The mysterious death of ‘mystery man’ Cody Denney

Special Reports

The beating death of Cody Denney in 2019 remains unsolved

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Cody Denney’s family played the song “Swing Life Away” at his funeral in March 2019.

“It was kind of fitting for Cody and his friends,” his stepdad Damon Burton told KOIN 6 News. “We happen to have a swing on our front porch, a little chair swing, so they would sit out there and just kind of watch life, swing life away.”

Cody, who was known for his sense of humor and kindness, was found brutally attacked, unconscious and face down in a puddle on a sidewalk at SE 92nd and Knapp on January 25, 2019. Police didn’t even know who he was at first and released a sketch and description of his distinctive tattoos to identify him.

Portland police released this sketch of an unidentified assault victim in January 2019. The sketch led to the man’s identity, Cody Denney, who died from the assault in March 2019.

“I miss him very much,” his mom Toni Burton said. “He was a huge part of my life and the idea of never seeing him again, I still can’t completely wrap my head around that.”

He grew up playing baseball and loved snowboarding. But he wouldn’t live to see his 26th birthday.

“Sometimes I go to his room downstairs and I just kind of sit there and think about him,” his half-sister Vanessa Romero said. “It’s just hard not seeing him everyday.”

From the very start, Cody Denney captured hearts and pushed through challenges. He was born with a rare genetic disorder — Saethre-Chotzen Syndrome — that impacts the skull. The soft spot on his head was closed.

“His head couldn’t grow with his brain. There’s a lot of pressure,” his mom said. “It was a lot for him but because of that his face wasn’t say asymetrical like most people’s.”

Cody Denney, who died in March 2019 after a Southeast Portland assault, seen in an undated photo (Courtesy to KOIN)

“He had to have multiple surgeries and they were, like, 8-hour surgeries on his head. He never looked different to me but I think he looked different to others. So he was teased and bullied a lot as a child.”

It’s why his family believes Cody went out of his way to show compassion and kindness to others.

“Cody literally took his shirt off his back for people. Not figuratively. I know it’s a figure of speech, but he did it,” his stepdad said. “Gave them his coat, food, water, a place to stay. Whatever he could do he would do.”

“He would drop everything for people he cared about and do what he could to help them feel better, and I think that’s the one thing that stands out to anybody who knew him,” his mom said.

They wonder if someone took advantage of that kindness the night he was attacked. There are many unanswered questions, including the big one:

“Just how did nobody see anything and how did nobody say anything?” his stepdad asked.

Before and after the attack

Thursday, January 24, his mom came home from work and saw him doing the dishes. “He said, ‘Hey, Mama, when I’m done I’m going to go over to a friend’s house and hang out with some buddies.”

Around 1 a.m. on Friday, January 25, 2019, Cody started walking home from a friend’s house in Southeast Portland. At some point he was attacked.

Around 8 a.m. — a mile-and-a-half in the opposite direction of Cody’s home — a driver found him unconscious on the sidewalk. His wallet, his phone and one shoe were missing.

“He’d just gotten paid that day so he had a couple hundred dollars with him,” his mom said.

“I don’t know why he would end up there,” his stepdad said. “I feel like he was picked up somewhere between leaving his friend’s house and coming home.”

It wasn’t until James Bland drove by and stopped that anyone alerted emergency responders about Cody.

“It’s sad. It’s sad. So many people drive by here, thousands of people and not one seemed to care,” Bland told KOIN 6 News at that time.

Paramedics rushed Cody to the hospital. But at that time no one knew who he was. Investigators put out a sketch and photos of his tattos.

On Friday, his mom got home from work and noticed he wasn’t there. At the time she thought he was just with his friends.

Toni Burton, the mother of Cody Denney, February 2020 (KOIN)

“By Saturday when I got up and I still hadn’t heard from him and he wasn’t home, I tried messaging him, but I could tell the messages weren’t getting sent,” she told KOIN 6 News.

She began reaching out to people. Around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, “somebody sent me the article about police trying to identify a man. As soon as I read the article, I knew it was him.”

When his mom saw the sketch and the tattoos, she “freaked out. I was, like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Cody!’ and I called the number for the police.”

He spent 6 weeks in the hospital.

“The entire center of his brain, because he lost so much oxygen, was gone,” his mom said. “Through the weeks instead of getting better, it just spread.”

Cody Denney, who died in March 2019 after a Southeast Portland assault, seen in an undated photo (Courtesy to KOIN)

In March, Cody died in hospice. She said he was badly beaten but it was the loss of oxygen that ultimately killed him.

“We just sat with him until he took his last breath,” his mom said. “Once that happened, and we could see the change in his face knowing his soul left, I ran out. I couldn’t see him like that.”

Case remains unsolved

“The fact that whoever purposely did this to him is still out there, he’s gotten away with this, he’s not having to deal with the pain they’ve put this family through and what they did to him — it’s just not fair,” his mom said. “Just breaks my heart that he had to go that way when he should be here right now.”

They’re asking anyone with information to please come forward and contact the Portland Police Bureau.

Damon Burton, the stepdad of Cody Denney, February 2020 (KOIN)

“Maybe it will save some other sister or mom or stepdad or dad from having to do this,” Cody’s stepdad said. “He was a great kid. You would have loved him. Everybody did.”

Toni and Damon Burton are trying to move forward.

“It just sucks that the guy hasn’t been caught, or the guys, however it went down, you know?” Damon said.

She said Cody would want her to go on with her life “and not let this tear me down. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

The last time she saw her son — when he was washing dishes before he went to his friend’s house to hang out — he said, “‘I love you, Mama.’ And that means a lot to me. If I had just known.”

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