New TV Movie Is Based On A Real-Life Conman & Murderer

Sleeping With Danger, starring Elisabeth Rohm and Antonio Cupo.

Lifetime Sleeping With Danger, starring Elisabeth Rohm and Antonio Cupo.

The latest “Ripped From the Headlines” movie on Lifetime is called Sleeping With Danger, which is based on “Mortal Danger and Other True Cases” by prolific true crime writer Ann Rule.

In the film, “Paul Carter (Antonio Cupo) was like a knight in shining armor when he met flight attendant Grace Tanner (Elisabeth Röhm) and swept her into a passionate love affair. But her dream man quickly became her nightmare as his jealous rage ultimately led to a brutal attack. Incredibly, Grace was able to escape and go into hiding. Fearing for her life and the safety of other women Paul might seduce, Grace works with the police to bring Paul to justice.”

Here’s what you need to know about the case on which the book and film were based.

Paul and Grace Are Based on Dr. John Branden and Kathy Ann Jewell

Kathy Ann Jewell was a flight attendant for American Airlines in the 1980s. She met Dr. John Branden in the fall of 1989 when she went to see him for an eight-week weight loss program that included acupuncture. His then-wife Sue worked in his office handling billing and insurance, and his older daughter, Tamara, worked as the front-office manager. His younger daughter, Heather, worked at SeaWorld.

Branden separated from Sue in 1990 and the divorce was finalized two years later. He and Jewell moved in together soon after Branden separated from Sue.

Jewell told Rule that after they moved in together, she was surprised to find out how much Branden drank and that sometimes he would burst into “inexplicable fury,” though the bouts of anger would fade fast. But as the relationship went on, Branden became increasingly jealous, possessive, and abusive.

“He accused us of having a lesbian affair, which was absurd,” Kate said of her relationship with her best friend, Michelle. “But he resented my having anything of interest to talk with her about. He read my mail, and now he started to tape all my phone calls. There wasn’t anything I’d hidden from him, but Michelle was going through a difficult divorce, and the fact that John was taping our calls frightened her. Neither of us knew what he might do
with the tapes.”

Jewell eventually told Branden she was leaving him and he threatened to kill her cat, Mittens, and then her. “This will be my birthday present to your father,” he told her at the time. “His dead daughter…”

She temporarily sought refuge in a women’s shelter, but eventually went back to Branden and that was when he attacked her. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in 1999, Jewell came begging for help at a neighbor’s house. She was nude, having escaped Branden after he kidnapped, stripped, bound, raped, and assaulted her.

“Sheriff’s Detective Dave Gardiner learned that Branden, who had displayed a knife, had threatened and planned to kill the female victim, cut her up and place the body in the ocean,” Lt. Dennis Dinsmore of the Curry County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Jewell Went into Hiding and Branden Found Another Victim

After the assault, Jewell managed to change her name and move out of state. Branden, meanwhile, found a new victim — Turid Lee Bentley. They were together for years, though Bentley thought his name was John Williams and that they were legally married, neither of which was true.

Once again, Branden’s behavior grew increasingly volatile. Bentley would often call Branden’s friend Randall Nozawa to help her deal with Branden. It all came to a head in March 2007 when Nozawa got a call from Bentley that she and Branden were fighting and she had locked herself in the bedroom.

When Nozawa got to the house, Branden got a gun, ordered Bentley to kneel down, and then he shot her dead. He then turned the gun on Nowaza and shot him in the face, then Branden shot himself. Still alive, Nowaza managed to stagger from the house and a neighbor found him. He would eventually be rendered completely blind by the gunshot. The book says of his injuries “his eye was missing, his jaw was broken, several of his teeth were knocked out, and his tongue had nearly been shot off. It would take eight hours of surgery to even begin putting his face back together.”

When authorities searched Bentley’s house, they found Branden’s stash of paperwork for his various false identities, which is what led them to the arrest warrant issued for him for Jewell’s 1999 assault. They also came to believe that Branden was trying to swindle Bentley out of her life savings.

Sleeping With Danger premieres Saturday, August 1 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.

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