Dying For Love

The family of a murdered society matron says she took up with the wrong man

When Katheryn was 17, she married Jake McClure, then the reigning world champion calf-roper and all-around cowboy. She traveled the rodeo circuit with her new husband, and later recounted an early 1930s adventure in Arizona with cowboy humorist Will Rogers.

"I'm coming to Prescott to see you rope and meet your bride," the famed Rogers wrote to McClure, sending along a wedding present of $100.

"Well, it will be a pleasure and you'll sure like my girl," McClure responded. "She's like a thoroughbred filly -- high-steppin' and proud, but she wears harness good."

Top: Then known as Mrs. Frank Kemp (far left), Katheryn Howard was one of Denver’s leading socialites in the 1940s and 1950s. Above, left and center: Katheryn Howard, seen here in the 1940s and 1990s, invariably named her poodles Chico or Perdita. Above right: A lifelong Republican, Howard counted Nancy Reagan as a friendly acquaintance.
Top: Then known as Mrs. Frank Kemp (far left), Katheryn Howard was one of Denver’s leading socialites in the 1940s and 1950s. Above, left and center: Katheryn Howard, seen here in the 1940s and 1990s, invariably named her poodles Chico or Perdita. Above right: A lifelong Republican, Howard counted Nancy Reagan as a friendly acquaintance.
Katheryn Howard’s first husband, rodeo champion Jake McClure. Right: Chuck Pagano, circa 1985.
Katheryn Howard’s first husband, rodeo champion Jake McClure. Right: Chuck Pagano, circa 1985.

Photos taken at the time show a tall, willowy, regal-looking young woman who surely turned heads at the rodeo and elsewhere.

Jake McClure had put some of his winnings into 50,000 acres of range land in Lovington, New Mexico. The ranch was called Llano Estacado. He died there in July 1940 at the age of 38, when his horse flipped him headfirst onto a rock.

"It seemed incredible that a horse was the cause of Jake's death," Howard wrote. "But horses are unreliable, unpredictable, and I was cautious with every horse that I rode. Never let your guard down' was ever in my mind."

Perhaps with horses, but not, as it turned out much later in her life, with men.

McClure later became one of the first five honorees in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. And just last year, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame inducted him during a ceremony in Colorado Springs.

Widowed at 28 (she never did have children), Katheryn continued to run the New Mexico ranch for years. In time, she met Frank Kemp, a Denver widower who was president of the mammoth Great Western Sugar Company.

After they married, the new Mrs. Kemp grudgingly sold Llano Estacado and moved to Denver, where she took on a new role as society matron.

One of Denver's most visible socialites in the 1940s and 1950s, Katheryn Kemp often was photographed with one of her dogs, usually a poodle she invariably named Chico or Perdita.

In 1949, the Rocky Mountain News ran photos of Katheryn and three other women on the bottom of its front page. The headline said, "Are These Denver's Prettiest Women?" The consensus of "experts" -- other socialites, actually -- was that Mrs. Frank Kemp was the prettiest.

The Kemps divorced in the 1960s, though they remained close until Frank Kemp died.

Katheryn traveled extensively, to faraway places both exotic (Nepal) and traditional (Europe). All the while, she continued to attract the opposite sex, even though she was nearing her 60th birthday.

"My Aunt Katheryn liked men and they liked her," says Becky Hebert, who was especially close to her great-aunt.

In the late 1960s, Katheryn met Tom Howard, another wealthy widower from Denver. In her autobiography, Katheryn described their seven years together as "sheer delight," highlighted by monthlong trips to Europe every September and a full social life at their homes in Denver and Scottsdale.

Tom Howard died in 1976, and Katheryn sprinkled his ashes at Denver's Hungarian Peace Park, where her survivors later would do the same with her ashes.

"I've had a happy-sad life, but no one can say I haven't lived," her autobiography ended. "Now I live with a precious little dog, near dear and beloved friends, and I'm thankful and grateful for the times I've had."

Though she didn't mention it in her book, Katheryn Howard had a new man in her life, Chuck Pagano.

She had met Pagano when she was 73. He was 43 at the time, then a trim, ruggedly handsome man with a thick mustache and a ready patter.

Pagano hardly was cut from the same success-driven cloth as Katheryn's previous husbands and escorts -- about all this failed businessman could do was to talk a good game.

"We were all pretty naive about the relationship," says Howard's great-nephew Quin Mathews, who owns a Dallas video production firm and teaches at Southern Methodist University. "We just thought it was a good friendship, even with the big age difference. We didn't know until after she died about the sex, the money, really much of anything about the guy himself."


Chuck Pagano was born in Pennsylvania on February 7, 1942. A search of public records in his native state elicited only a mention of his first divorce, in 1979, after 11 years of marriage.

It's uncertain when Pagano moved to Arizona, but his name first appeared in records at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in 1984, the year his construction company got licensed by the state of Arizona.

The following year, Pagano won a bid to build a home in exclusive Echo Canyon, at the base of Camelback Mountain.

Its owner was Katheryn Howard.

"It was [the start of] a very long and very complex relationship," Pagano told Detective Bailey last September 4, according to a police transcript that is part of a 600-page report in the case. "She fired the architect at the beginning of the project, so she relied on me one-to-one and for every little thing. . . . She being a single lady, needed extra help. So we spent an awful lot of time together."

Pagano remarried in August 1985, to a woman three years younger than him. But that didn't stop him from starting an affair with Howard, according to her diaries and Pagano's interview with Bailey.

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1 comments
Sue Haveman
Sue Haveman

Chuck Pagano is still taking advantage of women. I had a gentleman's agreement for him to build a house for me in the Dominican Republic. What a fiasco. Taking my money, buying other property for himself, building is a way that was criminal, he is nothing but a thief. I've practically had to rebuild all of the columns & beams, the walls aren't plumb, it's incredible. He also swindled two other people down there in the village of Luperon. He's a bad man.

 
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