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She saw her chosen profession's potential to change people at their core — "so that we can sculpt our realities," as she once put it. Clients who got to know her say she had an indelible effect on them, an impact that went well beyond the stunning original designs etched in their flesh. It was something powerful and spiritual and hard to describe. She was, they say, so alive.

All of which made her sudden and violent death, a murder in which she appears to have been a willing participant, nearly impossible for her friends to accept.

"A couple of weeks before she died, Kauri and I hung out and talked about tattooing and boys for hours," recalls Kim Kosnar, a member of the goth-industrial band Darker Days Tomorrow. "I've been around people who've committed suicide or who are depressed. You hang out with artists, you get that a lot. But there was nothing like that with her. No warning signs at all."

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.

Over the course of two decades, Kauri had built an elite reputation as a tattooist while living the life of an urban nomad, drifting from shop to shop and coast to coast, from the Southwest to the Northeast and back again. Eventually, she opened her own place in Breckenridge, with Keenu as the resident piercing specialist. But last spring that arrangement began to fall apart. Kauri filed for divorce and moved to a warehouse space in Denver, which she hoped to turn into an art gallery and live-music venue. She was quickly adopted by a coterie of local musicians and artists.

Friends say her business was growing steadily and that clients from Breckenridge continued to seek her out in Denver. "We had plans together," says photographer Cora Reed. "She wanted to do political salons in her space. She was writing a book on physics. I just can't believe that she wanted to go out this way."

There was a great deal, of course, that her friends did not know about Kauri Tiyme. Most of her Denver acquaintances had never met Keenu, who followed her quietly to the city two months before her death. Even those who met her in Breckenridge knew little about her life before she showed up there. No one even knew if she had living relatives or how to contact them; her unclaimed body was stored in the city morgue for weeks.

But what they did know was her art, her smile, her buoyant personality and relentless energy. "She was probably the most gentle, loving creature I ever met," says Tara Schinn, who had numerous tattoo sessions with Kauri over the past two years and came to regard her as a close friend. "There was a lot happening in her life, but she seemed really happy. I know in my heart Kauri did not want to die like this."

After Kauri's death, Schinn was told by another friend that Kauri had spent $40,000 in the last year on experimental drug therapy — "strengthening your genetics from within, so you live longer, heal faster, get fewer colds," she says. "Why would someone like that, who was a vegan, an avid mountain biker, never smoked or drank, very fit, the epitome of health — why would she want to kill herself?"


People often shape their histories to suit the occasion, embellishing their adventures in order to appear more heroic, tragic, sympathetic or just plain interesting to those around them. Kauri was probably better at reinventing her past than most. It was part of sculpting her own reality.

After her death made the Summit Daily News, some of her Breckenridge friends were surprised to discover that she was 39 years old. She'd told them she was 36, only a year older than Keenu. A small fib, not unusual at all in a youth-obsessed culture, but it made you wonder.

She told people she'd been featured on CNN, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel. That could all be true; she was certainly the kind of articulate and visually striking spokesperson who would draw film crews interested in the exploding field of tattooing. But only one transcript of those interviews turned up in a search of standard databases, a 1995 appearance in a short CNN featurette, in which a woman identified as "Kauri McPhillips" is described as having "adorned herself in the imagery of ancient myth."

McPhillips was one of several names she went by. Records indicate she was born Kauri Greene. She told friends she grew up in Arizona, that her grandfather had worked on the Manhattan Project with Oppenheimer and knew Einstein — hence her passion for physics and theories about the nature of the universe. She was an only child, she said, who embraced punk music and a goth look as a teen and stood out like a beacon of darkness in the sunny, affluent sprawl of the Phoenix suburbs.

"She said her father was an investment banker and that they were very close," says Schinn. "She would go into these beautiful stores and people would treat her badly or turn her away. Then her father would come in, all dapper, and announce, 'Pumpkin, we're leaving.'"

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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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