NBC’s ‘Dateline: Someone Was Out There’ follows how 19-year-old Amyjane Brandhagen was murdered in cold blood inside a motel bathroom where she worked in Pendleton, Oregon, in August 2012. Her case remained unsolved for nearly a year until one of her fellow congregation members was found in a critical state. As the authorities delved deeper into theorizing whether someone was assaulting church women, the investigation led to a shocking twist. If you’re eager to find out more, here’s what we know.
How Did Amyjane Brandhagen Die?
Amyjane “Amy” Nicole Brandhagen was born to Dave and Cathy Brandhagen in Grants Pass in Josephine County, Oregon, on November 5, 1992. She attended Pendleton schools, graduating from Pendleton High School in 2011. After graduation, she joined Youth with a Mission (YWAM) for six months, with the first three months involving getting trained at the institution’s Disciple Training School in Los Angeles. For the rest of her tenure, she traveled to India, Nepal, and Kathmandu, where she worked with children in poverty and the stray.
Her fellow missionary, Kate Cook, recalled, “Amy was always ready to give and pour her heart out to people and just give everything she had to offer.” Church youth minister Jed Hummell also remembered the free-spirited Amy and said, “If she got to feeling that you were left out, she would find you and make sure you knew that you had a friend.” After returning to Pendleton, Amy wanted to collect over 200 Bibles to ship back to the people she had met in India and dreamed of attending Bible school in Germany.
According to the episode, Amy worked part-time at Subway and Pendleton Travelodge. Her family recalled how she regularly reached out to people, impacting them with her accepting, transparent, and loving spirit. Hence, it was shocking when the 19-year-old religious teen’s body was discovered in her workplace — a motel room’s toilet — on August 14, 2012. The investigators found Amy’s corpse sprawled on the bathroom floor with a dozen stab wounds, most of them around her heart. Reports indicated there was no evidence of a sexual assault.
Who Killed Amyjane Brandhagen?
The investigators interviewed Amy’s friends to learn she had apprehensions regarding her safety at her new workplace — the Pendleton Travelodge. Kate recalled her friend’s concerns and said, “She was excited to get this other job. But she wasn’t so sure about working at the hotel. She was a little nervous about it.” The detectives also questioned other staff and found only one witness — a painter — who claimed to have seen a young man with long hair and darker skin walking in the area not long before the vicious killing.
However, the authorities could not confirm whether that man was connected to the homicide. The forensic team found a skin sample underneath Amy’s fingernails, indicating she had fought for her life in her final moments. The police collected voluntary DNA samples from other staff and guests staying at the motel, but none matched the retrieved DNA allegedly belonging to the perpetrator. While there was no indication of sexual assault, the officers initially believed the stabbing around the heart signified a disgruntled lover.
Working on their hypothesis, the police could not locate any viable suspects, and the case went cold. Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts recalled, “Everybody knew her characterized her in the same way. She knew no stranger and didn’t have an evil bone in her body.” The police exhausted every lead until they had a significant breakthrough just before the first anniversary of the murder. Karen Lange left for her daily walk along the river levee on August 9, 2013, only to not return.
Her husband, Dan, lamented how she had promised the couple would go for ice cream after she returned. He recalled, “The last words she said to me were, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just have a nice, boring evening.'” However, when her spouse did not return, the concerned husband contacted the church minister, Jed, and her wife, Lisa. Dan explained Karen always parked her car outside the pastor’s home before going on regular walks. Jed spotted Karen’s vehicle, though there was no sign of her.
Dan informed the authorities, and an officer found Karen unconscious the following day. Due to a severe blow to her head, she was barely alive when the medics rushed her to the hospital, where she slipped into a coma. Police Chief Stuart Roberts said, “He (the officer) thought she was dead due to the tremendous amount of blood. He indicated he reached for her wrist to see if she had a pulse. Her leg moved, and she gasped.” While running background checks, the detectives were shocked to learn Amy and Karen knew each other.
According to the episode, Amy once taught bible school with Karen, and both women attended the same church. As the detectives went through hours of surveillance footage, they spotted an individual stalking Karen as they carried a metal pipe behind their back. The person’s description seemingly matched the painter’s description of the suspect he had seen before Amy’s body was found. One of the officers recognized the man as someone he knew as “Danny Woo” — a guy who had been arrested several times over the last year for minor infractions.
While surveying the riverside crime scene, the investigators found a bloody meal pipe hidden behind a loose board of some baseball batting cages located nearby. The blood on the pipe belonged to Karen, while DNA recovered from the other end matched the DNA retrieved from underneath Amy’s fingernails — thus officially connecting the two crimes. The authorities soon arrested Danny Woo — whose birthname was found to be Lukah Chang — hiding in an air duct vent at a local convention center ceiling.
Lukah, then 23, had deserted the Marines in 2012 and confessed to both crimes nonchalantly. He claimed no ulterior motive lay behind the two attacks, and he killed Amy just because he felt “curious” to see how it felt to take a life. He stated he had spotted Amy while staying at the motel sometime earlier. He chillingly admitted, “I saw her work, and just— ‘Oh look. Target. Opportunity. Attack.'” Lukah claimed he attacked Karen because of the same reason. He pled guilty to murder and attempted murder and was sentenced to 35 years to life.