Investigations Into Thomas Abbott's Brutal Death Were Botched by Phoenix Police; His Family's Convinced It's Because He Was Gay

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American Express provides life insurance coverage to employees through MetLife. In October 2004, Thomas listed three people as equal beneficiaries: brother Lee, sister Elizabeth, and ex-boyfriend Skip Buchanan.

But in October 2006, Thomas named Buchanan as his sole beneficiary. His sister Liz became the contingency beneficiary, in the event Buchanan became ineligible or unable to collect the money.

In early 2008, Buchanan — without a driver's license (revoked because of his DUIs), saddled with a $22,000 IRS debt, and jobless — showed up at Tom Abbott's home in Arizona.

Abbott apparently wasn't involved romantically, and he and Buchanan were finished as a couple. But he offered Buchanan a couch to sleep on, and more:

Abbott agreed to pay Buchanan's cell-phone bill, added him to his gym membership, and opened a joint account with E-Trade, the online brokerage outfit.

With Abbott's help, Buchanan got a job at a Phoenix travel agency.

But Abbott confided in close friends about Buchanan and the nature of their relationship.

"When Frank moved here, Tom was very terrified," colleague Karen Griffin later told police. "I asked him why he was letting Frank live with him. He said, 'I didn't have a choice.'"

Abbott switched to the night shift, telling work confidants it was because he would be able to avoid Buchanan that way.

Abbott and Buchanan obviously were deeply connected on many levels, especially financially and emotionally.

In 2008, Patrick Roland was editor of Echo Magazine, the Valley publication that caters to the gay and lesbian community.

He and Skip Buchanan met that September and fell for each other.

Roland's apartment was about 15 minutes on foot from Tom Abbott's place, which made the relationship convenient for Buchanan.

Roland tells New Times that Buchanan soon began drinking to excess and beating him.

"A lot of the time it would be because he was pissed at Thomas for something," Roland says. "He would apologize the next day and promise to do better. I said sure. I was like a Stepford wife."

Buchanan moved in with Patrick Roland in March 2009.

Early that May, according to Roland, Buchanan learned that Abbott was contemplating a move back to Florida, where sister Elizabeth planned to return.

The possibility infuriated Buchanan, Roland says; Buchanan took it out on him on the evening of May 2, allegedly grabbing him by the throat at their home and hitting him with closed fists. (Buchanan denies this.)

Roland fled and went to Abbott's place. Buchanan soon tracked him there and got into the apartment, where, according to Roland, he went wild on Abbott — pounding him repeatedly in the face and midsection.

Patrick Roland called 911, and Phoenix police responded.

"They must have figured it was three fags acting up on a Saturday night," Roland says of the police response. "Frank wound up back at my place. I had to stay with Thomas, who was really hurting from the beating. It was all sick stuff."

Why didn't Tom Abbott press criminal charges against Buchanan or inform the police about their violent past?

"He was doing what I did and what other people do in domestic-violence situations," Roland says. "He was protecting the bad guy."

On May 4, Roland asked Maricopa County mental-health authorities to evaluate Skip Buchanan as a danger to himself and to others. Buchanan was hospitalized for one day. He soon was back at Roland's place, asking for forgiveness and swearing allegiance.

"Frank convinced me that Thomas was a hateful, devious person who was trying to break us up," Roland says. "I never spoke to [Thomas] again."

Abbott never worked another day at American Express after the May 2 incident.

Knowing of Buchanan's history with their brother, Abbott's sisters flew to Phoenix a week after the May 2 assault.

Martha Novorr says her brother was very ill when she arrived, unable to keep food down, badly bruised, and depressed. He promised to see a doctor for treatment, but apparently never did.

The sisters persuaded Abbott to escape to Dallas, where Novorr is an executive for an international fitness firm.

"Thomas told me, 'I'm afraid,'" Novorr recalls. "I said, 'Afraid of starting over? Of dying?' He laughed. 'I've lived about four lives already — I'm not scared of dying. I'm terrified of Frank.'"

Martha Novorr quickly found a condo for her brother to rent in Dallas.

Abbott decided to give away most of his belongings to friends in Phoenix, including one of his two cars, a Jaguar. He offered it to co-worker Karen Griffin and her husband, David, a sheriff's detention officer. He promised his flat-screen TV to another colleague, Mike Talley.

On May 27, Patrick Roland flew to Ohio for a few days. Buchanan asked him to leave his car keys, which was surprising because Buchanan didn't have a driver's license.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin