Kauri told Schinn that her father had passed away and that she had become estranged from her mother. Another tattoo artist recalls that Kauri's mother visited one of her early studios but "didn't seem too impressed" by her chosen career. (Members of the Greene family did not respond to requests for comment for this article.)

Another longtime acquaintance says that Kauri had planned to become an air-traffic controller; she abandoned her studies after walking into the Enchanted Dragon, a well-known Tucson tattoo studio, and becoming fascinated with the possibilities of the art form. She had pieces done by the Dragon's Keely Tackett, a trailblazer among female tattoo artists, and persuaded Tackett to take her on as an apprentice. The two worked together for a year, and then Kauri went to work at related studios for another three years.

Now living in Costa Rica, Tackett remembers the Kauri of the early 1990s as sweet, sincere and dedicated to her craft. "I can tell you she was a great student who worked diligently toward the understanding of how to tattoo," she says. "Kauri always wanted to belong and feel her purpose on this planet. She was always searching for something to complete her — yet she was too nice to those who did not deserve it and took advantage of her kindness."

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.

Tackett was a member of the wedding party when Kauri married a man in Tucson. The union ended badly — Tackett says the groom had legal and drug problems — and left Kauri devastated. Despite her fiercely independent spirit, Kauri regarded finding the right man, her soulmate, a matter of utmost importance. A letter she drafted to another early love stresses this:

"I know my belief system is odd, if not downright in left field," she wrote to him. "I must admit when I'm with someone I do like to spend a lot of time with that person. It means extravagant amounts to me to just hang out with you!!!...I love you and feel as if I've been with you for a much more extensive time frame than just this time. You used to tell me like sentiments, that you felt that I was a soulmate and you would have caught up with me now or whenever possible no matter what. This struck me deeply, made me feel on top of the world to think we were just a matter of time."

She was disappointed in her personal quest time and again, even as her professional life was taking off. She proved to be an artist of exceptional talent and originality. Her website boasted that she was "capable of doing any kind of custom art, from Giger-esque scenes of horror and doom to full-color portraits," but that doesn't begin to describe the startling nature of her work. Much of her art is conceptual, building on geometric forms or fractals. She designed epic cosmic scenes involving planets, luminous gases and entire solar systems. Yet she could also do delicate filigree, crystalline structures, freehand fantasies and hyperreal vegetation, usually shunning the thick black lines that frame many conventional tattoos.

"She didn't have a specific artist that she followed," says Josh Hibbard of Manakin Tattoo in Pismo Beach, California, who worked with Kauri four years ago. "She had her own way of doing things, to the point where it almost made me uneasy. Certain lines that I thought should connect, she didn't connect. But when the piece was finally done, it was awesome. She'd take people's ideas of what they wanted done and make them her own."

She insisted on an immaculate workspace, the best tools and the highest-quality inks, so that her work had staying power; her clients emerged so brightly hued that people wondered if their tattoos were real or some kind of body paint. And she had a horror of the kind of quick flash work, using standard designs, that she felt was turning too many artists into "copy machines with tattoo guns."

"One of her catchphrases was that she was not running a McDonald's," says Reed. "She was not a flash artist. She was not going to sit in a shop and do butterflies. Everything she did was unique to her and to the client, right down to what colors and tones to use."

Kauri spent several years on what she called her "tour," helping to launch custom tattoo shops around the country and lobbying state licensing boards for higher standards of operation. She went from Arizona to Pennsylvania to Buffalo, New York. In 2001, she went to Joplin, Missouri, to work in a shop with Jim Peters, an established artist who had met her during her tutelage under Tackett. By now she had her own distinctive style and a new husband, whom she introduced to Peters as Patrick Williams. She called herself Kauri Williams.

Peters remembers Kauri's companion as a quiet, almost passive fellow, the kind of guy who might collect Star Wars action figures and read a lot of sci-fi. The two had apparently met in New York somewhere; Peters never got the whole story. Pat sat in the corner of the shop, saying little, while Kauri talked a blue streak about an idea she had for a reversible, painless microabrasion tattoo process and some book about physics she was writing.

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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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