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.
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 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 Cases: The 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 probably 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?
“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 Dr. Drew episode from 2016 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 motive 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.”
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. 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