Dying For Love

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

Then they found Howard's diary, the explicit contents of which collectively had bowled them over.

On June 19, 2000, came another shocker.

An attorney announced at the reading of Howard's will at her home that day that Chuck Pagano stood to collect about $750,000 as her estate's top beneficiary, plus another $300,000 or so in cash and property.

Katheryn Howard believed it would be happily ever after with Chuck Pagano.
Katheryn Howard believed it would be happily ever after with Chuck Pagano.
Chuck Pagano and Katheryn Howard at her Scottsdale home.
Chuck Pagano and Katheryn Howard at her Scottsdale home.

None of Howard's next of kin were desperate for money. Each describes himself or herself as "comfortable," "fortunate," "blessed."

But what they heard startled them.

(Among her other gifts, Howard left $25,000 to her bookkeeper and $20,000 to her housekeeper, as well as $515,000 to the Colorado Academy -- a private school in Denver -- and $51,000 each to four charities, including the Arizona Humane Society.)

David Hebert phoned Officer Much on June 20. Much wrote in a report, "David advised that he believed that there were a few suspicious details about the death."

The officer met with the family at Katheryn Howard's home that afternoon.

They told him about the recent spat on the phone between Howard and Pagano that the housekeeper said she'd overheard, and about the apparently missing valuables. Finally, of course, they discussed Pagano's excessively large inheritance.

Becky Hebert told Much that she'd already asked the mortuary not to cremate her great-aunt. Much agreed to complete a so-called "yellow tag," which would expedite the process of having Howard's body taken to the county's Forensic Science Center for a postmortem examination.

After about a week in Arizona, Katheryn Howard's survivors returned to their respective homes and jobs. But they didn't forget their loved one.

In the months that followed, they found themselves in unanticipated roles of amateur sleuths.

One unfortunate fact of life (and death) in large urban areas such as Phoenix, say experts both familiar and unfamiliar with Katheryn Howard's death, is this:

It's relatively easy to get away with murdering an elderly person. All a killer has to do is be careful not to leave obvious signs of blunt-force trauma, or have a track record of violence toward the victim.

And even when there is evidence of deep bruising, as assistant county medical examiner Arch Mosley saw immediately when he performed his postmortem of Katheryn Howard's body, there's still no guarantee that a full-fledged autopsy will follow.

The reasons for this are universal -- lack of funding and personnel.

Though the Maricopa County Medical Examiner processes more than 4,000 bodies a year, only about 60 percent actually are autopsied. Elderly folks who don't show signs of external trauma generally are not candidates for full-scale examinations, here or elsewhere.

The body of a dead person is like an encyclopedia of information and knowledge, and it can tell a world of stories to those who can "read" it properly.

But locally and elsewhere, according to four pathologists interviewed for this story, the elderly usually are not autopsied, nor is their blood tested for toxic substances, unless they have an unexplained injury or someone presents relevant information about their physical condition in the days before death.

"Bodies come to me frozen in time," Dr. Mosley says. "Unless someone tells me something, I won't know what a person was like the day before he or she died, or the day before that. That's what happened in this case, other than I knew that Katheryn Howard had a heart condition."

Still, Mosley's postmortem report indicates he'd observed things during his external examination that concerned him -- especially the presence of tiny hemorrhages under her lower eyelids. Called petechiae, the pinpoint hemorrhages -- which look like white dots -- often are telltale signs of death by suffocation or strangulation.

The presence of the hemorrhages had forced Mosley to do a full autopsy of Howard. Later in that procedure, he carefully dissected the muscles of her neck, but found no signs of strangulation.

The pathologist says he felt compelled to discuss the pinpoint hemorrhages in his report. At the time, he attributed the "dots" to eye caps that funeral officials had put into place in preparation for the cremation.

Mosley's external exam also had revealed deep purple bruises on Howard's right wrist, shins and other locations. He also had noted small red marks on her chin.

"Older people bruise easily," he tells New Times, "and that didn't strike me as that unusual. I just didn't have anything to go on about her recent history, and I had a cardiologist -- I thought it was her own doctor, not a fill-in -- telling me she had died of heart failure. That was golden to me at the time."

Mosley had taken blood from various parts of Howard's body, and sent it to the county's toxicological lab for testing. He then released the body back to the mortuary for cremation.

That day, June 21, 2000, the pathologist signed a death certificate that officially attributed the woman's death to heart failure. Like the on-call cardiologist, Dr. Ibrahim, he, too, called her demise "natural."

Weeks later, the results of the blood tests got back to Mosley, and they were very interesting: Katheryn Howard had Darvon in her blood when she died, and no one knew how or why it had gotten there.

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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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