Tuesday, August 31, 2004

fatal poisoning of Dallas socialite and Harvard graduate Nancy Lyon

The fatal poisoning in 1991 of Dallas socialite Nancy Lyon has all the ingredients for a solid true-crimer: big money; a philandering husband; incest; ambiguous evidence; courtroom drama.

Nancy, daughter of a powerful Texas family, was a successful landscape architect, but her marriage to landscape-developer Richard was troubled--not least by revelations of her teenage incest with her brother (incest, Gray hints, that continued into adulthood).

When Nancy and Richard separated, the woman seemed to fall apart, suffering numerous illnesses, losing weight, and even dyeing her hair as blond as that of Richard's girlfriend.

Moreover, Nancy allegedly spoke of attempts by Richard to poison her, like the time at the movies when she got sick from a soft drink he'd brought her.

Later, she became violently ill and was hospitalized until, six days later, she died--and Richard was arrested on murder charges and brought to trial.

There, his defense attorney suggested that, if Nancy had indeed been poisoned, the poisoning was simply the desperate act of a woman trying to get attention.

In order to reconstruct the case, Gray resorts to speculation and outright (if admitted) invention. He suggests that Nancy's powerful family, suspicious of Richard, may have pressured police for advice on handling a potentially incriminating wine bottle and other ``evidence.''

He makes up conversations and contends that the activities of Nancy's physician ``were choreographed as if he spent the entire day thinking of ways to make his future testimony admissible'': This was the same M.D. who, although testifying that Nancy had told him ``everything,'' failed to prescribe poison treatment or to expedite her blood-screening.

Richard was found guilty and is serving life behind bars--but the evidence in the case, confounding and contradictory, is hardly clarified by Gray's often melodramatic treatment.


Novelist Gray ( Killings ) makes his debut in true-crime writing with this story of the murder in 1991 of Nancy Dillard Lyon, daughter of a Dallas real estate tycoon and the wife of Richard Lyon, whom she met when both were graduate students at Harvard.

As Nancy lay dying from a fatal dose of arsenic, her family, particularly her father and her brother Bill, a onetime playboy and ex-addict, became convinced that Richard had poisoned her.

The case garnered headlines not only because of the family's prominence, but also because of revelations of teenage incest between Nancy and Bill and about Richard's adultery.

As the author tells it, the evidence against the husband was entirely circumstantial and he suggests that the guilty verdict and the life sentence were unjust.


A fascinating, involving, layer by layer unfolding of the story of the death of Nancy Dillard Lyon, a Dallas socialite who was a partner in Trammell Crow, one of the largest real estate companies in the country.

Coming from the prominent Dillard family of Dallas, she lived in an exclusive area where supposedly nothing goes wrong, known as "The Bubble" (Park Cities).

Murder or suicide? The documentary examines the elements of Nancy's textbook lifestyle that was overturned by an evil element at work. On one occasion when they went to a movie, Nancy's husband, Richard, got her what was supposed to be a coke. She drank it and it tasted awful. She looked down and there was a powdered substance floating on the top. She thought it was aspirin, but then later, she was up all night, vomiting.

There was a book written about Nancy's death, "Poisoned Dreams", by A.W. Gray.


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