For unspecified reasons, Gabriella Sikes left the homicide unit earlier this year and returned to patrol, which ended her involvement in the case.

This spring, the Abbotts' civil attorney took written declarations from key witnesses, including one from Mike Talley, Tom Abbott's colleague at American Express.

Detective Sikes had spoken to Talley by phone in a taped interview three weeks after Abbott's death.

Thomas Abbott visited Thailand a
few months before his mysterious May
2009 death.
Courtesy of the Abbott Family
Thomas Abbott visited Thailand a few months before his mysterious May 2009 death.
A sketch of Frank "Skip" Buchanan, who swore he had nothing to do with Abbott's death.
Alvaro Diaz-Rubio
A sketch of Frank "Skip" Buchanan, who swore he had nothing to do with Abbott's death.

Talley told Sikes that Abbott had visited his residence about two weeks before his death. He claimed that Buchanan, "his ex-partner, ex-lover, or whatever had beaten the shit out of him. He said, 'Look, he beat me up. Look at my face!' Those bruises, you could definitely tell they were within 24 hours."

It sounded as if Talley might have been confusing the May 2 assault with Abbott's death on May 30.

Sikes never followed up with Talley, a critical mistake in a case filled with them.

Last March, Talley signed a sworn declaration in the civil case that had scads more details than the Sikes interview nearly two years earlier.

Talley then claimed he last saw Tom Abbott less than 24 hours before Skip Buchanan found the body. That would make Talley the last person (other than the car-service driver, who supposedly drove Abbott home that night) known to have seen him alive.

Talley said his friend seemed fine at first, though he noticed a fresh bruise over an eye that Abbott apparently had tried to disguise with makeup. Talley said he also saw a long, deep contusion on Abbott's arm that also looked new.

In this version, Abbott told Talley that Buchanan just had assaulted him.

Talley said Abbott's speech became slurred during the hour-long visit continued and that his friend was disoriented by the end.

The difference in Talley's two accounts obviously was troubling. Was he exaggerating in his civil declaration to try to nail Buchanan?

A Phoenix homicide sergeant and one of his detectives revisited the Abbott case recently. They met with Talley on May 3, and a police report says he stuck to his problematic second story.

"Mr. Talley said it became confusing during his [2009] conversation with Detective Sikes," the report says, "and believed it must have been a miscommunication. Mr. Talley did concede that his recollection was more accurate a few weeks after the incident than almost two years later."

New Times sought an interview with Talley, but he canceled several planned meetings.

Just last month, Buchanan abruptly quit his legal fight to get the life-insurance money. He and his attorney folded just before he was scheduled to undergo a two-day deposition in the federal civil case.

The "settlement" means that Tom Abbott's sister, Liz, gets the $162,000 in life insurance.

Any criminal prosecution of Buchanan is unlikely at this point.

On May 18, Phoenix police Sergeant Michael Polombo wrote to Martha Novorr explaining why:

"Without any additional witnesses or evidence to conclusively determine the cause and manner of death, this investigation cannot be forwarded for criminal prosecution and will be reclassified as a death-unknown and closed.

"Ms. Novorr, I am very sorry for your loss of your brother and [for what] your family [has] gone through over the past two years. I know that you were hoping for a different outcome from the police investigation."

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