MURDER AT ROCKY POINT
IT POURED ON THE day of Patricia Willoughby's funeral. Even if headlights weren't traditional for the members of a processional, the extraordinary number of creeping cars that snaked behind the hearse on the way to the Mesa graveyard would have needed their headlights because of the curtains of rain.
Heaven was so generous that the grave was flooded before Trish's casket could be lowered into it. As the coffin was reloaded and trundled back to the Mormon chapel where the wake had been held, mourners overheard the funeral director marveling that never before had he been rained out of a burial. When they arrived back at the church where Trish's parents, Thera and Sterling Huish, had orchestrated a postburial luncheon, they heard Thera proclaim, "It's just like Trish to not want to be left out of a party."
It was almost as though the great energy that had characterized Trish Willoughby's life was carrying on, was not allowing her to go easily into the ground. Or perhaps there were still so many unanswered questions surrounding her murder that she could not rest peacefully.
In any case, it was not a simple matter to dispose of her even after the rain had stopped and the grave was finally sealed.
Within a couple of months, she had literally popped up again. On May 24, 1991, the Arizona Attorney General's Office moved to have her body exhumed and an autopsy performed. When she was first found last February in a condominium in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, her skull crushed into multiple bones and her brain damaged from the blows, an autopsy was not ordered by the Mexican authorities.
Since then, the attorney general's investigation has continued, and clues about Trish Willoughby's puzzling death have kept creeping into the local daily newspapers and TV broadcasts, clues that have created more confusion than they've dispelled. Clues that, quite frankly, have often seemed unbelievable.
The hazy picture that's emerged is of a 42-year-old, all-American wife and mother, successful in business and devoutly religious, married for 15 years to the same man, Dan Willoughby. There have been references to a $750,000 life insurance policy. Most sensationally, there have been revelations of an urgent romance between Dan Willoughby, the prime suspect in the crime, and Yesenia Patino, a transsexual whose face is now plastered all over local buses above the headline offering $6,000 for news of her whereabouts.
Steven Mitchell, the assistant attorney general in charge of the case, has hinted to reporters that Trish's murder wasn't performed alone and has huffed that finding Patino will be "the beginning of a successful prosecution." Insiders have explained that, because the murder itself occurred in Mexico, Dan Willoughby can be indicted in Arizona only for conspiracy to commit murder--assuming there's probable cause--and that it won't happen without Yesenia, who has disappeared. Certainly not least of all, Dan Willoughby has taken his mother-in-law, Thera Huish, to court, trying to wrest from her the near-million she stands to collect as Trish's beneficiary.
What there has not been among all the drama and innuendo is anything to prove Dan Willoughby either guilty or innocent of his wife's murder. Informed sources close to the investigation now claim that it's not because such evidence doesn't exist.
Requesting anonymity, these knowledgeable sources say that, following Trish Willoughby's death, Dan Willoughby told the Mexican police that she was apparently murdered during a robbery. He described to the authorities jewelry that was stolen, including his wife's wedding ring. He drew a picture of the wedding ring for the police.
Within ten days, Yesenia Patino was arrested in Chandler on charges unrelated to the murder. In her possession was jewelry Dan had described, including Trish's wedding ring, which was later also seen and identified by at least one immediate member of Trish's family. In a move the Attorney General's Office now must regret, Patino herself was released.
If the sources are correct, the Attorney General's Office is sitting on a murder case that will dominate the headlines for months to come if any indictments are handed down. It has at its center a handful of very unlikely, middle-class candidates for involvement in a slaying, and a story of family frictions that reach back many years.
The pieces of the puzzle that can be ferreted out--usually from law-enforcement officials who won't comment on the record, and from friends and relatives of the Willoughby and Huish clans who also refuse to be identified out of fear of Dan Willoughby--do not ever come together completely. Instead, they form a tale that possesses as many conflicting descriptions and theories as did the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, and considerably more intrigue. (Neither Dan Willoughby nor any members of the Huish family would be interviewed for this story.)
It is a tale about people who were and are disturbingly out of touch with themselves: an unhappy wife who suppressed her personal feelings, a husband with two such extremely contrasting sides that even he may not know whether either of them is real, a misery-filled marriage that was calm on the surface. Before the murder, it was probably a story about the struggle for power that occurs within most families but that rarely erupts so brutally. Today, it's about a full-scale war that has pitted friends against friends and grandchildren against grandparents. It is also a story that is still being told, that is changing every day as witnesses rack their brains for impressions of the Willoughbys and Huishes, as the impressions become part of the mushrooming pile of depositions at the Attorney General's Office.
Here is what we know about the story now.
MDRVTRISH AND THERA
The people who knew them speak their names together, as though they were married. The mother and daughter were not only business partners--they called their business "T 'n' T"--but they also referred to themselves as "best friends," and everyone believed them.
On the promotional videos distributed by Matol Botanical, the multilevel marketing company that made them successful, they are so alike and in synch that they appear to be two slightly different versions of the same person, with one face gone slacker and the lines deepened. Even the pouffy blonde hair is basically the same, and the clothes, although not identical, are bright and pricey and lacking style in the same matronly way.
They were practically inseparable. Their former secretary Jamie Tepp remembers that not only did they spend every business day together from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., but that they trekked off in unison to their hair appointments, nail appointments, even their appointments with the doctor.
Trish and Thera were a couple of women from Utah, and they hadn't always gotten along famously. A relative says Thera's marriage to Sterling Huish--her second, after an early one that left her widowed and the mother of two while still a teenager--is an unhappy one. She says that the Huish children escaped their early home life as soon as they could. Young Trish went to San Francisco, where she had very little to do with her mother and bounced around aimlessly as a hippie for years.
The mother and daughter finally rekindled their friendship. About a decade ago, Trish also embraced again--this time fiercely--the Mormon faith in which she was raised. Her husband Dan converted to Mormonism later. When Trish and Dan moved to the Valley in 1978, Thera and Sterling were already here, and the two women launched into a series of business ventures together.
"Business" for T 'n' T always meant "selling." In the beginning, in Utah, Thera had sold bras door-to-door--sold them with the indefatigable spirit that would eventually make her a legend with Matol Botanical. On an audio training tape used by Matol, she claims to have sold bras for "12 to 15 hours a day, day in and day out," and to have gone around to the back door when the front door was slammed in her face. In Arizona, Trish and Thera became involved in at least a couple of multilevel schemes that failed. One of them was pointedly ironic in light of Trish's death: They sold tear gas intended for home use as a protection against intruders.
They discovered Matol Botanical in '87, discovered it with a surge of passion that normally accompanies only religious conversions. A Canadian company whose purported sales will top $300 million this year, Matol hawks a potent-tasting, vitamin-mineral supplement called K-M that retails for $35 a bottle. Matol's multilevel sales system is similar to that of the Amway company: There is no paid advertising and K-M isn't sold in stores. Its independent distributors--students and housewives and salespeople who often work at home--derive their income not only from K-M sales, but from a share of the sales of their own "converts," or distributors they've brought into the business.
It's a system that results in quick and relatively easy money for some, and that attracts the sort of people who are looking for life's ultimate solutions. Trish and Thera were a couple of the lucky ones: By the time of Trish's death, the Matol distributorship that she and her mother shared was bringing in about $40,000 a month, a figure that placed the mother-daughter team among Matol's top ten.
Trish and Thera were such ardent missionaries for Matol that the company's owners used them as promoters, sending them to convince others to enter the fold at Matol meetings throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"I've found that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams!" said Thera at one of these sessions that was made into an audiotape. In a voice rendered forceful with the flat vowels of central Utah, she described the first time she ever tasted K-M: "I felt something from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I could feel it in my hair. I felt it had to be either illegal or immoral, it felt so good. It was wonderful how I felt on that product."
She continued with an account of her response to her first Matol meeting. "The warmth of the people, the sincerity, the love, the way they felt about this product!" she raved. "I had had an experience, and I couldn't deny it. Martin Luther King said, `Once you have an emotional experience, you begin a journey to commitment.' I was committed that day to this product. I knew that this was something I had to share."
Trish then chimed in with her own response to the Matol meeting, an occasion when she became convinced that Matol's owners wouldn't let her down the way other multilevel companies had. "I sat there and cried; I sobbed like a baby," she said. "That experience I'd had with that other company had been like somebody took a knife and stabbed me in the heart. I hurt inside. And [Matol owner Sam Kalenuik] released it. . . . " Following Kalenuik's remarks, Trish and her mother surged to the front of the room to meet him. "As we approached him, we started to sob again," Trish recounted. "And I threw my arms around him and I hugged him and looked him in the eye, because I really had to feel it one more time."
It was this level of enthusiasm, a level that fans and critics say was present in all her endeavors, that either endeared Trish Willoughby to others or made them want to avoid her. "She was like taking a bottle of sparkling mineral water and shaking it all up and then popping the top off," says her brother Nick Huish. "Trish would not have let you know she was upset if she was. No matter what hurt she was feeling, she would always put on that face of happiness so that she did not let other people hurt with her. She was not going to share those negative emotions."
A business associate of Dan Willoughby's, Trina Janusch, describes Trish as "the perfect person" and "untainted." Former secretary Tepp says unreservedly, "I think Trish believed in total honesty [and] believed you treat people the way that you want to be treated, not necessarily the way they treat you."
Again and again, the friends who miss Trish sorely echo this sort of praise.
There are others whose approval isn't as glowing. "Trish could bug you," says Jody Critchfield, a family friend who attended the same Mormon ward. "There was something about her that I just couldn't accept--the salesmanship part of her. I just couldn't believe it was really her. She was so full of energy you wondered, `Where is your switch? Can I turn you off?'" Critchfield says that it wasn't until after Trish's death that she came to accept there was nothing conniving in Trish's constant drive to push K-M--a drive that even caused her to donate to fine-arts fund raisers in Gilbert and then set up a Matol booth once she arrived at the events. "Getting gain was not her thought at all," Critchfield says now. "She just wanted to share and help other people to be happy."
A close relative disagrees. "I think that money was absolutely God to her and Thera," the relative says. He adds that the payoff was not what money could buy, but the way it reassured the two women of their own worth. "Performing became an end in itself. It was power," he says. "Trish was an ice-cold person, very smiley and warm as far as her demeanor, but steely cold."
Opinion may be divided about the nature of Trish's heart, but word on Thera from onlookers is more consistent. She is described sometimes as a "user," frequently as "controlling," and always as "strong"--descriptions that jibe with her behavior on the Matol training videotapes. On these tapes Thera takes the lead, rushing in ahead not only of Trish but of everyone involved, including owner Kalenuik. At every opportunity, she holds the stage.
"If Thera felt it was in the best interests of that person, she pushed that person into things," says Tepp. "I think if there could have been a house big enough, she would have liked everybody [in the family] to live together."
A family member says, "Thera has hated her husband Sterling forever. He never was enough for her, so Trish became the spouse. I think Danny got completely shut out. Danny had a very difficult position."
By the time Trish died, Dan Willoughby wasn't even working any longer, and he hadn't been since the summer of '90. For more than a year he'd been something of a househusband, taking care of the three Willoughby kids and merely dabbling in the K-M business to which Trish was devoting all her time. Trish, who had long overseen the family's finances, was now also the sole breadwinner.
There are a couple of versions of the way it came to this. Sources close to Trish remember that she had longed for the change, that once her K-M sales began to skyrocket she had encouraged Dan to dump his job as district manager for Air Express International. These sources remember the day when Trish arrived at work alight, thrilled that he had done it at last, that he was finally willing to leave the business world and place a higher priority on spending time with her and the children. "The thing I love the most about this business is that it has allowed us the financial freedom to stop worrying about how we are going to pay the bills and begin concentrating on building relationships," she told a friend.
In a deposition given for the lawsuit with the Huishes that's ongoing, Dan told this story: He and Trish had agreed long before he left AEI that he would give up his stressful job as soon as her sales hit a certain level. That, conveniently, Trish's sales skyrocketed just as he was being required to make decisions at work that would have caused hardship for his employees, and that when he refused to crack the whip at his team, he and AEI parted ways, to his and Trish's relief.
It is not the way Dan's co-workers remember it. They say that Dan was fired, forced out because he was paying too little attention to his job and running his expense accounts too high.
Did Dan resist giving up his own career until the choice was wrested from him, then allow his wife to believe he'd sacrificed his interests for her and the family? Was he afraid to appear to be a failure beside her?
In the fall before her death, Trish began to formulate the plans that would outlast her. She was someone who worried about security: Tepp says that her boss was always eager to pour income back into the business rather than squander it all on lifestyle, because she wanted to build something that would support her and the others forever.
It was in that spirit that she and Thera took out $750,000 life-insurance policies upon each other and apparently discussed some other contingencies.
"Trish talked openly about what the arrangements should be," says Tepp, who is now alienated from Thera but in frequent contact with Dan. Despite the friendship, her account of Trish's intentions should she die differs from the one contained in Dan's lawsuit. It is Dan's assumption that he has inherited Trish's half of the Matol business, and he claims that Trish meant to execute a "buy-sell" agreement that in the case of her death would have required Thera to use her $750,000 settlement to purchase his half-interest.
Tepp offers a different version. She says, "Trish said, `Mom, take care of my children and Danny financially. I don't want them to have a lot of money, but I want them to be taken care of.'" Specifically, says Tepp, Trish wanted the household expenses to be paid and trust accounts established for the children, plus she wanted a certain percentage of the Matol business's profits to go to Dan for a period of two years.
There are many insiders who pooh-pooh the idea that Dan Willoughby would ever have conspired in his wife's death because he wanted money--the motive they feel the Attorney General's Office has been trying to establish whenever they have been asked to trek into downtown Phoenix and been deposed. These insiders say that money wasn't a primary interest of Dan's, except inasmuch as he liked to give it away, and that he was perfectly capable of supporting himself in any case. They say he just isn't a gold digger. "I have been told over and over by the Huish family [that Dan is after money], and I look, but I don't see that," says Tepp. "And I never knew Trish to talk about that.
His friends say that, had Dan been unhappy with Trish, his solution would have been divorce, not murder. They say that he is fighting now with his in-laws on behalf of the children, not himself. "He only expects what is rightfully his family's," says family friend Jody Critchfield. "He has got a daughter to put through college, [Mormon] missions to take care of. He is not going to go traveling around the world! He is not going to buy nicer cars!" But there are others who see in the dynamics of the Willoughby marriage a situation that caused a man to lose not his bank balance particularly, but his power. "I just thought, `There was a man who had the motive,'" says one Willoughby family member of her reaction to the news of Trish's murder. "He was trapped. He had no self-esteem. There was no way that he could fit into his marriage. He didn't want to leave the kids--he loved the kids. And those two women had absolutely everything in their names." MDRVTRISH AND DANNY AND YESENIA
When Dan Willoughby first came to Arizona, he got into the air freight business as a salesman. Before he got out of it, he was running the Phoenix division of Air Express International and making about $75,000 a year plus a car allowance. And he was known in his industry for his tirelessness. "Wherever he went, the company always did well," says a former associate. "He was an animal-type worker. We used to race to see who could get to work earliest in the morning. When I pulled around the corner at 5:45 and saw that he was already there, I knew to back off."
He quickly became known for something else, as well: "He does not know and never will know the meaning of the word `ethics,'" says a former associate who remembers that Willoughby was fired from his first job in the Valley for questionable business practices. "If somebody says no to him, it makes him doubly determined to do it." The associate remembers that Willoughby circulated false rumors about competitors--that they were going out of business, that their rates were going up--in order to snag accounts. He says that when a customer was reluctant to sign on, Willoughby went so far as to forge signatures from the customer's superiors, urging them to go with Willoughby.
"He will tell you whatever you want to hear and do what he has to do," says another former associate who found Willoughby's misbehavior to be disconcerting. "He would not ever have to be unethical, he is so hardworking and a great salesperson. It always puzzled me."
That is one side of him, the side that seems to match a slinky personal appearance some observers describe as that of a "lounge lizard," characterized by tight pants and patent-leather shoes and gold chains tangled up in his chest hair. Dan's friends say there was and is another, far gentler side that has to do with generosity, with a limitless willingness to extend himself as a friend. Critchfield, a single mother with six kids, says that for years Dan has been a father to her boys, that he has ferried them to body-building workouts and attended their athletic games and treated them to new bicycles on their birthdays. She says that, as she has struggled along financially, Dan has paid for her home and car repairs repeatedly.
Others say that he was known in the ward and neighborhood for his openhanded loans, and for his tendency to bring homeless families that were complete strangers to the house for dinner.
And some of his selfless acts were far from one-shot deals, as was the case with the adoption of Marsha, the Willoughbys' eldest child. Three years ago, at age 15, Marsha, a veteran of countless foster homes, was featured as a "Wednesday's Child" on the Channel 12 news. It is a considerable task to take on an unknown teenager, but Dan was reportedly as eager to adopt Marsha as was his wife.
In 1985 he began work at AEI, where another complex wrinkle in his personality appeared: Because of his propensity for partying, he was nicknamed "Disco Danny" there. "He is kind of a wild man," says someone who worked with him. "When I heard he was a deacon at his church, I almost died laughing." The source was referring in particular to the Mormon church's health code, which prohibits alcohol. "He loved to drink," says the source.
Although his early associates in Arizona do not remember him as a womanizer, he seems to have undergone a transformation. "He was known to have his women," says a co-worker, adding that--before he became involved with the now-infamous Yesenia Patino--it was common knowledge that he'd been seeing a long-term customer for some time. Other women who have known him since '85 report that his flirtatious mannerisms have made them uncomfortable. He was forever winking at them for no reason, or telling them how sexy they looked, and one woman remembers with distaste that, at Trish's funeral, Dan actually gave her a hug that was "more than just friendly." She still recounts the experience with amazement.
Beginning at least in late '89, he was frequently seen in the company of Yesenia Patino, a Hispanic in her mid-30s with a shoplifting record, who, unbeknownst to Dan, had undergone a sex-change operation years earlier. Patino telephoned Dan frequently at the office. Following these conversations, according to an insider, he would slap on cologne and disappear, often proclaiming, "I am going over to Digital." He began spending more and more time out of the office and was harder and harder to locate, a disturbing pattern that became a factor in Air Express's decision to terminate him in 1990, according to numerous observers. The excuse about "Digital" became such a joke that former co-workers still use it as they are heading out the door to goof off. Former associates remember that Dan spoke of Yesenia as his "interpreter" and said that he needed her when he was conducting business south of the border. (One co-worker recalls that Dan said he met Patino at a community college Spanish class in which she was the instructor, but numerous sources closer to the investigation say, without elaborating, that he met her at a bus stop. A source close to the investigation also says that she has worked as a prostitute.) Some of those who support Dan Willoughby today suggest that she was actually employed as an interpreter by Air Express, but former co-workers say adamantly that she never worked for the company. (Officials at Air Express International will not comment on anything related to Willoughby.)
Trina Janusch, Dan's co-worker who knew Dan and Yesenia together, is still reeling from the revelations of Patino's sex change, which hit the newspapers after the murder. She says that Patino is feminine and petite, and that it's no wonder Dan didn't know his girlfriend had not always been a woman. "She is just a gorgeous girl," says Janusch. "I just cannot picture that she was a guy. I have been in the bathroom with her before and talked about girl things with her before, and I would not be surprised if somebody came back and said that part [of the news coverage] was a joke."
In truth, even the most public aspects of Willoughby's relationship with Patino were not professional, or even subtle.
He told a friend that Patino was "good in bed." He kept a photograph of her displayed in his office, a photograph that more than one co-worker observed to be inscribed on the back, "To my future husband, Dan Willoughby." He worked out with her frequently at the Scottsdale Athletic Club, where they were observed nuzzling and smooching. At Pioneer Photography in Mesa, where his wife and mother-in-law were well-known, he had a photograph taken of himself and Yesenia together and ordered a print that measured 16 by 20 inches. Finally, last fall, a few months before Trish's death, a friend remembers that he purchased Yesenia a diamond solitaire from Gold Art Creations, and that Yesenia said it was an engagement ring.
A friend of Dan's who knew them as a couple, and who to some extent befriended Yesenia, says that the "engagement" was largely a ruse--and was actually Dan's way of slowing things down. "That was just to pacify her," he says, as though the way to get rid of a woman forever is to promise to marry her. The source implies that Yesenia was becoming something of a problem for Dan, saying, "She is not the sort of person you would want to have an affair with, because she didn't want to give you back." He describes the Latin woman as "fiery" and "very jealous" and "not emotionally stable," and says that when the three of them socialized together, "Yesenia only wanted to talk about Dan." He says that Yesenia telephoned last November and confessed miserably that Dan didn't want to see her anymore; he says that she took to telephoning Willoughby at home in the wee hours, threatening to show up at Dan's house if Dan didn't show up immediately at hers.
He describes, in short, a version of the situation that was popularized in the movie Fatal Attraction, wherein a spurned woman's attempts to keep her man grow more and more extreme. He says that since the murder, Dan has said to him that he "wonders" whether Yesenia was involved.
Sources who were close to Trish aren't sure they believe that Dan had dumped Patino or that they buy the Fatal Attraction scenario. One family friend says Trish approached him not too long before the murder and asked his opinion about how to save her marriage, in light of Dan's affair. According to court records, Thera Huish has testified that Trish told her she was "very, very disturbed" not only about the affair, but about the fact that Dan had taken their children to Yesenia's home. Others say that, in the months immediately before her death, Trish became more reserved--she even began going to her nail appointments alone. They say she began to refer to Dan in a new way, complaining that he didn't have a career of his own, saying that it was important to hash things out in a marriage before issues began to fester. "I think Trish was dealing with her marriage and wanting to deal with it in her way," says Tepp. "I don't think she wanted influence from anyone."
And according to all sources, "her way" meant keeping the marriage together. It was in relationship to Danny that Trish's belief in the Mormon faith took over. She had been a devout churchgoer for years, but she and Danny and their kids had gone to the Mormon temple and been "sealed" there only shortly before her murder. To Mormons, a temple "sealing" means that marriage and family life don't end with death, and it was an arrangement Trish was determined to ensnare for the hereafter, whatever it cost her.
"She had a strong belief in one thing, and that is that she was going to fix what was wrong," says the family friend who claims Trish consulted him. "Her belief that she could pull her marriage together allowed her to be abused."
Others think that because she was such a strong and determined woman, it couldn't have been so bad for her. Tepp says she saw nothing outright grief-stricken in Trish in the months before her death, nothing that would have led her to believe her boss was in great pain. "She did not seem discouraged," she says. "Trish would have had to pick me up off the floor if she had come in and said, `I am divorcing Danny.'"
MDRVTRISH AND DANNY IN MEXICO
A great deal cannot be known about Trish Willoughby's final vacation. The Attorney General's Office isn't talking, fearing to jeopardize its investigation, and many witnesses are following its lead.
Despite the hush, some new facts emerge. A source close to the Huishes says that Dan Willoughby had for months been excitedly planning the family outing to Mexico, but that as the day approached, Trish experienced a bad feeling about it. The day before her departure, she telephoned Thera and said that, though she didn't know why, she didn't want to go. Thera encouraged her daughter to pack her bags, saying that Trish and Danny had a lot of things to work out together.
According to this family friend, Thera learned of the events surrounding Trish's death from Marsha Willoughby, Trish and Dan's teenage daughter, after the Willoughby children had returned to Phoenix. Marsha recounted that on the day her mother died, Trish had laid down for a nap in the condo where the family was staying, and the rest of the family had piled into the car, ready for a drive. Dan excused himself from the car, saying he had left his passport inside. He re-entered the condo and remained indoors an unexpectedly long time, from five to 15 minutes. In the meantime, Marsha decided to stay behind with her mother. Dan met her at the front door and took her back out to the car, saying that if she'd come along he'd let her drive--a very exciting prospect for a 17-year-old.
When the family returned to the condo in the late afternoon, the children entered first. Trish Willoughby, unconscious and her skull crushed, was still breathing.
According to knowledgeable sources close to the investigation, Willoughby was advised by Harold Lowry, a Tucson doctor who was staying in a nearby condo, that Trish needed immediate help. (Dr. Lowry refused extensive comment to New Times, saying that he intends to cooperate only with the authorities when it comes to his knowledge of the events surrounding Trish's death. But he did say he has "some very strong feelings" about Dan Willoughby's behavior on the night his wife died.) Willoughby then piled the kids into the car and drove ten or 15 minutes to a Red Cross station. At a time when minutes were life and death, he left Trish behind. An ambulance was dispatched from the Red Cross station to the condo and Trish was loaded into it, but Dan didn't accompany her on the ride to the hospital. He stayed at the condo for as long as 20 minutes before finally setting out for the hospital, then turned the car around because he saw the police arriving. He spoke with the police for another 20 minutes, then finally headed for his wife's bedside.
Trish Willoughby was pronounced dead at the Santa Fe Clinic at 6:45 p.m. That night, Dan moved his family from the site of Trish's murder to Motel Senorial, a place near the beach where Antonio Silva is the manager. Sensational news spreads quickly, and Silva was well aware that his new guests were the immediate victims of an almost unspeakable tragedy. Silva was amazed by what he saw.
"He acted just like a normal person who had had nothing happen to him," says Silva of Willoughby. Silva saw Willoughby "laughing, just like a tourist, nothing more."
"We know that Americans are hardhearted, not like a Latin," continues Silva. "His sentiments are different from a Latin's. But how could it have been that he did not appear to feel anything at all?" Silva then tosses into the discussion another of the puzzle pieces that just doesn't fit. "Even the kids were normal, like any tourist kids that come to the beach," he says. "They were not crying at all."
Willoughby was detained by the Mexican police and kept in jail briefly; the children left for the U.S. to stay with the Huishes. (The Arizona Attorney General's Office will not reveal why Dan was jailed or freed, and the Mexican authorities who were involved cannot be located.)
At some point between the moment Trish's body was found and the moment Dan Willoughby left Mexico, he described for the police jewelry he claimed had been stolen from his wife at the death scene, and drew a diagram for them of her wedding ring.
During the first week in March, Yesenia Patino was arrested in Chandler on charges unrelated to the murder. Trish Willoughby's wedding ring was in her possession. She was later released. At Trish Willoughby's funeral, Matol Botanical owner Sam Kalenuik leaned into the open coffin and pinned to Trish's flowing white temple clothes the insignia of a Matol executive field supervisor. He had flown all the way from Canada to deliver the pin, which designated an extremely high level of sales and which Trish had earned only weeks before she died. She was the first person to ever receive the honor.
MDRVTHERA AND DANNY
The rest of the story is a matter of watching a tragedy become a war, although it didn't start out that way.
On the morning that word of Trish's death reached the East Valley, Thera and Sterling Huish were visited by a supportive family friend. The friend found the house in an uproar. Trish's brothers, Nick and Bob, were fielding constant telephone calls and Sterling was pacing through the house aimlessly, as though he'd lost his way. Thera was weeping and grieving and yet was extraordinarily lucid about one thing.
The friend recalls: "She said, `I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have had this Matol business, because I know that I will have the money to take care of Danny and the kids. They will never want for anything. Danny can stay home with them if he wants to.'"
It was a resolution not destined to last. After Marsha and little Thera had shared with their grandmother the details of their mother's death, Thera literally collapsed. Friends say that paramedics were called to revive her. Apparently it was an epiphany of some kind, because Thera's determination to take care of Dan disappeared after that.
The result has been the legal battle over the $750,000 Thera stands to collect as beneficiary of Trish's largest life insurance policy, a policy that was only taken out in December 1990. (Thera and Dan have already collected $250,000 and $150,000, respectively, on other policies.) Dan, who filed the lawsuit, contends that Trish meant Thera to pay him the $750,000 as a way of buying out Trish's half-interest in the Matol business. This arrangement would have required Trish to execute something called a buy-sell agreement.
In what must be one of the most pointed counterclaims in the history of civil suits and legal jargon, Thera refuses to give Willoughby anything. "There are a number of complex issues . . . ," reads the response from Greg Miles, the Huishes' lawyer. "Among the issues includes whether or not the plaintiff murdered Patricia Willoughby." The other complex issues in the case are difficult to discern from the court records. This is because, despite having brought the suit, Willoughby is so far unwilling to back up many of his claims against the Huishes. Again and again during his deposition, he refused to answer questions directly involved in the case by pleading the Fifth Amendment. The result is that a harrowing scenario of plotted murder is alluded to repeatedly in the transcripts, but nothing ever becomes any clearer.
Here are some of the questions Willoughby was asked:
Question: Did you ever suggest to [Trish and Thera] that they needed to increase or obtain additional life insurance? Answer: Upon the advice of my attorney, I stand on my Fifth Amendment right not to answer. Q: You thought before Trish's death that there was a buy-sell agreement between Trish and Thera, didn't you?
A: Upon the advice of my attorney, I stand on my Fifth Amendment right not to answer.
Q: You frequently encouraged Trish and Thera to get a buy-sell agreement prior to her death, didn't you?
A: Upon the advice of my attorney, I stand on my Fifth Amendment right not to answer.
Q: Why did you feel it was important that they have a buy-sell agreement in place prior to her death?
A: Upon the advice of my attorney, I stand on my Fifth Amendment right not to answer.
Q: As of February of 1991, did you believe there was a buy-sell agreement between Trish and Thera?
A: Upon the advice of my attorney, I stand on my Fifth Amendment right not to answer.
Attorney Miles didn't limit himself in this deposition to business-related questions. He was also trying to paint a portrait of a frustrated, powerless man who came to hate his wife for her success.
How did it feel to go from being a district manager to being unemployed? Miles asked. Isn't it true that you looked for work after leaving AEI but couldn't find any? Isn't it true that your wife became disillusioned with you, because of your affair with Yesenia Patino and your spending habits, and began to limit your access to credit cards? Didn't you begin to resent her?
Searches of Willoughby's house conducted early in the investigation had turned up boxes of prescription drugs and syringes, and Willoughby was known to be taking steroids. Miles also pursued the theme of drug use, attempting to imply, perhaps, that as Willoughby's ego plunged, his grip on life also loosened. Were you taking cocaine? Miles asked. Crack? Heroin?
Willoughby would not respond to any of these accusations. Superior Court Judge Alfred Rogers finally informed Willoughby that he could not continue to plead the Fifth Amendment in a lawsuit he had brought himself. Either testify or drop the suit, the judge said.
Willoughby appealed the decision, but on October 22 the state appellate court refused to hear his case. Many onlookers believe Willoughby will now appeal the matter to the Arizona Supreme Court.
In the meantime, Thera and Sterling Huish have offered a $6,000 reward for news of the whereabouts of Yesenia Patino.
Finally, the Huishes are suing for custody of the Willoughby children. (Sources close to them claim that Dan Willoughby keeps them away from the children, and sources close to Willoughby say the children believe the family tension is a matter of the Huishes' greed--that they simply don't want very much to do with their grandparents these days.) It is a configuration of conflicts and desires that has resulted in some very weird scenes, and the weirdest of them all occurred on Mother's Day.
Eager to spend time with her grandchildren, Thera invited them to lunch. She was informed by Dan that they weren't going anywhere without him. On Sunday, the whole uneasy group convened at Rustler's Rooste at the South Mountain Pointe--Thera and Sterling, Nick Huish and his wife, the Willoughby brood. Trish's parents broke bread with the man they believe killed their daughter, and then a really macabre thing happened. Dan whirled around to discover that, in a stroke of coincidence whose unlikelihood cannot be overestimated, Harold Lowry, the Tucson physician who'd been at the death scene and who had cooperated with authorities in their efforts to incriminate Willoughby, was also celebrating Mother's Day at the Pointe. They were all within hailing distance of each other. It was a reunion.
It is the sort of unimaginable moment that occurs only when life as we know it has forgotten all the rules--when men are accused of killing their wives, when children cling to a parent who's suspected of murder, when grandparents will do anything to get a glimpse of the kids who are all that's left of their daughter.
Or, if you take Willoughby's side, it's the sort of last straw that happens to an innocent man who's been railroaded by a manipulative, bitter mother-in-law, one who is exploiting his disadvantage of being under investigation in order to get a strangle hold on his children and maintain total control of the money that should be theirs.
That's what he's been telling the friends who've stuck by him, any one of whom will explain that he's living on a very tight budget now that he's been denied all Trish meant him to have. "He works two jobs," says Jody Critchfield, explaining that one job is in sales at a truck-shipping company, the other at a health spa. "He goes in and cleans toilets [at the spa]. There is nothing too degrading for him to do for that family."
It's hard to imagine that such sacrifice is necessary. Willoughby has already collected $150,000 in life insurance, and on the children's behalf Thera Huish has voluntarily handed over to him somewhere between $34,000 and $41,000 since Trish's death. (The Huish lawyer comes up with the higher figure, and Willoughby's lawyer the lower one.) According to attorney Greg Miles, Thera recently tried to settle another $14,000 on Willoughby, but he has refused it.
All this information makes Willoughby's insistence that he and the children are being denied terribly confusing. That is what he says, however, in a brief and impassioned telephone conversation with New Times.
"I am not involved in this murder in any way, shape or form," he says. "This does not even involve the death of my wife anymore. This is all greed.
"I want to get this vengeful, evil mother-in-law who is taking money away from my children. She makes $40,000 a month and she does not give a penny to these children who she says she loves so much."
He explains that only his lawyer's counsel against an interview is keeping him from blowing the state's case wide open: "I want so badly, so terribly to tell the true story, to tell how it really is." And then he takes another tack. He has called today because he's received a letter requesting an interview and wants to respond to the letter personally. He wants the reporter to know he appreciates what she's done.
"I like your letter," he says, and an unmistakable leer comes into his voice. "Keep writing to me."
Dan: Must use last pullquote, per Ward.
It is a tale about people who were and are disturbingly out of touch with themselves.
The people who knew Thera and Trish speak their names together, as though they were married.
Trish and Thera trekked off in unison to their hair appointments, nail appointments, even their appointments with the doctor.
Thera had sold bras door-to-door--sold them with the indefatigable spirit that would eventually make her a legend with Matol Botanical.
They discovered Matol with a surge of passion that normally accompanies only religious conversions.
"I could feel it in my hair. I felt it had to be either illegal or immoral, it felt so good. It was wonderful how I felt on that product."
"She was so full of energy you wondered, `Where is your switch? Can I turn you off?'"
There are many insiders who pooh-pooh the idea that Dan Willoughby would ever have conspired in his wife's death because he wanted money.
"She is just a gorgeous girl. I just cannot picture that she was a guy."
An ambulance was dispatched to the condo and Trish was loaded into it, but Dan didn't accompany her on the ride to the hospital.
Trish's parents broke bread with the man they believe killed their daughter, and then a really macabre thing happened.
"I am not involved in this murder in any way, shape or form," Dan says. "This does not even involve the death of my wife anymore. This is all greed.
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