Death of an Heiress

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

On top of that, the will stipulated that Jeanne, not the kids, could live off the income generated by the trust--about $400,000 a year. Perhaps more vexing to the children, she could avoid paying any estate taxes on that asset during her lifetime. Instead, they would have to pay the taxes--about 50 percent--before they saw a cent of what remained.

In February 1983, attorney Ken Reeves was called to St. Joseph's Hospital, where Ed Sr. lay in the intensive-care unit. There, Reeves assisted his client in an important revision of the will: Jeanne Tovrea became co-executor of his estate with Glenn Kearney. (Jeanne would assume sole control of the $4 million trust fund.)

Reeves' notes about the meeting at St. Joe's included a chilling synopsis: "Conversation regarding [Ed Sr.'s] children, his wife, their relationship and his wish that I protect her from them."

Ed Sr. died at home in July 1983. Hap held one of his hands and Jeanne the other as he drew his last breath.

Caring for Ed Sr. had been Jeanne Tovrea's top priority for a decade. After an appropriate period of mourning, the widow--who'd just turned 50--resolved to live life to the fullest.

Within a few years, Jeanne became a regular on the social calendar, donating her time to charity balls, attending galas, collecting art, traveling, making the scene. She lost weight, underwent cosmetic surgery, and, after a while, started dating.

But she never forgot her roots: A few months before she died, for instance, Jeanne briefly visited an old rodeo pal at his dilapidated line shack in northern California. Upon her return, she sent the cowpoke a check for $5,000, with instructions to buy himself a pickup truck or new teeth.

But Jeanne didn't put memories or mementoes of her late husband into storage. Whenever she pulled her Jaguar or Mercedes into her garage, she faced an almost life-size photograph of her and Ed Sr., grinning widely.

"I think my cousins felt that Jeanne just wanted the money," says Phil Tovrea III. "I think she loved him."

Those cousins--Jeanne's stepchildren--steamed as she blossomed personally and financially in the mid-1980s. This was the situation:

Hap was living in San Diego on about $4,500 a month from his father and grandfather's trusts, but his financial woes persisted. Back in Phoenix, Jeanne Tovrea was living like a desert queen, and her stepkids knew it.

"Jeanne Tovrea was not the [stepchildren's] best friend," an attorney for her stepchildren told a jury in 1991. "You are going to hear some things about Jeanne not trusting the kids. Thinking they are watching her. Not wanting to deal with them personally. . . . Every year that went by that Jeanne invested only in her own interests, the amount of money that Edward Tovrea Sr. meant for his children . . . got smaller and smaller and smaller, and the amount of money available for her to live on got bigger and bigger and bigger."

The evidence didn't support the latter claim, and the jury ruled against the Tovrea children.

Of the three, Hap had remained the most civil with Jeanne after their father's death, even though he claimed in a 1993 interview with detectives that she'd moved Ed Sr. into a room "similar to a maid's quarters and left him there to die."

Yet even Hap knew little about his stepmother. For example, he told police that Jeanne had been a rodeo barrel racer who had been his father's maid before reeling him in as her sixth husband. None of that was true.

All communication between Jeanne and her stepchildren ended after the incident involving Ed Sr.'s ashes, which had been stored at a downtown Phoenix mortuary. Jeanne had postponed several meetings with her stepchildren to discuss when and where to spread the ashes. A year passed, then almost two, and Cricket Tovrea finally decided she'd had enough.

She told attorneys in 1991, "My father was in a prisoner of war camp, and he always said he never wanted to be contained again, to scatter his ashes. So I took it upon myself to get the ashes and get them scattered."

Cricket convinced the mortuary to release the urn. She divvied up the ashes among her siblings, and apparently even gave some to her mother, Priscilla. When Jeanne found out what had transpired, she contacted Hap.

"At that point, I was in between what you might say a rock and a hard spot," he recalled. "I was caught between two families."

Hap said it was the last time he spoke with Jeanne.
Attorney Ken Reeves demanded that the siblings return the ashes to Jeanne. But they claimed it was too late, that they'd already scattered them in various locations.

"It seems ridiculous for us kids to have to return our father's ashes," Priscilla Tovrea said in 1991. "It was our father."

In June 1987, Hap Tovrea became a director of his latest "project," MECA (Minerals Exploration Corporation of the Americas). He later called it "a research-and-development and property-owning company" that bought and sold sulfur mines in Chile.

Around that time, Hap started to speak often--sometimes more than once a day--on the phone from his home in La Jolla to a new acquaintance from Phoenix, James "Butch" Harrod.

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