Longform

Death of an Heiress

Page 7 of 9

But Jeanne didn't put memories or mementoes of her late husband into storage. Whenever she pulled her Jaguar or Mercedes into her garage, she faced an almost life-size photograph of her and Ed Sr., grinning widely.

"I think my cousins felt that Jeanne just wanted the money," says Phil Tovrea III. "I think she loved him."

Those cousins--Jeanne's stepchildren--steamed as she blossomed personally and financially in the mid-1980s. This was the situation:

Hap was living in San Diego on about $4,500 a month from his father and grandfather's trusts, but his financial woes persisted. Back in Phoenix, Jeanne Tovrea was living like a desert queen, and her stepkids knew it.

"Jeanne Tovrea was not the [stepchildren's] best friend," an attorney for her stepchildren told a jury in 1991. "You are going to hear some things about Jeanne not trusting the kids. Thinking they are watching her. Not wanting to deal with them personally. . . . Every year that went by that Jeanne invested only in her own interests, the amount of money that Edward Tovrea Sr. meant for his children . . . got smaller and smaller and smaller, and the amount of money available for her to live on got bigger and bigger and bigger."

The evidence didn't support the latter claim, and the jury ruled against the Tovrea children.

Of the three, Hap had remained the most civil with Jeanne after their father's death, even though he claimed in a 1993 interview with detectives that she'd moved Ed Sr. into a room "similar to a maid's quarters and left him there to die."

Yet even Hap knew little about his stepmother. For example, he told police that Jeanne had been a rodeo barrel racer who had been his father's maid before reeling him in as her sixth husband. None of that was true.

All communication between Jeanne and her stepchildren ended after the incident involving Ed Sr.'s ashes, which had been stored at a downtown Phoenix mortuary. Jeanne had postponed several meetings with her stepchildren to discuss when and where to spread the ashes. A year passed, then almost two, and Cricket Tovrea finally decided she'd had enough.

She told attorneys in 1991, "My father was in a prisoner of war camp, and he always said he never wanted to be contained again, to scatter his ashes. So I took it upon myself to get the ashes and get them scattered."

Cricket convinced the mortuary to release the urn. She divvied up the ashes among her siblings, and apparently even gave some to her mother, Priscilla. When Jeanne found out what had transpired, she contacted Hap.

"At that point, I was in between what you might say a rock and a hard spot," he recalled. "I was caught between two families."

Hap said it was the last time he spoke with Jeanne.
Attorney Ken Reeves demanded that the siblings return the ashes to Jeanne. But they claimed it was too late, that they'd already scattered them in various locations.

"It seems ridiculous for us kids to have to return our father's ashes," Priscilla Tovrea said in 1991. "It was our father."

In June 1987, Hap Tovrea became a director of his latest "project," MECA (Minerals Exploration Corporation of the Americas). He later called it "a research-and-development and property-owning company" that bought and sold sulfur mines in Chile.

Around that time, Hap started to speak often--sometimes more than once a day--on the phone from his home in La Jolla to a new acquaintance from Phoenix, James "Butch" Harrod.

Harrod was a self-described consultant--"I'm good at putting people together," he says. But his most noteworthy business venture had been a 1986 trip to China as middleman in a shrimp-farming scheme that never went anywhere (and led to another Valley man's indictment on fraud charges).

Four months after the murder, in August 1988, two Phoenix detectives had interviewed Harrod. They sought him out after phone records indicated that Hap Tovrea had phoned him 33 times in the 10 days before Jeanne's murder. (In fact, the pair called each other more than 1,300 times in a four-year period between July 1987 and April 1991.) According to one of the detective's notes, when Harrod was asked about the flurry of calls in the days leading up to the murder, Harrod explained he and Hap had been conducting legitimate business.

The detectives, Richard Fuqua and Dave Lott, apparently made no connection at the time between Harrod and a shadowy figure in the case--a man who called himself Gordon Phillips.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin