothel.

Cathouse murder - Brooke Phillips
Brooke Phillips

Phillips used the pseudonym, Hayden Brooks. A native of Moore, Okla., part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, she had gained a certain amount of celebrity or notoriety, depending upon one’s point of view, from her work on the show. Moonlite Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof, a frequent customer who had purchased the establishment in 1993 for $1 million, confirmed that Phillips had worked at his establishment for the past couple of years, and characterized her as a “good girl” who had recently returned to Oklahoma after becoming pregnant.

“Give us a little bit of closure and then go ahead and apprehend the criminal that killed this girl and the other people,” Hof said shortly after learning of the crime.

According to Hof, Phillips contacted him about two years before her death expressing a desire to work at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. The month prior to her death, she had reportedly told Hof of her pregnancy, her desire to have the baby and her desire to return to work after having the child. Hof said that “the Bunnies were…planning to throw her a baby shower.” He said that she had not known who the father was and had not appeared to care. Three months pregnant at the time of her death, the baby had been due in late spring 2010.

Hof told that Phillips had been a pro when it came to stripper pole moves, which she had loved to use to accentuate her beautiful body. She had always been on the pole at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, Hof said, because “she loved it.”

“We are replacing the pole…with a brand new one,” Hof added. He said the new pole would be inscribed the “Hayden Brooks Memorial Pole.” Hof said that they would also place a plaque on the ceiling with a photo of Phillips and the inscription “You’ll always be on the pole.” Hof described Phillips as having had a great personality and said that she had been the Miss Congeniality of the brothel.

According to published reports, Phillips was the mother of a six-year-old daughter to whom she had given birth when she was 15. The child lived with a relative in Oklahoma. The girl’s father, Phillips’ ex-boyfriend, reportedly had been involved in a custody dispute with Phillips at the time of her death.

The other victims

A possible motive for the multiple murders surfaced as police began to learn more about the other victims of the early morning carnage. Barrientos, the only male victim in the case, had been in and out of prison for drug convictions beginning in 1997. He had also reportedly been involved in a drive-by shooting. Barrientos, who had been released from prison in July 2009, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, had devil’s horns tattooed on his forehead and was fond of wearing jewelry – lots of it. Theories that a possible drug-dealing dispute may have led to the murders began to circulate, but it remained to be seen whether the police could build a case around that theory.

Not much was known about 22-year-old Milagros Barrera. Born in Peru in 1987, she had graduated from Moore High School in 2007, and had worked in retail cellular telephone sales until her death. She was described by family and friends as a “beautiful, loving, and caring person” who had loved life and tried to enjoy it to the fullest.

“She was an amazing person,” a friend said. “She was the happiest person.”

Similarly, Jennifer Ermey was remembered as a beautiful woman, full of inspiration.  A friend wrote on a MySpace page that had been set up as a memorial:

“She was an amazing, sweet person who will be greatly missed by all that knew her.  She had a smile that could light up a room. Her life was cut way too short, but she touched a lot of lives in her short time in this world.”

Another friend, who had met Ermey in the eighth grade, characterized her as a good person.  She told reporters:

“I don’t know anyone who could have a problem with her.  She was just an amazing person, a good spirit. I love her. I just feel maybe she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Investigators noted that the last entry on Ermey’s MySpace page read: “Throwing on my dress and going to pick up Millie.”

Investigators step up efforts to find David Allen Tyner

It was also revealed that investigators had stepped up their efforts to find David Allen Tyner who, according to sources in the prosecutor’s office, had closer ties to Barrientos than originally known. It appeared that Tyner, a veteran of the war in Iraq, had worked as a bodyguard for Barrientos. Tyner, a former marine, was also a MMA cage fighter, participating in mixed martial arts bouts inside a cage.

Aware that he was being hunted as a suspect for six murders, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, a week after the slayings, David Allen Tyner surrendered to authorities in Mayes County, northeast of Tulsa, near the Missouri and Arkansas borders. He was taken into custody without incident and was brought back to the Oklahoma County Jail where he was held pending charges. Detectives indicated that they did not believe he had acted alone and acknowledged that they had identified a second suspect but were not yet ready to release his name.  Knight told reporters:

“We don’t believe [Tyner] acted alone.  We’ve identified the one suspect, but that doesn’t yet tell us what his motive is for doing this…. Often times these investigations are like a big puzzle to solve, and certainly that can present a challenge, but not a challenge that we can’t overcome.”

A major reason that detectives did not believe that Tyner had acted alone was the fact that bullet casings from two different guns had been found at the crime scene, typically indicating that at least two shooters had been involved.

There was also speculation that Tyner, for reasons not yet ascertained by police, may have been gunning for Barrientos and that the others had been taken out because they had been witnesses who could identify Tyner to the police if allowed to live.

Police learn more details about David Tyner

Investigators learned that Tyner, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was part of a gang known as the Indian Brotherhood. According to Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetzel, a number of altercations at three prisons between American Indian and Hispanic inmates had followed Tyner’s arrest, and Whetzel and others in Oklahoma law enforcement believed these had been deliberately coordinated and were related somehow to Tyner and to Barrientos, who had been Hispanic. Several inmates from the correctional facilities affected were hospitalized with stab wounds before corrections officials tightened security and stopped the violent outbursts. No reasons were given as to why authorities believed the violence had been deliberately coordinated.

Tyner had been an All-American wrestler in high school, and it was reported that he had wrestled at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga prior to joining the Marines. He was characterized by his high school coach, Johnny Cook, as having been a “good kid” and that the charges against him did not fit his character.  In an interview with the Cherokee Phoenix, Cook said:

“He obviously had a strong work ethic and a strong will to succeed, being a two-time All-American and a state runner-up.  But he was very kind-hearted, too. If someone were being bullied or picked on in school, he would take up for that individual. That’s the David I knew…he would give you the shirt off his back.”

Tyner was subsequently charged with six counts of murder, but investigators still did not propose a definite motive for the killings, although they continued to theorize that the murders may have been motivated by a drug operation or drug deal gone bad. Tyner pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Bolstering the potential drug operation theory, in addition to the drugs, paraphernalia, and money found inside the house after the fire had been extinguished, was the fact that Casey Barrientos had felt the need for a bodyguard. Barrientos had also been known to wear a great deal of jewelry, had been present at a location where it appeared that drug deals had been conducted, and an estimated $10,000 in jewelry that Barrientos was believed to have been wearing was mostly missing when his body was found. According to published reports, police believed the shooters had stolen the jewelry: a white gold cross necklace with diamonds, matching white gold and diamond earrings, and a white gold bracelet adorned with diamonds.

A friend of Brooke Phillips maintained that Brooke was not involved with drugs directly and that she had likely been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Brooke never used drugs.  She barely even drank. But she did date a drug dealer on and off.”

Denny Edward Phillips—a troubled past

Cathouse murder - Denny Phillips
Denny Phillips

On Monday, April 26, 2010, Denny Edward Phillips, 32, the previously unnamed person of interest in the case, was being sought for the burglary of a Tulsa police detective’s home in which guns, a Tulsa police uniform, badges, and other items were stolen. When cornered by Tulsa police officers outside a motel, Phillips, no relation to Brooke Phillips, allegedly pointed a gun at them and was shot three times, once in the chest and twice in the abdomen. He was hospitalized in critical condition but survived his injuries.  Gary Gardner, Barrera’s stepfather, told reporters:

“He has a history of committing crimes, with a long criminal record behind him, and was a cage fighter like the other guy they already arrested.  My daughter and her unborn baby, along with the other victims, deserve justice.”

According to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, Denny Phillips had been identified as a person of interest in the investigation into the six homicides of November 9, 2009, early in the case. Prater stated in an e-mail to his employees issued prior to the police shootout with Phillips that Phillips was “a very dangerous person who ordered the hits on six people in south Oklahoma City,” and that Phillips had reason “to target some associates” in the Oklahoma City area. Prater said that he had issued the warning to his employees because of concerns that Phillips might use the stolen uniform and badges to pose as a Tulsa police officer, presumably because of the items stolen from the Tulsa police detective’s home.

A subsequent search of the motel room where Phillips had been staying turned up two guns that had been reported stolen from the Tulsa police detective’s home. Phillips was not initially charged in the burglary of the detective’s home, but the investigation continued.

Phillips had spent much of his adult life incarcerated; he was 18 when he was first sent to prison. Phillips’ criminal history included 1996 convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and other crimes, including a jail escape. In the assault conviction, he stabbed a male in the shoulder with a belt-buckle knife and pleaded guilty to the charge. He was released in May 2007 after spending 11 years in prison.

Cathouse murder - Johnathan Allen Cochran
Johnathan Allen Cochran

Following his release from prison, Phillips took up cage fighting. In January 2010, he was arrested in Mayes County, Okla., during a traffic stop in which officers found a stolen .40-caliber handgun, along with ingredients that could be used to manufacture methamphetamine. After the traffic stop, an officer reported that Phillips had received text messages on his cell phone in which someone wrote, “need a half, will pay you Monday.” Phillips admitted possessing a handgun at the time because, he claimed, he had been threatened by someone.

He was charged in January 2010 in Mayes County District Court as a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, a violation of his parole. Related to the shootout with police in April, Phillips was charged on Thursday, May 20, 2010, with possession of a firearm and of feloniously pointing a firearm at police officer in an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa.

House on fire

Cathouse murder - Russell Hogshooter
Rissell Hogshooter

At a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, July 13, 2010, the state court count of possessing a firearm as a felon was dismissed at the request of prosecutors due to Phillips’ recent indictment in U.S. District Court. A Tulsa County judge ordered him bound over for trial on a charge of feloniously pointing a firearm at the Tulsa police officers who had tracked him to the motel where the shootout occurred.

Prosecutors also alleged that Phillips was the leader of the Indian Brotherhood gang, of which Tyner was also reputedly a member, and contended that Phillips was a flight risk, filing a motion to raise his bail to $750,000 in the Tulsa case.

Phillips has not yet entered a plea to the charges that have so far been laid. Phillips also has not been charged with the Oklahoma City slayings, but police are continuing their investigation to determine what part, if any, he may have had in that case

As they had from the case’s outset, OCPD detectives remained cautious and continued to hold their cards close to their chests, releasing very little information. As of July 2010, the motive for the killings on November 9, 2009, remained unclear, and Tyner had proclaimed his innocence to a relative as well as pleading not guilty in court. Tyner apparently had a number of people rooting for him, including a close friend who had stated that he believed Tyner may have suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome following his tour of duty in Iraq. It has been reported that Tyner does not appear to have a prior criminal history, but Tyner was the only person who had been charged in the Oklahoma City slayings. Police investigation continues, but the events of that fatal night would never be fully explained until several years later.

The truth will set you free – or not

After six years of silence, admitted murderer David Allen “Hooligan” Tyner finally told Oklahoma City police detectives what they had suspected all along.  From a prison in Maryland, the former Marine and cage fighter told police in detail that he had helped two others (Russell Lee Hogshooter and Jonathan Allen Cochran) in the fatal shootings of a drug dealer and three women at a south Oklahoma City rent house in November 2009. The Cathouse Murders case had finally been solved.

Russell Lee Hogshooter appeal filing – 2020

Image Credits

28 year old David Allen Tyner via News On 6 by Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department with usage type - Public Domain
Cathouse murder - Denny Phillips via Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office with usage type - Public Domain
Cathouse murder - Russell Hogshooter via Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office with usage type - Public Domain
Cathouse murder - Brooke Phillips via Facebook
Cathouse murder - Millagros Barrera via Facebook
Cathouse murder - Jennifer Ermey via Facebook
Cathouse murder - Johnathan Allen Cochran via Oklahoma County Sherrif's Office with usage type - Public Domain
Cathouse murder - burnt home front door via Daily Mail
Cathouse murder house after fire via Daily Mail

Featured Image Credit

Cathouse murder house after fire via Daily Mail
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