They found her body in a blood-stained suitcase in a Dumpster in Orange County, her fingers cut off down to the second knuckle, her teeth yanked out one by one. Eight days later, they found her husband, the suspect in her murder, dead in a hotel room in Canada. Police say he hanged himself.
These are the grim details of a ghastly Hollywood crime—but the real story runs much deeper. The brutal death of swimsuit model Jasmine Fiore, 28—apparently at the hands of Ryan Jenkins, 32, a contestant on the VH1 reality show Megan Wants a Millionaire—has left several good friends, interviewed by PEOPLE, shocked and devastated. They are relieved police found Jenkins’ body on Aug. 23, after a weeklong, two-country manhunt but still baffled by how things could have gone so horribly wrong for Jasmine. “She loved being a girl, and she loved life,” says Patrisha Elbeck, a model who once worked with her. “In the end she got fooled by a sick person.”
Neither Fiore nor Jenkins, it turns out, were like the images they projected. “Jasmine was seen as this sex pinup, but that wasn’t really her,” says her former fiancé Travis Heinrich. “She was incredibly genuine, and she had a huge heart.” Jasmine grew up in Bonny Doon, a rustic area near Santa Cruz, Calif.; her father, a college professor, and mother, a sculptor, divorced when she was 8. She was a tomboy who rode horses and played football, but still “you could see the sweetness,” says Gwendolyn Beauregard, 59, who became her surrogate mother. Beauregard says Fiore had dreams beyond modeling—to be a Realtor and to open a fitness studio. But then, this spring, Fiore called her “and said she’d met this wonderful guy. He was so handsome, so polished, and he loved her.”
Ryan Jenkins, a Calgary native, met Fiore at a party in March. By then he was a contestant on Megan, a dating show featuring one woman and 17 wealthy men (it aired briefly in August but has since been canceled). He claimed on the show to be an investment banker; in fact he told others he’d run a construction company, and some who knew him didn’t believe he was rich. Says one Megan contestant: “He didn’t have any money.” Jenkins also had run-ins with the law, including a 2005 arrest for assault. “He pushed [a girlfriend] down the stairs and punched her,” says Alain Hepner, his attorney on that case. On Megan, Jenkins was “cocky but also friendly,” says one castmate. “He appeared to be one of the good guys.”
Fiore and Jenkins married in Las Vegas on March 18. “I never trusted the guy,” says Fiore’s mother, Lisa Lepore. “He was a fake.” The couple’s relationship, say friends, was volatile. At a pool party in April, “I saw him punch her in the arm with enough force to push her in the pool,” says Heinrich. “She told me he was super-jealous. She said, ‘I’m in over my head, and I don’t know how I can get out.'”
This Aug. 13 the couple checked into the L’Auberge Del Mar hotel near San Diego, where Jenkins—who told a friend he won the unaired reality show I Love Money 3—learned Fiore was texting an ex-boyfriend, Robert Hasman, 29. Surveillance tape shows Jenkins leaving the hotel alone on Aug. 14 carrying a suitcase. He returned to her West Hollywood condo and told her friends “she was getting her nails done,” says Beauregard. Fiore’s mother says, “I was calling her all day, and I was frantic.” Jenkins alerted police that Fiore was missing on Aug. 15—then disappeared. Lisa Lepore says she spoke with Jenkins on the phone two days later, “and he told me Jasmine had dropped him off at the apartment and never came back. I knew he was lying.”
Police say Jenkins dismembered Fiore’s body to make it harder to identify her; a coroner had to rely on the serial number of her breast implants. Investigators found Jenkins’ BMW SUV and ski boat in a Washington county near the border; police believe he may have simply walked into Canada. Once there, he fled to the Thunderbird Motel in Hope, 85 miles east of Vancouver; an unidentified female companion booked him into the motel. On Aug. 23 a staffer found his body and called police.
Why did he kill Fiore? That may never be known. For now those who loved her are remembering a sweet, kindhearted woman whose dreams were cruelly dashed. “I still have this image of her as a cute little girl with curly blonde hair, running in the playground,” says Beauregard, crying at the memory. “People would always say, ‘Oh Jasmine, she’s beautiful.'”