Death of an Heiress

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

In the early 1960s, the remaining Tovrea feedlots in east Phoenix succumbed to urban growth. The business relocated to rural Maricopa, where a scaled-down version operated until 1983--the year Ed Sr. died at the age of 64.

That year marked the 100th anniversary of Big Daddy's immigration to Arizona.

"The empire died and left a lot of money behind for us kids to play with," says Phil Tovrea III, an articulate Jerome resident who was the Tovrea Castle's caretaker for years. Like his great-grandfather, Big Daddy, Phil III served for a time as Jerome's mayor.

"I always considered myself a nobody who happened to have a name, which made me different from some of my cousins. They felt that being named Tovrea meant they were automatically somebody as people. Sure."

Ed Sr. and Priscilla were divorced in 1965, when Cricket and Hap were in their teens and Prissy had just turned 11. The children stayed with their mother, but Ed Sr. remained close.

Like Big Daddy before him, Ed Sr. sought companionship in a woman a quarter-century younger. He married a Phoenix woman named Joy in 1969 at a brief ceremony his daughter, Cricket, recalled.

After the couple had completed their vows, Cricket told police, Joy had turned to onlookers and shouted gleefully, "I'm rich! I hooked him!"

Not for long. The union lasted less than a year.
Ed Sr. sought solace at local watering holes. One favored haunt was Joe Hunt's, a bar at Scottsdale Road and Stetson. It was there around 1970 that he became smitten with a fellow patron in her late 30s named Jeanne Gunter.

Jeanne Gunter was as rough around the edges as any of Ed Tovrea Sr.'s wranglers, but with a beguiling twist: She let everyone know in her delightfully nonthreatening manner that, beneath it all, she was a lady and expected to be treated as such.

Ed Sr. had grown up in the lap of Arizona-style luxury. Most of Jeanne's life was a struggle to make ends meet. Born in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, Jeanne migrated as a child with her parents to Oklahoma, California and finally to Redmond, Oregon.

Jeanne married a lumber-mill worker named Stan Nolan shortly after graduating from high school in 1950. Her only child, Deborah, was born the next year. Jeanne separated from her husband while Deborah was still a baby, and began a long odyssey, wandering from state to state, job to job.

She'd always find work--as a hairdresser, secretary, waitress, whatever was available. Attractive and gregarious, Jeanne made friends wherever she went. She never lost--in fact, seemed to cultivate--what she described as her "hillbilly" Arkansas accent.

As Jeanne sought to find her way, her daughter lived much of the time with Jeanne's parents. It's uncertain if the arrangement led to later mother-daughter tensions. But at the time of Jeanne's death, the pair appeared to be on excellent terms.

In the mid-1950s, Jeanne married a New Mexico man named Daniel Daniels. It isn't certain how long they were married or if they were together when Daniels, said to have been a professional gambler, was himself murdered.

Jeanne loved rodeo, and felt at home with country folk and blue-collar types who, like herself, had come up the hard way. That's not to say she rejected the concept of wealth.

Jeanne was a shopaholic before the word was coined. After her murder, Hap Tovrea told police that his dad had paid salespeople to stop selling to her. But Ed Sr. would tell friends affectionately that those spending habits were to be expected from someone who had gone without for so long.

Jeanne landed in Arizona in 1961, and found work as a cocktail waitress at the Safari Restaurant on North Scottsdale Road. (The establishment gained notoriety in June 1978 in another of Arizona's infamous homicides, as the last place Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane was seen in public before he was murdered.)

In the mid-1960s, Jeanne returned to her native Arkansas for a few years to battle cervical cancer. Doctors pronounced her cured after a heroic struggle, and she returned to Arizona in the late 1960s determined to improve her lot.

She attended real-estate school by day and waited tables at the Safari at night. After earning her license, Jeanne worked for a real estate firm on North Central Avenue.

Then she caught Ed Tovrea Sr.'s eye.
The two clicked. They enjoyed many of the same things--playing cards, eating at fine restaurants, partying with friends.

When Ed Sr. introduced her to his three children, who by now were young adults, the siblings justifiably were skeptical. But they held that view long after Jeanne became a fixture in Ed Sr.'s life, and long after she'd won over Ed Sr.'s best friends with her personality and obvious attachment to the aging cattleman.

"Ed had the sweets for Jeanne and he wasn't afraid to say it," says his old friend, Bill Roer, echoing the sentiments of many contemporaries. "No ifs, ands or buts about it."

Ed Sr. and Jeanne married in 1973.
But Ed Sr.'s health slipped badly in the late 1970s with the onset of emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver.

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