The Suspect's Sidekick

It was an arduous trail that led investigators in the Jeanne Tovrea murder case to accused killer James "Butch" Harrod. A common sight en route was Edward "Hap" Tovrea Jr.

Detective Lott knew little of this when he first interviewed Hap and Cricket in San Diego. On April 6, 1988, the siblings voluntarily submitted to fingerprinting--"for elimination purposes" as suspects, the cops called it--at the San Diego Police Department. Their sister, Prissy, was fingerprinted in Colorado.

None of the stepchildren attended Jeanne's memorial service in Phoenix.
Jeanne Tovrea was buried in her native Siloam Springs, Arkansas, on April 8. Her will named her sister, Sandra Elder, and her biological daughter, Deborah Nolan-Luster, as her estate's co-executors.

Her taxable estate totaled about $8.8 million, including $2.7 million in life insurance. Jeanne had purchased the massive life insurance policy six months before she was murdered, in part because she feared the mysterious Gordon Phillips.

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Jeanne named her daughter as the sole beneficiary of the insurance policy, but, ironically, Hap, Cricket and Prissy were forced to pay almost $1 million in taxes on Nolan-Luster's benefits.

After estate taxes, legal fees, bequests and other expenses, the $4 million trust generated about $600,000 for each of Ed Sr.'s three children.

Phoenix police assigned four homicide detectives to the murder case. Within weeks, the team had interviewed more than 100 people.

Tips came in by the dozen, as they often do in high-profile cases. The best, yet most frustrating lead was Gordon Phillips, the stranger who had intruded into Jeanne's life in 1987 and then retreated to the shadows.

Deborah Nolan-Luster rummaged through her late mother's belongings at the Lincoln Hills residence. It was April 18, 1988, less than three weeks after Jeanne Tovrea's murder.

Nolan-Luster flipped on her mother's phone-answering machine. Two of the messages on the tape startled her.

"Jeanne, this is Gordon Phillips. I'm sorry to get back with you so late. I had a little problem with Ed Jr. [Hap], which I had to go to L.A. to take care of, and I've already talked to a judge over there. Now, I'm back in Phoenix and I will try and call back this afternoon and I have the information for you."

A second message from Phillips promised another call.
Nolan-Luster instantly recognized the voice and name on the machine. Hearing it sent shivers through her. She notified police as soon as she could compose herself.

She and several of Jeanne's friends already had told detectives about Phillips and how he'd frightened Jeanne. But Nolan-Luster was the only person who could say she'd met the man.

That meeting had occurred in July 1987. Phillips had claimed to be a writer for Time Life publications, and told Jeanne he wanted to do a story about her late husband, World War II hero Ed Tovrea Sr.

After rebuffing Phillips for weeks, Jeanne finally had agreed to meet him in Newport Beach, California, during the July 4 holiday weekend.

Nolan-Luster and her future husband, Mike, were with her when Phillips had shown up. (Mike Luster later said he'd never ventured out to meet Phillips.)

Nolan-Luster and her mother thought it odd that Phillips had posed so few questions about Ed Sr.'s exploits. Instead, the middle-aged white man mostly had asked Jeanne about her life, and spoke of his own war experiences in Vietnam.

Subsequent sleuthing by Jeanne's friends revealed that no one named Gordon Phillips worked for Time Life. But Jeanne never followed her daughter's advice that she notify authorities or hire a bodyguard.

Based on other messages on her mother's answering machine, Nolan-Luster deduced that Phillips had left his cryptic messages around October 1987, three months after the Newport Beach meeting.

Detectives worked feverishly on the Gordon Phillips lead, but it quickly reached a dead end. It would take years for the phone message to have any impact on the murder investigation.

When it finally did, it would be profound.
Authorities allege that Gordon Phillips really was James "Butch" Harrod, the man now awaiting trial on charges of murdering Jeanne Tovrea. He says he's innocent, and that he wasn't Phillips.

Nolan-Luster identified Harrod as Gordon Phillips in a December 1996 lineup conducted at Madison Street Jail. At the time, she claimed never to have seen a photographic or videotaped image of Harrod after his arrest.

Unanswered even now, however, is why the Phillips character, whoever he was, had been so insistent on meeting Jeanne in Newport Beach. Had he planned to execute her there, only to be thwarted because her daughter and future son-in-law were present?

Police considered Deborah Nolan-Luster a suspect soon after the murder, if only because of the $2.7 million in life insurance proceeds she collected after her mother's death.

But their investigation revealed that mother and daughter had gotten along well. (The only naysayer had been Hap Tovrea, who told police Jeanne's knuckles would "turn white" whenever she mentioned her daughter.)

Detectives also had discounted as a suspect the man Jeanne was romancing at the time of her death. Jeanne's boyfriend, a former rodeo champion from Las Vegas named Eddie, had spent time with her in Phoenix and Las Vegas, with no apparent discord.

Eddie's wife of two decades perhaps was a better suspect than her wayward husband. She had a motive--jealousy--but no evidence against her turned up.

As Phoenix detectives learned more about the rancor between Jeanne and her stepchildren, they focused on Hap, who was living in La Jolla, California.

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