Guilt by Matrimony: A Memoir of Love, Madness, and the Murder of Nancy Pfister

Guilt by Matrimony: A Memoir of Love, Madness, and the Murder of Nancy Pfister


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In February 2014, Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister was murdered in her own home—brutally bludgeoned, wrapped in a sheet, and stuffed inside a locked closet. The question was: Who did it?

Fewer than twelve hours after her body was found and without any evidence, police decided a married couple from Denver had killed her. Within a few days, they arrested and charged Nancy Styler, a friend of Pfister’s who’d had a falling out with her after a business deal went sour, and Dr. Trey Styler, Nancy’s disabled husband, who recently lost the family home, his medical practice, and any hope of a peaceful retirement for himself and his wife. Eleven days later, police also arrested and charged Kathy Carpenter, Pfister’s underpaid and overworked personal assistant and closest friend.

Months later, Trey Styler, who was slowly losing his grip on reality as he battled with mental illness, confessed to the crime. Rampant speculation spread about whether he was involved at all—or if his confession was that of a man on his deathbed—because a medical condition appeared to have left him barely able to walk, much less carry out such a heinous crime.

In Guilt by Matrimony, Styler’s widow, Nancy, reveals the answers to the biggest mysteries of this case and recounts the trauma of being falsely accused and imprisoned for a first-degree murder she had no knowledge of. And, in the only interview before his death, Trey gives his account of that fateful day.

New York Times bestselling author Daleen Berry covers this compelling story from the inside, following the Stylers from their fairy-tale life in Denver to the morning of their simultaneous arrest to Nancy’s release from jail and her attempts to rebuild her shattered life. Filled with details from exclusive interviews, a close look at the botched small-town police work, and first-person accounts of what really happened, Guilt by Matrimony is the definitive look at a shocking murder that rocked Aspen.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781941631959
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 11/17/2015
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 594,894
Product dimensions: 8.90(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Nancy Styler is a scientist and botanist whose interest in the Victoria Lily led her to supply the exotic flowers and its seeds to more than fifty conservatories around the world. Styler was also garden editor for Colorado Homes and Lifestyles Magazine. Educated in France as an anesthetist, Styler is also an aesthetician, an accomplished seamstress, and businesswoman with extensive public speaking experience. Most recently, she was falsely arrested, charged with first-degree murder, which is a capital offense in Colorado, and sent to two different county jails for a combined 107 days. During her stay, Styler became a mentor to several of her fellow inmates and discovered the single tragic reason most women end up incarcerated: while still young girls living at home, they were never taught that they had value, or to believe in themselves.

New York Times bestselling author Daleen Berry is an award-winning journalist who writes about important social topics such as domestic violence, suicide and murder, sexual crimes, and mental illness. She is the author of Sister of Silence.

Read an Excerpt



A persistent pounding woke Nancy Styler from a deep sleep at 5:30 a.m. on February 27, 2014. Even though she didn't sleep with her hearing aids, the pounding on the door of her motel room was so loud that Nancy could easily hear it. By the time she threw on her robe and walked the few steps to the door, only the security chain, straining at the force pushing against it, kept the door from opening entirely.

Nancy peeked through the crack. In the darkness she could make out several armed men wearing body armor. She immediately thought something bad was happening at the motel where she and her husband were staying, and a SWAT team had come to save them.

"Just a second." Nancy tried to open the door, but the pressure from the other side kept it so taut she couldn't move it. "Let me close the door so I can remove the chain." For a split second, the chain was loose enough that Nancy could slip it from the confines of its metal bar. The men surged into the room, bringing a blast of cold Colorado air with them.

"Nancy and William Styler, we have a judge's order to take you in." In the commotion, Nancy couldn't tell who was speaking, but she could make out clothing that said "Colorado Bureau of Investigation" and "Pitkin County Sheriff's Department."

Someone showed Nancy a subpoena. Distraught, she turned to her husband. William "Trey" Styler was still in bed, but struggling to sit up. "Trey, am I dreaming? Is this a dream?"

"No, there's a dead body," a voice from the middle of the pack answered curtly.

Nancy gasped. "Who? What? We don't know anything about a dead body."

No one answered her.

"We're taking you into custody for questioning," another man added.

"Please be careful! He's out of his medicine," Nancy said, seeing the men urging her husband to get out of bed. "He might fall."

"We had to hold him up, he was so weak," Detective Brad Gibson would later tell investigative reporter Daleen Berry. Gibson had been with the Pitkin County Sheriff's Department for fourteen years and was the agency's investigative coordinator. He was excited, because this was his first "hot" murder case.

As Trey stood, armed men began snapping photos. Everyone in the room could see that his torso and legs were emaciated, because he was naked. They could also see how unsteady he was.

"Remove your robe, ma'am," one of the men said. "We need photos of you, too."

Nancy, sixty-two years old, came fully awake then, her disbelief turning to shock. She wanted to refuse, knowing she was wearing nothing underneath her robe, but she was afraid. So she complied, dropping her robe on the bed. Someone ordered her to turn around, first this way, then that. Then they began taking close-up shots of Nancy's hands and arms. Then a voice stopped him.

"Yeah, but you know we aren't supposed to. Heather can get them for us, since she's a woman," the voice said.

Basalt City Officer Heather Nelson had received a 3:37 a.m. text message asking for her assistance in serving the warrant. She met up with Undersheriff Ron Ryan, Director of Operations Alex Burchetta, Director of Investigations Brad Gibson, Deputies Levi Borst and Monique Merritt, and Basalt city officer Ernie Mack at the Basalt police department at 5:15 a.m. There, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent briefed the group about their mission before everyone headed to the Aspenalt Lodge.

Officer Nelson was outside putting crime tape on the Stylers' Jaguar and arranging for the vehicle to be towed when an officer inside the room radioed her to come inside. She did and as Nelson took the camera, Nancy noticed the female officer's hand shaking and watched her draw a long, deep breath as if to steel herself. Then Nelson began snapping nude photos of Nancy.

Nancy felt like a cornered animal. Somehow, as if through a thick mist, Nancy heard her sixty-five-year-old husband's soft voice coming from between the two queen beds.

"Can you please close the door, officers? It's February. It's freezing in here."

No one responded, even though he kept asking periodically.

"Why are we being treated like this? We haven't done anything wrong," Nancy said, but no one seemed to be listening to her, either. "Are we being arrested?" "No," one of the men replied. "You're being brought in for questioning."

"I really need to use the bathroom," Nancy said, trying to cover her private areas with both arms. "May I use the bathroom?"

Nancy fell silent and waited. The men started taking swabs from under Nancy and Trey's nails, from inside their mouths. Nancy knew they were collecting DNA samples. This is absolutely crazy! Nancy remembers thinking to herself.

Finally, the pressure on her bladder building, Nancy spoke. "Please, I really need to use the bathroom." The men ignored her. "Will someone please let me use the bathroom before I have an accident?"

"Heather, take Mrs. Styler to the restroom and keep an eye on her."

The women maneuvered around the uniforms and into the bathroom, while Nancy tried to shield her body with her arms. It felt so good to relieve her bladder that Nancy didn't even care about Heather — who had kindly averted her eyes — standing guard. By then, Nancy was beyond humiliated.

When the women returned to the bedroom, the room was a whirl of activity. One officer was dumping out their suitcases, another, her purse. Two others were helping Trey don an orange prison outfit and his custom-designed orthopedic shoes. Someone handed Nancy an oversized orange top and matching pants. "PITKIN COUNTY JAIL" was emblazoned across the back of the shirt. Nancy felt her stomach turn as she donned the outfit. A pair of tennis shoes four sizes too large was dropped in her lap.

She repeated her earlier question. "Whose body is it?" Again, no one answered her.

Handcuffed and shackled, they led her outside and placed her in the front seat of a waiting Pitkin County Sheriff's Office SUV. She watched other officers lead her husband outside. As the vehicle started to pull away, Nancy strained her neck to see Trey. The Aspenalt Lodge grew smaller and smaller as Nancy watched them place him in another vehicle. When the SUV turned a corner, Nancy could no longer see her husband.

She had never felt so alone in all her life.

* * *

As the cruiser moved through town, Nancy struggled to get comfortable. If she tried to move her wrists to relieve the pressure against her lower back, the handcuffs cut into her skin.

A dozen different scenarios ran through Nancy's mind — all of them bad. They involved her landlady, Nancy Merle Pfister; her friend Kathy Carpenter; and, of course, alcohol. Alcohol was always the culprit, when it came to the two women's fights. Nancy was afraid that this time Pfister may have gotten so angry that she killed Kathy. Or, she thought, Pfister, finally destitute, had killed herself.

Behind the wheel, the deputy was mostly silent, but he still treated Nancy humanely, asking her if the temperature was comfortable.

Suddenly, the police radio came alive. A voice on the other end said Christina and Suzanne were on the phone, asking for help. Nancy recognized the names — they were Pfister's sisters. Something must have happened to Pfister.

* * *

When the Stylers met Pfister four months earlier, the socialite told them all about her prestigious family. She was the daughter of Elizabeth "Betty" Haas, a female aviator and the woman who helped organize and even flew on rescue missions with the Pitkin County Air Rescue Group, and Arthur "Art" Pfister, who made millions buying up acres and acres of cheap Aspen land during the 1940s. In 1959, he and his neighbor, Friedl Pfiefer, turned it into Buttermilk Mountain, playground to the rich, the famous, and anyone who hoped to become so. Eventually, Art sold his share to Aspen Skiing Company. Pfister hated seeing her family's land parceled out to people who wouldn't care for it, love it, like she did.

"You're a writer?" she asked Trey.

He nodded. "Well, I like to write."

"I want you to write a book about my life and my mother's," Pfister said, opening a cabinet door to expose a tall stack of journals. "You can use my diaries. I want to call it 'My Mother Parked Her Helicopter in the Driveway.'"

Pfister, a gregarious, gracious host who offered Nancy and Trey a glass of Champagne, bragged about her other connections to wealth and fame. There was her grandmother, Merle Haas. "She translated the beloved children's book Babar the Elephant from French into English," Pfister gushed. Her maternal grandfather, Robert Haas, "was one of the founding publishers at Random House."

Pfister also told Nancy and Trey that she and her sister Suzanne hadn't spoken to each other for more than a year, after arguing over their mother's estate. Nancy Styler, whose own bond with her only sister, Cindy, was almost as close as the one she had with her adult son, couldn't imagine such a thing. She felt sorry for the two women when Pfister told her they fought about everything, from their mother's inheritance to her fancy dishes, fur coats, jewelry, and artwork. The strife had grown so bad that the women had taken their battle to civil court.

When she learned Pfister had been a trust-fund child, Nancy marveled at the irony: so was Trey, though his family's wealth couldn't begin to touch that of the Pfisters. His dad worked as a CPA and later became wealthy after several lucrative oil deals. Trey's trust-fund nest egg came from savvy investments his mother made after Trey's father died. Nancy's family had never had money, but after marrying Trey, she quickly grew accustomed to life's luxuries.

When Pfister invited the Stylers to stay at her Buttermilk Mountain chalet for free during the next month, Nancy and Trey were overwhelmed by her hospitality. They weren't there much, since they were busy making trips back and forth from Denver. And when they were, they were running errands for Pfister, or Nancy was cleaning her house. During that time, they only heard the socialite talk to her other sister, Christina. Nancy sensed theirs wasn't a close relationship, but unlike Suzanne, at least they still talked.

* * *

As the police radio came alive again with a crackle, Nancy snapped to attention. "Suzanne Pfister is on the phone. She wants a protective order against the subjects."

"Is Nancy Pfister dead?" The words escaped Nancy's mouth before she could stop them, and her eyes grew wide as she suddenly remembered what Pfister had told them during their stay at the chalet months earlier. "If anything ever happens to me, tell the police to look at my sister Suzanne."



Nancy Merle Pfister was restless and jetlagged. She looked at her iPhone, the digital display showing 1 a.m. Monday, February 24. No wonder she couldn't sleep. If she were still in Australia, where she had spent the previous three months, the evening would just be beginning. More dinners, more drinks, more people to befriend, and more excitement. She always craved more excitement.

Not today, though. Today she was in bed, buried under blankets back home in Aspen, which was also buried beneath a deep blanket of snow. Pfister sighed. The entire reason she left was to escape the winter weather. It was all their fault anyway — her tenants, Trey and Nancy Styler. They had left her high and dry without any money in Australia, forcing her to return to collect the three months' rent, $12,000, due her. Well, that's what she told the world, on her Facebook page.

But it wasn't true.

In truth, Pfister didn't care about the Stylers. Their rent was paid in full through February 22, according to the December 31 email from Trey to Kathy Carpenter. Kathy was Pfister's closest friend and the woman who cared for Pfister's affairs when she was traveling around the world. In turn, Kathy emailed Pfister, saying that she had taken the rent money and an additional $650 Trey paid for utilities on January 3 and deposited it all into Pfister's safety deposit box at Alpine Bank, where Kathy worked full time as a teller. Still, Nancy had kicked her tenants out three months early; that meant they couldn't open their mountain spa, as the three of them had discussed back in October when they first met. Originally, Pfister said they could have her place until May 22, when she was supposed to return from Australia. But then, when things didn't exactly work out in Australia and Pfister had to leave the country to renew her expired visa anyway, she decided to return home early, due to the pending sale of Pfister family land. She blamed the Stylers, though, for her return. But so what? She knew "those assholes" — or at least the wife — thought they were above her anyway. She would show them!

Local residents knew Pfister often rented out what she called her "chalet" while she flew around the globe from one foreign locale to another. Like so many of her previous tenants, whom she had also kicked out early, Pfister simply didn't care. She had to have a place to stay, and she would do whatever it took to get them out.

Pfister's colorful history of being at odds with people was well documented. While she was liked by her close friends, Pfister had a penchant for making enemies. Even her relationship with her sisters, Christina and Suzanne, was strained, to say the least. In fact, complete strangers who reached out to police after her death said Pfister had told them that if any harm ever befell her, the investigation should start at Suzanne's front door.

* * *

Getting the Stylers to leave her 1833 West Buttermilk residence hadn't even been that difficult. It had been like a game, really. She just got two of her good friends, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Bob Braudis, the former sheriff, involved, along with several other Aspenites she knew. And like Pfister told one of them, her friend Mimi Scott, in a February 18, 2014, email, "I just wanted to put a little fire under their ass!!!!"

No, Pfister wasn't worried about the Stylers. She didn't have time to worry about them. She was worried about money, though. Pfister always worried about money, even though she had even more money now than she did before she left the States: $664,837.20 more, from her deceased mother's estate. Instead, she was corralling the troops, wooing everyone to her side — for the real battle. It was just a week away, scheduled for Friday, February 28. That's when that trustee AndyHecht her father had put in charge of all the Pfister family property and funds was going to sell what was left of her daddy's land.

Hecht was a prominent local real estate attorney and investor in his own right. He was a long-time friend of Arthur Pfister and handled most of the Pfister family's legal affairs. Nancy Pfister did not trust him; whether paranoid, justified, or both, Pfister thought he mishandled the deathbed sale of a prime parcel of Pfister lakefront property. So the last thing she wanted was Hecht to know she was even thinking about the sale — or that she planned to make sure that neither he nor Pfister's sister Suzanne ripped her off in the process.

Of course, she was equally embarrassed about her dealings with her Aussie playmate, Richard. Their romp had ended badly in Australia, and Pfister didn't want word to get out about that, either. If it hadn't been for Suzanne bullying her, Pfister realized she might have caught on to Richard sooner — instead of not long after she arrived in Australia. Her younger sister, Christina, was right! She had called him "smarmy." Christina had tried to tell Pfister that Richard kept calling her repeatedly, trying to get information about Pfister's trust fund and the return she got on her investment, but she hadn't listened.

Christina asked Richard why he was interested, but all he would say was that he wanted to protect Pfister. At the time, Pfister truly believed him. But Christina, who said Richard "gave me the real heebie-jeebies," tried to warn her. Pfister kicked herself when she realized that she should have listened to her little sister.

Pfister's thoughts weren't very coherent and they bounced back and forth between the pending land deals, Richard, Christina, Suzanne, Hecht, and the Stylers. Just the thought of the couple — how arrogant and self-righteous they were — angered Pfister, who grabbed her iPhone. Using the voice-to-text feature (which often resulted in texts with errors throughout), Pfister dictated a quick message to Mimi at 1:32 a.m.

"Mimi did you win I haven't really checked my emails today but I'm call me it's Monday nowlagging [sic] in the middle of the morning so give seven my love and the kids too!!!! Can't wait to give you a big hug!!"

On a roll now, two minutes later, Pfister texted another friend, Sigrid Lee.

"Hey Sigrid give me a call when you get a chance will you yeah that looks like fun okay well I wish you would come and visit me if you can I can't move I'm too tired but I'd like to show you what a fucking wreck they've done to my house you won't believe it anyhow if you know of anybody that wants make some money I need to put the house back together okay I love you! Call when you get a chance."

Pfister had no way of knowing that was the last text message she would ever send.


Excerpted from "Guilt by Matrimony"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Nancy Styler and Daleen Berry.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Criminals in Room 122,
Chapter 2 Five Days Earlier,
Chapter 3 Trey to the Rescue,
Chapter 4 Many People with a Motive,
Chapter 5 Get a Civil Standby,
Chapter 6 Those Squatters Stole My Expensive Art!,
Chapter 7 What Is That Smell?,
Chapter 8 Your Landlady Doesn't Own This Mountain Anymore,
Chapter 9 My Friend Is in the Closet Dead!,
Chapter 10 Mentally Distraught ... and Medicated,
Chapter 11 You Always Lawyer Up,
Chapter 12 Nancy Takes the Wheel,
Chapter 13 Celebrity Chef Caters A-list Party,
Chapter 14 I Loved Her from a Distance,
Chapter 15 Crime in the Roaring Fork Valley,
Chapter 16 Please Come to Boston,
Chapter 17 You're Bulletproof. You've Got This.,
Chapter 18 Legal Help Arrives from Denver,
Chapter 19 Leading Patrick Carney,
Chapter 20 The Blue Bathrobe Seen around the World,
Chapter 21 When Life Was a Fairy Tale,
Chapter 22 A Big Sister Named Victoria,
Chapter 23 Trauma to Trey,
Chapter 24 Angels in Aspen,
Chapter 25 Loose Lips Sink Ships,
Chapter 26 What the Media Didn't Know,
Chapter 27 Anatomy of an Affidavit,
Chapter 28 Wrong Time of Death,
Chapter 29 Courtroom Drama,
Chapter 30 Show Me the Science,
Chapter 31 And Three Makes Murder,
Chapter 32 Outgunned and Overwhelmed,
Chapter 33 What Nancy Needed to Hear,
Chapter 34 Becoming Nancy,
Chapter 35 Fallen Angel,
Chapter 36 Never Seen This Dead Woman Before,
Chapter 37 Freeing Nancy,
Chapter 38 Calling Boston,
Chapter 39 Hoarding by Proxy,
Chapter 40 The Saddest Day,
Chapter 41 Snapped,
Chapter 42 The Evidence Finally Vindicates Nancy,
About the Authors,

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