Dying For Love

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

Howard didn't have a prescription for the Darvon, and her aversion to taking medicine of any kind made its presence in her body a mystery.

The amount of the prescription painkiller probably hadn't been enough to kill Howard outright. But Darvon is known as a potentially dangerous drug for elderly people, especially those with heart conditions.

Howard's family and her cardiologist agree that Howard wouldn't have used Darvon without doctor's orders. And police hadn't found the drug at her home after she died.

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.

The cardiologist, Dr. Josef Gerster, says he never would have signed a Darvon prescription for Howard: "No way. Impossible. No doctor that I know would prescribe Darvon to someone with Katheryn's medical condition. Very dangerous."

Darvon works as a sedative, and its effects greatly intensify with alcohol. Though Chuck Pagano would insist that Howard had drunk just one gin martini at the country club in her final hours, a restaurant receipt shows the couple ordered two gin martinis and two margaritas.

That's important, because experts say the amount of alcohol Howard drank in tandem with the Darvon surely would have had a significant effect on her physically and mentally.

The Howard family wouldn't learn about the Darvon for months after the testing was completed. They (and others who are considered experts in forensic investigation) would come to believe that Pagano secretly had dosed Howard with the Darvon -- either to weaken her or outright kill her -- then had suffocated her.

The revelation about the Darvon solidified their commitment to keeping Chuck Pagano from profiting any more from Katheryn Howard's estate.

Pagano already had gotten $100,000 in cash, the Cadillac, the condo, paintings, and about $40,000 of the $100,000 account he'd shared with Howard. Her survivors hired a Phoenix attorney in late 2000, hoping to keep Pagano from getting the pending $750,000.

In late 2000, Becky Hebert also contacted a retired Virginia police detective named Joe Soos. "I saw this article in the Washington Post about a guy who investigates crimes against older people," she says. "It sounded just like he was talking about Katheryn."

Nicknamed "The Bear," Soos is a curmudgeonly gentleman who has a deep compassion for older adults and their vulnerabilities. He lectures around the nation about what he calls "Gray Murders -- Undetected Homicides of the Elderly."

Soos agreed to take a look at the Arizona case from afar. A few months ago, he summarized his thoughts about it in an e-mail:

"Complicated case? Nope. It's actually very simple. Katheryn was given Darvon in an attempt to debilitate or kill her. No one else could have given it to her but Chuck. Katheryn was subsequently asphyxiated. No other viable suspect could have done it except Chuck. By his own statements, Chuck was the only person with her during that time period. He is the only reasonable suspect based on motive, means and opportunity."

In early 2001, the Howard family's attorney wrote to Scottsdale police expressing their concerns about Chuck Pagano.

Police reports show Scottsdale detectives Sam Bailey and Jeff Lorzel were assigned to the case.

A few months later, in June 2001, four of Katheryn Howard's survivors accused Pagano in a Maricopa County Superior Court lawsuit of having "feloniously and intentionally" killed her.

The point of the suit was to keep Pagano from collecting any more money from Howard's estate.

Pagano's lawyer ridiculed the suit in court papers, calling it "frivolous." And, at first blush, it did seem like a waste of time and money.

For starters, when the survivors filed the suit, Arch Mosley, although he was beginning to believe Katheryn Howard had been killed, still listed her death as heart failure. It would be months before he would announce that, in his revised opinion, she had been murdered.

Detective Bailey's reports suggest that he wasn't enamored of the new assignment. For example, he met in the spring of 2001 with Mosley and the county's chief toxicologist, Norman Wade.

Bailey's report says Wade informed him that the amount of Darvon in Howard's body had been insignificant, barely detectable.

But Wade tells New Times that that's not what he told Bailey.

"Sam Bailey is a nice guy and a good detective, but he took what you're reading me from his [June 27, 2001] report way out of context," says Wade, who's been in the toxicology business for three decades. "I'm sure I told him you really can't explain the toxicity of [Darvon], that I've had cases of people taking it at therapeutic levels who were in serious jeopardy. I told him we just don't know what therapeutic is in an 87-year-old woman."

Even if Bailey had related Wade's comments accurately, he had missed an essential and seemingly obvious point: There should not have been Darvon in Katheryn Howard's body.

Still, Sam Bailey shut down his mini-investigation -- exactly two weeks after Katheryn Howard's survivors accused Chuck Pagano in civil court of murder -- saying that the medical examiner had not come up with anything that warranted spending more police resources on the case.

Even though the police had folded their tent, Katheryn Howard's survivors were just gearing up for battle on the civil front.

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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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