A millionairess is stalked and murdered by a hit man claiming to be a magazine writer.

Jeanne Tovrea

She was found dead in her bed

CASE DETAILS

Why did the killer set off the alarm?

Jeannie Gunter was born in Arkansas and got married right out of high school. She eventually divorced and wound up in Phoenix, working as a cocktail waitress. But she had higher ambitions than that. Jeannie got her real estate license and was immediately successful. According to Jeanne’s sister, Sandra Elder, that’s when she met Edward Tovrea, a charming, wealthy divorcee:

“Ed had all the qualities that Jeanne was looking for. It’s just that simple. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince.  And she considered Ed a prince.”

Less than a year after they met, Jeannie and Ed were married. According to society columnist Danny Medina, Jeannie was warmly accepted into the Phoenix upper crust:

“She seemed to fall right into it as though she’d had that money forever. She was welcomed and very, very well loved, extremely liked. I don’t know of one, and I can honestly say this, I don’t know one person that disliked Jeannie. She was just one of those very special people with very special qualities.”

Then, ten years after getting married, Ed’s health began to decline. Sandra Elder said that
Jeannie stayed constantly by his side:

Jeanne was not a greedy person. It wasn’t like, ‘Well I’ve married you, everything you have is mine.’ This was not Jeanne.”

When Ed eventually died, he left Jeannie an estate worth millions, including the house and a valuable art collection. After a period of mourning, according to columnist Medina, Jeannie re-entered the Phoenix social world:

“I think it was her way to get over everything and meet people. She became quite the socialite and chaired many of the balls. For Jeanne, it became a way of doing things for herself.”

Jeanne was harassed with messages

On April 1st, 1988, Jeannie prepared invitations for a high society party she planned to host. At 7 PM, she spoke with her sister. By 1AM the next day she was dead. She had been shot in the head five times.

At the murder scene, police found several fingerprints, but no other physical evidence. According to Phoenix Police Detective Ernie Hamrick, Jeannie’s purse, identification, and credit cards were all missing:

“Those credit cards have never been found and they’ve never been used to this day. The fingerprints that we found have been compared to every name that’s been mentioned to us that’s been through our computer system and we have not identified who those prints belong to. My opinion and the opinion of two detectives feel that she was the victim of a hit.  She was killed intentionally for somebody.”

Det. Hamrick said that he was sure the killer was familiar with Jeannie’s neighborhood because he entered her home so easily:

“I would say the suspect at least had some knowledge of the house. Entry into the house was made through the window, but it was done in a manner so as not to set the alarm system off. There’s white carpeting throughout the house and there were no indications in any room, except her bedroom, that anybody had been in there. It appears that he knew the direct path from the point of entry to her bedroom and where she was. She was shot while she lay in bed asleep. There was no obvious sign of a struggle.”

Police believe that the killer scattered Jeannie’s costume jewelry to make it look like a burglary. Thousands of dollars worth of real jewelry was left untouched in the next room.  Det. Hamrick said he suspected the killer wanted someone to know he had been there:

“Leaving, the alarm was set off when the sliding door was opened by the suspect. It’s only a theory, but one of the reasons for that that we considered is that this person, if he was paid to kill her, wanted to let the person who paid him know that the job was done.”

Who wanted Jeannie Tovrea dead? Police had no idea. That is, until they listened to the tapes from her answering machine. One message began “Yes, Jeannie, this is Gordon Phillips. And I have some information for you.”

Phillips claimed to be a freelance magazine writer working for Time Life.  He had met with Jeannie, saying that he wanted to interview her about her late husband’s POW experiences. According to Sandra Elder:

“Jeanne had him checked out and Time magazine had never heard of him. And Jeanne once again told him that she was the wrong person to talk to.  And she couldn’t seem to make him understand this.”

Gordon Phillips would not give up. If Jeannie didn’t answer his calls, he left messages on her machine. Sandra said Jeannie was sure he was following her:

“For a while there,every time she went somewhere, she’d think she saw this guy. She would see him in a crowd and she was extremely nervous about this.

Police concluded that the name Gordon Philips was an alias adopted by a contract killer trying to get Jeannie alone.

Update

After a seven-year investigation, the man who called himself Gordon Phillips was identified. His real name is James Cornell Harrod and his fingerprints matched those found at the crime scene.

Harrod was found guilty of first-degree murder. Because it was a contract killing, he was sentenced to death.  However, the person who hired him to murder Jeannie is still a mystery.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season four with Robert Stack and in season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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7 Comments

  1. thinkingoutloud

    interesting case, that Jeanne was murdered sometime after he husband died. Of course the first assumption is because she got the wealth and house and everything. So a hit-man was hired to kill her, HOWEVER it also depends on where her wealth and house and everything she owned went to. Her kids? Ed’s kids? Is Jeanne truly did not have an enemy in the world, I am sure her side of the family or Ed’s side of the family had something to do with it. Her wealth can only go those mentioned in her will. Maybe Ed’s children/family hired the hit-man. Just wouldn’t make sense as they wouldn’t gain anything from it since her daughter got everything.

    Reply

  2. R.W.

  3. Jeff

    So why has this guy on death row not snitched out ? That’s the big question. Did someone else close to him get the money or are they under threat , or is he innocent ?

    Reply

  4. mary salazar

    All is not as it seems. Follow the money…..Jeannes’ daughter, Deborah Nolan got ALL the money. The Tovrea children gained nothing from her death. Diverting people’s attention away from the “actual” killer who confessed in 1989 to this crime won’t change the real facts.

    Reply

  5. Tammy Thomas

    Who is Hap?

    Reply

  6. dick leroy

    Everyone paying attention knows Hap is responsible. Period…

    Reply

  7. Tammy Thomas

    The ex-wife or a step-child?

    Reply