Dead man found in Cambria was killed, authorities say

Forensics investigators visit a town that hasn’t seen a murder since 1979

ktanner@thetribunenews.comAugust 27, 2012 

The Sheriff’s Office says the death of a 20-year-old Cambria man whose body was found Sunday afternoon “appears to be the result of foul play.”

Tyler Daniel Hanks was reported missing in a 911 cellphone call at 8:28 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, according to sheriff’s Cmdr. Ron Hastie.

Hanks’ body was found about 4:45 p.m. under pine trees at the northern edge of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, near vacant lots at the east end of Huntington Road. That’s about two blocks south and two blocks east of his home on the 400 block of Leighton Street in the Park Hill neighborhood. The search for evidence has turned into an “active homicide investigation,” Hastie said Monday. Forensics investigators combed the Hanks-Henslee residence and the vicinity Monday.

A person who knows the family said Hanks lived with his mother, his stepfather and an older half-brother.

That older brother, Brandon Noble Henslee, 22, was arrested Sunday on a parole violation and was still held Wednesday in County Jail without bail. The Sheriff’s Office cited the ongoing investigation in declining to discuss the cause of death, whether Henslee is a suspect in his brother’s death or Henslee’s criminal record. An autopsy of Hanks was scheduled for Wednesday to determine the cause of death.

Hastie did say investigators “believe this is an isolated incident, not a random” killing.

If the investigation and any subsequent trial determine Hanks was murdered, his death would be the first murder in Cambria since 1979. A previous review by the Sheriff’s Office and The Cambrian, The Tribune’s weekly newspaper, showed two murders took place north of Cambria on Highway 1 in 1983, one at Ragged Point in 1990 and one on Highway 46 southeast of Cambria in 1995. There was a murder-suicide in San Simeon in 2008 involving a 43-year-old Hermosa Beach woman who drowned her 8-year-old daughter and then herself.

‘He was such a good kid’

Hanks had a short record of violations of the law and faced charges on two counts in September 2011, one for possession of a controlled substance and one for barbiturates possession. The first was dismissed through a drug diversion program; judgment on the second was deferred, with the possibility that it might also be dismissed.

Mary Armstrong said she knew Hanks for about eight years, going back to when he attended Santa Lucia Middle School in Cambria. “He was such a good kid,” she said.

She also spoke of his love for his dog, Ty, a 5-year-old pit bull.

News of the apparent homicide spread throughout the town. “So sad. Just awful,” said Sandi Pound, a teacher at Leffingwell High School.

“He was a really kind person,” she said, noting that Hanks attended the continuation school and graduated from the Grizzly Youth Academy, a National Guard-run program at Camp San Luis Obispo.

“(Hanks) did very well there,” Pound said. “They liked him a lot. … He was very kind. He was his family’s rock, took care of the family always. He always greeted you with a smile and hug. (He was) a polite young man with a great sense of humor. It’s just awful. I’ve known him since he was a little boy. He’s always been the caretaker for his mom and brother.

“When (Tyler) was here (at Leffingwell), he always encouraged other students to do well. He was the one you’d catch doing good things. … Last time I saw him, he was helping Friends of the Library (during a book sale), not for school, because he was out of school by then. He’d just volunteered to help out.

“He encountered some troubles along the way but had been able to overcome them. But he always tried to make his and his family’s life better. … He made you feel better just to be around him. If you gave him a task, he’d finish it,” Pound concluded. “His life just kept getting in his way.”

The Cambrian Managing Editor Bert Etling contributed to this report.

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