Ted MacArthur: Homicidal Detective

A Nice Woman Marries a Bad Hombre
(“All The World’s a Stage,” Forensic Files)

On the outrageous meter, Ted MacArthur’s explanation for his wife’s death would pretty much make the needle fly out of the machine.

Pilar Sones MacArthur

A detective for the Miami-Dade police force, MacArthur, 38, told the authorities that just for fun, he woke up Pilar MacArthur by squirting her with a water gun on the morning of August 1, 1989.

Sympathetic victim. That’s the relatively believable part. Here’s where he really pushed it. He said that Pilar, who was a corrections officer with firearms training, reacted by playfully putting a real gun up to her own head and pulling the trigger as a joke.

Pilar, 35, thought she had unloaded the weapon, he explained, but she had mistakenly left in one bullet and given herself a fatal wound on the left side of her skull.

Putting aside the insult to our intelligence, “All the World’s a Stage” is a sad and touching episode of Forensic Files.

Pilar MacArthur’s sister, Carmen Barraford, and a good friend, Jenny Alvarez, appear on camera, and they both seem like such sweet, mild souls. But just the same, they rip apart Ted McArthur’s credibility.

European background. Alvarez said that Pilar had found out Ted was cheating on her and she was giving herself a makeover in hopes of winning back the father of her two children.

For this week, I poked around to find out where Ted MacArthur is today and  whether he’s still peddling the same story that paints his late wife as reckless and foolhardy.

But first, here’s a recap of the episode plus some additional facts drawn from internet research.

Pilar and Ted MacArthur

Pilar Sones was born in Valencia, Spain, the daughter of a fisherman and a maid. The family moved to Paris, France, where her parents secured better-paying jobs.

Following her older sister, Pilar moved to Boston. She worked as a nanny at first.

Slippery guy. Something or other drew the dark and striking Pilar to Theodore MacArthur, then a motorcycle policeman who was living in his mother’s basement.

Pilar didn’t know that Ted was still married to his first wife, Betty Lou Williams, and had a child, according to the book Cracking CasesThe Science of Solving Crimes by Dr. Henry Lee with Thomas O’Neil.

Days after Ted’s divorce came through, he married Pilar. They moved to Miami, where she began a career with the prisons system, and he worked his way up to homicide detective.

It was in that capacity that he met and began an affair with a Miami Herald crime reporter. Their romance put a strain on the MacArthur family’s budget.

Bath ploy. At first, Pilar’s efforts to  keep her marriage together seemed successful. Ted said he that was just going through a midlife crisis, claimed he broke off his affair, and offered up a lie — that he would buy Pilar a new house and new car.

It’s not clear why Pilar believed him. According to Alvarez, Pilar was concerned that Ted was already “spending money faster than they could make it.”

Another part of Ted’s atonement consisted of doing nice little things for Pilar, like the time he drew her a relaxing bath, lit candles, and placed a powered-on TV on a ledge near the tub so she could watch her favorite shows.

Once she was in the tub, he caught his foot on a wire and sent the TV plunging toward the bathwater.

Colleagues suspicious. Fortunately, Pilar wasn’t electrocuted. She accepted his excuse that it was an accident. She had no reason to believe her husband would kill her; they had two sons together.

Just a few days after that mishap, Ted called 911 to report that Pilar had shot herself by accident. As a detective, Ted surely knew an investigation would take place. But, overestimating the strength of his reputation, he thought it would be an open and shut matter.

Lead detective Donald Slovonic, however, planned to make the investigation thorough and in-depth. “Most of the people that I spoke with didn’t share a good impression of him,” Slovonic later recalled.

According to Lee’s book:

Sergeant David Rivers, one of MacArthur’s colleagues and a veteran detective with an excellent reputation, later commented, “It was unspoken, but from the first day, there were sidelong glances across the office. We knew he did it.”

The case against Ted MacArthur congealed once the forensic evidence started rolling in. Pilar had no high-velocity blood splatter on her alleged trigger hand, and her fingerprints weren’t on the gun.

Story dissolves. Lee noted that the amount and condition of Pilar’s blood on the bed contradicted Ted’s contention that he immediately moved her body to the floor to begin CPR.

A ballistics expert determined that the fatal gun wound was in the wrong place on Pilar’s head to support Ted’s story about how she shot herself — that the right-handed woman aimed at the left side of her own head.

How did an experienced homicide detective like Ted MacArthur orchestrate his own crime so poorly?

Pilar as a bride

“It’s kind of like the doctor who tells his patients to give up cigarettes but smokes himself,” remarked Slovonic during an appearance on a 2016 Dr. Drew episode that looked back on the case.

Justice delayed. Or maybe it’s more like the way professional hair stylists tend to do a better job on their clients’ hair than on their own.

Whatever the case, Ted’s motivation was rather obvious: A new, $250,000 life insurance policy he took out on Pilar a few weeks before her death would bring his total payout to $470,000.

Investigators theorized Ted shot his wife while she was sleeping and then staged the scene.

The trial started four years after the shooting, on October 24, 1993. By this time, Ted’s newspaper-reporter girlfriend (I wasn’t able to confirm her name, and the Miami Herald articles from that time aren’t available online) had already moved in with him, moved out after a fight during which he allegedly threatened her with a knife, and offered to testify for the prosecution, according to Lee.

Courtside boast. Dade County assistant state attorney Susan Dannelly prosecuted the case, during which MacArthur remained notably calm. He had testified at numerous trials over his career, so perhaps his own didn’t rattle him. According to Lee:

MacArthur was supremely confident of his acquittal and even held a news conference predicting this outcome and promising legal action against his accusers.

The jury delivered its verdict on December 8, 1993, after nine hours of deliberation: guilty of first-degree murder. A round of applause broke out in the courtroom.

Ted then began his life as prisoner #123207 with the Florida Department of Corrections. But it wasn’t the last time his named surfaced in a legal action.

History of lying. In 2002, MacArthur’s dubious record came up during a battle over whether a drug-related murder conviction against a criminal named Rolando Garcia should be overturned because MacArthur had worked for the prosecution.

Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Christina Spaulding cited the discovery of MacArthur’s dishonesty as one reason to review the Garcia case.

A Sun Sentinel story about the Garcia case mentioned that MacArthur was known to use the phrase, “A lie is as good as the truth if someone believes it.”

MacArthur circa 2017

In regard to his own murder conviction, MacArthur, 65, is still maintaining his innocence — and that his late wife, who spoke three languages fluently, didn’t know enough not to play with guns.

Different kind of ink. He resides in the SFRC South Unit prison in Doral. At 5’10” and 250 pounds, he is presumably finding prison fare appetizing.

According to his inmate profile, MacArthur has acquired a number of intricate tattoos, including one that says “Pilar.”

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR

13 thoughts on “Ted MacArthur: Homicidal Detective”

  1. Good grief. Ted MacArthur really does write a new chapter in the book on stupidity and hubris. There must be a connection between thinking that you’re totally justified in taking whatever you want (in MacArthur’s case, any woman who was not his wife seemed to be what he felt he deserved to have) and thinking that you can literally get away with murder. The degree to which people can be self-deluded is amazing. What a jerk.

    1. Yes, that was quite a lot of misplaced optimism on his part. And I’ll never understand people who kill their children’s other parent.

    2. The deceased’s being foreign may be significant: could she “read” him as well as if she’d been American, sensing somewhat his fakeness (as a possible psychopath)?

  2. Thanks, RR, for another good summary of a case I saw recently. Yet again in FF we learn of a life insurance scam: one conducted by someone who really should have known better… But this nasty piece of work bears the hallmark of many FF antagonists: arrogance. Good to know the police dept reviewing cases he worked on that may have turned on his honesty. How many yet-undiscovered dishonest cops have effected conviction by such means? (We know that prosecutors have failed to disclose exculpatory evidence.) Apparently, cops who’ve been dishonest are sometimes referred to as “Brady cops.” Because of the Brady ruling, prosecutors are required to notify defendants and their attorneys whenever a law enforcement official involved in their case has a sustained record for knowingly lying in an official capacity.

    1. So glad you liked the recap. And yikes, it’s unfortunate that they even need a Brady rule — but good that it’s there.

  3. Excellent recap! Conjecturing why he had ‘Pilar’ tattooed on his horrible self, it may prove that killing may have nothing to do with disliking the victim. With mob hits, it’s often a close friend who does it. Perhaps with some psychopaths it’s a matter of convenience more so than malice. Thou shalt not kill, she’s his spouse, and all, but he wanted to marry some else and he needed dough. Thanks again.

    1. The ‘Pilar’ tattoo: possibly guilt; more likely an emblem to suggest his innocence (he must have loved her to have her name on him…) Apparently he still denies the murder. You’re probably right, Bruce: he didn’t hate her, he just loved money (and the latest affair) more… What a s**t.

      1. I rethought the matter. Marcus is more spot on. The tattoo was to fake grief. A passing thought, too, is a psychopath may not register love or hate, and other people are simply there for the criminal’s benefit. I think some psychopaths hate everyone, and are able to fake normal regard for others.

          1. … But he would know that this would appear inconsistent with the claim of innocence, surely? It may be a trophy personally, but for others’ consumption I suspect it’s emblematic of (false) innocence.

            Psychopaths’ sympathy and empathy may be dulled, but they can reproduce these behaviours, copied from others, which is why they can attract people… who then learn that it’s fake. The psychopath’s callous, yet charming; conning and manipulating others with charisma and intimidation, effectively mimicking feelings to present as “normal.” Organized in their criminal thinking and behaviour, they can maintain emotional and physical control, displaying little to no emotional or autonomic arousal, even under situations that most would find threatening or horrifying. The psychopath is aware that what he or she is doing is wrong, but doesn’t care.

            Hard to say whether this guy is a sociopath or psychopath (difference of degree rather than kind, with all psychopaths being sociopaths, but not vice-versa.)

    1. Thanks for the great lead, Lisa — I found her picture and story online. It looks as though she’s done a good job of putting her MacArthur years behind her.

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