Cambria murder suspect sought help for mental illness

September 4, 2012

Brandon Henslee


Brandon Henslee, 22, tried to get help for his mental illness more than a year ago. Today, he sits in jail accused of killing his younger brother late last month. Henslee became the sixth mentally ill person to be suspected or accused of killing in the past 20 months in San Luis Obispo County.

Sheri Grayson, coping with the death of her son, Tyler Hanks, and the arrest of his older brother, Brandon Henslee, says that a lack of mental health services in San Luis Obispo County contributed to her family’s tragedy.

“When he was young his doctor said Brandon had special needs and that he would probably never graduate, go to a regular school or get married,” Grayson said. “After he turned 18, it was very difficult to get him the help he needed.”

Cases of homicides believed to have been committed by mentally ill suspects have skyrocketed in San Luis Obispo County over the past few years. And, several families of those accused of the killings point to a decreasing number of addiction and mental health services available locally.

Before he became sick, Brandon had good grades in school and excelled in basketball and baseball, Grayson said.

Brandon Henslee, Sheri Grayson and Tyler Hanks about 19 years ago.

In fourth grade, Henslee began exhibiting signs of mental illness. In the classroom, he refused to remain in his seat and would often interrupt his teacher. When he was 9, Henslee stabbed himself at school and was diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder.

Henslee also began hearing voices, was diagnosed as having schizophrenic tendencies and was placed in transitional care for the mentally ill where he remained for the bulk of his childhood. Aside from one year Henslee spent in a mainstream classroom, he was educated in special needs facilities.

Shortly before his senior year, he moved back into his mother’s home. At the time, mental health workers would come to the home to assist the family in caring for Henslee.

Grayson, who also was diagnosed as having a mental illness, struggled with substance abuse issues and legal troubles while she raised her sons.

As Henslee attempted to socialize with others, he began to drink and abuse drugs. He was arrested several times for using drugs and or committing thefts and has been on parole for the past few years.

About a year ago, Henslee was having difficulty keeping his mental illness under control, his mother said. He reached out to a parole psychologist who suggested Henslee check himself into San Luis Obispo’s County Mental Health’s short term facility with plans to move him to a hospital in another county with better mental health services.

“He said, ‘I have to go to the hospital, I am sick, but I will get better,’ ” Grayson said.

Shortly after Henslee checked himself in, he asked a female mental health employee who was sporting a large bruise on her face, “What does it feel like to get punched in the face,” Grayson said.

The worker responded by calling the police to report she had been threatened.

Because the alleged threat was a violation of his parole, Henslee was sent to Wasco State Prison and then transferred to Atascadero State Hospital where he spent about six months. The court eventually dismissed all charges related to the alleged threat.

Nevertheless, Henslee’s family and friends believe he came out of ASH about six months ago in an even worse mental state. During his time at home, Henslee would talk to himself and run empty appliances such as the washer and dryer for hours, his mother said.

Grayson said she asked a parole psychologist why her son insisted on constantly running noisy appliances and was told it was likely an attempt to drown out the noise in Henslee’s head. Grayson asked family members and friends to remind Henslee to take his medications.

“I can tell when he wasn’t taking his meds every day because he couldn’t focus on conversations,” Grayson said. “He hadn’t been taking his meds when Ty disappeared.”

On Aug. 26, San Luis Obispo County deputies arrested Henslee, for several parole violation while they investigate suspicions that he murdered his brother, Tyler Hanks, according to the sheriff’s department’s charge report which lists Henslee as a suspect in Hanks’ death.

On Aug. 22, Grayson had gone to bed early after taking pain killers prescribed to her for a back injury. She left her two sons in the den and her husband Mike Coffin and a family friend Steve “Chewy” Smith in the garage.

At about 3 a.m. the next morning, Chewy said he heard several people talking including a female voice, while they walked along a pathway that runs between the house and the garage.

Tyler Hanks

About an hour later, Grayson heard a bumping along the side of the house and asked what was going on. Brandon was pulling one of the trash cans from the front yard to the back yard near a door to the den where the brothers had been watching television.

“Brandon said it was nothing and that I should go back to sleep,” Grayson said.

In the morning, Brandon, sporting wet hair from an early morning shower, was in the den mopping the floor, Chewy said. A cushion from the loveseat, in the spot where Tyler usually sat, was missing. Police later discovered blood spatters on the loveseat and removed it as evidence.

“He came in my room and told me he and Ty had had an argument and Ty might not be coming back for a while,” Grayson said. “He said he threw the cushion away because the dog had peed on it.”

On the morning of Aug. 25, Brandon rolled the trash can from the back to the front yard and then down the street. After his mother told him to bring it back, Brandon returned with the trash can and sprayed it out spilling blood onto the ground.

“I asked him if he killed his brother, and he said ‘no,’ ” Grayson said.

The family contacted a friend of Hank’s who, until his disappearance, visited their home almost every morning, and asked if he had any knowledge of where Hanks was. The friend reported Hanks’ disappearance to the sheriff’s office early on Aug. 26.

Deputies found Hanks’ body about eight hours after he was reported missing. The body was four blocks from his Leightin Street home at the northern edge of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Deputies then arrested Henslee for two parole violations. The sheriff’s department’s charge report says Henslee failed to participate, was under the influence of a controlled substance “and that Henslee was being investigated for being involved in a murder.” When asked for a urine sample, Henslee attempted to substitute toilet water for his urine which later tested positive, according to the arresting officer’s report.

Detectives have not yet told the family how Hanks was killed and they have not released his body. Several days after arresting Henslee, deputies came back to the house and seized a wooden mallet and a shovel, items that could have been used in the killing.

In three letters sent from San Luis Obispo County Jail to his mother, Henslee claims he did not kill his brother and that he is being set up.

In a series of killings blamed on a half-dozen different mentally ill suspects, seven people have lost their lives.

On Christmas night 2010, Andrew Downs, a diagnosed schizophrenic, allegedly shot and killed two sisters he did not know in Santa Margarita. During a 10-hour period, he is also accused of stealing three vehicles, entering a second home in Santa Margarita and beating a man with a crescent wrench.

During his arrest, Downs told officers he needed to go to a mental hospital to get his medicine, which he had run out of three days earlier.

In March 2011, a psychotic man, John Woody, stabbed a stranger 22 times in a Paso Robles laundromat killing him.

Six months later, a San Luis Obispo man with a history of mental health problems allegedly shot and killed his mother at his apartment on the corner of Beach and Buchon streets. Christopher Shumey’s mother, Karen Shumey, was a 65-year-old teacher with the Lompoc Unified School District.

In April 2012, Paso Robles police arrested Sunni Jackson, a diagnosed schizophrenic who had not been taking her medicine, in connection with the killing her 61-year-old mother Earlene Grove during an argument.

In May 2012, two weeks after Michael Van Heuver allegedly assaulted his mother at her home in Los Osos, she died from her injuries

Shortly before her son allegedly strangled her, Lisa Van Heuver sent an email to San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors detailing problems her son had with drug use and mental health issues. She asked the supervisors to support local programs that assist those addicted to drugs and mentally ill.

Several of the victim’s and murder suspect’s families say the county’s failure to provide adequate mental health services has led to the increase in county homicides. While the Board of Supervisors has reduced funding to non-profits such as North County Connections and Community Health Centers, which provide assistance to the mentally ill, it has substantially increased funding to CAPSLO, a nonprofit several of its members are affiliated with.


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Our WONDERFUL county would rather put more money into building onto the jail and hiring people at Social Services rather then give Mental Health any funds. Ya get what ya pay for!

What did you expect? There’s more money in building jails, and more control over the people in “social services.”

Welcome to the warfare/welfare state.

WTF! Didn’t we pass a millionair tax a few years ago that fully funded all this mental health help here in CA? Where has the money gone?

A couple of years ago, my brother suffered a small stroke at an early age. We didn’t understand what was happening with him so we contacted the newly funded mental health services people. We were quickly turned away after a 5 minute phone conversation because we had insurance and had to schedule with a regular mental health professional. That meant a 4 or 5 week wait. Such a joke and blatant waste of taxpayer money. They are not really interested in helping anyone, but rather lining their own pockets with money stolen from the earners of society.

Let’s start with a quote from the article…..shall we?

“On the morning of Aug. 25, Brandon rolled the trash can from the back to the front yard and then down the street. After his mother told him to bring it back, Brandon returned with the trash can and sprayed it out spilling blood onto the ground.

“I[MOM} asked him if he killed his brother, and he said ‘no,’ ” Grayson said.”

…..And as to Grayson’s view on life and sons, another quote::

“Grayson, who also was diagnosed as having a mental illness, struggled with substance abuse issues and legal troubles while she raised her sons”

So now….more logic to be applied….I’m confused, while Grayson is Tyler’s (murdered child) mother, and Tyler is Brandon’s (the suspect’s) brother……Is Grayson actually Brandon’s Mother? Is her disclosed husband Michael Coffin related to any of the boys?

Here’s a slow pitch… basic disfunctional family concepts play a role here? That’s a concept that seem to have eluded most posters.

Obviously there’s a black hole in the local treatment program available here for people who with their family members… recognize they need treatment, but no one seems to care. Perhaps…. a perfect solution:

*** When a family member starts acting strangely, perhaps one should consider governmental programs that are fully funded, and which present the best prospect of either helping them, or getting them off the street.

Encourage the subject party to review the newspapers for such fully funded programs, and either (a) drive under the influence to a dui check point, (b) purchase alcohol for minors at local liquor stores (they can be taken into government custory immediately!!, (c) bring bales of MJ into the north county coastal areas in pangas; (d) open a Medical Marijuana dispensary; (e) plant MJ somewhere in the Los Padres Natioinal Forest…….While each of the foregoing may have some negative ramifications….the simple fact is that it’s a lot less likely that someone will die as a result of any of the foregoing activities AND there’s plenty of money in place which will ensure the potential patient willl be tied up in the judicial/mental system for years to come, without ever having to ask for assistance!!! Isnt’ this all just great?

Don’t send your mentally ill family member to a hospital… be rejected for lack of funding…..send them head first into a fully funded program that ensures they will be jailed, removed from the public, and have their life ruined as it obviously should be…!!! It’s simple and easy, just read the paper and choose the right path.

2) :

You’ve made an excellent point. There is always plenty of funding if you want to break the law. A society that can’t provide care for someone unless they break the law is a sick society. I hear nothing but horror stories about our government mental health programs especially county mental health. Has anyone had a positive experience there?

Lol. That’s because mental health does not treat people with medical conditions. County mental health is for the severely mentally ill. And they do not take private insurance. It is for people with medical or no insurance who need it. They were absolutely correct to turn you away. Use your private insurance and get a private provider. That’s not what the county is for. Too bad there are so many people out there that just can’t figure it out. It’s not rocket science. It’s called guidelines. And is also 100% voluntary services. The sooner people can get that thru their heads, the sooner they’ll quit whining on here every time something like this happens. Wake up central coast….

LOL, because we had no freaking idea what was up not a known medical condition as his behavior changed. LOL because it is a waste of taxpayer money the goal is to help people in need. LOL because it was a 5 or 6 week wait for a private practice to see him. You’re pretty lame to make such a stupid comment. SO people that are responsible cannot even be helped for weeks but total nuts and drug users get in immediately? What a crock!

Sounds to me like most of these places are understaffed and underpaid. Quit cutting funding where needed. Hire more qualified people. Staff at these places need to believe friends, relatives and patients when they say they are having problems. God Bless all these people and I for one am very sorry for not helping in time.

Please note that there are several survey/epidemiological type studies on the religious choices and practices of incarcerated mentally ill, but I know of none off hand about community placed individuals. It reallydoesn’t make much difference because “correlation does NOT imply causation.” By the way, the AMA is strictly a political lobby, concerning itself solely with patient care and M.D.’s welfare, so don’t look to them for any research findings on the “soul.'” To date, the neuroscience folks, armed with the latest imaging technology have not located a soul, however there is an area in the left temporal lobe that seems to be involved with religiosity. Seizures located in that area produce very distinct “religious” auras and such. Finally, the use of spiritually mellowing experiences (chanting, meditation, singing) is great for not just mentally ill people. One bit of advice, when preaching to psychotic individuals, DONT use Revelation;

Any chance of correlating the lack and practice of religion with this soul or is the heresy for the AMA?

The mind, each and every one of us has a natural pharmacy as close as a thought, needs a spiritual workout just like our muscles.

Having encountered mental ill people all my life and having to deal with them regularly, I agree some people must stay on their meds, but there needs some advocacy for the practice of religion.

As a mental health professional for the majority of my working life, I feel it’s very important for people to

realize that “lack of compliance to Treatment (not taking your meds),” is the single biggest cause of the

six incidents noted above. Of the six, three were definitely not taking their meds and the other three no mention was made of med. compliance or not. Yes, the meds often have nasty side effects; Yes, the meds are expensive; and Yes, they do “work” in the majority of cases (this may involve several repeat visits to the shrink for adjuxtments). Unfortunately they won’t work if the individual does not take them, and that’s the big problem. The above cases are just the tip of that iceberg.. The second contributing factor to the horrible incidents above is the part played by both legal and illegal drugs including alcohol. Yes, Virginia, alcohol is considered a drug. Self-medicating with booze/drugs is as common among the mentally ill as can be. So what you get is:1. a mentally disordered individual whose brain chemistry is already screwed up, coupled with 2. the same individual without any meds on board, and 3. an individual whose prefrontal cortical center which controls inhibitions and judgement knocked out by “dope” and/or booze.

I agree with your statements that the major cause of these incidents are a lack of compliance in taking medication. However, it can be very difficult to monitor and enforce the correct consumption of medication in an outpatient environment. And yes, a big contributing problem is the common belief that medical marijuana is some miracle drug with no side affects that can be used in the place of prescription medications to treat mental health problems

Truly tragic. Thank you Karen for writing this story. Bringing awareness on Mental Health issues in SLO Co. and the lack of help/funding for the programs that are necessary.

Then there’s the boondoggle of the women’s jail construction (it’s going to be larger than a supermarket)…programs are more valuable than housing, but not the way this County works…gotta have pretty facilities and no money to employ qualified professionals to help people in need. Maybe Dan needs to look at that story.

Is CAPSLO really getting favored funding over other programs? I see Adam Hill recusing himself from those votes, isn’t his girlfriend on the Board or something? Who else is on that Board?

Rest In Peace to my Grandmother Earlene Grove !!! I love you!

Even though this mentions my Grandmother Earlene Grove..its true… San Luis Obispo County… did NOT help my aunt in any good way. And its sad that everything ended up like this.. because I know my aunt Sunni Jackson was probably posessed..but half of the reason for that happening is because nobody would help her!!!! When my mom and I took her to mental health in SLO .. she needed her medicine really bad one morning nd when we got there..the ladies at the front desk just laughed and said they’re busy and to bring her back at 3:00 pm when we were there at 9:00 am. We got back at 3 and it was too late.. now my grandma is gone becuz of these heartless ppl!

I believe your story, Elissa and my condolences for the loss of your grandma.

We, too, had a mentally ill family member stay briefly at County Mental Health in SLO. What a hellish place. Every county resident should visit that place to see how dirty, depressing, and poorly-run that facility really is.

There was one RN who seemed to sincerely care for our relative and actually the other decent human was a custodian who also served meals. The rest of the staff was cold, uncaring, and unhelpful. The 30-ish female staff member with long brown hair was–excuse my language–a complete bit@h to us. The long-haired hippy looking man behind the desk wasn’t much better.

I truly can’t imagine what that place must be like when families aren’t there for visiting hours. Yes, I know it’s underfunded and yes, I know it’s a stressful place to work…but the staff at County Mental Health in SLO need a refresher course on human compassion!!

Do they accept volunteers? I know French Hospital has volunteer programs, maybe County Mental Health should (or does) have one?

Volunteer????? You must be kidding me!!! Who is going to volunteer to go to work and risk their very own life everyday!!!!GET REAL

No. Professionals only….

Why don’t you go volunteer your time there Paso parent?

There’s protocols to being seen at mental health. Every mentally ill person cant just come walking in and be seen immediately. People are opened for services if they want it, not the family. And you can’t be on drugs and alcohol and expect a mental condition to be helped what so ever. Following through with treatment regularly usually helps too. Now, its too late.