Death of an Heiress

Why was socialite Jeanne Tovrea shot to death? Investigators believe a lust for her huge inheritance is a distinct possibility.

Butch Harrod remains the only person charged in connection with Jeanne Tovrea's assassination. And, despite what Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley told the media after Harrod's arrest--"I do not believe this is the whole story"--law enforcement sources say it seems unlikely anyone else will face prosecution, unless Harrod sings.

That doesn't seem imminent.
"It's obvious they're trying to prosecute someone else by using me," he tells New Times. "Hap Tovrea is a flag-waving, searchlight-on-me suspect, I know that. But I don't for a minute think he had anything to do with this."

Detectives obviously believe otherwise. In November 1995, after Harrod's arrest, they obtained a search warrant that allowed police to raid Hap's La Jolla, California, home, business office and bank accounts.

An affidavit attached to the warrant claimed the search was justified because "Edward Arthur 'Hap' Tovrea and James Cornel Harrod, a.k.a. Gordon Phillips, had entered in an agreement for Harrod to murder Jeanne Tovrea."

Neither police nor prosecutors would discuss the case. But documents reviewed by New Times indicate that authorities believe Hap Tovrea had a motive--greed--for wanting his stepmother dead.

Despite a comfortable income from trust funds left him by his grandfather and father, Hap always seemed strapped for funds, before and after the murder.

He and his two sisters, Georgia (known as "Cricket") and Priscilla (known as "Prissy"), stood to gain from their stepmother's death. After the murder, the siblings collected more than $600,000 each, after taxes, from a trust fund formerly controlled by Jeanne.

Hap Tovrea did not respond to a request for an interview, and his attorney, Tom Henze, says he hasn't been authorized to discuss the case. In an interview with police hours after Harrod's arrest, Hap denied any involvement in the murder. But he also made stunningly inconsistent statements about his relationship with Harrod.

Harrod has no plausible explanation for the presence of his fingerprints at the crime scene.

"I'd like to know the answer to that," he says.
Harrod doesn't claim he's the victim of a Mark Fuhrmanlike police conspiracy. Instead, he alludes to vague but powerful figures who have successfully diverted attention to Hap Tovrea through him.

His family and some of his friends are standing by him. Says his best friend, former Phoenix radio personality Ernesto Gladden: "You're telling me that someone who is as intelligent as James would park his car on the top of the road, hike to the back of this place, cut the window pane out and then leave fingerprints all over the place? I know he owns three or four pair of gloves. Anybody who would walk in and kill someone in a situation like that is fucking stupid. Jim is very, very bright."

Gothic in magnitude, the Tovrea murder case has more twists and turns than a mountain trail. It winds through Arizona's roughhewn, "old money" society to modern-day Phoenix--and all the way to China and back. There was even a mysterious stalker--police are convinced it was Harrod--who got close to Jeanne by claiming to be a writer for Time Life publications.

Few substantive details of the investigation have been disclosed--until now. This three-part series lifts the veil that has surrounded the case for nearly nine years.

It's no secret that Ed Tovrea Sr.'s children considered Jeanne a gold digger. But his own friends didn't see it that way; to this day, they praise Jeanne for the devotion she showed Ed Sr. during his difficult final years.

If it turns out that Hap Tovrea was involved in the plot to murder her, Ed Sr. unwittingly helped seal his wife's fate. In his will, the patriarch left to his three children, among other gifts, a $4 million trust fund. But they could collect it only after Jeanne was dead.

And his will allowed Jeanne to live lavishly off the income generated by that trust.

Even before Ed Sr. died in 1983, his kids--especially his two daughters--showed disdain toward Jeanne, Ed Sr.'s third wife. Things deteriorated even more after his death, culminating in a bizarre April 1985 incident involving Ed Sr.'s cremated ashes. To Jeanne's chagrin, the children obtained the ashes from a mortuary and scattered them.

The children apparently had no contact with their stepmother after that incident. But their civil lawyers expressed the trio's animus during bitter and protracted litigation early this decade.

"She was more than amply taken care of [by her late husband]," an attorney said of Jeanne during a lawsuit filed by the Tovrea children against a law firm that had represented her. "She got greedy. And, unfortunately, her lawyers capitulated in what she did to satisfy her own desire for money."

The stepchildren lost that and other lawsuits they brought against Jeanne's estate and others, including her natural daughter Deborah. The effort cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, on top of the $2 million-plus they had to pay in estate taxes before they got a penny from the trust.

Police always had viewed the stepchildren as prime suspects, but there were several others. The list has included Jeanne's boyfriend at the time of her death, a married, onetime rodeo champion who lived in Las Vegas but spent lots of time with her in Phoenix; the old cowboy's wife; a friend with whom she had engaged in a business deal that went sour; mobsters and land speculators whom she allegedly had crossed.

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