The model and the murder hunt that ended in a motel room

First a Playboy model was brutally killed, then the prime suspect's body was found. Guy Adams explains why the case raises awkward questions for US reality TV
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The Independent US

He didn't look much like a tycoon, the ashen-faced man who checked into a cheap motel on the outskirts of a misleadingly-named Canadian town called Hope. But to the receptionist who handed over the keys last Thursday, the scruffily-dressed guest didn't look much like a brutal killer, either.

Three days later, when a body was found dangling from a coat rack in his room and news crews had rushed across British Columbia to report from the scene, it became clear that the man was Ryan Alexander Jenkins, a reality TV "millionaire" wanted for the murder of his wife.

Jenkins, 32, had hanged himself with a belt. His death marked the culmination of a brush with tabloid notoriety that has showcased the worst excess of the Hollywood media and raised uncomfortable questions for a reality TV industry which many Americans fear is out of control.

Jenkins, a former contestant on a dating show called Megan Wants a Millionaire, ended his life at Hope's Thunderbird Motel on Sunday morning. "I cracked the door and there he was, hanging in front of me, feet touching the floor," said the hotel manager, Kevin Walker. "In no way, shape or form did he look like the man we'd seen on TV."

For the previous week, he had led police on a sprawling manhunt after apparently strangling his wife, Jasmine Fiore – a former swimwear model, Playboy representative, and aspiring actress – during a jealous rage. Her naked body was hacked into pieces, stuffed inside a suitcase and dumped in a rubbish bin on a suburban street in Los Angeles.

As always, with murders that capture the public imagination, further details emerged. Police revealed that Ms Fiore's fingertips and teeth were removed soon after her death. She was so badly disfigured that coroners were forced to formally identify her from serial numbers on her silicone breast implants.

The search for a killer began to focus on the 26-year-old victim's colourful private life. It emerged that Ms Fiore had recently married Jenkins, a Canadian businessman who had lately achieved fame on Megan Wants a Millionaire, a show where wealthy men search for a trophy wife.

According to reports, the couple had met at a Las Vegas strip club on 16 March, where Jenkins was drowning his sorrows after being ejected from the show. He impressed her with tales of minor celebrity and they decided to marry at one of the city's notorious chapels just 48 hours later.

As the search intensified last week, investigators began asking how Jenkins, a publicity-hungry property developer from a wealthy Calgary family, had been allowed to appear on television in the first place.

Megan Wants a Millionaire, made for cable network VH1, featured 17 men hoping to woo Megan Hauserman, a pneumatic blonde from Florida. Each was required to possess a personal fortune in excess of $1m (£600,000), and take part in a series of tasks such as designing a marketing campaign for her pet chihuahua.

VH1 claims to have "screened" the selected contestants but basic research should have prevented Jenkins going on air. He was sentenced to 15 months probation in Calgary in 2007 for assaulting an ex-girlfriend and had a track record of abusive behaviour towards women.

None of these facts were revealed to Ms Fiore. Having fallen for the reality TV star, she embarked on a hedonistic lifestyle with him that was chronicled in pictures and videos posted on his MySpace web page. One video showed her gyrating beside a Las Vegas swimming pool, wearing a bikini and drinking a cocktail. Jenkins, who was behind the camera, could be heard exclaiming: "Wow! Oh God I love my wife, I love my wife ... Oh wow. Love you, babe!"

Another, taken in early April, showed Ms Fiore wearing a short dress, flashing her buttocks and blowing kisses at Jenkins while she danced at a Vegas nightclub.

Their relationship soon hit choppy water. In April, they appear to have briefly separated and in June, he was charged with battery constituting domestic violence after an incident in which Ms Fiore was hit on the arm.

The couple had resumed their relationship and the more recent events which led to Ms Fiore's murder remain shrouded in mystery. By deciding to kill himself as the police net was closing in, Jenkins saved himself from having to explain what drove him to strangle his wife and dispose of her body in such a brutal fashion.

One convincing potential motive was Ms Fiore's relationship with an ex-boyfriend, Robert Hasman. On the eve of her death, she had sent several text messages to Mr Hasman, who looks eerily similar to Jenkins, saying that she planned to visit him in Las Vegas during the coming weekend.

"We exchanged several texts and also a few emails as well," Mr Hasman told NBC's Today programme. "She wanted to come to Las Vegas. She wanted to come and see me, and her last message was 'I'm coming'."

Twenty-four hours later, after Ms Fiore was murdered, Mr Hasman received a text message from her phone saying simply "suck it". He yesterday claimed to be "glad" that its apparent sender, Jenkins, had decided to kill himself.

Ms Fiore and Mr Hasman had certainly been close recently. Several websites published a video of them on holiday in Los Cabos, Mexico, last month. A guest at the pool area told reporters that they used aliases – he was "Hans" and she was "Ginger".

The media frenzy surrounding the killing was magnified by the manhunt that ensued. Much like the villain in an elaborate TV murder programme, Jenkins displayed remarkable ability to elude the police.

First, he drove north in a white sports car from Los Angeles, where he and Ms Fiore had been living. He then switched to a black BMW, which was eventually found near Seattle.

Jenkins later escaped US and Canadian coastguards by crossing the border in a speedboat called Night Ride Her. It was dumped in a marina near Vancouver, where several of Jenkins' relatives live.

Finally, Jenkins wound up in Hope, a hard-scrabble town in rural Canada where the first Rambo movie was filmed. A blonde woman, who police are now seeking, dropped him outside the Thunderbird Hotel's reception and paid for his room in cash.

The week-long saga has caused serious embarrassment for VH1, which was forced to pull Megan Wants a Millionaire from the schedules. The network has also cancelled a show called I Love Money, which was also to feature Jenkins.

Other reality shows have also faced scrutiny after public tragedies. In December, American Idol was criticised after an emotionally-fragile contestant – who had been mercilessly teased by Simon Cowell – committed suicide outside the home of fellow judge Paula Abdul.

The Fiore murder has also seen the wider celebrity media face public criticism. At the weekend, the gossip website TMZ decided to publish a grainy image of Ms Fiore's corpse but it was forced to take it down after protests from readers.

But the couple's friends and associates were not prevented from hitting the airwaves yesterday. "This man was a professional con man," Ms Fiore's mother, Lisa Lepore, said of Jenkins. "He targeted women. He wanted to be something he wasn't and he wanted to be and have what Jasmine had ... He was a fake."

Downfall of a millionaire Ryan Alexander Jenkins

*16 March: On the night Jenkins is eliminated from the reality TV show Megan Wants a Millionaire, he adjourns to a Las Vegas strip club, where he meets former Playboy model Jasmine Fiore.

*18 March: Jenkins and Fiore marry at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. Fiore's mother recently claimed they were divorced in May. However there are no court records of an annulment in either Vegas or LA, where they later lived.

*15 June: Jenkins is charged with "battery constituting domestic violence" in connection with an incident in April when he allegedly struck Fiore on the arm at a Las Vegas hotel.

*17 July: Video shows Fiore holidaying by a swimming pool in Los Cabos, Mexico. She is next to a former boyfriend, Robert Hasman.

*13 August: Fiore is last seen alive, checking into L'Auberge Del Mar, a San Diego hotel, with Jenkins. Earlier that day, she had sent text messages and emails to Hasman, arranging to spend the weekend with him in Las Vegas.

*16 August: Fiore's mutilated body is discovered in a rubbish bin in Buena Park, Los Angeles. Police say Jenkins is a "person of interest" in her killing.

*23 August: Jenkins's body is found at the Thunderbird Motel in Hope, Canada. He had apparently strangled himself.

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