Death of an Heiress

The cop and his prey faced each other in a quiet room at the Phoenix Police Department.

It was the early evening of September 14, 1995. Veteran detective Ed Reynolds had craved this moment since 1992, when he'd taken on the task of revisiting one of Arizona's most infamous unsolved homicides, the 1988 slaying of 55-year-old heiress Jeanne Tovrea.

Now, sitting inches from him was a seemingly placid, middle-aged man he believed to be her killer.

Jeanne's late husband was Edward Tovrea Sr., a scion of a pioneer cattle clan which had dominated Arizona commerce for decades. Ed Sr. had left Jeanne, his wife of 10 years, millions when he died in 1983.

The assets included their home in the Lincoln Hills Estates, an exclusive, gated neighborhood nestled among the mountains north of North 35th Street and East Lincoln Drive, Phoenix.

Detective Reynolds was convinced that, on April 1, 1988, James "Butch" Harrod--the man he was about to interrogate--had sneaked into the community on foot, broken into Jeanne Tovrea's home, and shot her five times in the head with a .22-caliber weapon as she lay in bed.

"Basically, I'm going to tell you what this is all about," Reynolds told Harrod. "Right now, you're under arrest for murder."

"For what?"
"For murder. The murder of Jeanne Tovrea. You know who Jeanne Tovrea is?"
"I know Ed Tovrea," Harrod replied calmly, referring to Jeanne's stepson, Edward Tovrea Jr., known as "Hap."

Reynolds continued: "I know who hired you. I know how much you were told you would be paid for it. I know how much money you actually received for doing it. . . . [Hap] is gonna put 100 percent of the blame on the person that he hired to take all of the heat off of him."

He spoke of Harrod's ex-wife, Anne--"She's gonna give you up in a heartbeat."

The accused hit man remained impassive. He didn't know that his ex-wife--the two were divorced in February 1994--already had implicated him. She told police that Harrod had confided that Hap Tovrea had promised him $100,000 to kill Jeanne or to have her killed--and that he'd held up his end of the bargain.

On the surface, the 41-year-old Harrod seemed an unlikely candidate as a hit man. Before his arrest, he'd been a "consultant," a man who promoted grandiose business ideas but who had little success implementing them. Many considered him an entertaining and harmless braggart.

Harrod had no known history of violence, and no criminal record beyond a 1970s misdemeanor marijuana conviction in Missouri.

Despite Reynolds' bravado, police didn't even have Harrod's fingerprints on file. Getting them was the first order of business after Harrod was arrested without incident at his Ahwatukee home.

Now, Reynolds slipped away from his quarry to find out whether any of the 208 unidentified fingerprints found at the crime scene matched Harrod's. He returned with the news.

"It's your fucking fingerprints," the detective told Harrod. "Just got it confirmed."

Actually, 19 prints--all in telltale locations--belonged to Harrod.
One print was on a gate leading to Jeanne's home. A dozen were on both sides of a pane of glass that someone--surely the killer or an accomplice--had removed from a kitchen window to gain entry.

Police identified another fingerprint from the window's edge--exactly where someone had removed the protective stripping--as Harrod's. His palm print was on the stripping itself, which the intruder had tossed on a chair.

Five of Harrod's prints turned up near the point of entry inside Jeanne's kitchen, including four on a kitchen counter and one on a sink near the scattered contents of Jeanne's purse.

Curiously, that's where the fingerprint trail ended: Investigators found none of Harrod's prints on the door to Jeanne's bedroom or in the bedroom itself.

Though the fingerprints weren't a smoking gun--the murder weapon never was found--Reynolds viewed them as the next best thing:

"Your fingerprint on the window, the night of the murder, and it's only left by one person--the person that pulled the glass out of the window. No doubt. No guesswork."

The detective informed Harrod that the kitchen window into Jeanne's home was the sole point of entry not hooked up to the security system. That fact, known only to the Tovrea family and their close friends, lent credence to the theory that the murder was an inside job.

Faced with this devastating turn of events, Harrod kept his cool.
"I'm not a killer," he said monotonally.
"You're not a professional killer," Reynolds shot back. "Professional killers never mention it ever again. For their entire career. . . . What would it take to get you to give me number one and number two and three? What do you want?"

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin