This report aired on Dateline NBC on Monday, July 27, 2009.
In the foothills of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains lies a mystery – and just maybe the answer is in the stars. Gary Triano was born a Scorpio; passionate, fiery, a big man in a growing city.
Lupita Murillo: His personality fit his stature.
Lupita Murillo has covered Tucson for NBC affiliate KVOA for more than 30 years, and she says Triano, a real estate developer, was simply magnetic.
Lupita Murillo: He was bigger than life. He would walk into a room and everybody would immediately look at him, and just gravitate to him.
One of those people was a huge believer in how the stars can explain life and point the way to happiness. But not even astrology could have predicted the tragedy that would unfold.
Gary Triano didn't look to the zodiac for guidance; he knew only one way to live life.
Gary Triano (singing): I did it my way…
Forceful and determined, Gary liked doing things his way, riding the wave of Tucson’s real estate boom.
RonJanoff: He was an operator. He was always looking for the deal, not for the edge so much, but he liked the chase of the deal.
Ron and Kola Janoff considered him a friend.
Kola Janoff: Gary was one of those types of people that could be friends with a ditch digger or the president of the United States.
- Craig Strickland's Widow on Their Last Conversation: 'He Walked Out the Door, Looked at Me and Said, "I Love You"'
- Joe Jonas Packs on PDA with Former Top Model Contestant Jessica Serfaty
- White House Responds to Petition to Pardon Making a Murderer Subjects Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey
- Family of Sandy Hook Victim Commends Florida Atlantic University for Firing Professor Who Questioned Massacre
- Kylie Jenner's Lip Kit Is Ruining Lives (According to the Internet, Anyway)
And Gary, who was twice divorced, always seemed to have an attractive woman at his side. But that never got in the way of his kids.
Heather Triano: He was a fun dad.
Triano’s oldest children from his first marriage, Heather and Brian, say that despite his busy social life and never-ending business deals, Gary was always around for them.
Heather Triano: He was definitely someone who would make you laugh and hang out with your all of your friends. My father would sit right in the middle of the room and say, "So, what's up guys? Tell me, tell me what's going on."
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Sounds like you guys were pretty close?
Brian Triano: Yeah.
Heather Triano: Very close, yes.
He was also generous with his money – serving on the board of several charities and performing random acts of kindness.
Heather Triano: Like my brother said, one time we were at New Year's Eve party…
Brian Triano: And he bought…
Heather Triano: He bought the staff drinks.
Heather Triano: I mean, most people don't do things like that.
Lupita Murillo: I remember talking to someone who said that he would tip him $100 to go get his car. When he was living large, he was living large.
And then came November 1, 1996, just days away from Gary’s 53rd birthday. The planets all seemed to be aligned.
But Gary’s horoscope for that day told him that "you could lose something important."
And this time, at least, the stars were right.
Gary had just played a round of golf at a top-tier Tucson country club called La Paloma, and was headed to meet Ron and Kola Janoff at a local bar.
Ron Janoff: We had planned a surprise party for Gary for his birthday. As a ruse, we told him we'd meet him at this bar and take him out for dinner.
Gary's friends had already gathered at his house, already pouring the Beaujolais, ready to surprise the life of every party.
Kola Janoff: We were supposed to get him and take him up to his house.
They waited, but Gary didn't arrive – a TV bulletin made it clear why.
It was a very powerful bomb, a very powerful explosion.
Ron and Kola Janoff headed straight to the country club, filled with equal parts hope and dread.
Kola: The place was just a madhouse.
Ron: Must've been 200 cars, police, FBI, sheriff…
Kola: It was awful.
Heather was on her way to her father's birthday party when she got a call from her mother, Gary Triano's first wife.
Heather Triano: I said, "I'm late, I'm going to Dad's surprise party. I cannot go there, I will come after." She said, "Listen to me, come home right now."
At their mother's house, Heather and her brother Brian were told the horrible truth.
Heather Triano: She told me and I said “what? why? What happened?”
Their father was dead, killed by an explosion inside his Lincoln Continental – a blast that was now all over the news.
Reporter Lupita Murillo was on the scene that night and put Ron and Kola on the air.
Kola Janoff, 1996 KVOA package: See you tonight, and, you know, we're not letting him know that we had a big party planned for him.
Lupita Murillo: So…
Ron Janoff, 1996 KVOA package: It's just shocking to think that today he was there, and now he's not.
If it was hard for them to understand, it was impossible for Heather and Brian.
Heather Triano: I was just baffled. What makes a car do that?
Brian Triano: We thought maybe some random explosion, we didn't know.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: You were thinking accident, not homicide?
Brian Triano: Yeah.
Heather Triano: Oh, yeah.
But to the Pima County sheriff's investigators dispatched to the scene, it was clear that the blast was no accident.
Sheriff Clarence Dupnik: It would appear from preliminary observation that we have an assassination here in the parking lot here at the country club.
Lt. Michael O'Connor, Pima County sheriff's detective: It became clear quickly that this was something that was intentionally done.
The gold Movado watch around Gary’s wrist stopped dead at 5:38 p.m.; in that moment, the stars went out in Tucson.
Lupita Murillo: I can't remember a bigger story that has ever come to Tucson like this, that has impacted the community the way this did. I think partly because he was so well-known, and also because the manner in which he was murdered.
But why would anyone want to kill the life of the party? Investigators quickly determined that the bomb was triggered by remote control but whose finger was it on the button?
The answer wouldn't come from the heavens. It was right here on Earth.
Gary Triano – the businessman, the father, the philanthropist – none of it made sense. He had just played a round of golf, and then the man who loved living large died a spectacular death.
It was a crime scene no one will soon forget. Tucson businessman Gary Triano's car was blown to pieces.
A witness said Gary had just gotten into his car when the explosion happened.
Investigators later found that a homemade bomb had been placed on the passenger seat and was detonated by remote control. That made an impression on the sheriff.
Sheriff Dupnik: I've never seen an assassination of this kind. If in fact it was a hit, it probably was a professional hit.
And a professional investigation began in its wake. Lt. Michael O'Connor from the Pima County sheriff's department was there.
Lt. Michael O'Connor: There's was a lot of debris in the immediate area of where the vehicle was.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: This was a pretty powerful bomb?
Lt. Michael O’Connor: Clearly without a doubt it was. There was a swimming pool that I believe was some 100 yards away – the windshield from the vehicle was in that pool.
The smoke had barely cleared at the country club when the rumors began to swirl all around Tucson about the assassination of Gary Triano. The sheriff here said it looked like a professional hit. But if that was true, what was the motive? Who was angry enough at Gary Triano to want to kill him?
Lt. Michael O’Connor: Normally, someone wants to kill somebody, they take a gun, they shoot them. In this case, it was a bomb. That is very unusual, and I think that's a calling card that has something to do with a gangland hit.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Because it was so sophisticated?
Lt. Michael O’Connor: Yes, and because it was flamboyant. This was done in the parking lot of an upscale resort in Tucson.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: In front of a lot of people in a public place with Gary Triano's friends waiting for him at a birthday party.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: Exactly; it was almost like they wanted to make a statement.
That statement led investigators to look underneath the polished image of Gary Triano. What they found only reinforced what the zodiac could have told them – that Scorpios by nature, can be secretive.
LupitaMurillo: The times that I met him, he was very nice, very charming, and very likeable. But obviously there was another side to Gary that his friends – and people that had met him on a social basis – didn’t know about him.
Gary still had plenty of charm, but by the late 1980s, that smile may have seemed a little forced. The Tucson real estate market had crashed and Gary’s bottom line took hit after hit. Investigators learned that in 1994, saddled with more than twenty-six million dollars in debt, Triano filed for bankruptcy.
Gary Triano also owed two Vegas casinos more than sixty thousand dollars. By the time he died, the man who'd become rich developing thousands of acres of land in Tucson was all but dried up.
LupitaMurillo: Here's a man who made millions and of course lost them as well, died with 22 cents in his pocket.
Authorities discovered that Gary was involved in more than 70 civil suits, and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of investors’ money on two casino bids in china and the Caribbean that didn't pan out.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: He was a well-to-do businessman in Tucson who had fallen upon some bad luck and made bad choices. In many cases, there were times when he was not very well liked by some of the people that he did business with. When you're talking about multimillion dollar ventures – and someone loses a great deal of money – sometimes that requires a retaliation that might take someone's life.
Detectives tracked down an investor who'd lost money in Gary’s casino deals.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: He had gone to this individual, the guy said, "Sure, I'll do this,” and put some venture capital forward. Then it disappeared and went away and the deal fell through and the money was lost.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: How much money was that?
Lt. Michael O’Connor: I believe it was in the range of $200,000. He basically said, "Listen, you know, I lost some money with this guy. But I'm not gonna kill somebody over that amount of money."
Authorities soon eliminated that person of interest. But just the talk of why Gary might have died made his children wince.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: So, when you heard the police were investigating this as a possible organized crime hit…
Heather Triano: That's crazy.
Brian Triano: That's crazy. My father had nothing to do with anything like that.
Police were now also looking at those closest to Gary. Was Gary's fate guided by the stars or was it a cruel blow by a familiar hand?
Tucson, Ariz. – a vital part of the booming Sunbelt with a trace of the iconic wild west.
Just an hour north of the Mexican border, Tucson drew outlaws and rough riders well into the late 20th century.
Reporter Lupita Murillo describes it as a place where mobsters come to retire.
Lupita Murillo: Tucson, for many years, was the home of the Bonanno family. It was home to a lot of reputed mafia bosses. But Tucson was always the safe place for everybody to be. For some reason, the mob was neutral.
Gary Triano’s spectacular death by car bomb in 1996 shook that perception for a while.
Lupita Murillo: I talked to a couple of people who are involved in that kind of business. They didn't think it was a mob hit.
Police came to the same conclusion, and now instead of focusing on Gary' Triano’s business ties, they started looking at his intimate business.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: How complex and tangled were his personal relationships?
Lt. Michael O’Connor: To say it was complicated was probably a little bit of an understatement because there were some things we had to work through.
Gary, who'd been divorced twice, had five children with three different women.
Heather and Brian Triano were children from Gary’s first marriage, and there was Pam Phillips, Gary’s second wife with whom he had two children.
After Pam, there was Robin Gardner. She and Gary dated for a year and had a daughter together. But they had broken up months before Gary was killed.
The police came knocking on her door.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: The detectives wouldn't have been doing their jobs if they didn't ask you, "Who would wanna kill Gary?"
Robin Gardner: I had no idea; things like that happen in the movies. Things like this don't happen to a friend. Things like this don't happen to the father of your child.
Pima County investigators dismissed Robin as a person of interest. But some things they heard made them ask questions about Gary’s second ex-wife Pam Phillips.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: She was now living in Aspen, Colorado. We realized that the relationship with them was not the best, and the divorce was a little sticky over money issues, primarily.
It seemed like a good match back in 1986 – an expensive, black-tie wedding on a yacht at sunset, off the coast of San Diego. At the time, the couple made a very pretty picture. They did look happy, and at least one of them was.
David Bean, photographer: I know Gary was mad about her; I was positive that he was madly in love with her.
It was love for the real estate developer and the real estate agent turned astrologer. It's hard to believe Pam didn't know her beloved astrology foretells trouble in the matching of an Aries woman and a Scorpio man.
But at the time, they seemed compatible, according to the wedding photographer; a friend of Gary’s named David Bean.
David Bean: They looked like they really did love and care about each other.
At first Brian and Heather, Gary's kids from his first marriage, were less than thrilled about their father remarrying; but that soon changed.
Brian Triano: When we saw them together, they were happy, and he seemed happy.
Heather Triano: They would always sing love songs.
Pam, on video, microphone in hand: Happy birthday Marty... How did Marilyn do it? How did Marilyn do it?"
Gary and Pam had their honeymoon years. Gary had plenty of money then, and he helped Pam launch an astrology website, Starbabies.com – a business she started after their children Trevor and Lois were born.
Heather and Brian say those babies brought them closer to their new stepmother.
Brian Triano: We grew to like her, then love her as a stepmom and mother of our brother and sister.
Heather Triano: She was great. Like I said, she was very sweet. I think also being a girl, you know, she'd help me fix my hair, or get some clothes, or purses, shoes, things like that – girly stuff.
But by the early 1990s, Tucson's image as a boomtown started to fade, and with it Gary and Pam’s marriage. They were done after just seven years.
Robin Gardner: I ask, "What happened?" and he said, "Well, she fell in love with the man that had a lot of money, and I no longer have the money that I had when she fell in love with me."
In other words, maybe Pam’s life wasn't ruled by astrology. Maybe what she really cared about was the sun, the moo – and the stores.
Gary and Pam fought over property, over custody, and mostly, over money. Things changed dramatically after Gary and then girlfriend Robin came back from a vacation to Mexico.
Robin Gardner: When we came back into town Gary was really upset to know that Pam and the children had left Tucson and had moved to Aspen.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Without telling him?
Robin Gardner: From what I understand, without telling him. He was very upset
Gary started commuting to Aspen, often piloting his own plane over the Rockies so he could see his children.
Robin Gardner: He flew as often as he could to Aspen. I know that when the children were here, he stayed with them the whole weekend.
Those trips became strained as Gary and Pam quarreled over visitation and child support payments.
But bitter divorces are not unusual and Pam was only one of many people who had money issues with Gary Triano. Certainly, Pam didn't seem like a bomb-maker, which left investigators right back where they started.
Who wanted to kill Gary?
Aspen, Colo., a winter playground for the rich and famous.
On November 1, 1996, Pam Phillips was living here with her two children – Gary’s children, 9-year-old Trevor and 6-year-old Lois.
The Aspen air was cold and crisp that day when news came of her ex-husband's bombing death.
One of those reports caught the eye of an Aspen police detective named Jim Crowley.
Video of newscast: The blast killed 52-year-old Gary Triano, a prominent Tucson businessman.
Gary Triano – it was a name Crowley had seen before, in a fraud investigation involving a man named Ron Young. Who brought Young to Crowley’s attention? None other than Pam Phillips, Gary’s ex-wife.
The connection was astrology website, Starbabies.com.
Pam hired her then-neighbor Ron Young as the business manager for the site. But it wasn't long before Pam accused Ron of skimming money from the Web site. She went to Detective Crowley.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Did she have a case?
Detective Jim Crowley: We don't know because she never came back. She refused to answer my calls after that.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: So, she originally came to you and made a complaint and then…
Detective Jim Crowley: Backed off.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: And never told you why?
Detective Jim Crowley: No.
And that struck him as strange, until the detective discovered Ron Young was her boyfriend. Pam denied this but police found evidence to the contrary – love letters and notes from Pam were found in Ron Young's Aspen apartment.
In the meantime, two other businesses had complained about Ron Young and Crowley soon had enough evidence to arrest him on fraud charges.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: As far you could tell, he's stolen how much money?
Detective Jim Crowley: Probably between $80,000 and $120,000.
But Ron young must have read his horoscope the day his arrest warrant was issued; it read "you won't get much sympathy today if you try to blame someone else for your mistake, Leo." Ron young skipped town in a rented minivan.
That van was found in Southern California in October 1996. Ron Young himself was nowhere to be seen. But he left a lot of things in that minivan that he probably should have thrown out.
Detective Jim Crowley: During my search, I found a map of the Tucson area and a note that was kind of like a laundry list. You know, buy toothpaste and then down the list a little further was sawed-off shotgun.
Ron Young wasn’t known as a violent criminal but when police found a shotgun and a Taser in the car, it made Detective Crowley aware that a man wanted for white-collar crimes might possibly be armed.
Investigators found something else peculiar – divorce documents, dissolving the marriage of Pamela Phillips and Gary Triano.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: At the time, the name Gary Triano meant what to you?
Detective Jim Crowley: Nothing.
Until a month later, when Crowley heard about Gary Triano's murder in Tucson. Watching the news, the detective's instincts kicked in.
Detective Jim Crowley: I was aware that Gary was Pam's ex-husband. I was also aware that Pam had some kind of relationship with Ron Young, and that Ron Young had fled the area. So that's what prompted the call to Tucson.
Investigators were beginning to raise their eyebrows.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: We also learned that there was an insurance policy, a $2 million policy that was to be paid upon his death to his children with his wife; former wife Pamela Phillips being the beneficiary.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: It seems quite plausible that an ex-wife would want to maintain a life insurance policy for the kids that she had with her ex-husband.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: Correct, and again, that's kind of the way we looked at it too.
But according to reporter Lupita Murrillo, the rumors going around in Tucson revolved around Pam Phillips.
Lupita Murrillo: She wanted more money, and she was a socialite in Colorado and Aspen. And she obviously needed to keep up the Joneses, so to speak.
But Gary’s ex-girlfriend, Robin Gardner, could not imagine that Pam had anything to do with Gary’s murder despite their bitter split.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: It was an unpleasant divorce but there's a lot of ground between that and murder.
Robin Gardner: I just can't – not only murder, but such a violent murder, such a violent murder. I don't think Gary, any of his other friends, family, would have ever envisioned something like this happening.
But maybe Gary did suspect something. He talked about it with his friends the Janoffs.
Kola Janoff: The day before he was killed, he and I were having drinks and he was very nervous, uneasy.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Did he say why?
Kola Janoff: He said he was very nervous about going to get his children. He felt uneasy about relationships that were there with Pam.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Relationships meaning the relationship he had with Pam, or the relationship Pam had with somebody else?
Kola Janoff: That Pam had with somebody else.
The Janoffs also told investigators that Gary felt as if he were under surveillance.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: He reported to his friends that he thought might be being followed, and he thought that someone might be looking at him, or following him.
Of course it could've been anyone following Gary, a bill collector or someone serving him court papers. But investigators also learned something else – Gary had tried to cancel his $2 million life insurance policy that named Pam Phillips the beneficiary.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: He knew this policy was out there. He knew his relationship with Pam was not good, and he wanted to have her name taken off the policy.
But the insurance policy had Pam’s name on it as the owner. Gary could not change it without her consent, and to investigators the insurance policy supplied a motive.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: I truly believe that Pam Phillips was in this for the money. This was $2 million cash that was just sitting out there. She wasn't making as much money as she had before. All of the sudden, she's looking at this $2 million there, and all she has to do is dip into it.
Pam Phillips, Ron Young, Gary Triano; money, and a home-made bomb. It sounded like something from a soap opera. But investigators believed it was a formula for murder.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: I think we had a pretty good idea what was going on.
And that was what Gary’s friends had been telling Lupita Murillo all along.
Lupita Murillo: From the get-go, everyone that I spoke with, everyone said, "They need to be looking at Pam Phillips. She had a $2 million policy, and she was named as beneficiary.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: So gold-digger wife plus insurance policy equals suspect?
Lupita Murillo: There ya go.
This was more than just rumors now, authorities constructed this theory; Pam Phillips hired Ron Young to kill her ex-husband for the $2 million insurance money. And Ron Young had gone to Tucson and placed the lethal bomb in Gary Triano's car.
But Ron Young was in the wind; without him, there were suspicions, but little evidence. So the Triano investigation languished for almost ten years.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: We all know if a homicide case isn't solved within 24 hours, 48 hours – the hours tick by, months go by, years go by – the chance you solving the case almost becomes zero. Nice thing about a homicide case? They never go away.
And Gary’s case would come back in a big way with a tip from a thousand miles away.
A decade had passed and still no one had been charged with the murder of businessman Gary Triano.
For years investigators suspected that Gary’s ex-wife, Pam Phillips and someone they believed was her lover – Ron Young – were involved in Gary s death, but they had little proof.
Young was underground – a fugitive on the run from fraud charges – while Pam was thriving in Aspen, Colorado.
After Gary's death Pam collected the $2 million in insurance money. Not long after that she bought a $1 million home in this exclusive area.
She had the house renovated; her deck was featured in the glossy Aspen Sojourner magazine.
Jay Cowan: She was kind of nouveau in the 1990s.
Jay Cowan is the magazine's editor. He says that Pam was on a fast track up the Aspen social ladder.
Jay Cowan: She certainly didn't arrive here as a trust funder or a business mogul or a Hollywood star. I think maybe she was attracted by it.
Pam was dabbling in Aspen real estate and trying to make Starbabies.com a success. To help with the site, she invited Heather Triano to come live with her in Aspen.
Heather Triano: It was a company my father purchased for her when they were married. So, I felt, "Oh, this is great, this is something my father started. I'll come and restart it because it sort of wasn't developed."
In the time Heather lived with Pam she took care of her younger half-siblings, but never once had a discussion with Pam about Gary’s unsolved murder.
Heather Triano: We didn't talk about it.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: She was basically a member of your family, at least for a while, and clearly felt very close to the two of you. She never once said, here's what I think happened?
Brian Triano: No.
Heather Triano: No, I don't think so.
Through the years, Heather and Brian maintained their relationship with Pam, even as they had families of their own.
Brian Triano: She was at my wedding.
Heather Triano: Yeah, she was at my wedding and we're friends.
It all started to unspool in 2005.
The television show “America’s Most Wanted,” featured Gary Triano's case naming Pam Phillips and fugitive Ron Young as suspects.
“America’s Most Wanted,” video: If you've seen him, please call our hotline now.
And a tip came in from Florida about Ron Young.
Detective Jim Crowley: He was given up by his chiropractor who told the Fort Lauderdale Police Department when he was going be coming in for his next appointment.
Betrayed by a bad back, Ron was arrested on the old charges of fraud plus illegal possession of a handgun. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison. Detectives didn't have enough to charge young with the murder of Gary Triano but his capture was the break they had been waiting for.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: What came from that arrest is what moved this case along, and it was really because of the information and the evidence that he kept.
Inside Ron Young's apartment and storage locker investigators found a computer with saved e-mails, Fed Ex tracking numbers from Aspen and a stash of taped conversations Young had with Pam Phillips, conversations Young had secretly recorded.
Ron Young, on tape: There is plenty of stuff that I could literally dig out the ground, and you’re a fried duck. Understand that, because I am sure you would rather not be in that position too.
Pam Phillips, on tape: I am sure you would rather not be in that position as well, so anyway…
Authorities say the audiotapes captured conversations that ranged from threats to blackmail. There was always talk about money.
Pam Phillips, on tape: I can't deal with this, I'd rather die.
Ron Young, on tape: Than what?
Pam Phillips, on tape: Then sit here and deal with things like going to the bank, which is totally illegal, every single week; I am not going to do it.
Ron Young, on tape: What do you mean it's illegal?
Pam Phillips, on tape: I am giving money to somebody and I am not spending it, and I am not declaring it, and you are getting money and are you declaring it?
RonYoung, on tape: No, you get…you are completely confused on that.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: There's nothing on the tapes as far as I know that says, "You hired me to kill your husband.”
Lt. Michael O’Connor: There are points that are made on there, though, where he says, "You know, I did something for you that no one else would do. I could literally dig up some evidence and you'll spend the rest of your time in a women's prison for murder.
Pam Phillips, on tape: I am very serious about this.
Ron Young, on tape: When you sit in a women's prison for murder…
Pam Phillips, on tape: I'm going to hang up; I’ll be back at four.
According to police, these conversations were recorded during the time Ron was a fugitive from justice. That, and the material stored in his computer was enough for authorities to take this to the next step.
Lupita Murillo: From what I understand, he kept meticulous records. All of it led to Pamela Phillips.
In September 2006, Pam’s horoscope read, "new problems appear."
Sure enough, detectives showed up at her Aspen home with a search warrant.
After seizing computers, bank statements and other documents, investigators were convinced they had the evidence that Pam Phillips had hired Ron Young to kill her ex-husband Gary Triano. But, remarkably, it would take another two years before the District Attorney’s office would finally announce charges against the two.
Ron Young – who was out of prison after serving a year on fraud charges – was re-arrested in California, this time for the murder of Gary Triano.
The day he was flown to Tucson his horoscope read: "This is a tricky period in which it becomes necessary to focus on reality."
Lupita Murillo was there to greet him.
Lupita Murillo, on tape: So Mr. Young, how does it feel to be back in Tucson, sir?
Ron Young, on tape: Not so good. I'd rather not be.
Lupita Murillo, on tape: Did you kill Gary Triano, sir? Did you place that bomb?
Ron Young, on tape: No, of course not.
Other reporter, on tape: Where's Pamela Phillips? Is she your accomplice?
Where was Pamela Phillips? Ron Young was about to face justice, but Pam may have outsmarted everyone.
Lupita Murillo, on tape: Did you kill Gary Triano, sir? Did you place that bomb?
Ron Young, on tape: No, of course not.
It was October 2008; a Scorpio moon was rising. To some astrologists, this new moon was about truth-telling.
Someone had finally been charged with the notorious 1996 car bombing murder of Gary Triano – a crime that had become one of Tucson’s legendary unsolved mysteries.
But it turned out organized crime wasn't involved. Instead, investigators believed in a motive almost as old as the institution of marriage: Pam Phillips was accused of hiring Ron Young to kill her ex-husband for the insurance money.
It was a case that took a decade for authorities to put together.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: This case was complicated. We knew that this was not going to be a smoking gun case with fingerprints and DNA. This was going to be made on the phone calls, the e-mails, the Fed Ex tracking numbers. It was clearly a circumstantial case, and that takes a lot of time.
And their evidence came from Ron Young – who it turns out, was a packrat and a meticulous businessman. Stored in his computer were records of transactions between him and Pam Phillips.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: He kept a spreadsheet, if you will, of what's she's paid him, how much she paid him, when she paid him.
And based on those computer records, investigators say it was a financial relationship that had lasted for years. It all added up; the cash Pam doled out via Fed Ex to Ron Young totaled $400,000.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: If you're a criminal, why hang on to information that helps convict you? I mean, how much of this case was made by the fact that Mr. Young was one of these people who never threw anything away — in fact, deliberately hung on to information that helped incriminate him.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: He was looking at this not only as, the guy's murdered and I was associated with that and did that, but, I'm also a businessman.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: That's what ended up making the case against him?
Lt. Michael O’Connor: Absolutely.
And the case against Pam Phillips...
For Gary Triano’s children Heather and Brian, it was almost impossible to believe that their former stepmother – the woman who attended both their weddings and became someone they knew and trusted – could be responsible for their father's murder.
Heather Triano: I was her friend and I lived with her. So, no, I didn't think she was a suspect at all.
Then they read the search warrant affidavit which detailed the audio taped conversations.
Pam Phillips, on tape: This is like a f------g nightmare.
Ron Young, on tape: Yes, but it is totally safe. The only nightmare is in your head.
Pam Phillips, on tape: Okay, fine. I am trying to get rid of it, but it's there.
Ron Young, on tape: Okay, well I have a nightmare too, so we need to deal with this.
Brian Triano: It's at that point that we realized something was wrong, that the whole thing wasn't right.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: What was it like for you to read that this woman who had been your stepmother, and then later your friend, you thought…
Heather Triano: Yes, very good friend…
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: …was implicated in your father's murder.
Heather Triano: I wanted to throw up. Yes, it's a really hard thing to think, a horrible thing to think.
But while Ron Young sits in a Tucson jail, Pam Phillips is in a much better place.
Pam didn't wait for the authorities to act – it turns out she left the United States just a month before charges were filed.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: How can she not be in custody? This is not some hardened criminal.
Lt. Michael O’Connor: Certainly not, we want her to surrender. We have a conspiracy to commit first degree murder warrant for her, so she needs to surrender herself. We believe she's in Switzerland.
And in fact, she is; last February Dateline found Pam Phillips living in the lap of luxury in the lakeside town of Lugano, where her daughter attends college.
The area is known as Switzerland’s version of Monte Carlo.
Pam and her attorneys declined Dateline's request for interviews.
But we discovered that she lives in a $5,000-a-month apartment, and she seems to have found a new friend. A well-heeled widower with whom she often dines, overlooking the lake, at this five star hotel.
Pima County prosecutors have begun the extradition process, but it could take years for the U.S. government to peel Pam away from the comfort of Switzerland.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Do you think she's going to return to the United States voluntarily?
Detective Jim Crowley: I'm not convinced of that.
Ron Young pleaded not guilty to murder charges; his trial is set for February 2010. Pam was charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
But the possibility of justice in their father's case is of no comfort to Heather and Brian.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: If this thing ends with Pam being convicted, is that for the two of you, the worst way this could have come out?
Heather Triano: Yes, of course.
Brian Triano: We don't want someone we know and cared about to be a murderer. If that's the case, that's horrible.
Heather Triano: My brother and sister won't have a mother or a father, that's horrible.
Josh Mankiewicz, NBC News Correspondent: Have either of you spoken with Pam?
Heather and Brian Triano, in unison: No.
Gary Triano’s loved ones are left with their sorrow and their memories.
Robin Gardner was Gary’s girlfriend. They had a daughter together who is now 12.
Robin Gardner: I am sad that my daughter is never going to meet him. My daughter isn't gonna be educated in the manner of life the way she would have been if Gary were still alive.
Brian Triano: He's dead; it never goes away. I know my father will never see my daughter. I know every time my daughter sees a picture of my father, she thinks it's me. I have to explain, no, that's daddy's daddy. You know, I miss him, he was a good guy, and he would have been a great grandfather.
Heather Triano: He would have been an amazing grandfather.
Pam Phillips believed that the answers to a happy, successful life could be found in the stars, and she might be right. Her ex-husband is dead, the insurance money is hers, Ron Young is facing a murder trial,, and Pam is living in Switzerland.
On the day we saw her, her horoscope read, “The frustrations and challenges that must be met are not likely to have a dynamic impact on your personal life.”
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints