Death in Small Doses: A good marriage gone bad, a wife’s slowly failing health. Is she being poisoned, and if so by who? The answer is far from straightforward.
The Wedding Crasher: A joyous day is turned into a night of pure terror when a killer comes calling.
The Case of the Flying Corpse: When body parts start washing up on the English coast, the police are left with a baffling puzzle to solve. The solution will leave them dumbfounded.
Terror at the Mall: Everyone thought Sylvia Seegrist was a harmless kook – until the day she showed up at the mall brandishing an assault rifle.
Killer Behind a Badge: Antoinette Frank should never have been accepted into the police force. Now she’s out on the streets, using her badge in a robbing and killing spree with her drug dealer boyfriend.
Hollywood Whodunnit: A beautiful model is found strangled to death in her home. But who killed her? The jilted boyfriend, the millionaire lover, or the 6-foot-tall female “enforcer?”
Murder in the Peace Corps: They called her the most beautiful girl in the Peace Corps. But beautiful women often attract unwanted admirers – and this one’s a killer.
Death by Corned Beef: When a marriage devolves into outright warfare, even a favorite meal can be used as a weapon.
Butcher Boys: Two roommates, working independently of each other, commit three of the bloodiest murders in Australian history.
The Mystery of the Murdered Wife: Only one man could have committed the murder, but he was miles away at the time. One of history’s most enduring murder mysteries.
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Murder Most Vile Volume14
Death in Small Doses
To the casual observer, it appeared that Richard and Nancy Lyon had the perfect marriage. The handsome, successful couple first met in 1979 at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, where they were both studying landscape architecture. She was a member of a prominent Dallas family, the Dillards. He was strictly middle-class, the son of a Connecticut insurance salesman and his teacher’s aide wife. Yet that class divide did nothing to derail the path of true love. The couple courted for three years and married in 1982, thereafter moving to Nancy’s hometown.
And they could not have chosen a better time to settle in Dallas. The city was experiencing a property boom which of course, played right to their skill set. Nancy soon accepted a management job with a real estate firm owned by a friend of her father. Richard, on his father-in-law’s recommendation, was hired to oversee some of the largest landscaping projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
By 1986 when the Lyon’s first daughter Alison was born, the couple had moved onward and upward in the world. Nancy had by now made partner at her firm and while Richard’s career had stalled somewhat, he was still making good money. The intervening years had seen them purchase an upmarket condo in one of the city’s most sought after areas, Park Cities. And in 1989 they blessed their home with a second daughter Annie. By then however, the golden hue of this gilded couple had dimmed somewhat. Their marriage in fact was in serious trouble.
It is difficult to isolate the genesis of the Lyon’s marital problems. Some might point to Richard’s insecurities, which had been evident even before the wedding. He’d never truly felt part of the Dillard clan, or of the Park Cities set for that matter. He was convinced that the Dallas elite, including his own wife looked down their noses at him. Exacerbating those feelings of inadequacy was the way in which Nancy’s career went from strength to strength, while his appeared to flounder. He became jealous and frustrated, unable to confide his true feelings to Nancy. Casting about for some solace in this emotional maelstrom, he turned to an attractive co-worker Tami Ayn Gaisford. Before long they were involved in a passionate affair.
Nancy soon became aware of her husband’s infidelity, but she wasn’t ready to give up on her marriage just yet. Over the Memorial Day weekend of 1989, she persuaded Richard to see a sex therapist with her at the Sierra Tucson Hospital. During that session she sought to explain her issues with sexual intimacy, a constant source of conflict in their marriage. The revelation she made was shocking. Nancy admitted that during her teens, she had been involved in an incestuous relationship with her brother Bill.
Her intention in revealing this skeleton in the Dillard closet may have been to garner some sympathy from her husband, but it had the opposite effect. Richard was repulsed, disturbed and angry. Over the months that followed he refused any physical contact with Nancy at all. He also became more open in his affair with Tami, further increasing the tensions within the Lyon household. Eventually after months of bickering, Richard packed up his things and moved out, driving away from the family home a day after Christmas 1989.
At this point the Lyons’ marriage appeared irretrievable. But nothing in this complex relationship was ever that simple. Richard was back within two weeks, only to move out again a month later. Nancy assured friends that he was just going through a phase and that he would be back, even if it was just for the sake of the children. Then in September Richard filed for divorce, only to withdraw the petition a couple of months later after a settlement had been all but finalized. By November he was back on the scene and the couple was talking about a reconciliation. It was around this time that Nancy began displaying the symptoms of the illness that would eventually kill her.
It started with a bottle of Merlot left anonymously on the doorstep of the Lyon family home as a gift. Nancy drank some of the wine and was violently ill. Then there was the soda that Richard bought for her during a movie date night. It tasted bitter Nancy would later recall, and there was white powder floating on the surface. Also there were the vitamin capsules that her husband bought for her and encouraged her to take. Soon she was losing weight and suffering unexplained bouts of sickness. She put it down to the stress of her marriage.
But stress alone could not have accounted for Nancy’s rapid decline. On January 9, 1991, she collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room at Presbyterian Hospital. There doctors fought desperately to stop her vomiting and to ease the obvious agony she was in. But despite their best efforts, Nancy’s vital signs refused to stabilize. Her pulse was racing at 144; her blood pressure had dropped to 50 over 18. Fearing that they might lose her, the doctors moved Nancy to the ICU while they tried to figure out what was causing her symptoms. They suspected that she was suffering from ‘toxic shock syndrome,’ but the Dillard family had a simpler explanation. They believed that Richard had poisoned her.
If that allegation was true then Richard Lyon was putting on an Oscar-worthy performance. He remained steadfastly by his wife’s side, encouraging her to fight for life. With the Dillard family also in close attendance, a tense standoff developed in the waiting room. Meanwhile Nancy’s condition continued to deteriorate. First her lungs collapsed, resulting in her having to be put on a respirator. Then she lapsed into a coma and doctors requested Richard’s permission to turn off the life support machines. He said yes, but the action was not carried out due to vociferous protests from the Dillards. That opposition however turned out to be futile. Nancy Lyon died just hours later. The once vibrant 37-year-old had been reduced to an emaciated wreck by her illness. In death she was a bloated unrecognizable figure. Nearly forty pounds of fluids had been pumped into her body as doctors sought to stabilize her blood pressure.
On January 15, one day after Nancy's death, the Dallas County medical examiner's office conducted a full autopsy, which showed lethal doses of arsenic in her liver and kidneys, one hundred times the normal level of arsenic in her bloodstream and over forty times the normal levels in her hair. That proved that she’d been poisoned, but it did not prove who had killed her. The following day Detective Don Ortega of the Dallas PD held a meeting with Bill Dillard Sr., during which Dillard reiterated his belief that Richard Lyon was responsible for his daughter’s death. Ortega sympathized but explained that the police lacked the evidence to bring charges. It was going to take time to build a case. He urged Dillard to be patient and asked him and his family to keep up appearances with Richard while the investigation was ongoing.
Dillard agreed and over the months that followed he played his role to the hilt, calling regularly at the Lyon apartment to visit his granddaughters and reaching out to Richard in their shared grief. Richard meanwhile was being less than decorous. Within weeks of Nancy’s death he was hosting his mistress at their home. He also took Tami on vacation to Puerto Vallarta, leaving his daughters with their grandparents and telling them that he was going fishing with a friend. He returned from that trip on February 25. Two days later Detective Ortega brought him in for questioning.
Richard of course insisted that he was innocent. But the case against him had begun to gain momentum, especially when it was learned that he had bought various chemicals, including arsenic from a supplier named General Labs.
Confronted by this allegation, Lyon first lied and then sought to bluff his way out by saying that he had misunderstood the question. Eventually he admitted to buying the arsenic, although he insisted that it was to treat a fire ant infestation at his home. That explanation saw him walk away from the interview with his liberty still intact. In reality though, his days were numbered. When investigators found barium carbonate, another of the toxic chemicals he’d purchased, in the “health pills” he’d foisted on Nancy, Richard Lyon was arrested and charged with murder.
The prosecution case against Lyon seemed exceptionally strong, with evidence that provided him with the means, motive and opportunity to murder his wife. The motive, prosecutors insisted was money. Richard Lyon had at first intended to divorce Nancy so that he could be with his mistress. But he’d had a change of heart once he sat down to consider the financial implications. Walk away from the marriage and he’d leave with nothing but a lifetime of alimony payments. But if Nancy were to die he’d gain the couple’s upmarket home and their joint savings, as well as the proceeds of a $500,000 life policy. This was why Lyon had withdrawn his petition for divorce and returned to the familial home. Could it really be a coincidence that Nancy had become ill soon after?
It was a compelling argument but it was circumstantial, something which the defense immediately pounced upon. Seeking to introduce reasonable doubt, Lyon’s attorney offered three alternate suspects. First there was the Lyon children’s nanny, who apparently had had a fractious relationship with Nancy; then there was Bill Dillard Jr., the brother who had sexually abused her during their childhood; finally there was David Bagwell, Nancy’s former boss. Bagwell had been indicted on fraud charges and Nancy had received a threatening letter after she was subpoenaed as a potential prosecution witness. “Stay out of the Bagwell case or you and your family will face the wrath of God,” the note had warned.
The defense had certainly regained some ground with this line of argument but they had one more suspect to offer up, Nancy Lyon herself. They suggested that Nancy might have committed suicide and offered in support of this a receipt from a Dallas chemical company, which showed that Nancy had signed for a delivery of arsenic trioxide. They even produced a handwriting expert who testified that the signature was indeed Nancy's. Then there were the suicidal ramblings in Nancy’s diary, writings that pointed to a deeply troubled woman who might have done anything to get her own back. So had Nancy Lyon taken her own life? And had she, as an act of revenge, deliberately tried to frame her cheating husband for her murder?
By now there was a palpable sense that the trial was swinging in Richard Lyon’s favor. But the defense attorney still had one more card to play. He called Richard to testify in his own defense. This, as any trial lawyer will tell you, is a risky strategy, but in the Lyon case it seemed a masterstroke. Richard was articulate, calm and rational, displaying just the right degree of sadness, balancing it with a forceful case for his innocence. Several of the jurors would later admit that by the time he stepped down from the witness box, they were ready to vote for an acquittal.
But here the prosecution produced a trump card of its own. The defense had called a handwriting expert to verify that the signature on the receipt and the writing in the diaries was Nancy’s. The State was therefore allowed to offer a rebuttal. The witness they called was Hartford R. Kittel, a retired document examiner from the FBI. The evidence he offered would be explosive.
Unlike the defense expert who had merely compared the receipt and diary to other samples of Nancy’s writing, Kittel had matched the documents against both Nancy’s and Richard’s hand. He came to the conclusion that the couple’s writing was remarkably similar but not identical. This was not an accident. At Harvard Richard and Nancy had actually worked at making their writing look alike for shared design projects. As a result, they produced the same angular n's and similarly long loops below their g's and y's. But as Kittel pointed out, there were differences, particularly to the i's, f's and s's. It was due to these differences that Kittel was able to state categorically that Richard had signed Nancy’s name on the receipt and had also written the supposedly suicidal entries in her diary. And why would he do that if not to cover up his own guilt?
In the end, it took the jury just three hours to find Richard Lyon guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence later upheld on appeal. To this day he continues to protest his innocence.
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