Death Row Diaries: Man convicted in murder of Paradise Valley socialite in 1988

Posted at 12:59 PM, Mar 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-04 14:59:39-05

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories, including this one where the widow of a multi-millionaire was murdered in her Paradise Valley home in 1988.


Date of birth: December 27, 1953
Sentenced: May 27, 1998

The murder:

It was 1 a.m. on April Fool's Day in 1988 when police responded to an alarm call at the Paradise Valley home of Jeanne Tovrea. Police found her dead in her bed, the victim of five gunshot wounds to her head all at close range and two through a pillow. The rest of the house was undisturbed, except for her purse which was emptied and jewelry case drawers that were removed. 

Police believed the suspect came through the kitchen window, which was removed and sitting on a chair, on the patio.

The victim:

Jeanne married Ed Tovrea in 1973. Ed had inherited his fortune from his family's cattle business. His estate, when he died in 1983, was worth about $8 million. Upon his death, his wife Jeanne received land, stock, and other personal property. Each of his children from a previous marriage received $200,000 in monthly installments of $1,500. The rest of his estate was put into a trust that Jeanne received income from.

When she died, the trust was worth about $4 million and went to Ed's three adult children.

Press accounts at the time show Jeanne Tovrea as every bit the socialite, sponsoring dances and fundraisers for various local charities.

The re-enactment that leads to a suspect:

In April 1992, a re-enactment of the murder was done on the television show "Unsolved Mysteries." During the show, a tape of an answering machine message was played. The message was from a man named Gordon Phillips who had contacted Jeanne before her murder and someone Jeanne's daughter considered suspicious. Nearly two years later in January 1994, an anonymous caller identified the voice on the tape as James Harrod.

Police found multiple calls and money transfers between Harrod and Ed Tovrea Jr. After being offered immunity, Harrod's ex-wife told police that Harrod told her he was hired to kill Jeanne for $100,000 and that he posed as Gordon Phillips to get into the home for a look. She also said Harrod was going to supervise the murder and that he received boxes of cash. Police stated that they found Harrod's fingerprints on the kitchen counter and the inside and outside of the window. 

The trial and sentencing: 

Harrod argued that the money and calls connected to Tovrea were because of business dealings they had together in a company called the Mineral Exploration Company of the Americas, where Ed was the president and Harrod served as a consultant. 

However, Ed would not testify to this due to his 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination. "Harrod argues that his intended questions would not have incriminated Tovrea and would only establish the legitimacy of the Mineral Exploration Company" and should have been allowed at his trial.

Some people also claimed that Harrod, a large man weighing about 250 pounds, could not have gotten through the window to get into the home or make it down the rugged mountainous terrain to get to the house.

Nonetheless, Harrod was convicted of murder in November 1997 and sentenced to death the following May. Harrod never revealed who may have helped him with the killing or who may have hired him. He always proclaimed his innocence.

In 2005, Harrod was re-sentenced to death by a jury and remains on death row.