"You could tell immediately - that there was a body in that room."
- Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan
It was the 26th of February 2014. A Wednesday. Fifty seven year old Nancy Pfister was at home in Aspen, Colorado, United States. Nancy had grown up in Aspen and residents of Aspen knew her family well. Her father, Art, was a cofounder of the Buttermilk ski area and her mother, Betty, was a member of Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. Art and Betty had three daughters and Nancy was one of the three.
Nancy was a popular Aspen resident due to her larger than life personality. She was a socialite and people flocked to her. Despite having admirers and different boyfriends throughout her life, she even dated Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas, Nancy was content with not getting married especially as she had what she wanted, a baby girl called Juliana. It suited her. Nancy was a free spirit and traveled the world. Nancy seemed very much in control of her own life and her presence was felt wherever she went so when her friend, Kathy Carpenter, didn't hear from her for a few days, the silence worried her and she decided to call over to her house to check up on her.
That day, the 26th of February, Kathy called to Nancy's house after work. She hadn't seen or spoken to her in three days. When Kathy was inside the house, she called out to Nancy but there was no answer. Kathy noticed a small smear of blood on the headboard of Nancy's bed. The bed itself was in disarray and the covers had been pulled off from one side of the bed. Nancy had a large walk in closet inside her bedroom and when Kathy checked it, it was locked.
Kathy retrieved the spare key she had for the closet from her home and opened the door of the closet. She was immediately hit with the most atrocious, awful odor. There was a body inside the closet.
Kathy called 911 at 6.15pm and told them there was a body at Nancy's house. She believed it was Nancy.
Nancy Pfister (on the right) and Kathy Carpenter
Police arrived at Nancy's house and found Nancy's body inside the closet. Her body was wrapped from the neck down in a heavy duty trash bag and kitchen trash bags had been placed over her head. Nancy had been beaten to death. She suffered multiple blunt force trauma due to repeated blows to her head. Police found an electrical extension cord wrapped around her neck.
Despite the brutality of Nancy's attack, there was very little blood at the scene, apart from the small smear on the headboard. But when police flipped over the mattress, they found a large pool of blood. Whoever attacked Nancy, flipped the mattress over before they left. Who would attack her in such a brutal manner?
Kathy told police that there had been trouble recently between Nancy and her tenants William Trey Styler and his wife Nancy Styler.
An Autopsy was carried out the day after Nancy's body was found. The Pitkin County Coroner, Dr Steve Ayers, said that Nancy was murdered with three or four blows to the head and he determined that she was killed with a hard object with a slightly curved edge. He could not say the exact type of weapon used but determined the end of the instrument was small, within an inch or two. He stated that the time of death was hard to ascertain but it was likely she was killed sometime between the evening of the 24th of February and the morning of the 25th of February.
In relation to the injuries that Nancy received, there were three or four blows and the blunt force trauma was located between Nancy's right forehead and right temple. There were a number of bruises on her left upper arm, right neck and right jaw.
Dr Ayers believed that it was likely Nancy died within minutes of the attack and that the attack itself was rapidly fatal.
Dr Ayers determined the cause of death was the result of a homicide.
A toxicology report revealed that there were low to therapeutic amounts of commonly prescribed muscle relaxers and sleep aid in Nancy's system.
Police began their investigation and spoke to Trey and Nancy Styler based on the information Kathy provided. The police had discovered that Nancy had recently returned from a trip to Australia and had evicted the Stylers from her house. Nancy had rented her house to the Stylers while she was in Australia. Nancy decided to rent out her house during the peak ski season while she went to Australia for a few months. Every year, she went somewhere warm. Before she left for Australia, Nancy put out an ad in October 2013 in The Aspen Times:
"three bedroom house, three-and-a-half baths. House on the mountain. No cats."
Nancy Styler and Trey saw the ad and got in touch with Nancy. They were interested in moving to Aspen from their home in Denver. They seemed like they would make good tenants, people who would look after and respect the house. Nancy Styler was a world renowned lily pad expert and Trey was a retired anesthesiologist.
Nancy and Trey had lived a good life in a beautiful and spacious home for many years but had recently fallen on hard times and wanted to move so that they could start again.
Trey and Nancy Styler
Trey had been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological disease. He resigned from his position as chief of staff at a Denver hospital as he could no longer practice.
Trey and Nancy Styler were involved in two lawsuits which wiped out the savings they had. In despair and with no money, they decided to move to Aspen to try something new. Nancy Styler had also attended medical school so she decided to use that advantage to start a new business. She completed courses in Botox and laser and hoped to start a spa in Aspen. It seemed an ideal location to start a spa due to the wealthy residents there and the wealthy celebrities and tourists who visit every year.
When they saw Nancy's ad in The Aspen Times, they thought her home would be a perfect base to get started and make contacts.
That was how they became Nancy's tenants.
So police had to establish what went wrong and how a normal relationship had deteriorated so badly that Nancy was bludgeoned to death in her own home.
When police spoke to Trey and Nancy Styler, they didn't hide their disdain for Nancy. Nancy Styler told police that they got in touch with Nancy as soon as they saw the ad in October and Nancy agreed that they could move in and in fact, even said that they could move in immediately even though it would be another month before she left for Australia. In exchange, Nancy hoped that Nancy Styler would help her prepare for her trip.
Nancy Styler told police when they first met Nancy, she was very welcoming and supportive of their new business. She even indicated that she may be interested in investing in the business. But when they moved in with her, they found her to be very demanding and said that she treated them like slaves. So they were glad when Nancy left for Australia in November 2013.
Nancy asked her friend Kathy to collect the rent while she was in Australia. Kathy agreed and she also agreed to help take care of her Labradoodle called Gabe.
In January 2014 Nancy began posting posts to Facebook from Australia complaining that Trey and Nancy Styler had stopped paying rent and owed her for utilities. Nancy Styler told police that she sent them multiple messages and emails too.
A month later, in February 2012, Nancy told the Stylers that she was coming home three months early and told Kathy to make sure they were out of the house before she got back.
The Stylers left the house but some of their property, spa equipment they had purchased for their new business, was still stored in Nancy's garage when she returned home.
Nancy arrived back in Aspen on the 22nd of February and asked Kathy to give Trey a note which outlined what she believed they owed her. She said that she was owed $14,000 for utilities and damages to her house and wanted payment.
According to Nancy Styler, Nancy threatened to get a restraining order to keep them off her property but Nancy Styler believed that she would have no legal right to do so, so she went to the house with Trey. Nancy Styler told police that when they got to the house, Nancy wasn't there so they entered the house and packed up their property. They were there until 4pm in the afternoon and returned the next morning to get the rest of the stuff. Nancy Styler told police that Nancy wasn't there. But she did notice that Nancy's dog Gabe was home alone. Nancy Styler told police that she had no idea what happened to Nancy as she didn't see her at all at the house when they were there.
Nancy and Trey Styler were interviewed for twelve hours by the police. Police released them without charge. Apart from Kathy's assertion that there had been a dispute between them and Nancy, there was no other evidence that indicated that they were involved in Nancy's death.
Shortly after their release, police found the evidence they needed. After Nancy evicted the Stylers from her home, they moved into a motel in Aspen and just 100 yards from that motel, a man collecting trash found items belonging to Nancy Pfister and he knew it was significant as he had heard about her murder on the news. He told police and they went to the motel and found the bag he referred to which was a bag of Nancy's personal belongings. In that same bag, police found the vehicle registration for the Stylers' Jaguar. Why was that in Nancy's bag?
But that wasn't all they found. They found an old hammer and they believed that was used as the murder weapon. When tested, they discovered it had Nancy Pfister's blood on it. Trey's DNA was found on the plastic bag that the hammer was inside. A key to Nancy's closet was found a few yards from the Styler's motel room.
Trey and Nancy Styler were rearrested and this time they were charged. They were charged with first-degree murder.
But police were not convinced that they had the full story. They believed that there was a possibility that someone else was involved or that the Stylers were being framed. Some of the evidence found was a little too easy to find. They also wondered how involved Trey was due to his neurological condition. He was weak and frail when he was arrested and could barely stand. He was mostly wheelchair bound. But who else did they think may have been involved?
The Aspen community were shocked when police arrested Nancy's friend and the local bank teller Kathy Carpenter.
Over the course of their investigation, police discovered a few things that made them suspicious of Kathy. While Kathy and Nancy were friends, Kathy wasn't always happy with how Nancy treated her. She believed that Nancy saw her as more of a personal assistant even though she was never paid for that role. Police believed that she became friends with Nancy Styler and they shared stories about how Nancy treated them.
They also discovered that just one day after Kathy found Nancy's body, she went to Nancy's safety deposit box at Alpine Bank and took $6,000 of Nancy's money and two family rings out.
When police questioned Kathy about it, she told police that Nancy had previously given her legal access to the safe deposit box and she claimed that she took them in order to give them to Nancy's daughter Juliana.
Kathy admitted that things weren't always perfect but that she cared very much for Nancy and they were good friends. She told police that Nancy could be demanding and would frequently tell her what to do but they also had a lot of fun times together.
Police discovered that Nancy Styler called Kathy three or four times on the 26th of February, before Nancy's body was found, adding fuel to their belief that the three of them were involved in Nancy's murder.
Kathy was also charged with first degree murder.
A few weeks before the Trial was due to begin, Trey told the Judge that he wanted to confess.
Trey agreed to a plea deal. In return for a twenty year prison sentence for pleading guilty to the lessor charge of second degree murder and for his wife's unconditional freedom, Trey would tell the Court what happened to Nancy.
Part of that plea deal was significant and would have long lasting consequences. Nancy Styler can never be charged in connection with Nancy Pfister's death.
Trey told the Judge:
“I am guilty, your honor.”
According to Trey, he killed Nancy and he acted alone. The Court heard that he went to Nancy's house to try to reason with her. When he left the motel room, his wife was asleep. When he got to Nancy's house, the door was unlocked so he entered. He looked around the house and found Nancy asleep in her bedroom.
According to Trey, the fact that Nancy was asleep bothered him greatly. His life was falling apart, he was in financial ruin, Nancy was demanding money from him and holding on to his spa equipment and there was Nancy. Sleeping peacefully in her bed. That caused him to lose his rational mind.
The Court heard that Trey went to the garage and got a trash bag and a hammer and returned to the bedroom. He hit Nancy in the head with the hammer over and over again until she was dead.
He placed the bag over Nancy's head after she was dead to keep the blood to a minimum and pulled her body onto a sheet on the floor. He tied her up with an extension cord and dragged her body into the closet.
Trey was sentenced to the twenty years that was part of his plea deal and as soon as he was inside prison, Nancy Styler changed her name, moved to another state and filed for divorce.
On the 6th of August 2015, Trey was found dead inside his cell. It was ruled a suicide.
After Trey's death, Nancy Styler, now Nancy Masson-Styler, collected $1 million in life insurance.
After Nancy collected the money, Nancy Pfister's daughter Juliana filed a wrongful-death suit against her.
Nancy and her daughter Juliana
The lawsuit alleged that Trey made up the confession in order to protect his wife and to stop Nancy Styler from being prosecuted for the same crime.
Furthermore, the lawsuit argued that Nancy profited off Nancy's murder with a book deal and the collection of the $1 million life-insurance money.
Nancy filed for Chapter 7 protection and Juliana filed an adversary action in the personal-bankruptcy case as she argued that she wasn’t officially notified of the bankruptcy until after she filed the wrongful death suit.
A U.S. bankruptcy Judge granted injunctive relief to Juliana and ordered Nancy to hand over proceeds she collected from the $1 million insurance policy.
Kathy did not get the same deal that Nancy got, namely that she can never be prosecuted in relation to Nancy's death, and she can be prosecuted if new evidence comes to light but she maintains her innocence.
Since Trey's confession, there have been many people who have questioned whether or not Trey could have murdered Nancy with no assistance at all due to his medical condition. Could he beat Nancy to death with a hammer and drag her body into the closet and flip the mattress himself? There were also questions as to how Nancy Styler, who knew Nancy warned them to stay off the property, spent almost a day and a half packing up her belongings without any fear that Nancy would arrive home. But, unless new evidence comes to light, it is unlikely that anyone else will be prosecuted and even if new evidence comes to light in relation to Nancy Styler, she will not be prosecuted.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello