Death of an Heiress

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

As 1988 dawned, Jeanne Tovrea had happier things than Gordon Phillips to dwell on. For starters, she had a new boyfriend.

His name was Eddie, and she considered him a gem. Jeanne first had met Eddie in 1959, when he was one of the leading money winners on the pro rodeo circuit.

After hanging up his spurs, Eddie had tried his hand as the lead singer in the country-tinged Gold Buckle Band. By late 1987, he was 58 and working as a greeter at the Sahara casino in Las Vegas when Jeanne Tovrea reentered his life.

Jeanne was attending a party in Las Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo when she and Eddie reconnected. They shared some laughs, and vowed to keep in touch.

Trouble was, Eddie was married. Jeanne apparently believed he intended to divorce his wife. She told friends how happy Eddie made her, how he'd inspired her to work out in the minigym she'd installed at her house and to stay off cigarettes.

Jeanne started to spend a few days every week with Eddie in Las Vegas--usually Friday through Sunday--and he'd spend a few days in Phoenix. She told friends that Eddie had vowed he would separate from his wife, an act Jeanne tried to expedite in March 1988 by renting and furnishing him an apartment in Las Vegas.

She made plans for a huge party in Phoenix. April 15 was the date, and it was to have a country theme. She told several close friends she planned to announce her engagement to Eddie at the bash.

But Eddie hadn't filed for divorce, and on the day before Jeanne's murder, he and his wife saw a marriage counselor.

Jeanne Tovrea's last day was uneventful. She visited a few friends, did some shopping and mailed a few invitations to her party. (Eerily, friends would receive them after her death.) She spoke to her sister Sandra in the early evening for about a half-hour. She had a plane reservation for the next afternoon, April 1, to visit Eddie in Vegas.

At 12:47 a.m. on April Fools' Day 1988, Phoenix police responded to an alarm from Unit 26 of the Lincoln Hills Estates. They arrived at Jeanne Tovrea's home exactly 10 minutes later.

The officers heard an alarm going off inside, but didn't see anything amiss until they reached the west side of the residence. There, they saw someone had removed a window and placed it on a chair, near a piece of weatherstripping.

An arcadia door near the window was ajar, and whoever opened it had triggered the alarm--almost certainly on the way out.

The officers called a K-9 unit, which arrived within minutes. A police dog named Bear entered through the open door, and sprinted the 80 feet to Jeanne's closed bedroom door.

The dog jumped onto the king-size bed, with his handlers in close pursuit. Officer Tom Orlikowski and his sergeant, Bill Heady, saw the shape of a person covered with a sheet and flowered print comforter. A pillow with what appeared to be bullet holes through it lay next to the body. A phone cord had been yanked from the phone, which was off the hook.

Heady pulled the sheet down, and saw a woman with blood oozing from her head onto the bed.

Jeanne Tovrea was dead.
It would be more than seven years before police would arrest Butch Harrod on a charge of murdering her.

If he is guilty, Harrod continues to play a world-class bluffing game as his trial nears in Maricopa County Superior Court--probably late this year.

"If I was in a position where I could drop a nickel on Hap," Harrod says, "he'd be in here with me. But I can't, because I'm not the killer."

Next week: The tangled trail to an arrest.

Key Dates in the Tovrea Murder Case

1973
Cattle mogul Edward A. Tovrea Sr. weds Jeanne Gunter, his third wife.
July 1983

Edward A. Tovrea Sr. dies. His widow, Jeanne, is named co-executor of his vast estate.

April 1985
All communication between Jeanne Tovrea and her three stepchildren--Hap, Cricket and Prissy--ends after a bizarre incident involving Ed Sr.'s ashes.

July 1987
Jeanne Tovrea and her daughter meet in Newport Beach, California, with a man who says he is a writer named Gordon Phillips.

November 1987
Jeanne Tovrea buys $2.7 million in additional life insurance, paying a premium of $500,000.

April 1988
Jeanne Tovrea is shot to death at her home.

September 1995
James "Butch" Harrod is arrested and charged with murdering Jeanne Tovrea.

December 1995
Authorities search Edward "Hap" Tovrea's California home and office.

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