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In life and death, tattoo artist Kauri Tiyme made her mark

For more photos of Kauri Tiyme, go to westword.com/slideshow.

The maid found her. It was close to checkout time on Saturday, October 18, and a member of the housekeeping staff at the Denver Marriott Tech Center used her pass key to enter the room.

One look, and she knew she would not be cleaning the place.

Tara Schinn, who had several tattoo sessions with Kauri, says her friend "did not want to die like this."
Tara Schinn, who had several tattoo sessions with Kauri, says her friend "did not want to die like this."
Kim Kosnar, who had "girl talks" with Kauri weeks before her death, says her friend gave no hint of being suicidal.
Kim Kosnar, who had "girl talks" with Kauri weeks before her death, says her friend gave no hint of being suicidal.

A woman with long, thick coils of black hair was lying on the blood-soaked bed, her head and neck wrapped in bandages. A scattering of green pills and two cans of Drano were on the floor, bloody towels under the bed, a blizzard of handwritten notes all over. The woman wasn't breathing.

Hotel staff called paramedics, who called the police. Homicide detectives tried to make sense of the scene. The victim had so many injuries that it wasn't apparent what had killed her.

Some of the wounds — superficial, "hesitation" cuts on the upper left thigh and right forearm — could have been self-inflicted. Others, including the deep lacerations on the forehead and the slashed throat, pointed to someone else. There was blood in various spots around the room, suggesting some kind of ongoing attack, yet there were elements of staging and ritual, too. The body had been washed, bandaged, dressed in black vinyl pants and a black sleeveless top, and placed on the bed with care.

The prolific notes were in two distinct hands and seemed to have been written over a period of days. One of the authors was apparently the dead woman, identified by a driver's license as Kauri Tiyme, 39. The other was her ex-husband, Keenu Tiyme.

This all started as a Suicide Pact and I did what I could to ensure Kauri and I succeeded, read one.

Feeling so out of it depressed sad sad and lonely, the only thing making me happy right now is knowing Kauri is no longer dealing with these feelings, read another.

Keenu had evidently not kept his end of the bargain. The notes claimed that he'd tried to kill himself with Drano and rat poison. Hanging didn't seem feasible, and jumping off the hotel balcony didn't appeal to him, either. He "didn't want to cause a scene," he wrote.

An arrest warrant was issued for Keenu Tiyme, noting that he might be driving his ex-wife's SUV. Four days later, federal marshals spotted the vehicle headed northbound on I-25 in New Mexico. A chase ensued. Keenu rolled the SUV. He was taken to Swedish Medical Center in Denver for treatment, then turned over to Denver police.

Keenu agreed to waive his Miranda rights. He told detectives Brian Campbell and Daniel Wiley that Kauri had wanted to die, and he'd agreed to help her find a painless way to do it.

They had considered guns and jumping from high places before checking into the Marriott with the Drano, pills, duct tape and a bundle of disposable scalpels. He had cut her arm and thigh to try to bleed her to death, he explained. He had tried to strangle her. He had then "hit her in the head multiple times with a bottle, cut her throat wide open, and placed his fingers in her neck to stop her from breathing," Wiley reported. "He then washed her body and taped her wounds up before leaving the hotel in her vehicle."

Campbell and Wiley booked Keenu for murder one. They had some idea now of how the woman had died. But the why of it was not so easily obtained.


Between two worlds life hovers like a star," Lord Byron wrote in his epic poem "Don Juan." "How little do we know that which we are! How less what we may be!"

A dozen years ago, a younger Kauri Tiyme came across "Don Juan" in the course of her voracious reading. She thought Byron was on to something. She copied the lines into her notebook, amid a stream of other quotes from Schopenhauer, Hobbes, the Cure, Plato, Kipling, Dan Simmons, Jung, Shelley, Faith No More, Nietzsche, Auden, Joy Division and the Weekly World News.

She knew what it was like, hovering between two worlds, not fitting in either place. She didn't always know where she stood, what to make of the endless ideas firing through her brain — or, as she sometimes joked, her "Swiss cheese gray matter" — but she knew she was becoming. Life, in her view, was an uncontrolled experiment in quantum physics. It contained worlds within worlds, all constantly colliding, changing, evolving.

Kauri was an artist. She put ink under people's skin and transformed them. In many ways, she was her own finest achievement. Not just the tattoos; she had made her own body a canvas for others, but anyone can do that. What she did was much edgier, more daring. She changed her name, her identity, her ideas as she saw fit. She modified her physique from head to toe: Medusa-like dreadlocks, piercings, transdermal implants (including studs in her forehead), permanent eyeliner, breast surgery and more. She studied alchemy and cryogenics and invested thousands in treatments that were supposed to extend her life and alter her DNA.

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15 comments
Cliff
Cliff

Kauri was a friend of mine. I have old letters and stories of her time in Tucson. She and Jay later visited me in Northern California when her Grandfather died and we spent time on the Lost Coast. There is a deeper longer story of deaths ... strange ritual deaths ... that were around her going all the way back to the '80's. She was always scared that "they" would find her ... to the point of paranoia. Her interests in the occult and psychedelic drug use led her down some very dark roads many of you know little of, but there were other murders (two I know of intimately). There were also wars, tattoo wars, going on in Tucson that she was affected by, with bombings and shootings ... she was not a willing participant. I'm sad to hear of her passing, as are many of her other old friends here in Tucson. RIP Kauri

Iris
Iris

Wow, I knew Kauri back in the 80's when we were just two young women hanging out together. Reading this makes me very sad. We sure had some good times, didn't we? Rest in peace Kauri.

Jery
Jery

Kauri did not 'go' by the name McPhillips, she married Jay McPhillips in 1994 in a private ceremony at the Enchangted Dragon Tattoo Studios in Tucson Az. People who slam a person "after" they are dead usually won't have ANYTHING said when they go. Kauri was a kind and kindred soul with visionary thoughts, a sharp wit and could recognize "crap" at a glance. Probably why some of these people are slamming her, she recognized them.

Jerry
Jerry

Have read the comments and I lived with Kauri for 14 months. Sorry you didn't get any James, only guys who knew her that hated her were the ones she dumped or never got any in the first place. Call you so you can play phone soldier, go turn some tricks and shut your face. Funny, don't see your name in any ink rags. She was spotlighted many times however. Man that jealousy can be harsh.

Jerry
Jerry

I knew Kauri since 1994, lived with her and her then husband in Tucson, she was Kauri McPhillips and worked for the Enchanted Dragon studios there for Glen Tackett. No I lived with her for 14 months and she did not want to go out like this.

Anne
Anne

Jim, How dare you talk about Kauri that way? Her art was not garbage and she was no liar.

james birkbeck
james birkbeck

i would encourage the writer of this article to print some of the fine literary musings kauri wrote and post an open challenge for a reputable scientist to interpret her nonsensical gibberish.the stone cold fact is the bitch was crazy,but just cause she died everyone wants to seem sympathetic and all full of the warm fuzzies for her.she wasnt shit in life ,so why should she be deified just cause she murdered. the only shame is that she didnt get the proper psychological help she so needed.i wonder why all her suppposed friends were so absent in that department.

Margaret
Margaret

It's not that Kauri was a lair, james, it's just that you're too stupid to know what she's talking about.And yes, I did know her, worked with her for years in different locations.

james birkbeck
james birkbeck

to those of you who were offended by what i had to say,my only question to you is did YOU know her.thought not ,because if you did and you were sane,you would probably share my lackluster sentiments.and to the retard who "is going to teach me a lesson"i live in virginia beach,va.if you feeling that assbent then feel free to contact me at 716 348 1223.i hope your your rightousness pays off,and by the way ,FUCK YOU!

 The
The

james birkbeck how dare you... seems like your the liar! where do you live again? I'll teach ya a thing or two about talking crap !

ouroboros
ouroboros

you tipped the scales, speaking ill of the dead.

james birkbeck
james birkbeck

i knew kauri very personally.we dated for a while when she lived in buffalo nyabout ten years ago.she actually got me into the tattoo business.one thing about kauri is she was a liar on the worst level.she was actually one those people who were so sick she believed her own lies.she would publically declare some total nonsense and the mere fact that she stated it somehow made it true to her.she was a very disturbed person who needed alot of help.she just drifted from town to town and used people around her,quite sad really.and speaking as a respected artist in the tattoo community,her work was garbage.her reputation was based soley on being freaky not so much as talent or skill in her craft.man that girl was nuttier than squirrel turds.

Rx
Rx

After reading this piece, I clicked for another page. But no, this was all there was to it: A somewhat tedious roadmap of a couple of scary-disturbed individuals hitting the end of the line in a Denver hotel, in an odd kind of way, not much different than the way the had lived. It's a sad story, but not terribly remarkable. I am left with two questions: Why was this story written? And why, with all her soul-searching and "voracious reading," did she evidentally never question her "racing thoughts" and instability? The article seems to glorify these traits, which are more than just quirky behavior than a series of acts pointing less to exceptional artistic ability and more to, say Bipolar I.

Krystof
Krystof

The word "Kauri" translates into "Tree", ironically, Kauri was the tree, those of us that she tattooed were the branches, and the tattoos themselves are the leaves. Many leaves take on many different shapes and colors, some almost incomplete in structure but still beautiful none the less. Thank you Kauri for the brief time you touched our loves. Until we meet again my friend.Love, Krystof, Lesley and Deanna

Lauren
Lauren

I am absolutely shocked. I was randomly scanning the website and decided to open this article....this woman did my tattoo in Northampton, Mass about 6 years ago! For the life of me I never remembered her name, but I do remember her stud implants and her love for physics (and her grandfather's supposed work on the Manhattan Project). The color on my tattoo is still the best I have ever seen and it has made it impossible for me to find another tattoo artist. I'll never be able to accept anything less than her absolutely gorgeous work. I am so sorry to hear about her death. She was an amazing artist and will always be remembered.

 
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