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.


Kauri Tiyme

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.

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."

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.'"

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."

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.

It was hard to know what to make of much of it, Peters says. But the microabrasion idea was real; Peters had introduced her to a local doctor, and the two were trying to develop a patent for the process. Other than the doctor, the couple didn't seem to have many friends locally. They kept to themselves, and Kauri did most of the talking. It was as if Pat was just drifting along; whatever Kauri wanted was fine with him.

"He was like a mama's boy," Peters says. "He didn't work. He just sat there while she worked. Finally, I thought I might as well teach him how to pierce. That way he could make some money, at least."

A business card from the Joplin venture touts "world famous artist Kauri Williams, specializing in fractal, gemstone and physics conceptual art," as well as "body piercing by Patrick Williams." But the couple only stayed in Missouri a few months. By late 2002 they had moved back east, and they had changed their names again. Kauri had used the name Tiyme as a professional moniker on occasion — the unusual spelling calling attention not only to her obsession with time but the central question of mortality: "Why me?" She had her name legally changed to Kauri Tiyme. Pat changed his to Keenu Tiyme.

Tattoo artist Chris Conant found them working in a "not very good shop" in a small town in western Massachusetts. "Her talent was being wasted there," he says. He persuaded the Tiymes to move to Northampton, where Conant and others had put together a shop that was, at the moment, free of the usual internal drama that drives many tattoo studios into the ground. Conant admired Kauri's work, her professionalism and her endless stream of ideas.

One of the couple's goals at the time involved land they had purchased in Arizona, outside of Sedona. Kauri loved the natural beauty of the area, all the cross-currents of new-age and Indian lore, and hoped to build a solar-powered home there some day. "Her thing was, she always wanted to be off the grid," Conant recalls. "Some place where there was no need to rely on anybody else or leave a trail for the government. I guess you could say there was a certain amount of paranoia about it."

But Conant didn't see anything alarming in the way the Tiymes seemed to interact. Keenu struck him as quiet and thoughtful; Kauri was the extrovert who managed their finances and paid for Keenu's Lasik surgery so he could dispense with his thick glasses. "Kauri was definitely the leader," he says. "But they were a couple where you didn't really expect anything bad to happen."

He adds, "I'm having a hard time swallowing this joint-suicide thing. It doesn't add up. They told me they were part of a cryogenics program, that they were going to freeze themselves and be brought back at a later time."

After a few months in Massachusetts, Kauri was lured to California by a shot at the big time — an offer to work in a West Hollywood shop. She soon had creative and business differences with management, though, and found her way to Manakin Tattoo, then located in Bakersfield. Hibbard recalls that when he first heard her voice on the phone, he had the impression of a maternal, schoolteacher type.

"She was so sweet and calm, like she was talking to a child," he said. "Then I met her, and she was this tall, freaky-looking person with transdermal piercings."

Hibbard admired the sophistication and originality of Kauri's work. But he was also struck by how wrapped around each other she and Keenu seemed to be. "It seemed to me they had some connection only they could understand, something deeper than what most people get to experience," Hibbard says. "I think they took each other incredibly seriously. In a normal relationship, you fall in love, and if it doesn't work out, you find somebody else. They didn't have that. It was this kind of locked-in, weird, made-for-each-other, the-cosmos-brought-us-together soulmate thing."

The couple impressed Hibbard as almost theatrical in their self-involvement. After a few months, Kauri announced that she was once again pulling up stakes, a tearful scene Hibbard still remembers: "She seemed to be somewhat of an actress, you know what I'm saying? When she left the shop, it was such a big deal. She said Keenu's mom was sick, she was crying — it was a little dramatic. She could have just said, 'I'm not happy here, we're going to explore other options,' but it had to be a big production."

Two entries in a notebook that appear to date back to her time in California with Keenu hint at what the relationship must have meant to Kauri. They have an ecstatic, hysterical yet suffocating quality, placing the emotional need almost on par with the need for oxygen.

The first one reads: I don't know what to write when I'm around you only you. When I'm away from you I think of you. Tiyme is still unless I [am] with [you] then it is!

The second: Because your perception is the only one I can see through...For all the people in the room I'm alone without you...I need your insight to feel light...I'm okay but not whole without you...You're air I breathe even when you're not there.

"I don't want to think that she killed herself, but I could see it," Hibbard says. "They were so dramatically, radically off the map of what other people do and think."

Tara Schinn walked into Breckenridge Body Art for the first time in March 2007. A Virginia resident, Schinn came frequently to Colorado for skiing vacations and business trips related to the IT security firm she owns with her husband. An abiding interest in tattoos — an integral part of an online, alter-ego pinup persona she'd cultivated known as Betty Mystique — had brought her to Kauri Tiyme's new shop.

Schinn spent six hours that day with Tiyme, who gave her a half-sleeve of cherry blossoms caressed by wind and snow. She was delighted by the work — so delicate, whispery and feminine, almost Japanese in style, yet amazingly vibrant — and even more so by the company. "It was just a magical experience," Schinn remembers. "We bonded quickly. We talked about cats, makeup, Dr. Who, being a vegan versus a vegetarian, the relationship we had with our moms."

Schinn was back over Labor Day weekend for another session, then several more in 2008. In all, she had five pieces done by Kauri. Her husband came in for five sessions of his own. People stopped them on the street to admire the work and marvel at the color. Schinn resolved that no artist but Kauri Tiyme would ever work on her again.

Other clients felt the same way. Kauri and Keenu had taken the plunge, opening their own shop in Breckenridge — some say they sold the land in Sedona to raise funds for the venture — with the expectation that they would be able to attract a younger, hipper clientele. The resort town wasn't Hollywood, but it wasn't Bakersfield, either. Kauri hoped to find customers more in tune with her art, as well as more varied work for Keenu, beyond the usual teenage girls getting their first nose rings.

Breckenridge Body Art did end up attracting a loyal core of repeat customers — mostly locals, but some regular visitors like Schinn, too. Yet after several months, Kauri began to get restless again. Even Breckenridge was somewhat limiting, she decided. And there was something else, too — a growing frustration with Keenu.

Schinn picked up on the different atmosphere in the shop when she visited last June. Kauri talked excitedly about this warehouse she was going to rent in Denver, where she would continue her tattoo work, open an art gallery, host live music and much more. "Breckenridge is cool, but I don't get to do the art I want to do here," she said.

Keenu was even quieter than usual, Schinn remembers, and went out for smokes often. The tension in the studio was palpable. Kauri waited until he was out of hearing range, then whispered to her, "We're not together anymore."

After almost a decade of being with Keenu, Kauri had filed for divorce in May. She soon had a new boyfriend, Peter Ausan, guitarist for Darker Days Tomorrow, and a new circle of friends in Denver connected with the band or the underground scene. She told them all the same thing: She was ready for a change.

"The impression she gave was that Keenu was not motivated and ill-suited to be with her," says Cora Reed.

"She described him as kind of a slacker," adds Kim Kosnar. "The only time he did anything was when she pushed him to do it."

Yet Kauri's move to Denver was far from a clean break. When Schinn visited her at the warehouse in August, she found her friend stressing over the move, selling her condo in Breckenridge, dealing with a new operator of the shop up there — and still negotiating the breakup with Keenu.

"I asked her how it was going with Keenu, and she said, 'He's a good guy, and I'm sorry it's over, in a way, but he's having a hard time letting go,'" Schinn says. "She said he was going to come down to the new studio and do piercings. She was trying to be nice and extend a hand to him. But I think he saw her friendship as a way for them to get back together."

Kosnar says Kauri paid the rent on Keenu's apartment when he followed her to Denver. He had no car, little work other than what she found for him, and called her frequently — a sore point in her new relationship with Ausan. "Peter told me Keenu would call Kauri, get her to come over for one reason or another, and then he'd try to make a move on her every time," Schinn says. "It was driving her crazy."

Kauri told Schinn that she was planning to train Keenu to do tattoos and set him up in Breckenridge on his own, that she had no intention of bringing him back into her life for long. Most of her energy seemed to be going toward launching the new business. She worked long hours and seemed to eat almost nothing except popcorn.

"It wasn't taking off as fast as she wanted, but she was busy all the time," Kosnar says. "A lot of her Breckenridge people were coming in. It was hard for us to even pencil in coffee time, because she'd say she was tattooing until midnight."

Ausan declined comment for this article. Through his public defender, Keenu also declined to be interviewed. But a blog he was posting erratically on his MySpace page last summer provides a glimpse into his depression following the breakup. He complains of not being able to sleep, of not being able to "break the groggy sluggish mood I've been in." Mostly, the blog is about the loneliness of doing nothing:

August 19, 2008: well finally in denver, its been a long process but well its kind of over...hum well this was my first day here and aside from cutting my finger nothing really happened, just unpacking and getting settled in i'm probably going to take it easy for one more day but then i got to get serious...

August 20: its funny i had plans and stuff but well I just don't feel up to doing anything...

August 21: just have no energy...must have been under more stress then i realized...

August 22: walk around were I live today and discovered nothing of shocking interest or even minor interest...was suppose to do some piercing today too but since they were friends, and talk to sir groggy at his worst well nope on that...

September 7: it's been a nice calm sunday nothing major has happened...

September 16: crap i have no train of thought today i'm just babbiling...

Keenu expected to be working soon at Kauri's new shop, to be called Transposed Fusion. On his MySpace page he described himself as "a body modification artist who does everything from basic piercing to scarification and implants" and Transposed Fusion as "an all encompassing art exposé that also includes tattooing and live shows."

An unfinished website for Transposed Fusion devotes a single page to the piercing services that would be available. It states simply, "Keenu's bed side manner is a comfort to all."

From the moment she first met Kauri Tiyme at Charlie Brown's last August, Cora Reed thought the artist had a kind of beauty, internal and external, that she wanted to try to capture with a camera.

"She had about her a real intensity," Reed says. "When she met people, she'd give her tattoo-girl spiel, which was very concise: 'I've been tattooing for nineteen years, I've been on CNN, I'm working with the state of New York on their tattoo rules.'

"And I said, 'Okay, and who are you really?' Her guard came down entirely, and we were able to talk as people."

By the end of the evening, Tiyme had agreed to let Reed photograph her. The session took place a few weeks later and stretched over six hours. Kauri talked about her ex-husbands and various disaster scenarios that might be around the corner: bird flu epidemics, nukes, who knows.

"We spent a long time talking about what we would do if the Apocalypse came," Reed says. "We decided we would need communities that would hang together and have certain skills that would make the world work."

In early October, Kauri and Ausan went to Sedona for several days to relax. Kauri loved to bike the desert, especially at night, under the naked stars. She may have had other agendas for the trip; she told Kosnar that she hoped to have a heart-to-heart with Ausan about where the relationship was going. But Ausan told Kosnar after the trip that no "we have to talk" moment ever occurred.

The couple returned to town on Saturday, October 11. The next day, Kauri received a call from Keenu, who told her that his grandmother had died. Kauri left in her car, saying she had to help Keenu deal with the situation.

On Monday, October 13, Kauri called Ausan to talk about plumbing problems at the warehouse. She gave the impression that the business with Keenu might take a few days.

"That was the last we heard from her," Kosnar says.

Some of her friends believe that Keenu must have tricked Kauri, then gone berserk. The many injuries she suffered don't suggest the painless death Keenu claims he was trying to give her; they seem more in keeping with a rage killing by a spurned ex. The friends are also skeptical of Keenu's claims of trying to commit suicide himself. They doubt he would have been in any condition to drive to New Mexico if he'd been sampling rat poison and Drano, as his notes claim. As for the notes found in Kauri's handwriting, "who knows how old those notes are?" Conant asks.

Aside from a few excerpts in an arrest-warrant affidavit, the police have not released the notes. But sources familiar with certain aspects of the investigation say there are several details that indicate Kauri was an active participant in her own death. Some notes, for example, have references to Ausan and other people she'd met recently, people she wanted to have her iPod and other personal items. And the autopsy report lists an astonishing amount of diphenhydramine — the chief ingredient of Benadryl — in her system, more than sixty times the normal dose. Although the drug wasn't the cause of death, it's strong evidence of suicidal intent, of a plan to numb out and not return.

Keenu told the detectives that the suicide pact had been under discussion for weeks, possibly since before Kauri's trip to Sedona. The pair were spotted at the Royal Gorge on October 13, the same day Kauri called about the plumbing. And surveillance video police obtained from a gun shop in Cañon City reportedly shows Keenu attempting to purchase a pistol, failing, then Kauri entering the shop and also being rebuffed. They checked into the Denver Marriott Tech Center the next day.

Kauri had long been interested in end-time movements of one kind or another. She was a member of the Singularity Action Group, an online network of futurists and others fascinated by the notion of artificial intelligence evolving to a point well beyond human comprehension. Her notebooks are full of links to sites promoting "transhumanism," a patchwork of hopeful musings about extreme technological modification of human subjects to defy disease and even death. A common idea in transhumanism, though, is closely related to the New Testament parable about the grain of wheat's sacrifice and transformation — unless it dies and goes into the ground, it cannot bear fruit. Quoting sci-fi writer David Zindell, one of the transhumanism sites declares that man is a seed, "an acorn that is unafraid to destroy itself in growing into a tree."

Perhaps Kauri regarded her own death as a similar transformation. Her last tattoo client told one friend that Kauri had talked during the session about "ascension" and how her work was done here. It was not a term that Reed, Kosnar, Schinn or other confidants had heard her use before. But then, Kauri's ideas about life and death and her place in the universe were always changing, always evolving.

With her, nothing was fixed in stone, nothing was permanent — except death, maybe, and a good tattoo.

After Kauri left with Keenu, Kosnar texted her cell several times without a response. At the end of the week, she finally got a message back. It was the Denver police, using Kauri's phone to try to get in touch with her friends.

Kauri left no will. The state became the executor of her estate, and officials went to the warehouse and took her computer and personal effects. Kosnar went to the public auction to try to rescue what she could.

It was a grim scene. Strangers were rummaging through boxes of Kauri's stuff, her books and artwork and even her clothes, still suffused with her scent. "Look at these," someone snickered, holding up a pair of boots that reflected Kauri's flashy sense of fashion. "She must have been a hooker."

By the time it was over, Kosnar was in tears.

After weeks of effort, an investigator in the Denver coroner's office located Kauri's mother. The body was cremated, the ashes returned to Arizona. Some of her friends felt a sense of relief and closure at the news. Others were still turning over the inescapable questions: Why did Kauri do this? How could Keenu, a man with no history of violence, do what he did?

"I went from really sad to really angry," says Kosnar. "No ends were tied up. If they wanted to die painlessly, why not pills and alcohol? As disgusting as it sounds, I'd like to hear it from Keenu. I'd like to hear his side."

Keenu appeared briefly in court last week in putty-colored jailhouse scrubs, his hands and feet shackled. With his piercings removed, he seemed shaggy and washed-out — a study in gray, except for the bright red-and-turquoise cosmic scene on his left biceps. His preliminary hearing was postponed until February. His side of the story may have to wait until the day, if ever, that the contents of the notes he and Kauri left behind are divulged at trial.

The colors in Tara Schinn's cherry blossom half-sleeve are as bright as ever. But in her last few weeks, Kauri had started work for several clients that she never finished. They remain bare sketches on flesh, mere shadows of what they might have become.

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