Richard Lyon: An Epilogue

Update on Nancy Dillard Lyon’s Killer
(“Writer’s Block,” Forensic Files)

Just a quick post this week with an epilogue for Richard Lyon.

Richard and Nancy Lyon had two daughters

The last post told the story of the poisoning death of Lyon’s wife, 37-year-old architect Nancy Dillard Lyon.

Richard Lyon pleaded not guilty at his 1991 murder trial. But a Texas court rejected his blame-the-victim strategy — which included a contention that Nancy had brought about her own slow demise by intentionally consuming arsenic and barium carbonate over a long period of time.

A jury convicted him of first-degree murder, and Lyon began a life sentence at the W.F. Ramsey Unit prison farm at the tender age of 34.

Sorry, sir. He became eligible for parole 15 years later in 2006. That bid was rejected, although the Texas Department of Justice website gives no explanation.

On his most recent review date, February 3, 2016, a parole board denied him again, and this time specified the reasons. It cited his crime as involving “elements of brutality, violence” and “conscious selection of victim’s vulnerability.”

He posed “a continued threat to public safetly,” according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

His next chance will come in 2021, when he’s 64.

In the meantime, Richard Lyon denies that he murdered his wife.

Richard Lyon, right, in a photo from from his website, which advocates for his innocence

No rescue. A website created by Richard Lyon and his supporters (whoever they are) solicits donations and pro bono legal help. He maintains that he had nothing to do with Nancy’s death:

“His supposed crime was that he poisoned his wife, Nancy, so he could inherit her money and status in the community and then, begin his new life with his mistress. This narrative has been spewed for decades and portrayed in film in addition to being plastered all over the Internet.”

Lyon has applied to the Innocence Project of Texas and New York, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law Innocence Project, and the House of Renewed Hope.

So far, those organizations have declined to take on his case.

Dillard parents. If he ever does get out, he won’t find Tami Ayn Gaisford — the co-worker with whom he began an affair while married to Nancy — waiting for him. She still lives in Texas but married someone else.

As for updates on family members of the Lyons, I wasn’t able to find out who took custody of the couple’s little daughters after Richard went to prison. But Allison and Anna are adults now.

Nancy’s father, William “Big Daddy” Dillard,  died in 2006 after a 59-year marriage to Sue Stubbs Dillard that produced four children. She passed away in 2009. (They are not the same Dillards who founded the Dillard’s department store chain. Nancy’s family made its fortune in commercial real estate.)

Nancy and Richard Lyon during their marriage

Another tragedy. Incidentally, William and Sue Dillard had already lost one of their adult children, Thomas, in 1986. He died of a brain tumor.

In murdering Nancy five years later, Richard Lyon took away yet another child from the Dillard family.

Let’s hope someone brings that up at the 2021 parole hearing.

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

Nancy Dillard Lyon: Writing’s on the Wall

A Husband Tries to Mess with Texas
“Writer’s Block,” (Forensic Files)

When Richard Lyon first began sneaking poison into his wife’s beverages, he probably hoped she would promptly die and doctors would attribute the tragedy to natural causes, end of story.

Nancy Dillard Lyon

But he was ready for a criminal investigation into Nancy Dillard Lyon’s death just the same.

Dallas drama. He prepared documents designed to make it look as though a) Nancy committed suicide, b) her brother murdered her to hide family secrets, or c) an ex-colleague had her killed to stop her from testifying in an embezzlement case.

He thought he had all the angles covered.

Fortunately, the state of Texas and Nancy’s family weren’t so easily fooled. They succeeded in getting  Richard Lyon removed from the Dallas Country Club and deposited into the W. F. Ramsey Unit on a prison farm in Rosharon.

Here’s a recap of “Writer’s Block,” the Forensic Files episode about the case, plus additional information from internet research.

Richard Lyon was born on April 22, 1957 to a middle class family of five children in Connecticut. His father sold insurance. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, then headed to the Harvard School of Design for a graduate degree in landscaping and architecture.

Ivy League sweethearts. There, he met Nancy Dillard, whose parents were wealthy and influential enough for her father’s nickname to be Big Daddy. He had made a fortune in commercial real estate in Texas. But the money hadn’t spoiled Nancy. She was hard-working and practical.

In a Texas Monthly story, Gayle Golden wrote about Nancy and Richard’s early years:

“At Harvard, they had teamed up on all their projects, working through the night until collapsing together in the single bed they shared. According to friends, Nancy had the ideas, Richard the speedy execution.”

The two purposely tweaked their handwriting so it looked similar enough that he could get away with handing in papers she’d written for him.

Richard Lyon at the trial

They married in 1982 and moved into a duplex in University Park, an affluent section of Dallas.

Folks, it’s Camelot. Forensic Files portrayed Nancy as a sweet and generous soul, an assessment corroborated by Golden, a newspaper reporter who lived in the other half of the duplex owned by the Lyons.

Nancy quickly worked her way up to a partnership at Trammell Crow, a real estate development firm. Richard did well for himself as a project manager at a landscape architectural firm.

By 1990, they had two small daughters and lots of friends, swam at the country club, and joined in vacations underwritten by Nancy’s parents, William W. Dillard Sr. and Sue Stubbs Dillard.

She and Richard continued to enjoy working together, Gayle Golden recounted:

“On their own they transformed the once-scrawny back yard into a little paradise, planting trees and wisteria, driving bricks into sand to make a patio, hanging chimes and a hammock.”

They constructed a dollhouse “shingle by shingle” for their daughter Allison.

Neighbor Gayle Golden’s Texas Monthly story

Homewrecker. But, as every Forensic Files watcher knows, idyllic-looking existences tend to give way. Richard began an affair with a coworker named  Tami Ayn Gaisford around 1989. Nancy found out, but instead of getting mad, she got depressed.

She hoped the affair would blow over. Richard left her on at least one occasion but returned and put on the loving husband act, all the while intending to escape from the marriage.

But the mild-mannered 5-foot-7-inch Richard needed a way that wouldn’t mean losing custody of his kids or the affluence and prestige that Nancy Dillard Lyon’s family brought to his life.

And there was something else to gain: Nancy’s $500,000 life insurance payout.

Toxic husband. Richard first sprang into action by sprinkling a powdered poison into a soda he bought for Nancy at the movies. The drink tasted terrible and made her sick later that evening. She survived that attempt.

It wasn’t clear what type of poison he used on that occasion.

On a subsequent try, he gave her vitamin capsules laced with barium carbonate. Still, she lived.

At some point, he switched to arsenic, which he probably put in her food and a bottle of wine left anonymously on their porch.

It worked.

Nice playacting. A grim-looking Richard showed up on Golden’s doorstep in January 1991 to ask if she and her husband would look after his daughters while he took Nancy to the emergency room. She had nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

“Do you think you can make it downstairs?” Gayle Golden overheard Richard say to Nancy in a sweet voice. “I’ll carry you.”

Nancy  Lyon, seen here with First Lady Barbara Bush, came from an influential family

During her six-day stay at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, Nancy’s violent illness continued and she begged the medical staff not to save her life.

Doctors frantically did tests to find the cause of her illness. She died before they had a chance, on January 14, 1991, at the age of 37.

Forensic tests. Nancy’s father, William Dillard Sr., was none-too-pleased that his son-in-law made the decision to terminate her life support without consulting him or his wife. It would come up in court later.

Meanwhile, a laboratory found lethal amounts of arsenic in Nancy’s hair, liver, and kidneys. The strands of hair served as a map of doses of arsenic that coincided with Richard’s interactions with his wife.

Aware that the No. 1 suspect is always the husband, Richard was armed and ready with the aforementioned forged documents designed to look as though Nancy wrote them.

He produced diary entries detailing childhood sexual abuse Nancy’s brother had allegedly perpetrated against her. Perhaps that would prove that either her brother killed her or that Nancy was so distraught over the bad memories she took her own life.

Find a Patsy. The grieving husband also showed authorities an anonymous letter Nancy had received; it threatened violence if she went ahead and testified against a former colleague named David Bagwell who allegedly embezzled $720,000 from Trammell Crow.

Nancy had told doctors about the mystery wine; maybe it was from Bagwell and contained arsenic.

Testifying on his own behalf at the trial, Richard Lyon tried to implicate Bagwell. Nancy had called him a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” he alleged.

And in case that didn’t work, Richard could rely on a receipt for arsenic trioxide, barium carbonate, and two other deadly substances — signed by Nancy — as evidence that she deliberately poisoned herself.

Jerri Sims led the prosecution for the state

Paper Lyon. At the trial, prosecutor Jerri Sims called on a handwriting expert who could see the small differences between Richard’s and Nancy’s handwriting. He determined the diary entries were forgeries, created by Richard.

Chemical Engineering Co., where Richard claimed the arsenic came from, said that the receipts it issued to customers looked nothing like the one Richard presented; it was fabricated evidence.

And the anonymous threatening letter on behalf of her former coworker was a big nothing. No one could trace it to anyone involved in the embezzlement case.

Tami Ayn Gaisford, Richard’s girlfriend, testified that Richard had told her that Nancy died from a rare fatal blood disease — more proof that he was a liar.

Facing reality. While Golden described Nancy as “infuriatingly optimistic” about saving her marriage when Richard first left her, it came out at the trial that her hopefullness had finally receded: At some point, she had quietly removed her husband as beneficiary of her life insurance policy.

She also shut him off from their joint bank accounts. She didn’t appreciate his using $5,900 to buy a ring for Gaisford.

In 1990, Nancy had hired a divorce attorney, Mary Henrich, in whom she confided her suspicion that Richard was poisoning her — something she felt too embarrassed to tell police, according to court records from Richard Lyon’s unsuccessful 1994 appeal.

Nancy planned to move to Washington, D.C., with her daughters after the divorce, a 1991 AP story said.

Ants implicated. At the trial, internist Dr. Ali Bagheri noted that Richard was “smiling, joking, and laughing” with hospital staff members during his wife’s emergency room visit.

A detective noted that upon being informed that Nancy had passed away from poisoning, Richard Lyon didn’t ask any questions.

Lyon later admitted to buying some poisons, for killing fire ants in his yard, he said.

But members of the jury brought their healthy skepticism with them for the two-week trial.

Bar exam. They took three hours to find Richard Lyon guilty of first-degree murder.

Judge John Creuzot didn’t buy Lyon’s story

During sentencing, Judge John C. Creuzot said that Lyon used “various and sundry chemicals to kill Nancy. The first two didn’t work, and you finally finished her off with arsenic, a tried-and-true method of producing death.”

Creuzot gave him life in jail and a $10,000 fine.

His sentence began on December 19, 1991 — less than a year after Nancy Dillard Lyon died. Texas courts don’t mess around.

Today, Richard Alan Abood Lyon is prisoner No. 00612188 in the capable hands of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

An upcoming post will look into developments in his case since the conviction.

Until then, cheers. RR

Update: Read Part 3

Nancy Dillard Lyon’s Murder

Her Husband Fooled Everyone at First
(“Writer’s Block,” Forensic Files)

If the story of Nancy Dillard Lyon’s death sounds a little familiar, it’s because her husband chose to kill her via poisoning, the same method used by Dr. Anthony Pignataro, the subject of a recent blog post.

Nancy and Richard met in architecture school

Pignataro, an egomaniacal underqualified plastic surgeon, failed in his efforts. Debbie Pignataro survived the doses of arsenic the doctor slipped into her food and lived to see him imprisoned.

No showboat. Nancy Dillard Lyon wasn’t so lucky. The architect died on January 14, 1991 after her husband, Richard, sneaked harmful chemicals — one of them arsenic — into her comestibles over a long stretch of time.

He almost got away with it.

Unlike the narcissistic Pignatoro, Lyon was an outwardly modest man respected in his profession and in his community in Dallas, Texas.

The 34-year-old father of two managed to evade suspicion until after his wife died. And even then, he forearmed his defense attorneys with an armory’s worth of hard-to-refute evidence.

Media binge. But the criminal justice system nailed Lyon, who had an Ivy League degree, just the same. It’s always refreshing to see investigators untangle a plot concocted by someone sure he can outsmart them.

The story became the subject of not only the Forensic Files episode “Writer’s Block” but also an hour-long Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege, and Justice and a made-for-TV movie called Death in Small Doses starring Tess Harper, Richard Thomas, and Glynnis O’Connor.

Upcoming posts will offer a recap of “Writer’s Block” along with some other research about the case as well as an epilogue for Richard Lyon, who is 60 years old and still among the living.

Until then, cheers. RR  

Update: Read Part 2

Rodger Broadway: Magazine Crew Murderer

A Door-to-Door Salesman Has Little Regard for Life
(“Death by a Salesman,” Forensic Files)

Rodger Broadway’s decision to burglarize a house with an unlocked front door and then kill the surprised homeowner was spontaneous.

Eskalene DeBorde

But the explanation for how the Bronx, New York, native ended up in Eskalene DeBorde’s Tennessee neighborhood in the first place offers a glimpse into a little-known industry rife with malice of forethought.

Paging help. DeBorde, a 66-year-old typist for the University of Kentucky, had no reason to suspect a van would drive into her corner of Knox County and drop off a group of ex-cons and other former offenders tasked with selling magazine subscriptions door to door.

It was 2001, when anyone desiring a subscription could order one online or go low-tech and fill out a card that fell out of any issue of Good Housekeeping or Cosmopolitan or Sports Illustrated at a newsstand.

Consumers weren’t exactly longing for Reader’s Digest salespeople to show up the way kids hope for Good Humor trucks.

The magazine publishers, however, did have a need. The decline of Publisher’s Clearinghouse and the rise of the Do Not Call List were taking a toll on subscription sales, according to a New York Times investigative report.

Shadow industry. While respectable media organizations like Hearst, Time Inc., and Condé Nast had no hand in creating magazine crews like the one that recruited Broadway, they would use a chain of middlemen to acquire subscriptions that the crew members sold to people door to door.

Rodger Broadway

The salespeople tend to benefit the least from the crews, according to organizations that track and study them. Magazine crew businesses seem to function at best as multilevel marketing schemes and at worst as vehicles for fraud, indentured servitude, and physical abuse against the salespeople.

Not that this in any way mitigates the cruelty of Broadway’s actions. But it sheds light on one of many types of businesses that prey upon undereducated people looking for opportunities.

The New York Times exposé of magazine crews dates back to 2007, but The Atlantic  wrote about them as recently as 2015. Currently, at least three humanitarian organizations — Polaris, Parent Watch, and the National Consumers League’s Child Labor Coalition — advocate for young people ensnared by magazine crews.

Neighborhood suddenly risky. More information about that will follow, but first, here’s a recap of Death by a Salesman, the Forensic Files episode about the Rodger Broadway murder case:

Eskalene DeBorde lived just a few blocks away from Lynn Noffsinger, her grown daughter who had small children.

DeBorde left her doors unlocked to make it easier for her daughter to drop by with her kids. Crime hadn’t been a problem in the area until August 20, 2001.

That day, one of the salesman who descended upon her Knoxville neighborhood to sell subscriptions was 21-year-old Broadway. He had once served time for aggravated robbery, meaning that he either committed the theft with a deadly weapon or caused bodily harm to the victim.

Lynn Noffsinger

Worst fear comes true. He probably rang or knocked on DeBorde’s door and entered after getting no answer, because she was typing upstairs. Accounts vary as to whether he broke into her home office on the second floor or she emerged and confronted him.

Whichever the scenario, Broadway beat and raped the grandmother, stabbed her through the neck, stole her credit cards and keys, poured himself a soda in her kitchen, and fled in her car.

His explanation for the incident was reported in a Knoxville News-Sentinel article:

“She was not scared. She was feisty… I didn’t come to her house to even do none of that. I went blank because she just … made me beyond mad, she made me (expletive) angry.”

Speedy police-work. DeBorde’s daughter discovered the crime scene around dinner time and called 911. Fortunately, she didn’t have to suffer an agonizing wait for justice.

The authorities solved the crime in less than a day.

Neighbors told investigators about the magazine salesmen they’d seen walking around in white shirts and black ties.

Authorities tracked down their supervisor at a Super 8 motel and spotted DeBorde’s 1997 Mazda Protege parked nearby.

He told police that Broadway was on a Greyhound bus back to New York to tend to a family emergency.

Nailed by the evidence. The supervisor admitted that members of his team had criminal records but said they were rehabilitated.

Sheriff’s deputies in Virginia stopped the bus on Interstate 81 and arrested Broadway.

Once in custody, Broadway couldn’t refute video footage showing him using DeBorde’s card at a gas station on the night of the murder or his fingerprints on her car window and a drinking glass in her kitchen.

There was also the matter of the bloody clothes and flower-shaped diamond engagement ring discovered in his travel bag.

Later, a lab matched samples taken from the victim’s rape test kit to Broadway’s DNA.

Door-to-door danger. To avoid the death penalty, the 6-foot-3-inch 202-pound killer accepted a life sentence without parole plus 50 years.

Broadway’s story pretty much ends there, but the scourge of the magazine crews continued.

Shortly after the DeBorde attack, door-to-door magazine sellers committed two more sexual assaults in Tennessee.

At this point, it’s understandable if you can’t imagine having any sympathy for the plight of the people who sell house to house on magazine crews.

Neither could I until I found all the research showing that they’re often victims, too.

Police interview workers at a gas station where Broadway asked for directions after the murder

Grim rewards. The NY Times story tells of jobseekers in their teens and early 20s enticed to join “mag crews” with the promise of seeing the country, having fun, earning $500 or more a week, and accruing points toward tropical vacations.

But in reality, the better part of the commissions are kicked upstairs. Sellers can end up receiving only $10 to $15 a day, sleeping several to a room in cheap motels, being pressured to meet high sales quotas, and receiving drugs instead of wages.

According to Parent Watch founder Earlene Williams as quoted in The Atlantic story:

“Research shows these people mostly come from very low-income situations, may have had trouble with the law, and are earnestly trying to dig themselves out of a hole. They’re vulnerable because they don’t feel like they’re worth anything and the crew managers instill a culture of fear and manipulation.”

John Simpson, a former mag crew member interviewed for a video accompanying the NY Times article, said his supervisors turned him into an enforcer who would beat up team members for not producing enough sales.

(A lawyer for the National Field Selling Association said on camera that abuse claims are exaggerated.)

One former crew member named Isaac James interviewed for the NY Times video said he would filch jewelry and electronics from homeowners while their backs were turned, then use the proceeds to buy magazine subscriptions himself so he would make his quota.

Modern-day Joads. The crew leaders reportedly have abandoned underperforming members at bus stations without enough money for a ticket home. Polaris reports that 25 percent of the calls it receives about sales crews involve “workers left behind in unfamiliar areas.”

Like Okies in debt to the company store, crew members who wish to return to their faraway homes sometimes can’t because they owe the magazine crew owner money for their food and lodging.

Many of the magazine-selling businesses hire crew members as independent contractors, according the NY Times, which means management has no responsibility to give them benefits. (It also relieves the selling businesses’ owners of liability for any wrongs the members may commit.)

Tennessee’s Northeast Correctional Complex

Parent Watch, which Williams created after her own child had a bad experience on a magazine crew, offers resources to crew members and their concerned parents. She advises consumers to turn away door-to-door peddlers.

It’s not just a matter of safety. The Atlantic reported that the subscriptions, hawked with well-practiced sales tactics (“I only need 100 more points for a basketball scholarship”), cost up to $150 apiece and sometimes the magazines never show up.

Lawmakers have looked for ways to better monitor magazine crews. Back in 1999, Wisconsin Senator Herbert Kohn introduced legislation to regulate the industry, but it failed.

Next chapter. In 2014, the Broadway case was cited by a Knox County clerk pressing for better enforcement of a $55-a-month peddler license mandate for anyone not affliated with a religious or nonprofit group, or who doesn’t own a business within Knox County.

Polaris concentrates on regulations that protect the crew members from exploitation. The nonprofit defines abusive magazine crew practices as a form of human trafficking and advocates for the National Fair Labor Standards Act to cover door-to-door sales. It also pushes for magazine publishers to practice transparency regarding their supply chains.

The organization operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which offers help for victims and enables concerned observers to report suspected abuse.

Today, with digital publishing increasingly rendering Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and other former giants of the print magazine business into shrinking pamphlets, perhaps in the near future, magazine crews will die out.

Rodger Erick Broadway has apparently already resigned himself to fading away quietly. Internet research reveals no evidence of attempts to void his sentence.

Behind razor wire. In his late 30s by now, Broadway is prisoner No. 00360958 at the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City, along with 1,800 other inmates.

As a resident of NYC, I’m glad to know that Broadway is in a prison cell in Tennessee instead of making appearances in dark alleyways or lonely subway cars in my town.

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

5 Forensic Files Killers Who Can’t Hurt You Now

Relax, These Heartless Souls Are Out of Commission

With so much cruelty portrayed on Forensic Files,  an update that gives a little peace of mind seems in order for this week.

Sharon Zachary

Sharon Zachary
Huron Valley Complex, Michigan
DOB: 08/05/1965
FF episode: Prints Among Thieves
Crime: Murder, robbery
Victim: Robert Rogers
Outlook: In prison for life, no parole.
The caretaker of the very crotchety and cash-rich Robert Rogers, Sharon Zachary was already in the will, but she couldn’t wait. The 5-foot-1-inch-tall Battle Creek, Michigan, native started helping herself to his money early, then used a pipe to beat the 80-year-old multimillionaire to death in hopes of gaining total access early.

Shannon Agofsky

Shannon Agofsky
Prison: Terre Haute USP, Indiana
DOB: circa 1971
FF episode: Stick ’em Up
Crime: Robbery, murder
Victims: Dan Short, Luther Plant
Outlook: On death row.
Shannon, 18, and his brother Joseph, 23, abducted bank president Dan Short, forced him to unlock the vault in the State Bank of Noel in Missouri, and stole $71,000 on October 6, 1989. Instead of wearing masks to hide their identities, the thieves bound the 52-year-old banker to a weighted chair and threw it into Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. While serving prison time for Short’s murder, Shannon killed fellow inmate Luther Plant in an exercise cage in 2001 and faces the death penalty. In the meantime, he’s active on Facebook. (Joseph Agofsky was convicted of the robbery but not the murder; he died in jail in 2013.)

Lynn Turner

Lynn Turner
Metro State Prison, Atlanta
DOB: 7/13/68
FF episode: Cold Hearted
Crime: Murder
Victims: Glenn Turner, Randy Thompson
Outlook: Dead.
The rather benign-looking mother of two poisoned her 32-year-old common-law husband by sneaking antifreeze into his food, in a bid to collect the firefighter’s $35,000 life insurance payout. After Randy Thompson’s death, it came to light that her previous husband, police officer Glenn Turner, had met his end in a similar way and she had received $150,000 from his insurer. She was convicted of both murders and given life in jail. The prison routine didn’t suit Lynn Turner, and she took her own life via an overdose of propranolol in her cell on August 30, 2010.

Colvin “Butch” Hinton

Colvin “Butch” Hinton
Prison: Hays State Prison, Georgia
DOB: 09/18/1960
FF episode: Ring Him Up High
Crime: Sexual assult, murder
Victims: Shannon Melendi, Tammy Singleton
Outlook: In prison for life, no parole.
Authorities should have never released Hinton after he attempted to rape 14-year-old Tammy Singleton in 1982. But the sexual predator won freedom after just two years. He got a gig as an umpire at a softball game, where he met 19-year-old Emory University sophomore Shannon Melendi on March 26, 1994. He abducted, raped, and strangled her, then burned her body. Afterward, he took his unsuspecting wife out to dinner at an Olive Garden and gave her as a gift a ring stolen from Melendi. It took a decade for authorities to figure out what happened and convict Hinton.

Stacey Castor

Stacey Ruth Castor
Prison: Bedford Hills, New York
DOB: 7/14/67
FF episode: Freeze Framed
Crime: Murder, attempted murder
Victims: David Castor, Ashley Wallace
Outlook: Dead.
Stacey murdered husband David Castor in 2005 by feeding him antifreeze via a soft drink and a turkey baster, then staged his death to look like a suicide. She subsequently attempted to frame her own daughter Ashley Wallace for the crime by forging a confession note. Castor then gave Ashley a beverage with a lethal dose of sleeping pills; fortunately, the the college student got medical help and survived. Stacey might have killed her previous husband, Michael Wallace, as well but no charges were filed. She died of a heart attack in a jail cell on June 11, 2016. She would have been eligible for parole at age 87 — but I wouldn’t trust someone like her at any age.

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

Jim Barton: Bad Lieutenant?

Or Maybe a Railroaded Victim
(“Chief Suspect,” Forensic Files)

This week, it’s back to Forensic Files with one of the more perplexing episodes in the series.

Jim and Vickie Barton as a youngish couple

The evidence used to convict Jim Barton for his alleged role in a home invasion that left his wife dead seemed a little shaky. And unlike other accused Forensic Files spouse killers, Barton was something of a sympathetic character.

While his alleged crime was highly inadvisable, it didn’t carry much in the way of malice — if he really did it, that is. A jury thought so, and convicted him in 2005.

Eye on the prize. I checked into an epilogue for the 6-foot-5-inch former lawman, but first here’s a recap of the episode, “Chief Suspect,” along with additional information from internet research and insights from YouTube commenters.

Jim Barton was a well-liked lieutenant with the Springboro, Ohio, police department. His wife, Vickie, worked as a nurse supervisor at Sycamore Hospital.

The couple met through their love of riding and lived on a horse farm called Locust Knoll in Franklin Township, outside of Springboro. By all reports, Jim and Vickie had a happy marriage.

By the time he was around 40, Jim allegedly was aiming to win the top job of police chief, but that position would usually go to someone who resided within the city limits.

Horrific scene. On April 11, 1995, he called 911 to report finding his wife on the floor. She was undressed, not breathing, and had three bullet wounds to the head from a .22 caliber.

Someone had ransacked the household’s gun collection but didn’t steal anything.

Vickie Barton taught at Kettering College of Medical Arts in Ohio

The crime shocked the small community, and police geared up for a thorough investigation. But they found no suspects and no helpful evidence.

The case went cold for a few years, until police arrested a local career criminal named Gary Henson over an unrelated burglary. Henson said he knew something about the Vickie Barton homicide.

Suicide adds intrigue. His half-brother, William Phelps, was paid $3,000 by Jim Barton to rob his home in order to scare Vickie so that she’d agree to move away from their rural property and into the city of Springboro, Henson contended.

But Phelps went off the rails and raped and murdered Vickie, said Henson, who also told police that the original plan was for Henson himself to go along on the robbery but that he was in jail then.

Phelps committed suicide just weeks after the murder. (Henson later changed his story, testifying that Phelps had an accomplice, and the accomplice was the one who assaulted and killed Vickie.)

The revelations were more than enough reason for a cold case squad to reopen the investigation in 2003.

Detectives listened to Jim Barton’s 911 tape for any hints pertaining to a robbery-for-hire, and came up with a lot of what it considered red flags.

Tale of the tape. First, the detectives noted that Barton referred to the killers in the plural, evidence that he knew that two people committed the crime, they theorized. But as a YouTube commenter noted:

Susan Adams7 months ago  “They” could be said because you don’t know if the person who committed the crime was man, woman, one person or several. Saying “they” shouldn’t have [raised] red flags.

Detectives also interpreted noise on the tape as the sounds of Barton moving objects around, possibly tampering with evidence.

Gary Henson

But the offending noise, which the episode broadcast, sounded rather nonspecific. It could have been the house’s HVAC system or a breeze through a window.

In an interview for “Scared to Death,” a 20/20 episode about the Barton case, Jim Barton said that he looked around the house in case an assailant was still on the scene. Perhaps that accounted for some of the noise on the 911 tape.

Jumping to conclusions. Also, the theory about the attack as a scare tactic seemed a little far-fetched.

Before voting for conviction, I’d want to hear something along the lines of a secret recording of Barton admitting to the crime. No evidence like that existed. As another commenter wrote:

Sam Rod1 year ago (edited) “hmm, the evidence was terrible in convicting this guy. this was a long reach for the prosecution.

And on the subject of long reaches, one of the prosecution’s witnesses (presumably Henson) was hypnotized in order to extract information from him, said Barton defense lawyer Jon Paul Rion.

According to the 20/20 episode, in his earliest police interviews, Henson didn’t mention a robbery-for-hire plan; he added that part of the story later.

Henson sounded like a none-too-reliable witness all in all.

A CBS story published on reported that Vickie’s friends considered the frighten-into-relocating theory a stretch as well: “It would have challenged her to be more aggressive in protecting their farm,” Vickie’s girlfriend Darlene Bisgaard told CBS.

Here’s the part that really made me lose respect for the methodology of the investigation.

Jim Barton in custody

Hokey experiment. On the 911 tape, Barton said, “I gotta call [unintelligible word that sounded like ‘felp’], man.” Prosecutors asserted the garbled word was “Phelps” — thereby proving that Barton was in cahoots with Henson’s half-brother, William Phelps.

Barton maintained that he said “help” as in “I gotta call for help.”

To prove otherwise, the prosecution brought in Robert Fox, an Ohio State University linguistic and acoustic-phonic expert.

“To eliminate any potential bias,” narrator Peter Thomas explained, the professor was given only two choices: Was the word “help” or “Phelps”?

But why even give him suggestions? They should have simply let him interpret the word in question instead of prejudicing him.

Fox concluded that Barton said “Phelps” despite what seemed like a lack of a final “s” sound on the tape.

Failed second marriage. And there were other weak revelations as well. Barton’s second wife, Mary Ann Lacy, said that he sometimes spent time alone in their darkened basement, which investigators translated into evidence of guilt.

But Barton had married Lacy, who was Vickie’s best friend, only 15 months after the murder, and he may have still had sorrow to process. It didn’t make him guilty of anything. Or as an online commenter put it:

Dan Kirchner1 year ago (edited) “so the 2nd wife dumped him for spending alone time in the basement?? wtf? its called a mancave these days, right?”

Another piece of new evidence the prosecutors seized upon: A waitress named Barb Palmer suddenly remembered that, 10 years earlier, she had seen Jim Barton and William Phelps eating together at a local diner called Mom’s Restaurant.

Unless they left her a $100 tip, how could she possibly recall them after all that time?

DNA taken from the crime scene didn’t match that of Gary Henson or William Phelps (authorities exhumed his body to get a sample).

Credit undeserved. But members of the jury apparently harbored few doubts. They convicted Barton of complicity to commit manslaughter. On April 15, 2005, he received a sentence of 15 to 50 years at the Southeastern Correctional Institution in Lancaster.

“Had it not been for the forensic analysis of Jim’s 911 call, the case might never have been solved,” narrator Peter Thomas concludes. But as another commenter noted:

Babalwa Brook2 years ago  “I love how they are crediting forensics for solving this case when it clearly was the informant who brought up Phelps and the waitress who confirmed that dude knew Phelps smh”

The Forensic Files episode left off in 2006, but more has happened since then.

Barton wins a round. In 2015, the  6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that authorities improperly withheld evidence about a break-in that happened in another rural home in Warren County, where the Bartons lived.

Vickie Barton’s mother, Mary Jane Siebert (right), testified for the defense. She is shown with Elaine Barton, who married Jim in 2003.

The panel of judges also said that the state’s case hinged on  “unsupported, shifting and somewhat fantastical” witness testimony (presumably referring to Henson’s assertions).

In March 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reinstate Barton’s conviction, meaning Ohio authorities would have to give him a second trial or set him free.

The following month, Jim’s third wife, Elaine Geswein Barton, put up $350,000 in bail, and he exited prison.

In September 2016, Barton avoided a new trial by entering an Alford plea, whereby the accused maintains his innocence while admitting that enough evidence exists to convict him.

Who knows? Of course, maybe Barton really did cause his wife’s death via the Fargo-like plot that Henson related. The time Barton served behind razor wire seems like adequate punishment for a crime of that nature.

From the evidence shown on Forensic Files and detailed in newspaper stories, however, his chance of being guilty seems around 50 percent. As a juror, I’d want to be 99 percent sure before convicting.

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

Brian Vaughn: A Student-Athlete Kills

A Murdered Dad, a Broken Teen
(“Shattered Innocence,” Forensic Files)

If there’s a Fredo Corleone of Forensic Files, it’s Brian Vaughn. He betrayed a family member, then incriminated himself by blurting out a few words.

Brian Vaughn at 16

Not that the 16-year-old Texan had formulated anything close to a foolproof plan for getting away with his father’s murder in the first place.

Own worst enemy. Investigators picked apart his story in weeks, issuing an arrest warrant two months after the shooting of San Antonio trial lawyer Leslie Vaughn, murdered in his sleep at home.

But it was the student-athlete’s own inadvertent admission to a 911 operator that guaranteed he’d end up in a jail cell rather than a dorm room.

Shattered Innocence,” the episode about the November 10, 1998, crime doesn’t make anyone want to see Brian get away with murder, but it’s still excruciating to hear his unforced error.

The story is also a bittersweet reminder of how small disadvantages feel like the end of the world to a teenager.

Shiny, shiny. Here’a a recap of the episode along with additional information from internet research.

Brian Vaughn was born on May 20, 1982, to Madeline Vaughn, a registered nurse, and Leslie Vaughn, a defense lawyer who started out as an assistant district attorney for Bexar County and later went into private practice.

Brian played basketball well enough to make an athletic scholarship a possibility.

Madeline and Leslie Vaughn

But in 1998, he was wishing for an off-court score: a brand-new car. His used auto was cramping his style.

After his father refused to buy him a new one, the old car conveniently caught on fire. It looked like arson, but no charges were filed.

Leslie Vaughn then agreed to replace the burned-out vehicle with another used one. He and Brian had an argument about it at a car dealership on November 10, 1998.

Concerned older brother. Brian and his father left without making a purchase. Later at home, Chris, Brian’s 12-year-old brother, overheard Brian threaten to quit the basketball team if he didn’t get a new car.

That night, at 1:24 a.m., Brian took Chris to the neighbors’ house. Brian explained to Mr. and Mrs. Floyd that he had called 911 after hearing what sounded like an intruder. He wanted to make sure his brother was safely off the premises while he waited for the police.

On the 911 call, Brian said he heard a gunshot coming from his father’s bedroom, but he couldn’t get in to check on him because the door was locked.

When Deputy Edward Olivares broke down the door, he found Leslie Vaughn, age 44, lying in bed with a gunshot wound to the back of his head. A 10-pound piece of limestone lay on the floor; it had created a conveniently tall hole in the French doors leading to the balcony off the bedroom.

The Vaughns’ balcony

Noxious glass. Brian apparently wanted authorities to think that an unknown intruder had climbed onto the balcony, thrown the rock through the glass, shot his father, and exited the same way he came.

His mother was working the night shift at Methodist Heart Hospital, so Brian didn’t have to worry that detectives would suspect her.

It was he who became the No. 1 suspect early on. Investigators saw evidence that contradicted Brian’s narrative. There was broken glass on top of Leslie’s body, suggesting that he slept through the break-in — an unlikely scenario.

This was no burglary. And more glass shards lay on the rug in the hallway outside the master bedroom door. The fragments created a trail to the bathroom. How did it get there if the assailant came and left via the balcony?

Also, Brian had waited 25 minutes in between leaving the Floyds’ house and phoning emergency services, giving him time to shoot Leslie and stage the scene.

Nothing was stolen from the bedroom.

And the bedroom door handle looked rather flimsy. As a couple online YouTube commenters put it:

• Indy Castleton If my dad was shot I wouldn’t let a locked door prevent me from going inside that’s for sure.
Jocelyn Vernon: I agree if that would of been my parent no door would stop me from getting in the room!!!!

Seeking a scapegoat. Investigators theorized that after dropping off Chris, Brian used his father’s own 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson to shoot him as he slept, then stepped onto the balcony, hurled the rock through the glass, exited through the bedroom door, locked it on the way out, inadvertently tracked shards to the bathroom, washed the gunshot residue from his hands, and called 911.

Brian insisted an unseen intruder was responsible; perhaps one of his dad’s unsavory clients had a grudge. Leslie Vaughn had defended drug dealers, organized crime figures, and other rough characters during his career.

“My father was a strong man,” Brian told an AP reporter. “He would stand up to anybody, no matter what. I think that’s what happened to him.”

It was a nice try, but not enough, especially once investigators took the time to listen to the entire 911 tape.

Final nail. After giving his locked-bedroom-door-can’t-get-in spiel, Brian said that his father was “bleeding from the mouth area.”

“OK, so how do you know he’s bleeding from the mouth area?” the operator asked.

There was no walking back on that one.

According to court documents, Brian told the Floyds that his father was not moving or breathing, which confused them because he had also told them he couldn’t enter the bedroom.

Anguish: Brian Vaughn during his murder trial

The Floyds noted that Brian was wearing a different shirt when he came back to pick up Chris.

Low-profile release? A jury convicted Brian Vaughn in 1999, and a judge sentenced him to 33 years in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Corrections.

Brian was housed at the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, Texas, as well as the Ramsey I prison.

As of 2016, he was still incarcerated, according to the Inside Prison.

It always seemed a little unfair that the court tried him as an adult when he committed the murder for a child’s reasons. Also, it sounded as though he did so in a fit of anger rather than out of diabolical blood lust.

He became eligible for parole in 2017 — and it looks as though he won it. Inmate lookup websites for Texas have no listing for a Brian Leslie Vaughn anymore.

What could have been. I searched online for any media coverage related to his release, but nothing turned up. Brian would be 35 today, not old, but past his prime in his sport.

“He was a good athlete,” Bexar County Homicide Detective Al Damiani said in his interview with Forensic Files. “He could have played basketball in college and had the time of his life.”

Perhaps, unlike Michael Corleone, Brian’s younger brother will be forgiving and the two of them, along with their mother, can be a family again.

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

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

Anthony Pignataro: Bad Plastic Surgeon

And an Even Worse Husband
(“Bad Medicine,” Forensic Files)

The Forensic Files episode about Dr. Anthony Pignataro isn’t in heavy rotation on TV for some reason, so you may not have caught it multiple times.

The couple in better days

But really, all one needs is a single viewing to remember it forever.

Bad Medicine” tells of how an egotistical cosmetic surgeon accidentally kills a patient, then deliberately poisons his wife.

Overconfident. And here’s the part that’s pretty much impossible to forget.

Years before his crimes, Anthony Pignataro made a name for himself as the inventor of the snap-on toupee, which attaches to a man’s head via bolts surgically implanted in the skull.

Pignataro started losing his hair at age 23 and was his own first customer.

I’m not sure whether it was the hairpiece or not, but Pignataro thought an awful lot of himself. Once he opened his own plastic surgery facility, he didn’t see the need to hire an anesthesiologist or a qualified nurse to help him.

Those deficiencies eventually led to prison time and the loss of Pignataro’s livelihood. For this week’s post, I looked around to see what Pignataro, who was released in 2013, is doing today.

The house the Pignataros shared in West Seneca

Summer love. But first, here’s a recap of the episode, along with other information culled from internet research as well as Ann Rule’s book about the case, Last Dance, Last Chance.

Deborah Rago, born in 1957, came from a financially strapped family in Williamsville, New York.

In 1978, when Debbie was working as a pharmacy technician, she met Lehigh University student Anthony Pignataro, who Rule described as almost 6 feet tall with “classic, balanced features.”

One night, they fell in love on the dance floor to the Donna Summer hit “Last Dance.”

The son of Ralph Pignataro, a respected surgeon in Buffalo, Anthony wanted to follow his father into the profession. The mainland U.S. medical schools he applied to rejected him, however, so he enrolled at the San Juan Bautista School of Medicine in Puerto Rico.

None-too-impressive. Debbie waited for him to finish, and they finally married in 1985. Within the first year, a concerned party tipped her off that Anthony was cheating on her.

She took her father’s advice to “forgive once” and decided Anthony deserved another chance.

The professionals at the hospitals where the young surgeon worked, on the other hand, didn’t think the guy merited any chance as a physician.

They figured out pretty quickly that the arrogant doctor in their midst had some scary gaps in his knowledge.

But incompetent people rarely get kicked out of their fields right away.

Pignataro eventually opened his own plastic surgery practice in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca, New York. He made a fortune doing breast implants and other cosmetic procedures.

Moneybags. To widen his profit margin, Pignataro skimped on overhead costs. He hired a licensed practical nurse (instead of a registered nurse) and a high school student to assist him.

Victim Sarah Smith

The Pignataros had a son and daughter by this time and lived in a big house in West Seneca. Anthony and his toupee cruised around in a red Lamborghini.

Meanwhile, he made some bad surgical mistakes. After performing an abdominoplasty on a patient named Teri LaMarti, he allegedly left her with open bleeding wounds, then yelled at her when she complained.

But back in those pre-Yelp days, word didn’t get around fast enough, and the practice continued to thrive until tragedy struck.

Utter fraud. In 1996, a 26-year-old mother of two from Depew, New York, stopped breathing during a breast augmentation operation. Pignataro’s facility didn’t have a ventilator, and Sarah Smith died.

The investigation that followed laid bare the incompetence of Anthony Pignataro for all the world to see.

It turned out that he wasn’t a board certified plastic surgeon or even a qualified plastic surgeon. He hadn’t administered Sarah Smith’s anesthetic properly. The New York state health board ended up charging him with 30 counts of professional misconduct in all.

Anthony pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and received six months in jail, a $5,000 fine, and community service. He lost his medical license. Judge Ronald H. Tills noted that Pignataro would “never practice medicine again — anywhere in the world.”

And there wasn’t any fancy legal footwork to delay jail time. The judge had Pignataro taken directly from the court room to a prison cell, while Debbie Pignataro “sobbed in the back row,” according to a 1998 AP story.

Loyal wife. After his release, Anthony had trouble finding another job, but Debbie stood by him. His well-to-do mother, Lena Pignataro, helped out the family financially.

Anthony had another affair, and Debbie took him back again.

But soon, emotional anguish was the least of her problems.

In 1999, Debbie started feeling ill with nausea and numbness of the limbs and severe pain elsewhere. The symptoms came and went. When they were bad, she had to stay in bed.

Debbie Pignataro in an appearance circa 2004

Debbie began having memory loss and needed to use a wheelchair at times.

Anthony told her the answer was to have her gall bladder removed, but her doctors vetoed that plan; they said surgery would kill her in her weakened state.

Finally, one of her doctors did a hair test and figured out what was wrong. Debbie had consumed 29,580 milligrams of arsenic.

Convoluted idea. Anthony suggested that the family of Sarah Smith, the patient who died, was poisoning Debbie to punish him. But the arsenic was traced to some ant insecticide the good doctor had purchased himself.

He was sneaking arsenic into his wife’s food, investigators determined.

The prosecution found evidence suggesting that Anthony hoped the arsenic poisoning would cause Debbie to die during surgery so that the medical establishment would see it was normal for operations to kill people sometimes — and he would thus be absolved for Sarah Smith’s death.

Anthony Pignataro ended up pleading guilty to charges related to the arsenic poisoning. Judge Mario J. Rossetti labeled the former surgeon’s life “a charade of misrepresentation,” called him self-centered and manipulative, and said he showed “disrespect for the value of human life.”

Despite his guilty plea, Anthony at various times claimed that Debbie Pignataro poisoned herself in a suicide bid, a claim ridiculed by Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita.

Back at it. Debbie, who appeared on Forensic Files, remarked without bitterness that a) she would never harm herself and b) her ex-husband should be forced to ingest arsenic himself.

She has also stated that her former spouse will never take responsibility for attempting to kill her.

But universal disdain and a second stint behind razor wire couldn’t crush Pignataro’s ego. Not long after his release in 2013, he returned to the Buffalo area, changed his name to Tony Haute, and opened a business called Tony Haute Cosmetique LLC.

He sold a line of skin-care creams, including a system formulated from “one’s own DNA-derived plasma.” His website referred to him as a doctor.

Log off, dude. The Erie County District Attorney subsequently opened a criminal investigation into Pignataro’s new venture, and the ex-convict ended up taking down his website, according to a 2017 Buffalo station WKBW story by Charlie Specht.

Pignataro responded to WKBW’s report by stating that he changed his name in an effort to make a new start. He apologized to his ex-wife and the Smith family, although without making any specific admissions about his guilt. Pignataro also said that he works as delivery driver.

I didn’t have any luck finding out how Debbie Pignataro is faring with the after-effects of the poisoning today. I didn’t look too hard because she already cooperated with Forensic Files and true-crime author Ann Rule and probably prefers privacy at this point.

Anthony Pignataro in a recent incarnation

The show stated that much of the damage to Debbie’s health is irreversible. On the bright side, the book said that she has found nice people to help her in her daily life.

Her former husband will probably reinvent himself as something or other, but let’s hope the only person he’ll ever incapacitate is himself.

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

Forensic Files Blog Post Index

This week’s post is a reference table to make it easier to find blog posts about specific Forensic Files episodes.

Forensic Files Blog Posts by Episode

EpisodeSummaryBlog PostBlog PostBlog Post
All the World's a StageAn investigator of murders attempts one of his ownTed MacArthur: Homicidal Detective
Bad MedicineNarcissistic plastic surgeon runs wild in BuffaloAnthony Pignataro: Bad Surgeon
Bagging a KillerGirl goes missing, as her mother did years earlierJustice for Valiree Jackson
Capitol CrimesHit and run driver's ID surprises everyoneThomas Druce: Pennsylvania's Not Prowd Thomas Druce 2: Classism Is InThomas Druce: The Epilogue
Chief SuspectHome invasion leaves a nurse deadJim Barton: Bad Lieutenant
Death by a SalesmanRogue door-to-door salesman killsRodger Broadway: Magazine Crew Murderer
Dirty Little SecretNice couple doesn't know new friends are fiendsPlease Never Let the Sifrits Out
DisrobedParents interfere when teen falls in loveSarah Johnson, Yikes
Family InterruptedClean-cut kid can't wait for inheritanceThe Aftermath of BetrayalBetrayal 2: The Walking Wounded
Family TiesStudent uses an ax to get out of financial jamChristopher Porco: The UnthinkableChristopher Porco 2: The Explainable
Grave DangerUnder-educated couple amazes the worldMolly and Clay Daniels: Some Body That They Didn't Used to Know
John List MurdersUptight CPA overreactsJohn List: House-Poor Killer
Mistaken for DeadTwo retailers and a doctor try insurance fraudJust Sweats Gang Cheat SheetMurder, Fraud, Bike Shorts: A Just Sweats TimelineFrom Just Sweats to Eternity
Pinned by the EvidenceSurfer starts street fight Dusty Harless: Death By Testosterone Dusty Harless 2: Grappling with the Facts
Second Shot at LoveGreedy con woman romances lonely surgeonDante Sutorius: Petite Threat
Shattered InnocenceA teenager ruins his life over a carBrian Vaughn: A Student Athlete Kills
Shell GameTennessee town is brutalized until feds step inThe Bruce Brothers: Terror in Tennessee
Shopping SpreeDungeons and Dragons fan
does the unthinkable
Lisa Manderach's MurderDungeons and Dragons, Oh My
Strong ImpressionsAirplane mechanic pays for wedding by murderingRon Gillette: An Airforce Man Who Didn't Exactly Aim High
Summer ObsessionHusband's secret life includes Ponzi and worseCraig Rabinowitz's Gratuitous CrimeCraig Rabinowitz 2: A Double LifeAccounting for a Ponzi Schemer
Sunday School AmbushNice man who doesn't believe in divorce shouldSunday School Killers Revisited
Tourist TrapAttacks on Miami tourists can't be stoppedMiami Robbery Mayhem Miami Survivor's Tale
Transaction FailedFather and daughter repay kindness with brutalityDiane Tilly: A Texas TragedyDiane Tilly 2: A Detective Demystifies
Treading Not So LightlyMother turns detective after truck runs over her childThe Vicky Lyons Story Vicky Lyons: An Epilogue
Voice from BeyondMummified body in a barrel tells Long Island taleThe Reyna Marroquin Story Unsealed
Walking TerrorEngineer has odd excuse for running amokSleepwalking Killer Gets Walkup Call
Writer's BlockWealthy architect dies horribly thanks to husbandNancy Dillard Lyon's MurderNancy Dillard Lyon: Writing's on the WallRichard Lyon: An Epilogue

Thanks to Tobias Bäthge, the German engineer who created the free table-making WordPress plugin TablePress.

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