Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Vickie Daniel, ex-Dairy Queen waitress, shoots her husband, Texas political royalty, and is acquitted

From Publishers Weekly:
The son of a former Texas governor and U.S. senator, Daniel felt himself the inheritor of a family tradition and rose to the speakership of the lower house in Austin before leaving politics.

His first marriage was the sort he was expected to contract, to the daughter of a leading Texas family; it ended in divorce.

His second marriage was to a waitress in a fast-food restaurant and they seem to have been incompatible from the start.

In 1981 she killed him, or so charged the state. The trial for custody of the children preceded the murder trial, so that much of the evidence for the latter was unveiled during the former.

The widow won custody of the children and also was acquitted of murder. Salerno suggests a miscarriage of justice, perhaps because the case pitted "a poor girl" against a powerful and aristocratic family; hence the title.

From Library Journal
In Texas, the Daniel name means politics and oil. Price Daniel, Jr., a descendent of Sam Houston and son of a former senator and governor, had all the blessings. Yet his political career and first marriage failed. In January 1981, he was shot dead by his second wife, an ex-Dairy Queen waitress.

This well-crafted story of Daniel, his marriage, his death, and the two resulting trials focuses on these questions: Was he a wife and child abuser, or was he a hard-working family man, unjustly accused by his histrionic wife?

Did Vickie Daniel commit first-degree murder? Should she get custody of the children?


Vickie Daniel,the wife of Price Daniel Jr. was charged with murdering her husband Price Daniel Jr.

Daniel had been a State Representative and had also served as the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. He was defeated by Mark White in a race for Attorney General. His father had served as Governor of Texas.

Vickie was put on trial for the murder of her husband. She was represented by the Haines firm. This was a spectacular trial that eventually wound up with Vickie's acquittal.

She was next taken to court by the Daniels family over her children. She was once again represented by the Haines firm, The Daniels family were represented by J.K. Zeke Zbranek (who now serves as a District Judge in Liberty County). Once again Vickie Daniels emerged victorious.


The younger Daniel had been elected to the Texas House in 1968. He rose to prominence during the Sharpstown scandal, a major upheaval in Texas government that led to exposure of much wrongdoing and a major turnover in leadership.

As speaker, Price Daniel Jr. oversaw numerous measures designed to make government more accountable, including new ethics and financial-disclosure laws for public officials, a revision in the open meetings act, regulation of lobbyists, and an open-records act. For a time, his political future seemed unlimited.

Daniel stumbled in 1974, when the Constitutional Convention over which he presided ended in failure. In 1978, he ran for attorney general but was defeated by Mark White.

In 1981, Price Daniel Jr. was shot to death by his second wife Vickie, a former Dairy Queen waitress. The resulting "only in Texas" murder trial of Vickie Daniel, who was represented by famed attorney Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, unleashed a storm of disclosures about the younger Daniel's private life and habits. The trial and Vickie's acquittal received national publicity and became the subject of both a book and a TV movie.

Equestrian champion Joan Robinson murdered, her father has her acquitted husband murdered by a hitman

Five-time world champion equestrian Joan Robinson dazzled the staid sport by riding her gray mare wearing a gray riding outfit exactly matching her steed's coat. "When Joan Robinson rides Beloved Belinda, it is one of the most achingly beautiful sights in the world," wrote one newspaperman in the 1950s.

The papers would have a field day only a few years later in 1969 when reporting on the mysterious death of the Houston socialite.

When multimillionaire Ash Robinson could not get the DA to convict the son-in-law he believed responsible for the death of his only child, Joan's husband Dr. John Hill was murdered by a hit man.

Shortly afterwards, Beloved Belinda was struck down by lightning. Of the four cases covered in Sizer's book, this is the most epic.


One of the best true crime books ever written has just been re-released after many years of being out of print.

The story is that of Joan Robinson Hill, a gifted equestrienne. Her father, Ash Robinson, is one of the richest men in Houston, if not of all Texas.

Joan is beautiful, blonde socialite who falls in love with a handsome doctor and marries him, much to her father’s chagrin. Daddy feels that no man will ever love his baby as much as he does, and this kind of “smother love” tends to doom their marriage.

It also does not help that Dr. Hill’s family is “working class,” in contrast to his inlaws’ “life of the rich and famous.”

It does not take too long for Dr. John Hill to realize that no one can love his wife as much as his father-in-law, so he does the next best thing. He breaks his marital vows, and starts loving other women.

But in a sense, their marriage was doomed from the start. Joan loved horses, her husband John, classical music. There were arguments about money. Opposites may attract, but if the only thing holding a marriage together is sex appeal, it will start to crumble. Even the son they had together could not change this fact. It is almost as if Romeo and Juliet had met today, courted, married, and started to divorce.

During a messy divorce in 1969, Joan Robinson Hill, aged 38, died under rather mysterious and sudden circumstances. The body was embalmed and buried before cries that perhaps Dr. Hill poisoned his wife. No autopsy. Indeed the coroner shocked everyone by attending the funeral, fresh from his latest autopsy, looking at the body in the coffin and telling the funeral director to proceed with the funeral.

Several months later, and a few court trials later, the body was exhumed. Nothing indicating foul play was there, but Daddy was still convinced that Son-In-Law murdered his baby. Money is power in Texas (indeed everywhere), and when the case finally cleared court after several years, Daddy did not like the verdict.

So in 1972, someone hired a hit man and murdered Dr. Hill in cold blood in front of his mother, his son, and his new wife. And that was just the beginning.


Houston socialite Joan Robinson Hill died of an unknown infection in 1969. Her husband, Dr. John Hill, was tried in her murder in 1971 based on the accusation he deliberately withheld medical care to bring on her death. The woman he was having an affair with at the time later claimed that Hill killed his wife by feeding her pastries injected with human fecal bacteria.

Hill's jury failed to reach a verdict in that trial, and Hill was murdered in September 1972 -- a contract killing allegedly arranged by his father-in-law -- before he could be re-tried.


Power, passion, oil money, murder--all the ingredients of a fast-paced, gripping mystery novel drive this true-crime story that on its original publication leapt onto best-seller lists nationwide.

To that mix, add glamorous personalities, prominent Texas businessmen, gangland reprobates, and a whole parade of medical experts.

At once a documentary account of events and a novelistic reconstruction of encounters among the cast of colorful characters, this anatomy of murder first chronicles the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death in 1969 of Joan Robinson--the pampered daughter of a Texas oil millionaire and the wife of plastic surgeon Dr. John Hill--then examines the bizarre consequences that followed it.

For in 1972, having been charged by his father-in-law with Joan's death and having survived a mistrial, John Hill himself was killed, supposedly by a robber. So was the robber, by a cop, supposedly for resisting arrest.

next door neighbor writes about murder of Dallas socialite Nancy Lyon


THE KNOCKS CAME AFTER midnight. We were in bed upstairs, sleeping so soundly that the noise seemed, at first, just part of a dream.

"That's the door?" I asked, turning to see my husband already heading downstairs. I followed. Standing on the stoop outside was Richard Lyon, our duplex landlord, holding a baby monitor. His face was pale; his eyes were deep and tired. He spoke in a low, hoarse voice: Nancy, his wife, had been vomiting for hours. He was taking her to the emergency room. Could we please look after his daughters while he was gone?

We took the monitor without a thought. In the nearly six years we had lived side by side--sharing, as we did, a wall, a front porch, a back yard, and the cramped conditions of middle-income Park Cities housing--we had come to rely on each other for life's little emergencies: electronic baby-sitting, pet care during vacations, newspapers retrieved from the rain. During the past year, especially, as their marriage crumbled and Richard was frequently gone, we had often come to Nancy's aid. We helped when she was sick, collected her mail, listened for her phone. Now this.

"Don't worry about the kids," I said, as Richard headed back to his door. "And tell Nancy I hope she feels better."

Six days later, she was dead.

Within two months, the official word was that Nancy Dillard Lyon had been poisoned. The Dallas County medical examiner, who ruled her death a homicide, found lethal concentrations of arsenic in her body. Richard, then 34, was arrested and charged with her murder. Less than a year later, he was convicted and given a life sentence.

From the start, the Lyon murder attracted national publicity and local curiosity. The victim was the daughter of a prominent Highland Park family and a partner in one of Trammell Crow's residential companies. From her death on January 14, 1991, to Richard's trial in December, there was a constant flow of new twists: suggestions of other suspects, rumors of incest, revelations about chemical purchases, and Nancy's own suspicions that she was being poisoned. Throughout those eleven months, I did all I could to believe that Richard had not poisoned his wife. At every opportunity, I turned distrust and fear into doubt and denial. I refused to follow the tide of opinion about my neighbor, refused to convict him without proof of his guilt. I knew Richard, I thought. We had lived so close--close enough to hear, as I did the night he took Nancy to the hospital, his last tender words to her in their bedroom. "I'm warming up the car," his voice crackled through the monitor, inches from my ear. "Do you think you can make it downstairs? I'll carry you."

But what did I know? What does anyone know about anyone, even those who share your walls for years? You see their lives, hear them, only in fragments--steps on a stair, casual glimpses through a window, doors closing and opening, the sound of running water, a child's cry or laugh. The pieces of their lives enter your consciousness, become as much a part of you as your own life. But in the end, you can only imagine what's in their souls, even if it is unimaginable.

When I decided to write about Nancy's death, many who knew her wouldn't talk to me. They worried that I would take Richard's side, or that I would expose too much, having lived so close. Am I violating some neighborly code of privacy? I only know I wouldn't be writing this if Nancy had not died as she did. If anything, I would have written some nice little testament to the loss of a good neighbor. Maybe it would have inspired some nice little neighborly acts.

But this is not a nice little story. It is a story of lies and betrayal, ugly accusations and cold, calculated murder. And there is no inspiration in any of it. IT'S HARD TO SAY WHEN MY SUSpicions began. My sense is that I felt inklings of a sinister aura over Nancy's illness from the start, but they were deep, intuitive, ill-defined. I couldn't pin them down.

Maybe it was nothing more than the shock of it all. A 37-year-old woman, in seemingly good health, was suddenly lying in an intensive care unit with a team of doctors unable to stop her swift decline. At 1:50 a.m., when Nancy first entered Presbyterian Hospital's emergency room, the doctors tried several medications to stop her vomiting. By 8 a.m., she was no better. She had been retching uncontrollably; her pulse was racing at 144; her blood pressure had dropped to 50 over 18.

When she was transferred to the ICU, doctors first suspected toxic shock syndrome. For more than a week, Nancy had complained of vaginal itching; two days earlier, she had begun taking Zovirax capsules for pimplelike lesions on her cervix. But she lacked the rash and high fever of toxic shock. Food poisoning looked doubtful too. Although she said she had eaten old pasta the night before, her symptoms had lasted too long. Puzzled, her doctors began to test for infections.

Within hours, family and friends gathered. Eventually, they would fill the waiting room and spill out into the hall. Most had known Nancy's parents, Bill and Sue Dillard, for years. They had watched them bury one of their four children, thirty-year-old Tom, who died of,a brain tumor in 1985. But nobody expected that Nancy would not make it. As she thrashed in pain, her family members urged her to fight. To boost her spirits, friends played tape recordings of her daughters, four-year-old Allison and two-year-old Anna, singing and talking to their mother. Only when she continued to deteriorate did tensions escalate. On January 10 a friend of the Dillards' showed up on our doorstep and suggested that we visit Richard in the waiting room. "There's a lot of anger," she said. "It's the Dillards on one side, Richard on the other. What he really needs is friends."

I WENT TO THE HOSPITAL THAT afternoon. The anger toward Richard didn't surprise me. I knew the Dillards thought he had put Nancy through hell for the past year.

Nearly everyone was surprised, especially Nancy, when Richard grew so unhappy with the marriage. When we first became their tenants in 1985, they seemed a compatible, warm, active couple, with a homey friendliness and virtually no flash or friction in their lives. We never once heard them fight. Nancy was bright, ambitious, and full of cheerful energy, a small woman with short dark hair and a pretty face marked by jet-black eyes, alabaster skin, and large white teeth. Richard, a short man with wavy brown hair and chiseled features, was congenial, calm, conservative, and relentless in his puttering around the yard.

They had met six years earlier at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, where they studied landscaping and development together, and had come to Dallas at the crest of its land boom. They were intent on working hard, but they also freely took help from Nancy's real estate developer father--Big Daddy, as his children called him--in the form of loans and business clout. In 1982, Nancy accepted a management job with longtime family friend Trammell Crow's residential company. She rose quickly and made partner in a year. In 1984, in part from Bill Dillard's recommendation, Richard was hired by developer Kenneth Hughes to oversee construction of his firm's largest projects.

The couple busied themselves nearly all the time: sprucing up their property, directing family Christmas pageants, making Allison's dollhouse shingle by shingle. At Harvard, they had Beamed up on all their projects, working through the night until collapsing together in the single bed they shared. According to friends, Nancy had the ideas, Richard the speedy execution.

The constant activity bridged the striking differences in their backgrounds. Nancy had grown up among the manicured lawns and large brick homes of Highland Park, a rarefied world of close-knit, affluent, churchgoing families whose children sang Christmas carols together and spent summers at the country club pool. Richard had none of that breeding. He grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in small-town Connecticut, where his father sold insurance and his mother was a teacher's aide. When he met Nancy in 1979, he didn't even own a suit. At their wedding three years later, his relatives were daunted by the Dillards' money and what they perceived to be their in-laws' clannish ways. It bothered them that Richard didn't quite fit in. His parents bristled when Nancy's older brother, Bill Junior, jokingly toasted Richard at the rehearsal dinner as "a Yankee and a yardman."

If Richard resented his wife's family or her success, however, he never let on in those early years. The couple ate burgers at regular Dillard picnics by the Dallas Country Club pool and went on Dillard family vacations each summer. Richard worked with Nancy on her Junior League philanthropy projects. Particularly after Allison's birth in 1986, the couple's life meshed easily with Highland Park expectations: They hired a full-time nanny; they got their children on waiting lists for the best preschools; they taught in the Sunday school nursery. Yet they were never blatant materialists. Their life in the 1,100-square-foot duplex appeared simple and earnest. They spent weekend nights at home, renting old movies. On their own they transformed the once-scrawny back yard into a little paradise, planting trees and wisteria, driving bricks into sand to make a patio, hanging chimes and a hammock. But my husband and I could see the stresses build. By 1988 the real estate boom had gone bust. Richard's work with Hughes was slowing. In January 1989 their second daughter, Anna, was born with a hip problem. Their cramped space seemed nearly intolerable. All through that summer, we would listen to Anna's crying in their bedroom. Richard was gone on business often.

In the fall of that year, we had heard only hints that the marriage was troubled, that Richard had met another woman and wanted out. The first real sign of their break came sadly and quietly the day after Christmas. We awoke to see their tree already stripped of its ornaments and lying on the front sidewalk to be hauled away. Richard was crouched in the driveway with a packed duffel bag on the ground beside him, his face bitter and unhappy as he held an arm around little Allison and spoke softly in her ear. Then he threw his bag into his red 1966 Mustang and drove off.

The separation left Nancy dumbfounded and distraught. He had told her he was going to a family counseling program in Arizona, but he ended up joining his girlfriend on a ski trip. Two weeks later he was back--only to move out again within a month. Yet through the next year, Nancy was endlessly willing to endure Richard's occasional, always short-lived attempts at reconciliation, much to the increasing chagrin of her family and friends. "I know the real Richard," she used to say. "This isn't like him. He's a family man. He's sick, but I know he'll come around."

By early summer 1990, the separation was taking a physical toll on Nancy. She grew alarmingly thin. One morning she knocked on our door, handed us Anna, sat down on our front step, and vomited. We got a bucket and called her parents. Later that day I took her some soup. Her doctor attributed the illness to antibiotics, she said. Two weeks later she told me that she tried taking the same pills again and again got sick. The incident became, for me, a metaphor for the sense of rot I began to feel at the duplex that summer. Maybe it was just the image of their garden--which once lavish, was now withered and infested. I began watering and tending it. Each night, I straightened up the yard and washed off the porch.

When Richard filed for divorce in September, I was actually relieved. The finality seemed to strengthen Nancy. Her attorney requested that she get sole custody of the children, child support, and rights to as much as $260,000 in separate assets. One settlement proposal suggested that Richard was willing to give Nancy most of what she wanted. For the first time, I heard her speak hopefully about herself. She mentioned moving to Washington, D.C., to work.

Then, by mid-November, Richard began appearing at the duplex. We were surprised and skeptical at first. When I asked Nancy about it, she told me that Richard wanted to reconcile and that she had asked him to prove it. Suddenly the place came alive. The couple began planning a new back yard, including a playhouse that Richard was building himself, working late into the freezing nights to finish it before Christmas. He put a wood-burning fireplace in the living room and, at Nancy's request, painted the downstairs walls a funky red. In the evenings he built pillow forts with the kids and played his guitar. The atmosphere was so lively that my 21-month-old son, Shawn, began yearning to visit. One morning, without my knowing it, he wandered out of our door. I found him eating apple slices at their breakfast table So that was my view on January 10, 1991, when I decided to visit Richard in the hospital waiting room. I had a certain amount of compassion for him. If there was anger, I thought, it was because the Dillards didn't understand how much he had been around, how so much had seemed to change.

I entered carrying a bag of deli sandwiches. The waiting room was crowded. Richard was sitting in one corner with a group, looking pale but refreshed from a shower. I went directly to him, gave him the sandwiches, and hugged him.

"I'm so sorry," I said.

"About what?" he asked.

I flushed and paused for a moment, unsure of what to say. "Well," I said, "I'm sorry Nancy's so sick."

SIX HOURS AFTER I LEFT, Nancy's lungs failed. She was sedated and placed on a respirator. She never communicated again. By the time she was taken off life support on January 14, she was a bloated, unrecognizable figure. The intravenous attempts to bring up her blood pressure had pumped nearly forty pounds of excess fluids into her body.

At the time of Nancy's death, the doctors still didn't know the exact cause. But hours after she was admitted on January 9, her father told Dr. Ali Bagheri, the resident overseeing her care, that the family suspected Richard had poisoned Nancy. A few days later, her brother Bill told the Dallas County district attorney the same thing.

Nancy, it turned out, had suspected Richard of poisoning her four months earlier. She had related her fears to her divorce lawyer, Mary Henrich, and to her sister-in-law, Mary Helen Dillard. In early September, she told them, she found a bottle of wine on her porch with an anonymous note to her; the cork looked as if it had been tampered with. Soon after, Nancy said, she and Richard went to the movies. When Richard brought her a soft drink, she took one sip and immediately spit it out because of a foul taste. She then saw a white powder floating on top. According to Henrich, Nancy said Richard "threw a fit" because she didn't drink it. She said she was sick that night.

It's hard to say why Nancy would have reconciled with Richard in the face of such suspicions, which apparently continued. Henrich urged her to have the wine tested, but Nancy never followed through, saying it would embarrass her to accuse her husband. Then, in late October, friends saw Nancy with a collection of unusual "health pills" Richard had given her. In December, after she and Richard went on a ski weekend in Colorado, Nancy told Mary Helen she had stayed in the bathroom vomiting for an entire night during the trip. Richard, she said, never once got out of bed to check on her.

After Nancy's father talked to Bagheri, it was at least ten hours before the doctor did anything. Bagheri later testified that his patient load was busy that day and that he was waiting for Richard to leave Nancy's bedside so he could talk to her alone. Finally, around midnight, he saw Nancy in her room. She told him about the soft drink, about the wine and the health pills. When Bagheri left Nancy that night, he recalled, she was writhing in pain, pleading with him to find out what was wrong with her. "I remember what she said," he testified. "`Please help me. Help me. Don't let me die.'"

Early the next morning, Bagheri asked the Dillards to search the duplex. Later that day, they returned with a red bag. Inside was an eight-compartment container filled with various pills and an open bottle of wine. The bags had been in the car trunk of Allison and Anna's nanny, who said she saw Nancy place them there amid sundry garage sale items a few months earlier. Richard, meanwhile, apparently knew nothing of the Dillard family's suspicions. Shortly after Nancy was admitted to the ICU, he himself asked doctors if tainted food could have made her ill. He said she had been drinking foul-tasting coffee the morning before she got sick. He brought in a bag of food from the house to be tested. By this point, I later learned, observers were clearly divided into two camps. Doctors viewed Richard's efforts with skepticism, and Nancy's family and friends were quick to catalog his misplaced gestures, indifferent responses, and odd refusal to leave her bedside. Yet others saw nothing strange about Richard's behavior. They saw him pray with his minister. They saw him barely sleep. When Nancy died, he appeared as bereft as any husband would be.

Gary Perkins, a business associate and close friend of Richard's, came to the hospital just as Nancy's life support was being turned off. At first Perkins was directed to an upstairs waiting room where the Dillards were congregating separately from Richard. When he walked off the elevator and asked for Richard, he felt a discernible chill. A woman showed him downstairs to a room where Richard's parents sat alone, waiting for their son to exit Nancy's room. "Richard came out, and he was crying real hard," Perkins recalls. "He was surprised to see me, and he hugged me. It upset me, because I'd never seen him upset like that."

Perkins ended up driving Richard home. It wasn't until they were in the car that he learned Nancy had died. "I cried and told him I was sorry," Perkins says. "He had her pair of shoes there in his lap and he kept rubbing them in his hands. Man, it just ripped me apart. I couldn't stand it. And he kept saying, `How am I going to tell my girls? How am I going to tell them?'"

THE DAY BEFORE NANCY DIED, I took down their Christmas lights. I raked and swept the back yard, picking up pieces of wood shavings, screws, and nails while my son played.

In the center of the small lawn stood a stone statue of a curly haired angel playing a harp. Richard had given it to Nancy for Christmas. For some reason, my son knew it was hers and would occasionally point tO it and call out her name. When he did, I felt a loss of surprising depth. I hadn't known Nancy as a close friend; although we had talked nearly every day, our relationship was seasoned with a cordial neighborly distance. For a long time, in fact, Nancy was nothing more to me than a good neighbor. She practiced that art well. When we first moved in, she would bring us gifts of soup or ice cream. If she borrowed a dish, she would always return it filled with something she or Richard had cooked. She remembered us every Christmas with a gift of raspberry vinegar or a basket of fruit. My husband--who is rarely hyperbolic about anyone--began calling her "the nicest person in the world. "

Admittedly, Nancy could be aggravating. Often we would step over dirty dishes or half-full coffee mugs that she would leave for hours on the front stoop. When her children painted on the upstairs porch, globs of red or blue would drip onto the stroller we kept near our door. And in conversation, she could be infuriatingly optimistic, addressing problems with empty platitudes about how everything would work out. Even after Richard left, even as her world fell apart, she tried to hang on to her rosy views

Yet when she couldn't, she seemed more approachable, softer, more real. She had quit her job shortly after Richard moved out, intent on giving her daughters stability through the marital chaos. I was home with a child too Together we began to forge a silent household alliance. On warm days and evenings our doors would swing open and our children would run back and forth, playing together as Nancy and I stayed on separate sides working or cooking. We would take turns keeping an eye on the kids. On some days we would borrow sugar, noodles, or milk from each other with an almost comic style. As the months passed, our reliance on each other grew. At times she would say how grateful she felt with us living so close, how comforting our mere presence was to her, how safe she felt. For me, too, Nancy's movements became etched into my daily routine. The sound of her step at night. The slamming of her door. The smell of her cooking. The sight of the toys strewn on her living room floor. The music she played.

Then, suddenly, she was gone.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER NANCY'S death the police advised the Dillards to keep up appearances with Richard. In retrospect, it amazes me how convincingly they played their roles. They received scores of guests at their home. During the funeral, which drew hundreds, Richard sat in the front pew next to Nancy's mother. The two wept with their arms around each other as they sang "Amazing Grace." At the grave site, her family calmly watched Richard hold Allison close.

In the weeks that followed, Nancy's father came by the duplex nearly every other morning with a box of fresh-baked muffins. He sometimes helped with the household tasks or the children until Richard drove them to school. My husband and I tried to help Richard too. We baby-sat when he went to a grief-recovery program. We cooked him dinners. We tried to offer him chances to talk, although we knew he didn't bare his feelings easily. But it seemed to us that Richard was finding a way to cope with his wife's death. With his old energy and industriousness, he took up the backyard work he and Nancy had begun. He built a greenhouse. He bought rabbits for his daughters and made an open bunny hutch. He moved the angel statue into the center of the vegetable garden and planned to put a little washtub fountain in front of it--a makeshift memorial to his dead wife.

As I write this now, it seems almost absurd that I held so firmly to the idea that Richard was above suspicion. I am not--as few in Dallas are, I suppose--naive about spousal murders. I know that seemingly fine, upstanding men in our community are capable of strangling, smothering, or otherwise mutilating their wives to death. But I could see no such capacity for evil in Richard; nor could friends or co-workers. "Nothing ever suggested Richard could do this kind of thing," said one of Richard's former employers. "Richard would get mad, sure, but it was never, never carried out in the form of retribution.

As a child, Richard was, according to his parents, always quiet and independent, rarely outwardly emotional but always amiable. He was drawn to art and music, did well in school, and showed signs of being a perfectionist. By age 28, he was competently directing multimillion-dollar construction projects and, all the while, earning the affection of colleagues, who saw him as generous and honest. He once gave his secretary $500 to help with a down payment on her house; he paid his associate Gary Perkins $5,000 from his personal account when a company check was late. Perkins, who worked nearly every day with Richard through 1989, describes him as a gentle man who never lost his temper on the job. "Richard would get angry, and he would voice his anger, Perkins says, "but he always maintained control."

By all accounts Richard also impressed the Dillards with his creativity and work ethic. As Nancy's father wrote in 1989, recommending him for membership in the Dallas Salesmanship Club, "I have had ten years to observe his personality, drive, wit, and determination. Richard is hard-working, serious, and dedicated, but he can laugh at himself and has a great appreciation for the simple pleasures in life." "He was the Pied Piper of all times with kids," says an acquaintance. "He'd get out on the lawn at these picnics, and all the parents would be eating and drinking, and Richard was just there frolicking with the kids and having a good time. "

When Richard left Nancy, however, her friends saw him change; he became disdainful, cold, and angry. Yet Nancy would always defend him, saying he was simply having an acute mid-life crisis. "Richard had always been so compliant in his family," says Emily Comstock, a longtime friend of Nancy's. "I think Nancy felt like he just hit a point where he didn't want to be a good boy anymore."

I FIRST SAW TAMI AYN GAISFORD at the duplex just a few days after Nancy's funeral. Her car was parked in the driveway, with the same "94.5--The Edge" bumper sticker that had appeared on Richard's Mustang shortly after he had left Nancy. As I walked to our door, I glanced briefly through Richard's window and saw a blond sitting at the dinner table with Richard and the girls.

She appeared every two or three days after that, once lazily reading while he worked in the back yard. At first I didn't recognize her as the "other woman" that Nancy had mentioned. She was not, as Nancy had said, a sultry, miniskirted hussy who frequented bars. She was fit and attractive, with a demeanor undoubtedly sensual but not at all cheap. The daughter of a residential contractor in Dallas, Ayn Gaisford was an intelligent, reasonable woman who had met Richard in the summer of 198,9 while both worked on the renovation of the Saks Fifth Avenue Pavilion in Houston.

As I later learned, the affair had not been a casual one. For Christmas 1989, Richard had bought her a $4,900 ring. And their affection appeared mutual and deep, lasting even through Richard's attempts at reconciliation with Nancy. "Richard knew he was in love with Ayn," says one business associate who knew them. "What to do about it was the confusing part. He loved his kids.

Obviously it was awkward seeing Ayn at the duplex so soon after Nancy's death. It was unseemly, really--particularly late one night in early February, when I heard laughter in the back yard and saw her, Richard, and another couple having a dinner party. One early February morning I opened our dining room blinds at the exact moment she walked out of Richard's back door, carrying a small overnight bag.

Yet I continued to give Richard the benefit of the doubt. He had few close friends, I thought; who was I to decide what he needed in his grief?

There was, after all, so much I didn't know. ON JANUARY 15, ONE DAY AFTER Nancy's death, an autopsy was conducted by the Dallas County medical examiner's office. It would show lethal doses of arsenic in her liver and kidneys. Her blood had as much as one hundred times more arsenic than normal. Her hair showed as much as forty times the normal amount at the root. That day, Detective Don S. Ortega of the Dallas Police Department's homicide unit met with Nancy's father. Ortega told him the investigation would take a while. In most cases Ortega questions his prime suspect within a day or two, but this one was trickier. This time he would wait.

The Dillards had told him that during 1990 Nancy had seen a canceled check from Richard to General Laboratory Supply, a chemical distributor in Pasadena. Apparently worried that Richard was using drugs, Nancy had mentioned the laboratory's name to her sister. Ortega subpoenaed bank records for Richard's accounts and asked General Labs to search their files. Within a month he obtained receipts showing Richard had bought several toxic chemicals in powdered form, including barium carbonate and sodium nitroferricyanide, from the supplier throughout 1990. None showed an arsenic purchase.

In late February the duplex grew quiet for days. Richard had told the Dillards he was going fishing in Mexico with a friend named John, and he left his daughters with Bill Junior's family. While he was gone, Ortega checked airline records and discovered Richard had flown to Puerta Vallarta with Ayn Gaisford. Their return date was February 25. Ortega picked up Richard for questioning two days later.

Richard, pleasant and cooperative, spent five hours downtown with Ortega. During their talk, Ortega recalls, Richard's eye contact never wavered. He answered questions calmly, without obvious emotion--even at times when Ortega felt emotion was warranted.

Ortega already knew that in the 44 days since Nancy's death, Richard hadn't once called the medical examiner's office to ask about the autopsy results. When he told Richard that Nancy had been poisoned, Richard barely reacted. "He remained calm," Ortega testified. "He didn't say anything and did not appear upset. No response at all." The most telling moment, in Ortega's view, came when he asked Richard if he had any poisons at the duplex. Richard mentioned that Amdro, an ant killer, and Vapam, a herbicide, were stored in the garage. When he then asked if Richard had ever bought any chemicals, Ortega testified, Richard "thought for a moment and then said, `No.'"

"Right then, I knew I'd found my suspect," Ortega told me after the trial. "I knew that he killed her. He lied to me, and I let him lie to me."

In Ortega's view, Richard's lies only continued. When he asked if Richard had ever bought chemicals "from a laboratory outside Houston," Richard said he had: mercury and lead to repair a battery, along with cyanide and "arsenic acid" to kill fire ants. At first Richard said he didn't recall what he had done with the poisons; later he said he had put them in a trash bag and thrown them away. After the interview, Richard allowed police officers to search the duplex and his car. They turned up no evidence--no tainted food, none of the chemicals purchased by Richard, and no medication in Nancy's name, not even the Zovirax capsules prescribed by her gynecologist just two days before she got sick.

As it happened, Richard had ordered arsenic, in both liquid and powder form, on November 19, 1990, from General Labs. On December 26, Richard called the company to ask about its status and was told it should arrive within two weeks. The package was delivered to Richard's office the next day. Early that morning, Richard, Nancy, and the children had left Dallas on a flight to Connecticut. A receptionist signed for the package and placed it in the mail room. The earliest Richard could have picked it up was January 3, six days before Nancy went to the hospital.

At the trial, when Richard took the stand in his defense, he told a different version of his talk with Ortega. He said he initially answered no to the question about chemicals because he thought Ortega was asking about pesticides. And he testified that he never told Ortega that he had received the December 27 delivery of arsenic.

In fact, nobody was ever able to prove Richard had actually picked up the arsenic at his office. Shortly after Richard's arrest in May, he contacted the receptionist who signed for the delivery and asked her if she remembered him complaining that he hadn't received a package. The receptionist said she didn't recall any such complaint--yet neither she nor any other witnesses saw Richard take the package from the mail room.nIt was nearly three months after Richard's trip downtown before Ortega arrested and charged him with first-degree murder. In that time Dallas County toxicologists had analyzed the "health pills" that Nancy said Richard had given her. Most were benign vitamin formulas, but two of the sixteen capsules contained pure barium carbonate--one of the toxic chemicals Richard had ordered in August.

ON A COLD SUNDAY IN EARLY March, four days after his initial interview with Ortega, Richard knocked on our door and asked to see my husband. Richard told him about the police investigation and said Bill Junior had filed a temporary restraining order to gain custody of his daughters. As my husband recalls it, Richard began hinting at a Dillard conspiracy--a family effort to pin Nancy's death on him, to take away the girls. Maybe the hospital screwed up, Richard said, or maybe someone else killed his wife. As they talked, my husband sensed concern and fear in Richard's voice but no anger at the apparent injustice of the police accusations. "He looked serious and shook up," my husband later told me. "He looked more scared than outraged."

Ayn Gaisford stopped visiting after that. Richard hired lawyers and was gone often. I started a journal. Three days after Richard talked with my husband, I sat in the back yard, struck by the stark contrast of two weeks earlier. Then, the yard had been full of life, with Allison, Anna, and Shawn running after the bunnies while Richard sawed and hammered and potted plants. "Now," I wrote, "the plants have been strewn about, upturned by the wind or the rabbits. A light has been on for several nights in Richard's tool shed. No one has been in to turn it off. The face of Nancy's angel has streaks of light brown muck on it--sap, rusty water, bird crap for all I know. All life has gone, suddenly, except for the bunnies. Even they are thin, shaking, and hungry. Shawn and I feed them every day. Sometimes they run wild in the alley. The other night, their hutch collapsed in the wind."

That night, I was awake in bed when Richard's car pulled into the driveway. I heard his key in the door, his step on the stair six feet from my head. I felt, for the first time, a naked and nauseating fear. Maybe it was Rosemary Lyon, Richard's mother, who made me feel better. Within a few days she had left her job in Connecticut, moved in, and was washing and ironing his shirts, opening his mail, and cooking his meals. "I finally got him to eat something last night," she said to me. "Now I can't fill him up."

Rosemary had a gritty, comforting, no-nonsense warmth about her. A second generation Lebanese American, she seemed to be a woman who orders life by simple rules. She believes in the power of saints and is deeply loyal to her family and friends. I never heard her doubt Richard's innocence. As she saw it, whoever killed Nancy was out to get Richard too. When she arrived, she emptied all of Richard's spices in the trash. She looked warily at bottles of vinegar Nancy I had kept above the sink.

Through Rosemary, I began to see Richard as a mother's son. I found myself, once again, warmed to him, able to view him with uncertainty--a feeling that was far more comforting than the terror I had felt days earlier. My trust was still tenuous. One night Rosemary came to our door with a plate of apple pie Richard had made that day. I could never bring myself to eat it. Yet I remember, too, the beautiful, sunny, cool, windy afternoon when Richard and Rosemary came back from the first day of the custody hearing. I sat on the front porch while Richard complained about having to plead the Fifth Amendment on nearly every question, which his lawyers had advised. He said his stomach felt like it had "a hole in it" after he heard the Dillards' testimony against him. "It hurts when you see your family, or what you thought was your family, saying you did something so horrible, he said. He looked so sad, so sincere in his stated incredulities. In that moment, I felt genuine sympathy for him. THE DILLARDS NEVER STRUCK ME as conspiring people. If anything, the manner of Nancy's death left them stunned, outraged, and somewhat mortified. They were also scared. "I was sure that once Richard knew the jig was up, he would do something crazy, like kill the girls and then kill himself," Bill Junior told me months later. "I had a lot of fear, a lot of fear."

At the time, though, I didn't know what to believe about Richard's hints of secrets in Nancy's family--secrets, he said, that tied into the mystery of her death. I found it hard to imagine. But by this point, nothing would have surprised me--or so I thought.

I hadn't heard the testimony in the custody hearing. Richard's lawyer had subpoenaed me as a witness, but after two days of waiting outside the courtroom, I was never called. Faced with no hard evidence proving Richard an unfit parent, the court gave the Dillards visiting rights but temporarily returned the girls to their father.

After Richard and Rosemary returned, jubilant, from court that day, I knocked on their door. Richard ushered me in. He had loosened his tie; his face looked more relaxed than it had in months. He had seriously hurt the Dillards' case, he said, by testifying about the incestuous relationship Nancy had had with her brother Bill while the two were adolescents.

According to Richard, Nancy first told him about the incest in late spring 1989, when they and other Dillard family members spent a "family counseling week" at Sierra Tucson, a psychiatric facility in Arizona, where Bill Junior was undergoing treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. While there, Nancy and Richard saw a sex therapist. The incest came out at that session, and as he said later, it left him "disgusted" and "repulsed."

What actually happened between Nancy and her brother 25 years ago is disputed. After Richard's trial, Bill Junior spoke to me frankly about it. There was never any intercourse, he said, and no one victim or perpetrator. He and Nancy cooperated in fondling games that confused physical closeness with emotional intimacy. The two had even talked forgivingly about it months before she died, he said.

But as I sat in his living room that day, Richard painted the ugliest of pictures: that Bill Junior would "pounce" on Nancy with advances she escaped by mentally withdrawing--by reading, in one instance, even as it happened. According to Richard, Nancy's parents only discovered the incest when she complained of vaginal bleeding. I sat, speechless, at his descriptions. He looked back at me calmly. "Now you know," he said.

That evening, when Richard drove his daughters back to the duplex, he got a police escort. Even though the day was wet, Richard brought out his guitar and began singing Raffi songs out back. The atmosphere was very festive, and it stayed that way for days. I remember, most clearly, one evening when Shawn brought out his toy guitar for another sing-along. Allison hung on Richard's back, holding her blanket, while Anna played in the sand nearby. At the end of one song, Richard reached down and stroked Shawn softly on the cheek. For a moment, in that warmth, it was if the whole matter of Nancy's death had disappeared.

We moved out six weeks later, into a house we had bought before Nancy died. In that time, we felt close to Richard. We shared dinners. When Anna was hospitalized with a rare viral syndrome, I watched how tenderly he cared for her. From time to time, Richard frolicked with my son. Their favorite seemed to be a tickling game, which Richard called "typing torture." It always made Shawn giggle wildly. Before we left, Richard gave us two bonsai trees. "Please keep these trees," he wrote in a note, "as they will survive for decades with the same care that you give each other."

We heard about Richard's arrest in May. I felt helpless, seeing his picture on the front page. I went to his bond hearing and embraced Rosemary when his bail, originally set at $2 million, was reduced to $50,000. We didn't see them much after that. We became, like so many who knew Nancy and Richard, intent on escaping the ordeal.

But escape was impossible. I had mistakenly taped the news report of Richard's arrest on my son's favorite Barney and the Backyard Gang videotape. I could barely listen to Raffi music. When one of the two bonsai trees died, I couldn't stop seeing Nancy in its thin, withered trunk. And Shawn began having bedtime fears of men coming to "type" him. One night, months after we had moved out, I cradled him close and asked him, "Who types you?"

"Richard," he answered.

THE HALLWAY OUTSIDE STATE DIStrict judge John Creuzot's courtroom was packed when I arrived on December 2 for Richard's trial. It was an unusual scene from the start. For three weeks nearly everything in the courtroom, including the white-collar jury, masked the carnality of murder with a veneer of North Dallas propriety and aesthetics.

Richard appeared clean-shaven, in finely tailored suits, always carrying a briefcase full of legal pads and files. His lawyer, Dan Guthrie, a former assistant United States attorney with a reputation for defending savings and loan executives, was tall, handsome, and impeccably dressed. The state's case was led by assistant district attorney Jerri Sims, whose elegant skirts, spiked heels, and waist-long blond hair effectively disguised her hard-nosed reputation for winning convictions. And each day, scores of well-scrubbed Dillard supporters came: elderly benefactors, young women with hankies pinned to their sweaters, Episcopalian ministers, ladies doing cross-stitch. Richard's parents, and sometimes a friend or two, sat quietly apart from that crowd. I sat with the journalists, believing I could watch Richard's trial with their dispassion. I acted the part well, recording every minute of testimony in my little notebooks. Only later did I realize that I had never been dispassionate.

I had hoped Guthrie would show me that his client didn't kill Nancy. He had pledged as much in an unusual press conference nine months earlier, which he called after University Park police named Richard as a suspect. Then, Guthrie declared Richard innocent and promised that if the case went to trial it would be a "real Perry Mason whodunit." I was hoping it would be, I suppose, for the same reasons I had continually denied Richard's guilt. It wasn't just my belief in his right to a fair trial. I also didn't want to admit that I had put my faith in a man who had coldly killed his wife. What I saw instead was the state's carefully-laid-out case, which implicated Richard at every turn. In testimony from Nancy's father, her doctor, Detective Ortega, and others, the state fashioned a picture out of her suspicions of Richard, Richard's apparent lies to the police, the autopsy report, the health pills packed with barium carbonate, and the paper trail of chemical purchases that ended with the December arsenic delivery. I was stunned, too, by the testimony of a man who, in January 1991, repainted and cleaned the apartment Richard had lived in while he was separated from Nancy. Among Richard's belongings the man saw several empty clear gelatin capsules--the same as those containing the two tainted health pills. There was also the subsequent tenant at the apartment, who testified that while cleaning the back of a bathroom cabinet, she found a prescription bottle in Nancy's name. Along with the pills inside were two antibiotic capsules laced with sodium nitroferricyanide--another poisonous chemical that Richard had bought from General Labs in August 1990. Money, not just his romantic liaison with Ayn, appeared to be the motive. Nancy was worth about $1.2 million, including $500,000 from her life insurance policy. Four months before her death, she had removed Richard as beneficiary, naming her children instead. The children's nanny, Lynn Pease-Woods, had signed as witness to the change. According to Lynn's testimony, it seemed as if Richard didn't know about the switch, even after Nancy's death. The defense's attempts to counter Lynn's testimony looked suspicious. Guthrie introduced a typewritten note, addressed to Richard, dated November 1, 1990, and signed "Nancy," which mentioned the beneficiary change. But Lynn testified that Nancy didn't know how to type and even took pride in that fact.

Through his cross-examination of other state witnesses, Guthrie deluged the jury with a muddle of doubts. He suggested other suspects: Bill Junior, for instance, or Nancy's former boss at Crow Development, David Bagwell, who had been sued by the Crow companies for misappropriating $720,000. Nancy had been a potential witness against Bagwell and had received a death threat relating to the case in 1989.

Guthrie also hinted at suicide. But that scenario seemed unlikely when the state introduced a nine-page letter from Nancy to Richard, written four months before her death in powerful, intelligent, eloquent prose. When read aloud, it was as if Nancy's voice had suddenly come into the courtroom to state her own case:

My nature has always been to be so optimistic, so positive, so charged up about my life, and over this last year, in losing what I valued most in my life, I have let myself be so consumed by fear, unhappiness, heartache, and misery that I have compromised my values and principles and lost sight of myself, my needs and my dreams... I can see clearly that the children and I need and deserve so much more. They need a loving, consistent parent who is there for them day and night... They need stability and predictability and a promise that no matter what, they will be defended, protected and safe, every moment, every day... I no longer have any desire to hold you to your marriage commitment. Not only are you free to go, but I need to demand that you go before even more damage is done to the children and to me.

I watched Richard cry as the letter was read. I will never believe, as some suggested, that his tears were just a ploy to win the jury's sentiments. But I could feel my focus changing. I no longer wondered if he had killed her. I wondered, instead, what twisted passion had carried him through the months of premeditation, through the hours of her retching at home, through the days of her decline and death. I cannot pretend to know what happened between Richard and Nancy, but I believed then, as now, that Richard loved her once--as deeply as he must have grown to hate her.

On the day the state rested its case, Richard came over to me in the courtroom. He asked about Shawn and told me about Anna's funny antics. As we talked, I had trouble looking into his eyes. I could feel the Dillards' friends staring at us. When he asked how I thought the trial had gone, I shrugged and said nothing. "Just wait," he told me. "All the facts will come out."

WHEN HE TOOK THE STAND two days later, Richard never denied ordering the arsenic. He said he bought the poison to kill fire ants at the duplex and at a job site. Although his testimony drew snickers of disbelief that his supposedly all-organic company would sanction arsenic as a fire ant control, I knew the duplex had an ant problem. In late summer 1990 it had gotten so bad that I asked Nancy about it. "Richard's working on something," she told me. As Richard described it, he planned to bore into the mounds and then spray poison. Nancy had worked with him on the scheme, he said; in fact, it was Nancy who suggested buying arsenic in the first place.

Richard's testimony also put him 250 miles from Nancy during the hours on January 8 when she would have gotten the fatal dose of arsenic. Airline tickets, restaurant receipts, and eyewitnesses all confirmed that he had been in Houston since early that day and had arrived home around six, about the time Nancy began feeling sick. He portrayed his wife as a vulnerable, sickly woman. All through the fall of 1990, he said, Nancy had called him often, complaining of illness. Her calls always drew him back to the duplex, he said, to check on the children or to help her.

As proof he offered writings he said were Nancy's--pages of notes, which Richard said he found in a file box three months before the trial. Nancy had been in counseling nearly all of her final year. I knew she wrote often about her therapy; once, I had seen the walls of her bedroom covered with sheets of paper. Two pages offered by the defense particularly played into suggestions of suicide or other suspects. One described how Bill Junior had incestuously "violated" Nancy for years, how her family had denied it, and how Richard had tried to help her--"tried to save me," the note said, "with his sincere heart and his un-ending patience with my than" ups' about sex." On the bottom of another page was written, "fears of bill and what his desires are--sex--sick sex-incest issues with me?--my girls?"

The defense had hired a handwriting expert, who had said the writing was Nancy's. Later, they would put on the stand James Grigson, the psychiatrist known as Dr. Death for his controversial death-penalty testimony. Solely on the basis of the notes, Grigson described Nancy as deeply troubled, calculating, controlling, and manipulative. He suggested that she had made herself sick with poisons to lure Richard back to the marriage.

By itself, the theory seemed preposterous. Arsenic poisoning is a painful, prolonged, and agonizing way to kill oneself. What's more, Nancy hadn't acted one bit suicidal in the weeks before her death. She made her usual Christmas gifts and planned trips for the coming year. Her daughters seemed far too important to her. And why would she have cried out for help in the hospital if she had known, all the while, what was killing her?

Then Guthrie produced the receipt. It was dated September 6, 1990, from a company called Chemical Engineering in Dallas. It listed purchases of four chemicals: barium carbonate, lead nitrate, cyanogen bromide, and arsenic trioxide. It was signed "Nancy Lyon," with her driver's license number beneath her name.

As Richard stood before the jury, pointing to a blowup of the receipt, the change in the courtroom was physical. He testified that he had found it stashed in the same files with her private writings. For the first time during the trial, Rosemary leaned forward and tried to catch my eye. "Can you believe it?" she mouthed.

It was hard to know what to believe, particularly when the president of Chemical Engineering, Charles Couch, testified later that his firm specialized in recycling old carpeting. But Couch, a large man with a cocksure manner, also acknowledged he was rknown in the business" as someone who could devise chemical formulas. In September 1990, he testified, a woman had called him to discuss fire ant poison. According to Couch, the woman never identified herself, but she told him that she and her husband were trying to inject poison into the mounds with a long drill. When Couch offered to look up a formula for her at the Southern Methodist University library, the woman asked if he could drop the notation by her house--which, she said, was right next to campus, as our duplex was.

Couch testified that he did look up a formula, which matched the items on the receipt. But he never dropped it off. Instead, the woman apparently came to his plant the next day to get it. He testified that that he never saw her: He was on the phone in a back office at the time. Through one of his employees, he passed on the formula, which he had jotted on notepaper with his company's logo. But Couch called the receipt a forgery. It had no invoice number. It was typed, while all his are handwritten. And, oddly, it had a notation to call Keith or Charles on the bottom--names of contractors who transport huge quantities of chemicals for the company. Couch said he remembered inadvertently jotting their names on the bottom of the notepaper with the formula right before the woman came to pick it up.

Yet even if Richard had forged the receipt, it was hard to explain the call Couch had gotten. Equally puzzling were the results of additional forensic tests on Nancy's hair, which the medical examiner's office had requested in May. Bundles of the hair had been sent to Vincent Guinn, a chemist at the University of Maryland, who uses a technique called neutron activation analysis to detect various chemicals in hair. Before analyzing the hair, Guinn had sliced it into tiny segments, each representing roughly two weeks growth. The results showed that in addition to the lethal dose in early January, Nancy probably had ingested arsenic at least two other times before that: a sizable dose sometime between mid-December and New Year's Eve, and a much smaller one in mid-November. Both were before Richard could have received the arsenic from General Labs.

There were theories to explain the evidence. Richard might have gotten arsenic elsewhere. Maybe Nancy's hair grew faster than normal. Maybe shellfish or hair coloring caused the small November dose. Yet the autopsy also showed Nancy's fingernails had at least five times more arsenic than her toenails--a result that suggested she might have handled the chemical, either by touching poisoned food or the arsenic itself.

TWO DAYS BEFORE THE END OF the trial, it seemed Guthrie had achieved reasonable doubt. That day, Shawn visited me at the courthouse for lunch, and Richard chatted easily with him in the hallway. As I watched, it seemed that more harm would come from a conviction than from an acquittal.

I lost all faith less than two hours later. On rebuttal, the state produced Hartford R. Kittel, a retired document examiner from the FBI. Unlike the defense's handwriting analyst, Kittel compared all writings in evidence not just with Nancy's known samples but also with Richard's.

I had always marveled at how similar Richard's and Nancy's handwriting was. In graduate school, I later learned, they had actually worked to make their writing look alike for design projects, giving it the same angular n's, the same long loops below their g's and their y's. But Kittel pointed out their differences. Richard's i's were a straight line down; Nancy's were framed by little cross lines. Richard's f's sometimes had a backward loop; Nancy's never did. Nancy's s's were always serpentine; Richard's were sometimes scripted.

And then I saw how, in the most powerful of Nancy's personal writings--in the pen scratches that spelled out "bill violated me for years," "sick sex" and "Richard... with his sincere heart"--in nearly every word that damned Nancy, there were Richard's handwriting peculiarities. To my eyes, the call wasn't even close. Kittel also questioned the authenticity of the signature on the insurance note and couldn't identify the one on the receipt from Chemical Engineering.

The jury returned its verdict less than three hours later. As the courtroom doors opened, I saw an ashen Richard looking back at the crowd filing in. When the foreman read, "Guilty," Richard's eyes widened. Then he stared straight ahead, hung his head, and sighed.

"I can't believe this has happened," he told Guthrie minutes later, as they sat in a holding cell. "I'm innocent." Outside, amid a flurry of television cameras, the Dillards were whisked away. In the emptiness that followed, journalists milled the halls, looking for someone who would comment on the case. I walked toward the elevators and left.

Soon I was driving up Central Expressway in a pouring rain. As I had done so often in the years before, I turned off at Mockingbird and zigzagged past SMU to the duplex. The shutters were drawn. The Christmas lights were hanging in the same loose way as the year before, when I had taken them down as Nancy lay dying. Sitting there in my car, it seemed absurd that after all these months, my doubt about who killed Nancy should have fallen apart based on the shape of an i, an f, and an s. But that was all it took. Mere markings of a pen had become, for me, the desperate imprints or a very convincing liar.

ON NEW YEAR'S DAY, I WENT TO see Richard in jail. He wasn't expecting me. I didn't quite know how to alert him that I was coming, so I simply showed up. Richard entered on the other side of the bulletproof glass dressed in white jail overalls. An orange ID band encircled his wrist. He looked pale but lively. He sat down easily and picked up the phone. He looked as even-tempered and pleasant as I remembered him. There was no desperation in his voice or face.

"How are you doing?" I asked.

"Not great," he said. "But we're working on getting a new trial now..." His talk quickly moved into a litany of reasons why he should have been acquitted, especially with what the forensic evidence showed. "You tell me how I could have given her those prior exposures," he said. "You tell me, and then I can sit in a jail cell and think about it. But you can't tell me. That's reasonable doubt."

I was blunt with him. The handwriting analysis had hurt him. So did his apparent lies to the police. And it simply didn't make sense that Nancy would beg for help in the hospital if she had killed herself. "I don't understand it either," he said. "I lived with her, and I don't understand it. All I know is that she bought arsenic. That receipt is real.... Why would I forge that stuff?"

As he talked, he looked me straight in the eye, and I found myself searching his pale green irises for some hint of the truth. All I saw was calm, logical analysis. He had an answer for every question. The thought crossed my mind, at one point, that Richard is either delusional, thoroughly evil, or innocent. And at that moment I really could not tell which it was. "You know me," he said. "You know I would never do anything to hurt the girls. I would never have taken away their mother. Why would I need to kill her? I would have walked away from the marriage."

I was hoping my visit would give me some closure to the matter of my neighbor's death. It did not. What was I expecting, after all? That Richard would suddenly break down, confess, set forth the story without ambiguity, allow me to walk away that night satisfied that at least I knew the whole wretched truth? Instead, as the guard came to get him, Richard left me with this: "I can only pray that the truth will come out someday," he said, "because it didn't at the trial."

I cannot say Richard Lyon killed his wife beyond all possible doubt. Like the jury, I believe he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but my knowledge will always be in fragments, like the glimpses I had during the years I lived under his roof, like the pieces of evidence that became the court record.

Or, as I thought driving back from the jail that night, like the way I saw his eyes shift downward only twice during my visit with him.

The first time was when I asked about his daughters.

The second time was when I suggested that maybe Nancy got her poison in the Zovirax capsules she had been taking at the time.

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.

Monday, August 30, 2004

How Long Do Cops Keep Evidence?

Five years? Forty years? Until the end of time?

By Brendan I. Koerner
Posted Friday, Aug. 27, 2004, at 3:01 PM PT

Police investigators in Houston, looking into incompetence at the city's crime lab, have discovered 280 boxes of lost evidence, covering around 8,000 cases stretching all the way back to the late 1970s. How long do police departments usually hold onto evidence?

Anywhere from the closing of the case until the end of time. There are few state guidelines addressing the long-term storage of evidence, so decisions about how to handle the materials are usually left up to local prosecutors and police. Some departments are assiduous about destroying evidence, say, one year after a defendant has either been acquitted or sentenced; others hold onto evidence indefinitely, figuring that they're better safe than sorry. It is not unheard of, for example, for evidence storage facilities to warehouse boxes of drugs that are 40 years old, or biological detritus from murder cases solved during the Johnson administration. Evidence from open, or unsolved, cases is frequently kept around for that long, unless the investigating officer is diligent enough to see to the evidence's destruction once the statute of limitations has expired.

There are also departments that may have disposal policies in place, but lack the manpower to determine which evidence should be preserved, which should be destroyed, and which should be returned to its rightful owner. It's estimated that a case's worth of evidence takes an hour to log and mark for disposal, retention, or return; that means that the newly discovered Houston evidence would take one police officer four full years of research (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year) to identify and clear.

The downside to quickly disposing of evidence, of course, is that critical items sometimes get sent to the incinerator too soon. But evidence that's kept for the long haul can tempt property clerks and other insiders into stealing valuables. Tales of sticky-fingered employees are legion: Recently, for example, several Memphis, Tenn., workers were charged with lifting $2 million worth of cocaine from an evidence storage room.

When evidence is ordered destroyed, the process is usually done through incineration with at least two people present. Guns are often melted down, while hard currency may be donated to a charitable fund. Items that belong to a victim are returned to their rightful owners, who may have just 90 days to come in and claim their property.

Despite the disparity in evidence retention approaches, police departments are becoming more and more careful about preserving DNA samples for the long term. At least 25 states now have statewide policies in place regarding how long evidence containing DNA should be retained. Whereas such evidence might have previously been destroyed once an incarcerated defendant's appeals were exhausted, it's now often kept for the duration of the sentence in case a post-conviction DNA test is ever requested.

mother's undercover work may have lead to death of 18 year-old coed

Bonnie Craig murder synopsis:

Before dawn one crisp September morning, 18-year-old Bonnie Craig began her trek to school. Two days a week, the University of Alaska freshman walked 45 minutes through the early morning darkness to catch the bus to campus. Bonnie was a diligent student who prided herself on arriving promptly for her 7:00 a.m. class. But on this day Bonnie would never make it to school. Later that afternoon, another Anchorage college student was taking photographs from a hiking trail in a public park when she came across the lifeless body of a young woman floating in McHugh Creek.

The following day, the victim was identified as Bonnie Craig. The medical examiner determined she had drowned. But Bonnie had also suffered severe head injuries, possibly resulting from a fall off a cliff. At the time of Bonnie’s death, her mother, Karen Campbell, was on vacation in Florida. She rushed home when she learned the tragic news. When she saw her daughter's body she noticed defensive wounds on her body and knew that, in fact, Bonnie had been murdered. Troubling questions had already begun to surface before Karen Campbell had viewed her daughter’s body. What was Bonnie doing anywhere near McHugh Creek Park on a school day? And since she didn’t drive, how did Bonnie get there? The park was 10 miles from where she was last seen. Even then, authorities were slow to conclude that Bonnie had been murdered and what few leads investigators developed they kept to themselves.

One piece of information, troopers didn’t release were the results of a sexual assault examination, which Karen learned of six months later. When Karen originally asked if Bonnie had been raped she was told no. After fighting to get information she said it was revealed that Bonnie was brutally raped and murdered. Law enforcement maintains that the results of the autopsy showed that there was evidence of sexual activity and they couldn’t confirm whether it was a sexual assault or whether it was consensual sex. Such disputes were typical of Karen Campbell’s relationship with police. Her frustrations with investigators soon motivated her to begin her own search for information about Bonnie’s death.

Before her daughter’s death, Karen worked as a reserve officer with the Anchorage Police Department and performed some undercover work. A few months into her investigation into Bonnie’s death, Karen learned that her undercover work might have jeopardized the lives of those closest to her. She was approached by an acquaintance who claimed to have information about Bonnie’s murder. At his request, Karen promised to protect his identity. According to Karen, the man told her that her family had apparently been targeted on the orders of a local drug lord after a sting she was involved in resulted in the arrest of several members of his organization. He told her that her murder was ordered because it was a message to the Anchorage Police Department to back off. According to Karen, Bonnie was murdered the day after the people that she identified were released from jail. Despite the precautions taken to protect her identity during the busts, it would not have been difficult for the accused to learn who had fingered them.

Almost a full year after Bonnie’s murder, the case took an unexpected turn when Karen was contacted by one of Bonnie’s college instructors. She said the instructor told her that there was a student who may have been involved in the murder. According to Karen, the instructor told her that her suspicions stemmed from reading the student’s class journal and the references he made to the date of Bonnie’s murder -- September 28th. Karen said that certain entries in the journal were incredibly violent and filled with anger. According to Karen, there were also two incidents where the student specifically said that September 28th was going to be a very tough day and that he was going to be put to a test. The instructor told Karen that on the day Bonnie was murdered, the student in question was absent. He was supposed to hand in a paper but he brought it to the teacher later in the afternoon. According to Karen the teacher told her that the student was wet as if he had just gotten out of a shower. She also said it smelled like had he just poured a whole bottle of cologne on himself. Investigators looked in to the student but DNA evidence recovered from Bonnie at the scene didn’t match the DNA evidence collected from the student at the college. Karen did some sleuthing of her own and learned that the student had an assault charge against him and had been bailed out of jail by a young man who had been involved in another murder.

Could someone have been lying in wait for Bonnie Craig? One neighbor reported seeing an unknown car idling in front of Bonnie’s home early that morning. And, an anonymous caller to the police Crime Stopper’s line claimed to have seen Bonnie that morning at the bus stop talking to two men in a vehicle. Karen Campbell intends to do everything she can to keep the investigation alive. A $50,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of Bonnie Craig’s killer.

estranged socialite wife of millionaire murdered under guise of flower delivery

In 1976, James Sullivan inherited a multi-million dollar liquor distribution empire from his uncle.

Newly rich, he married Atlanta socialite Lita McClinton and the two moved to an ocean front mansion in glamorous Palm Beach.

There, Jim was determined to work his way into the town's exclusive high society.

But when Lita proved an impediment to his social advance Jim began to carry on numerous affairs.

By 1985, Lita could take no more. She returned to Atlanta and filed for divorce.

The morning of her divorce hearing, Lita opened the door to a man holding flowers and was shot.

Circumstantial evidence pointed to Sullivan as the man behind the murder but, despite several indictments, he was never convicted.

For 13 years the case languished until 1998 when police arrested one of the hitmen who in turn accused Sullivan.

A murder warrant was issued for Sullivan but when police went to serve it, Sullivan vanished.


SYNOPSIS: On January 16, 1987 Atlanta socialite Lita Sullivan, 36-year-old estranged wife of millionaire James Sullivan, opened the door of her Buckhead district townhouse to accept a delivery of roses. A gun emerged from behind the flowers, a shot rang out, and Lita Sullivan was dead, the victim of an expertly aimed gunshot wound to the head. Police immediately suspected James Sullivan of arranging the murder of his wife. They were in the middle of nasty divorce proceedings to end their eleven-year marriage, and Lita, was scheduled to testify in court later that day.
According to associates, Sullivan, who had lost considerable money and property when he divorced his first wife to marry Lita, made no secret of the fact that he would do whatever was necessary to keep Lita from getting the same kind of deal. He was already dating the woman who would become his third wife, and had told several people that he wouldn't be sorry or surprised if Lita met with an unfortunate "accident."

Unfortunately, the case had few leads. The gunman had neither been identified nor apprehended, and the murder weapon had not been found. The only lead police had was a description of the gunman provided by an employee of the floral shop where the flowers had been purchased. With only circumstantial evidence and hearsay to go on, authorities could not get an indictment against Sullivan, who quickly remarried.

Lita's parents, however, were not about to give up the fight. Emory McClinton, a former U. S. Department of Transportation official and his wife, JoAnn, a Georgia state representative, were among Atlanta's most prominent African American families. After the case languished, authorities finally got a break. Sullivan's third wife sued him for divorce and alleged that he confessed to having Lita killed. In April of 1998, a man arrested in North Carolina on unrelated charges confessed to being the gunman who shot Lita and alleged that Jim Sullivan hired him. In May, 1998 Sullivan was charged with felony murder and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Arrangements were made with his attorney for Sullivan to turn himself in. It never happened. Authorities believe he may have fled the country, possibly to Ireland as he has dual citizenship.

Star fights his own bodyguard

Crowe: Misunderstanding Led to Scuffle

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — "Gladiator" star Russell Crowe took the blame for his latest battle — a fight with his own bodyguard — saying it was sparked by a misunderstanding at a drinks party for the cast and crew of a movie he was shooting.

The Oscar-winning actor made headlines in Australia recently by scuffling with Mark "Spud" Carroll, a former rugby league star who is now his bodyguard, in Toronto where Crowe is shooting his latest movie, "The Cinderella Man."

Reports said New Zealand-born Crowe, who engaged in highly publicized brawls before he got married last year, even chomped on Carroll's ear during the fight. But in a letter to The Sunday Herald Sun tabloid, Crowe said the punch-up was sparked by a misunderstanding and said the pair made up the next day.

Crowe said he had been talking to a young woman, who was an extra on the film and a friend of both men, as the cast and crew gathered for post-shoot drinks. Carroll approached Crowe and told him what he thought people might be imagining the pair's conversation was about.

"I thought he was accusing me specifically of something and I took offense to it," Crowe said in the letter.

Carroll also wrote to the newspaper and denied reports Crowe had bitten his ear.

"That never happened, simple as that," he said. "He did take a nip at my chest — I was trying to smother him at the time, so I can understand the move."

Crowe said they "called each other a few ripe names, had a hug and got on with the job," he said.

Mother accuses police of shooting teen as payback for past crimes

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A teenager shot in the head by an off-duty police officer he allegedly tried to rob died of his injuries Saturday, and his mother claimed police had been trying to pin a crime on her son for weeks.

Eric Eichelberger, 17, died after being taken off life support, police said. Assistant Police Chief Stephen Pollihan said an investigation was under way but that the shooting Friday appeared to be justified.

Eichelberger's mother, April Jones, said her son had told her that St. Louis police were out to get him for past run-ins, including questioning in the murder of pro soccer player Daniel Radke in May. Another person, Jesse Lee Ivory, 18, was eventually charged with Radke's murder.

"They had been saying that they were going to get him and surely they did," she said. "This was a life that didn't have to be taken."
A police spokesman declined to comment on the case or on Jones' allegations because Eichelberger was a juvenile.

According to Pollihan, the officer was emptying garbage in his St. Louis neighborhood when Eichelberger pointed a loaded gun at him and demanded his wallet.

After giving the teen his wallet, the officer drew his pistol and told Eichelberger to drop his gun, Pollihan said. When he did not, the officer fired two shots.

But Jones questioned the police version of events, saying she examined her son's body and saw concrete burns on her son's hands and feet, suggesting he had fought for his life.

The officer, a 35-year veteran whose name has not been released, has been placed on administrative leave, a standard procedure in shootings involving police officers.

What about a website with a webcam showing a kidnapped person 24/7 that police were struggling to track down?

Web Site Shows Kidnapped Nepalese Workers

By Rawya Rageh

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP)— A Web site linked to an Iraqi militant group showed a video of 12 Nepalese workers kidnapped in Iraq, with one of them reading a statement warning workers against going to Iraq and blaming America for lying about security in the war-ravaged country.

The video on a Web site of the Ansar Al-Sunna Army could not be independently verified. It was not possible to identify the men as the 12 shown in photographs on the site last week when Ansar Al-Sunna Army announced the kidnappings.

The group has been linked to past kidnapping claims.

The two-minute, 40-second video showed a seated man draped in an American flag and reading from a paper. He said the group came to Iraq under a deal between their company in Nepal and American forces, brokered by a Jordanian company.

The unidentified man spoke in broken English, mostly inaudible. Arabic subtitles were provided.

"We are not the only ones who were cheated by America's promises to work with them," he said, surrounded by the 11 other hostages who were holding their passports.

Behind them was a black banner bearing the name of the group and the phrase "There is no God but God. Muhammad is the prophet of God."

The speaker said each of the 12 men were offered $2,500 a month to work in Iraq.

"The Americans assured us that the situation in Iraq is stable and not dangerous," he said. "America lied to us. ... The situation here is not under American control."

He warned others against coming to Iraq.

"We call upon those who want to come to Iraq not be duped by American claims," he said.

The 12 workers were kidnapped August 23, four days after crossing into Iraq. The previous Ansar Al-Sunna Army statement said the men were subcontracted to a Jordanian company and working for the U.S. military in Iraq.

Nepal — an impoverished South Asian nation — doesn't allow its citizens to work in Iraq because of security concerns. An estimated 17,000 Nepalese are believed to have slipped into the war-torn country from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and about 200,000 work elsewhere in the Gulf.

Scores of foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq in recent months by insurgents and criminal gangs seeking to extort money or pressure foreign troops and companies to leave the country.

Nepal has sent no troops to Iraq despite a request from the United States, but armed Nepalese personnel work for security firms guarding foreign contractors in Iraq.

Corpse Rides Shotgun

Drunk driver allegedly decapitates passenger, drives home with body

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A drunken driver hit a telephone pole support wire that decapitated his passenger, then drove 12 miles home and slept in his bloody clothes, leaving the headless body in his truck, police said.

A neighbor walking with his young daughter Sunday morning discovered Daniel Brohm's headless corpse in the truck in John Kemper Hutcherson's driveway and called authorities, said Cpl. Dana Pierce, county police spokesman.

Officers found Hutcherson asleep inside his home. He was visibly drunk and his clothes were bloody, authorities said. They later found Brohm's severed head at the crash site.

"It's hard for one to imagine that you would drive miles from a crash site to your home, turning in various directions, and yet not know what has happened to a passenger sitting next to you," Pierce said.

Hutcherson, 21, was charged with vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and failure to stop at an accident with death or injury. He was jailed on a $100,000 bond; it was unclear Monday whether he had an attorney.

Police said Hutcherson and Brohm — friends since high school — were drinking at a bar Saturday night and left after Brohm said he felt sick.

Brohm, 23, apparently was leaning out of the window when Hutcherson hit the support wire about a mile and a half from the bar.

teacher may have been murdered for role in expelling student from grade school

Two Arrested in Murder of Seeley Lake Teacher

Pathfinder Editor
(From Pathfinder Issue 10-24-96)

An apparent discrepancy in statements by two young men and witnesses and similarities in pieces of shotgun shells and steel shot recovered at the scene led police to arrest two young Seeley Lake men early last Friday (Oct. 18) morning on charges of murdering Cliff Nelson almost three weeks earlier.

Jailed now at the Missoula County jail, facing a deliberate homicide, or "...in the alternative," accountability for deliberate homicide charge in Nelson's shooting are Matt Livingston, 21, and Rambo Hooser, 19, both of Seeley Lake. Bail for each has been set at $500,000.

Both were arrested early last Friday morning, starting with Hooser at his family home five miles north of Seeley Lake at 6:30 a.m. and Livingston at 7:45 a.m. at his residence just across a drive from Nelson's mobile home.

Neither man offered resistance or made a statement, according to Missoula County Sheriff Doug Chase. The two were brought before Justice of the Peace Patrick Holt who read the charges to them. Hooser appeared with his own attorney, Craig Shannon, who stated his client did not commit the murder. Livingston asked for a public defender.

Both have denied any knowledge of the murder of Nelson.

The two men had become prime suspects early on in an ever-widening investigation in which detectives questioned anyone known to be out in the early morning hours of Monday, Sept. 30, when Nelson, a seventh and eighth grade teacher here, was killed with a single shotgun blast to his head in his trailer home on Redwood Lane around 1:30 a.m.

In addition to the homicide charge, County Attorney Robert L. Deschamps, III, filed a second count against both men, charging them with felony criminal mischief, and or accountability for criminal mischief in the shooting out of office windows at the Seeley Swan High School minutes before the fatal shooting of Nelson. Both Livingston and Hooser have denied any knowledge of the high school shooting.

Deschamps said Tuesday that it would more than likely be next spring before the case reaches trial. A preliminary hearing is scheduled in Justice Court for November 1, Deschamps said, but added that this hearing is usually bypassed with the filing of affidavits and informations in District Court.

Deschamps said other pre-trial hearings, pleas and filings will be scheduled after the case is assigned a judge in District Court, where felonies are heard. Some of these hearings may be held in November, but he added, you're "...probably looking at spring before trial."

In an 11-page "affidavit of probable cause," Deschamps outlines details of the police investigation of the murder, which was discovered by Resident Deputy Sheriff Scott Newell around 2 a.m. the night of Monday, Sept. 30, when he responded to a 911 call of "shots fired," and eventually discovered Nelson's body when he noticed the door of his trailer home ajar. The inside door lock was in the unlocked position, the affidavit says, and "...Nelson had been shot once on the left side of his face with a 12 Ga. shotgun while he was standing just inside his living room from the hallway that lead to his bedroom."

The affidavit says police "...found a plastic shotgun shell shot cup on the floor between a chair and a couch in the living room of Nelson's trailer. Capt. Crego collected numerous shotgun shell pellets from othe floor around the body of Cliff Nelson. No spent shotgun shell casing were found in or around the trailer."

The shotgun shell shot cups and pellets are similar in appearance and size to cups and pellets found at the high school, and though police admit it may be difficult to trace these back to a particular weapon, the State Crime Lab has indicated the evidence came from a 2 3/4-inch Federal shell, and match to shells police took from Hooser's 1986 white Cadillac car when Hooser was interviewed on Sept. 30, according to the affidavit. "This is a comparison based on class characteristics," the affidavit reads.

At that first interview, according to the affidavit, Hooser produced a 12 Ga. 2 3/4" pump shotgun he said he had in his car all the previous day until he returned home between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. on Sept. 30. The affidavit says he purchased the shells locally and had used them while duck hunting with a companion Sunday.

According to the affidavit, Hooser and Livingston were at a party in the woods with "...numerous local young adults," Sunday evening. The party broke up around midnight and Hooser and Livingston went to the Saloon Bar and played pool, where Livingston had a couple drinks. Hooser, being under-age, did not drink.

According to the bartender that night, Livingston argued over the price of drinks, became angry and he and Hooser left the bar around 1 a.m., the affidavit says.

Hooser and Livingston both told police that Hooser left and drove home in his car while Livingston walked the two blocks to his trailer, which takes about three minutes, according to the affidavit. Other witnesses in the Saloon that night say the two left together in Hooser's car, according to the affidavit.

Livingston said he made a phone call to a girl in Potomac as soon as he got home. Telephone records indicate this call was placed at 1:37 a.m. on Sept. 30, according to the affidavit. The girl told police Livingston was "giggly and intoxicated" over the telephone.

Both men have admitted having Nelson as a teacher in Seeley Lake Elementary School. Livingston said he had no problems with Nelson and Hooser, who was expelled from the school, said he "...did not hold a grudge against Cliff Nelson for that fact," the affidavit reads. Livingston graduated from high school, but Hooser did not.

An unidentified informant, according to the affidavit, claims Hooser "...had an intense dislike for Clifford Nelson due to Nelson's role in causing Hooser to be expelled from the Seeley Lake Grade School. The infomant said that at various times Hooser made comments about getting even with Nelson and even killing him," the affidavit reads.

Police have established it takes two minutes to drive from the high school, where the windows were shot out, to the street between the Nelson and Livingston homes.

The affidavit alleges there are "...35 minutes unaccounted for," after Livingston and Hooser left the Saloon Bar, and that "...Livingston's account would place him in locations where he would have had to have heard the gun fire that woke up numerous people, and he claims to have heard nothing."

The arrest of Hooser and Livingston followed several days in which police interviewed several young local people who attended the Sunday night party and were out around this time. Shotgun shells were confiscated from one other person's car and examined by the State Crime Lab, according to the affidavit, with no apparent match.

Stanford White – America’s leading architect, designer and arbiter of taste murdered by the 'Prince of Pittsburgh'

Murder on the Rooftop Garden

In the breezy heat of summer, June 25, 1906, a group of wealthy revelers gathered on the roof of the old Madison Square Garden (the gilded building that was actually located at Madison Square) to watch the premiere of a mediocre musical review. The women wore elaborate, beaded dresses and feathered hats. The men, dressed in dapper suits and many sporting sculptured facial hair, smoked cigars. The good-humored crowd paid some attention to the chorus girls and singers, but also actively socialized. Thus, the performers struggled to be heard above the din of voices and clinking glasses.

One man, a jovial fifty-something redhead with a fashionable moustache, appeared mesmerized by the showgirls. He sat near the front of the stage by himself, which was unusual for this highly social man. The man applauded wildly, grinning and winking at the virginal-looking girls who sang a lively song about dueling.

Meanwhile, another, younger man moved through the crowd towards the older man. This handsome, glowering figure drew a slight amount of attention by wearing a black overcoat in the heat of summer. Earlier in the evening the hatcheck girl had made numerous attempts to check the coat, but the man had steadfastly refused.

Still, the crowd paid little attention to the eccentrically dressed man, assuming he sought out friends. Most recognized him, if they did not know him personally. A couple of people noticed him approach the older man’s table, only to fall back for a few moments and stare. As a performer broke into a song called “I Could Love A Million Girls,” the younger man finally strode over to table of the older man.

From beneath the overcoat, the young man produced a pistol and fired three close range shots directly into the face of the older man. The victim’s elbow, suddenly inert, slid off the table, which overturned with a thump and a clatter. The body slumped to the floor.

At first, there was awkward silence. Then, there came a bit of terse laughter – as many assumed the spectacle to be part of the show. Elaborate practical jokes were commonplace among New York society. As the mangled and bloody face, blackened with powder burns, became visible, the screams began.

The killer, showing little emotion, removed the rest of the bullets from his pistol. As he moved towards the exit, he held the gun aloft to indicate he had ceased shooting, but this gesture did no good. Panic ensued, and people raced for the doors. The theatre manager pleaded for calm and absurdly bade the show to go on, but the orchestra petered out after a half-hearted attempt to play. The terrified chorus girls could not sing. Someone threw a white tablecloth over the victim, still flopped across the floor next to his overturned table. When blood soaked through the sheet, the man hastily added a second cloth.

Meanwhile, the killer found his confused party of friends standing by the elevators. A stunning, copper-curled woman in a white eyelet dress saw the pistol, still held aloft in her husband’s hand.

“Good God, Harry! What have you done?” asked Evelyn Nesbit Thaw.

“All right dearie,” replied Harry Thaw of Pittsburgh calmly, “I have probably saved your life.”

The man lying dead in the rooftop theatre was Stanford White – America’s leading architect, designer and arbiter of taste. He had founded elite clubs, made spectacular donations to charity and promoted New York City’s best institutions. Even if he had not died in such a scandalous manner, White’s death would have made national, if not worldwide, headlines.

The Gilded Age was an era known for its splendid excesses, and the most acute gaps between rich and poor in history. White, who was fortunate to be born among the former, built many of the most famous buildings of the day. He designed and decorated spectacular Fifth Avenue mansions for the Astors, the Vanderbilts and other high society families. Whether a family wanted to live simply or opulently, White built more masterpieces all along the eastern seaboard. The projects went over budget, but the charming and forceful White always managed to convince the families that they were obliged to excess.

Not limited to private homes, White built or enhanced many of the great public edifices of his time. He illustrated how hefty donations could be used for the glory of God and church patrons by creating ornate interior pieces for Saint Bartholomew’s and the Church of the Ascension, among others. He built the most famous private clubs of his day: The Century, The Player’s Club, The Lambs and The Brooks. He designed the Washington Square Arch, one of only two of his structures that still remain in New York City.

Ironically, White’s most famous and triumphant work became the scene of his own murder -- Madison Square Garden. The acuteness of this irony was lost on all but those who knew White best. That is, people who knew that this pillar of society, husband and father, led a double life. At the ornate building with its spectacular tower apartment and rooftop gardens, White’s two worlds met.

White’s family knew he kept a loft apartment at the Garden. Often obsessed with work, he needed a large, private space to create his designs. Indeed, White often sketched, took photographs and drafted in the extravagant tower apartment. What White’s family, including wife Bessie, did not know or chose not to see, was White’s other use for his apartment.

Among the New York elite White’s reputation as a libertine and voluptuary was legendary. Specifically, White had a particular affection for very young ladies and had been known to keep company with many of Broadway’s freshest showgirls. He often threw lavish parties for the girls and his friends. At one such gathering, a young innocent named Susie Johnson burst forth from a pie dressed only in a perfunctory bit of chiffon. Other times, White threw more intimate affairs at his tower apartment.

Inside the apartment, he had installed a red velvet swing. Many girls, it had been rumored, had delighted in playing on that swing. Always generous, White usually supported his young protégées. He bought them presents, saw to it their teeth were fixed, bought dance and singing lessons and sometimes paid their rent.

Naturally, White attended the theatre regularly. In 1901, the hit Broadway show Florodora featured a chorus of six young girls. These famous girls were dressed prettily and danced simply.

The male chorus sang:

“Tell me, pretty maiden,
Are there any more at home like you?”

The girls replied:

“There are few, kind, sir,
But simple girls and proper, too.”

Among the Florodora sextet, White spied a sixteen-year old, copper-curled innocent – fresh from Pittsburgh. Her name was Evelyn Nesbit.

The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing

For Evelyn Nesbit, her stint in Florodora’s chorus was a dream come true. The Florodora sextet’s fame was comparable to today’s supermodels. Talent was secondary to beauty, and rich and powerful men wanted to be seen with them. The papers followed the girls’ social lives, and many of the sextet made marriages far above their station. For the first time in many years, Evelyn’s future looked bright.

She had been born to moderate prosperity – her father was a lawyer. However, Mr. Winfield Scott Nesbit died when Evelyn was eight, and his family was thrown into terrible poverty. Debts mounted, and the furniture was sold. Mrs. Nesbit attempted to run several boarding houses but eventually resorted to taking in washing and sewing to make ends meet.

She moved the family, including Evelyn and her younger brother Howard, from place to place in desperation and despair. Howard and Evelyn’s educations ceased early. Evelyn often found her mother weeping uncontrollably as bills piled up. When he was twelve, Howard attempted to work as a cash boy but failed due to his weak constitution. The family often went without food. Meanwhile, Evelyn constructed a fantasy world for herself. She read dime novels and magazines that told stories of princesses, fairies and knights in shining armor.

As Evelyn reached puberty, she knew she was beautiful. Although she was more slender than fashion dictated, she had a luxurious head of copper hair, delicate features and smooth olive skin. Headstrong and wilful, she resolved that her beauty would be hers and her family’s means of escape from their dour existence. A friend of the family introduced her to a well-known Philadelphia artist named John Storm. She began modeling for him on a regular basis. Soon, Storm passed Evelyn’s name along to other artists, and her virginal picture began to appear in books and magazines. Mrs. Nesbit objected to modeling as it was a bohemian profession, but she hardly objected to the money Evelyn earned.

Soon, the fifteen-year-old Evelyn had the financial upper hand and insisted the family move to New York so she could pursue her career. Mrs. Nesbit complained that this course would be Evelyn’s ruin, but they went anyway.

Once in New York, Evelyn immediately found work as an artist’s model, but she soon discovered the real money lay in posing for fashion photographers. So, she left the artist studios for the fashion pages of Sunday World and Sunday American. She knew that this kind of work might lead to a career on the stage. Only fifteen, she was aware that modeling careers were short, and she needed to expand her horizons. When a theatrical magazine published her photo, the offers came.

Within days, Evelyn had joined the chorus of Florodora, and her mother’s objections to the bohemian lifestyle became soft and infrequent.

Harry Thaw of Pittsburgh

“I am Harry Thaw of Pittsburgh!”

This was the proud, trademark introduction of Henry Kendall Thaw, the man who would marry Evelyn and murder White. Like Thaw, Evelyn also hailed from Pittsburgh, but might as well have been from the moon, so separate was her world from Thaw’s

The heir to a multi-million dollar mine and railroad fortune -- mansions, servants, ponies, luxurious coaches and private schools shaped his existence. The Prince of Pittsburgh, Thaw had routinely jabbed his silver spoon at whomever and whatever had gotten in his way. From birth, his history was one of temper tantrums, public fits and violent outbursts.

His formidable mother, known to everyone as Mother Thaw, claimed that her son’s difficulties began in the womb and grew worse with age. By age three, despite a frail appearance, her little boy could scream until he got his way. His early teachers described him as “unintelligible” and a troublemaker. By adolescence, the boy’s fits became paranoid and strange. He sometimes crawled under his desk and in a trancelike state, refused to come out. As a teenager, Thaw went from school to school. At each one, he seemed unhappier and less successful.

Being who he was, Harry had no trouble gaining admission to the University of Pittsburgh to study law. The University appealed to him because he could live in his family’s palatial mansion instead of a stifling dormitory. Thaw’s ailing father noticed that Thaw spent little or no time studying.

Soon, William Thaw passed away. A wise man, he had locked his unstable son’s fortune into a trust fund with an allowance of $200 per month for life. However, Mother Thaw thought this sum overly harsh for her boy. Soon, she raised Thaw’s allowance to a more comfortable $80,000 per year.

Thaw left the University of Pittsburgh for the prestigious Harvard University. At this time, a fortune and a place on the social register could still gain a young man admission. Thaw later bragged that he had studied “poker” at Harvard. His other activities included drinking binges, attending cockfights and romancing young women. His short career there ended after he chased a cab driver through the streets of Cambridge with a shotgun. Harvard’s President Elliot, unimpressed with Thaw’s assertion that the shotgun had been unloaded, expelled him.

In the years following his expulsion, Thaw lived a wealthy, privileged and raucous existence. His public fits continued, and he became particularly well known for overturning the tables of fine restaurants. He often traveled to Europe where he socialized with Lady Churchill and Baron Rothschild. He frequently found himself in New York, as well, where he claimed to be “studying.”

One subject that interested him was the theater, and he regularly attended Broadway shows. He squired chorus girls about town, despite dark rumors that suggested his penchant for dog whips. A huge fan of Florodora, Thaw took a keen interest in the beautiful Pennsylvania-born chorine who had become the beneficiary of Stanford White’s charity.

Stanny and Evelyn

When White first saw Evelyn in the chorus of Florodora, he was entranced. He knew another member of the chorus, Edna Goodrich, and arranged for her and Evelyn to meet him in the tower apartment for lunch. Mrs. Nesbit balked, but Edna’s mother (also a chorus “girl”) convinced her that White was a gentleman and could be very good for her daughter’s career.

Edna and Evelyn dined with White and another man at the tower. After the meal, White gave the girls a tour of the studio, which contained multiple rooms and floors. To Evelyn, the place seemed like a fairy world. In White’s spectacular studio, she saw opulent tapestries, antique furniture imported from Europe, valuable paintings and gorgeous lighting. On the second floor, there was a huge room filled with White’s sketches, drawings and paintings. The plush red velvet swing hung in the center of that room.

White invited Evelyn to swing. She hopped upon the seat and swung as high as she could, laughing brightly. White had placed a paper Japanese parasol within reach of the swinger’s feet. Evelyn delighted in punching holes in the fan.

Soon, she was exhausted with joy. White made charming conversation and offered to pay his dentist to fix Evelyn’s teeth. He sent her home with the dentist’s card and a promise to invite her again soon.

Evelyn raved to her mother about White. He was the most charming, magnetic, smartest man she’d ever known. She couldn’t wait to lunch with him again. The second lunch happened shortly thereafter, and again Evelyn had a splendid time.

Except, Mrs. Nesbit avoided taking Evelyn to the dentist. Evelyn pouted and repeated the fact that White thought her bad tooth ruined her smile. White pressed to meet the mother and plead his case. Finally, Mrs. Nesbit visited White at his office, and to Evelyn’s pleasure, returned from the meeting convinced of White’s good intentions.

Evelyn went to the dentist. A week later, Mrs. Nesbit, Evelyn and Howard moved from their small rooms to the luxurious Audubon Hotel. Shortly thereafter, White arranged for Howard to attend Chester Military Academy outside of Philadelphia.

When Mrs. Nesbit planned a trip to Pittsburgh to visit her new fiancé, Mr. Holman, she left her daughter in White’s care. White’s car picked up Evelyn after the evening’s performance and brought her to the tower apartment. She had never been there at night, much less un-chaperoned. Evelyn, feeling very grown-up, had several glasses of champagne during their intimate dinner. White amused her with stories of people’s odd decorating requests. Evelyn gossiped about her cast mates.

After the meal, White served her more champagne. He brought her to the bedroom and asked her to try on a silky yellow kimono. She put on the garment and enjoyed the exotic vision of herself in the bedroom’s gilded mirrors. She noticed that White trembled whenever he got close to her. Lying there, she began to feel groggy and lost consciousness.

Hours later, Evelyn awoke to find pain between her legs. She saw the evidence of White’s violation on her thighs, and she gasped with fright.

“Now you belong to me!” declared White with gentle triumph. He caressed and kissed her.

In the ensuing years, Evelyn told different versions of the story from this point forward. In some cases, she screamed in terror and anguish at her ruin. She claimed to hate him but believed no decent man would have her. So, she remained his mistress. In other versions, her cries were of delight at becoming a woman at the hands of such a magnificent man. Given her youth, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Evelyn’s diaries indicate she bore White a certain amount of affection, but there is little doubt he took advantage of her. He was in his late forties, a married man and treated Evelyn with fatherly affection and indulgence. She was only sixteen, had grown up in miserable poverty and had missed the love and support of her dead father.


During the time Evelyn spent as White’s mistress, other men paid her attention. A young John Barrymore wooed her and proposed marriage, but the man who would become most significant to Evelyn was, of course, Henry K. Thaw.

Evelyn had heard rumors about Thaw from the other chorus girls of Florodora and been warned that he was trouble and she should avoid him. She did so.

However, in early 1902, an anonymous admirer began sending Evelyn elaborate flower arrangements and gifts – which she accepted. The admirer called himself “Mr. Monroe.”

Eventually, a friend of Evelyn’s invited her to a posh restaurant for an after hours party. Although Evelyn thought it odd, she went. There, she met Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh, who revealed himself as the mysterious “Mr. Monroe.”

Evelyn stayed and made polite conversation, but things grew odder when Thaw pressed her for information about her relationship with White.

Before either man had met Evelyn, Thaw hated White, who he blamed for a humiliating snub by some chorus girls.

Thaw asked, “Why does your mother permit you to know that beast?” referring to White.

Evelyn kept her cool and politely took her leave.

Despite her attempts to avoid him, Thaw remained on the fringes of her life – loitering about the theatre and occasionally showing up at her hotel room.

At this time, Evelyn was still deeply involved with White, and he vehemently warned her against seeing Thaw. Evelyn dutifully obeyed, and when White spent time away with his family, she kept company with the young John Barrymore. How she eventually found herself with Thaw is a complicated story.

The relationship with Barrymore put Evelyn in an awkward “condition.” Although Barrymore proposed, White intervened and installed the still-teenaged Evelyn in The Demille School for girls in New Jersey. Mrs. Demille, the headmistress and mother of film pioneer Cecil B., treated her kindly and saw that she was taught literature, music and French. Seven months into her stay, Evelyn was stricken with “appendicitis.”

During her ordeal, Thaw came calling. He lavished her with gifts and praise. Mrs. Demille encouraged the relationship, despite Evelyn having told Mrs. Demille that Thaw “almost scares me to death.”

Yet, Thaw had managed to charm not only Mrs. Demille, but Evelyn’s mother as well. When Evelyn’s “attack” had begun, Mrs. Nesbit had informed both White and Thaw of the situation. Thaw arranged Mrs. Nesbit’s transportation to New Jersey, and they were both present as Evelyn went under the ether.

When she awoke, White had arrived and agreed to move Evelyn to a New York City sanatorium. Both White and Thaw visited her regularly, but never at the same time. The two rivals always seemed to miss each other.

Evelyn and Harry

Upon her return to New York City, Evelyn found her relationship with White had changed. Certainly, he was still attentive, but she was a no-longer-innocent eighteen and White’s interest was waning.

Thaw’s affections, on the other hand, remained ardent. During her stay in the sanatorium, he saw to it that her every wish was granted. Evelyn had gourmet food, flowers and presents in abundance. Thaw even presented Evelyn’s nurse with a gift from Tiffany’s. As she recovered, Thaw suggested they take a trip to Paris to speed her recovery. Afterwards, they would tour Europe.

Mrs. Nesbit balked at the idea of cutting themselves off from White. Evelyn, however, disagreed. She probably saw the writing on the wall, or she hoped that time apart from White would heat up his interest.

In any case, Thaw, Mrs. Nesbit and Evelyn journeyed to Paris. Unbeknownst to Thaw, Mrs. Nesbit carried a $500 letter of credit from White. Ever the gentleman, he had given the draft as a parting gift – for “emergencies.” On the trip, Thaw spent lavishly on Evelyn and her mother. They wore new couture clothes each day and dined in the finest restaurants each night. Evelyn’s hands, arms and neck sparkled with jewels.

Thaw proposed, but Evelyn demurred. She claimed she wished to devote her life to the stage. A frustrated and confused Thaw persisted. For weeks and weeks, he persisted.

Finally, he asked her “Are you a good girl? Pure?”

Evidently, he believed her “appendicitis” to be appendicitis.

Evelyn tried to avoid the question, but he pressed her for an answer. He gripped her violently and shouted at her. Afraid he would wake her sleeping mother, Evelyn promised to tell the truth.

“Was it Stanford White?” asked Thaw.

True to her word, Evelyn told Thaw the vivid, sordid details of her visits to the tower apartment. She spoke of the red velvet swing and the drugged champagne. In this version, her screams were of terror and despair.

Evelyn dramatically claimed that in her ruined state, she could not marry Thaw. How could he live with the fact that White had deflowered his wife? How could such a splendid man as Thaw live with that humiliation? His family would disown him, and she could not live with that on her conscience. She cared for him too much.

“The beast!” swore Thaw as he wept.

Over the next weeks Thaw’s rage grew, but so did his ardor. Over and over, he demanded Evelyn recount the tale of ruin. She did so – each time with enhanced detail.

Eventually, Thaw, Evelyn and Mrs. Nesbit traveled to London where Thaw discovered that Mrs. Nesbit had bought some lingerie for herself and Evelyn with White’s money. This led to a terrible falling out between the two, and Thaw packed Mrs. Nesbit off back to New York on the first ship that sailed.

The chaperone he promised to find for himself and Evelyn never appeared. Evelyn found hypodermic needles that belonged to Thaw – who shot up both cocaine and morphine. His fits and tantrums became more frequent and violent. He and Evelyn traveled to Germany and stayed together in an isolated castle. Although she thought of escape, Evelyn had no money and nowhere to go.

From the beginning, Evelyn felt trapped in Schloss Katzenstein – even though the little castle made her feel like a princess from one of the stories she had read as a girl. During a thunderstorm, a naked Thaw came to her bed. She struggled, but he only became more forceful and soon produced a dog whip.

He beat her savagely, despite her desperate sobs and pathetic pleas for mercy.

Then, to Evelyn’s confusion and terror, the rage disappeared.

“I suppose you hate me now,” said the remorseful Thaw.

She told him that she hated and detested him, but she did not escape. They traveled through Europe for weeks. Finally, Evelyn convinced Thaw to allow her return to New York.

A Reluctant Marriage

Evelyn arrived back to her hotel, where the rooms White gave her were waiting. Soon, the fatherly “Stanny” came to call. He took Evelyn in his arms and she wept. Gradually, she told the horrible story of her trip to Europe and Thaw’s abuse.

White became enraged and even arranged for Evelyn to give a deposition to a well-known lawyer, Abe Hummel, regarding her experiences with Thaw. White claimed that Hummel could protect her from him.

Yet, Evelyn’s “meetings” with White became few and far between. He treated her with respect and affection, but he no longer trembled whenever he was near her. She heard stories of his attachment to other chorus girls. Then, she failed to receive an invitation to White’s famous Christmas party.

Meanwhile, Thaw overwhelmed Evelyn with more flowers, gifts and love notes. At first she resisted, but as the memory of the beating faded, Evelyn’s feelings softened. Thaw got down on his knees and begged.

Evelyn returned to him. More trips through Europe followed. More gifts. More jewels. Then, in 1905, Evelyn fell victim to a rare medical anomaly. She had a second attack of “appendicitis.” After a long recuperation, Evelyn left the hospital and found herself an apartment. She aimed to separate herself from Thaw, but he came around again and again.

Then, Mrs. William Thaw of Pittsburgh came to call upon Evelyn. She was blunt. Her son loved Evelyn, and it was her wish that they be married. Evelyn brought up Thaw’s eccentricities, but Mother Thaw dismissed them. She believed that settling down would cure her son’s behavior.

So, Evelyn returned to her hometown and became the wife of Harry K. Thaw. She lived in the grand house with Mother Thaw and her husband. Evelyn’s new mother-in-law did her best to introduce Evelyn to Pittsburgh society, but even the powerful Mother Thaw could not overcome Evelyn’s reputation. Evelyn rarely received invitations anywhere and had no companionship her own age. Thaw sometimes paid ardent attention to Evelyn. Other times, he disappeared for days. By all accounts, she was bored and lonely, but resigned to her fate.

In the summer of 1906, she and Thaw decided to travel to Europe again. Before departing, however, they planned a two-week trip to New York City. On that trip, they attended the opening of a musical called Mamzelle Champagne – where they would encounter the man Thaw called “The Beast.”

The Trial of the Century

Even though the twentieth century had only begun, newspapers dubbed Henry K. Thaw’s murder trial “The Trial of the Century.” Muckrakers dug up all sorts of stories about White’s lascivious behavior with young women. Competing papers found young girls that insisted White was a perfect gentleman. The famous moralist Anthony Comstock firmly sided with Thaw, saying that America would be better off with more men like Thaw. President Roosevelt followed the case carefully.

In one shocking twist, Evelyn’s own mother – now Mrs. Charles Holman, announced her intention to clear White’s good name. She released a statement deriding Thaw and praising White to the heavens. She claimed Evelyn was “head-strong, self-willed and beautiful and that led to all her trouble.” Mother Thaw dispatched a lawyer to see the Holmans, and quite suddenly Evelyn’s mother was too sick to testify for the prosecution.

Meanwhile, the press relentlessly swarmed around Evelyn. She told them she was confident her husband would be vindicated. She rarely left her hotel except for her daily visits to her husband’s jail cell. Privately, Mother Thaw had agreed to pay her daughter-in-law a million dollars to stand by her son and (rumor had it) divorce him quietly when the trouble was finished.

Thaw was kept in the legendary New York jail, known as “The Tombs.” Although denied bail, he bribed himself into relative comfort. He had his meals delivered from Delmonico’s and surrounded himself with comforts like linens, pillows and Tiffany lamps. He chatted amicably with the guards and smoked cigars with them.

Six months after the murder, Thaw’s trial began. Mother Thaw hired a number of fine and expensive attorney’s for her son. The nationally known criminal defense attorney Mr. Delphin Delmas led the team. His strategy was clear from the start. Thaw pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The District Attorney, Mr. William Travers Jerome, saw it as a clear case of premeditated murder.

He called White’s nineteen-year-old son as his first witness. Lawrence Grant White had dined with his father the night of the murder before meeting some friends at a different theatre. At midnight, the police knocked on his townhouse door and informed him his father was dead. The young man rode to the family Long Island Estate to tell his mother. At the trial, Lawrence testified that his father had been in excellent spirits that night.

More witnesses followed. Walter Paxton, The Madison Square Garden engineer, testified to the conversation Thaw had with Evelyn at the elevators. The doctor who treated White at the scene identified Thaw as the killer.

Then, the prosecution rested, and the defense began their long-winded case. First, a parade of doctors and friends testified to Thaw’s irrational behavior. More witnesses dragged the victim’s reputation through the mud. All of this was a warm-up to the star attraction: the testimony of Evelyn Nesbit Thaw.

She had attended the trial each day, dressed in the conservative style favored by the Thaw family. At her side was May Mackenzie, a close theater friend whose flamboyant dress contrasted with Evelyn’s and irritated the defense. Miss Mackenzie’s presence reminded the jury of the disreputable circles in which the younger Mrs. Thaw moved. Evelyn, who obeyed Mother Thaw and her lawyers on every other point, insisted she could not cope without the presence of her friend.

Finally, Delmas called Evelyn to the stand. The circus atmosphere reached its peak during the days she testified. A huge crowd gathered outside the courtroom, and newspapermen clamored to record every detail of the days’ events. Many noted that in her conservative clothing, Evelyn did not look a day over sixteen.

Delmas questioned Evelyn gently about her relationship with White. She told of his initial kindness and how White had gained the trust of her mother. She described in detail her lunchtime visits and romps on the velvet swing.

Then, Evelyn spoke of her ruin. She told the courtroom about the drugged champagne and yellow kimono. She described her tears and screams in the same vivid detail that she’d employed in the Paris hotel room with Thaw. The courtroom hushed in shame, and even some jurors displayed visible outrage.

Delmas cleverly emphasized that Thaw had heard the same story, in the same awful detail. Evelyn told of her husband’s tears and sobs when she had related her tale. Yet, despite the ruin, Thaw loved her enough to marry her.

Thaw’s face displayed anguish and love throughout the testimony – as if he was reliving the pain all over again. Cynics whispered that Thaw had learned some tricks of the trade from his actress wife.

After a brief interval, the prosecution cross-examined Evelyn. Jerome did his best to bring to light Evelyn’s unsavory past. His questions implied that Evelyn knew well what the married White’s intentions were. He called into question whether the champagne had been drugged at all. She appeared nervous and scandalized by his inquires.

“Did you love Stanford White?” he asked.

“No,” Evelyn replied.

“You hated him.”


He pressed her harder. Why, then, did Evelyn continue to meet White? Evelyn tearfully claimed to have resisted his caresses, but she and her family depended on his support. In addition, White had forcefully insisted on seeing her. Jerome brought up the deposition Evelyn had made against Thaw, but Evelyn claimed she’d made the deposition under duress.

Jerome’s attempt to portray Evelyn as a promiscuous liar backfired. Public sympathy remained with the young woman who pleaded for her husband.

The jury, however, returned without a verdict. Five jurors insisted Thaw was not guilty by reason of insanity. Seven believed him guilty of first-degree murder.

Nine months later, a second jury found Thaw not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge directed that he be incarcerated at an asylum in Matteawan. Thaw rode to the asylum on a private train car, packed with friends. They enjoyed whiskey, champagne and a fine meal, and crowds cheered Thaw’s arrival. Evelyn did not join him for the journey.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to win release or a transfer to a private facility, Thaw escaped from Matteawan to Canada. An outraged Jerome saw to it that Thaw was returned to the states and jailed. Alas, Jerome’s pursuit was little more than a gesture. Thaw had reached folk hero status, and the courts eventually found him sane and set him free.

Many agreed with Jerome that his release was a gross miscarriage of justice. In strict legal terms, he was guilty. Thaw was aware of what he was doing and that it was illegal and wrong. However, there is also little doubt he suffered from severe mental illness his entire life. Had Thaw been born a century later, he likely would have benefited from medicine and psychiatric care that would have controlled his rages. At the very least, the murder would have been prevented.


Thaw’s first act after being declared sane was to file for divorce from Evelyn. He continued to live a rowdy life full of his trademark fits of rage and tantrums until he died in 1947 at the age of seventy-six.

Evelyn, who’d given birth to a child during Thaw’s confinement, never got her million-dollar payment from Mother Thaw. She named the child Russell Thaw, but her husband vehemently denied paternity. The financially strapped Evelyn returned to Vaudeville and Broadway. Despite a second and nearly as short marriage to Jack Clifford, she was always booked as Mrs. Harry K. Thaw. Her later years were marred by alcoholism, drug addiction and a transitory lifestyle. Thaw occasionally took pity on her and offered monetary support, but the kindness never lasted. Evelyn’s life was a constant struggle.

Those who met her during her lucid periods described her as beautiful, charming and possessing talent as a visual artist. Evelyn herself spoke of “Stanny” as the lucky one for having died young. She lived to see a young actress named Joan Collins portray her in a Hollywood movie called “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” and died in 1966 at age eighty-one. Less than a decade after her death, the novelist E.L. Doctorow used Evelyn’s story as a symbol of the dawning century in his masterpiece Ragtime.

However, the real tragedy of White’s murder has been often overlooked. In her book The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family, Suzannah Lessard, White’s great granddaughter describes the lasting effect White’s murder had on his family. In addition to losing a beloved husband and father, the publicity of the murder brought to light truths about White that humiliated his Victorian family and caused his name to be spoken in hushed whispers and vehement denials fifty years after his death. Lessard, a relative born forty years after White’s death, recounts wincing in “pride and shame” when she heard the name Stanford White spoken aloud. The ghosts of scandal, violence and sexual impropriety still haunt the memory of a brilliant architect and generous father whose faults should be by now forgiven, if not forgotten.