Nancy Pfister Death Claim: Will Daughter Settle With Woman Suspected in Murder?

It's the latest twist in a tragic murder that attracted national attention: the 2014 killing of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

In the beginning, William Styler, a former Denver doctor, and his wife, Nancy Masson (then known as Nancy Styler), were accused of committing the slaying. But William eventually confessed to the homicide, thereby exonerating Masson, even though his physical condition was so poor that a prosecutor admitted to doubts about whether he could have pulled off the crime without assistance.

Last August, William committed suicide in his jail cell — an act that might have closed the book on the case once and for all.

But, no: William's death reportedly triggered a $1 million insurance award in Masson's name — something that inspired Pfister's daughter, Juliana Pfister, to file a wrongful-death claim earlier this year. But rather than a high-profile proceeding in which Masson might have to defend her assertions of innocence, a settlement appears to be in the works.

As we've reported, Pfister, whose parents co-founded the Buttermilk ski resort in Aspen (and who is said to have once been engaged to marry the actor Michael Douglas), was renting her home to Styler and Masson. But early in 2014, she shared a Facebook post implying that they weren't keeping up with payments. Then, in late February of that year, ex-Pfister employee Katherine Carpenter discovered her onetime boss's battered body in the closet of the home.

The 911 call featuring Carpenter is heard on one of the many videos from an archive from a 48 Hours investigation broadcast in 2015.

After Styler, Masson and Carpenter were arrested for the crime, William told authorities that he'd acted alone in taking Pfister's life. He said he pounded her with a hammer as she slept, then removed her dead body from the bed, wrapped her remains in sheets and trash bags and dragged them to the aforementioned closet.

The affidavit, released by the court at the request of numerous media organizations (it's shared here as well), notes questions from the beginning about William's account. The report's author writes, "Based on my experience, I believe it would be very difficult for one person to place a dead body in a trash bag alone. I know how difficult it can be to move a dead body with four grown men."

Granted, William is said to have had a bad temper, continually cursing under his breath about his dispute with Pfister. But he wasn't alone in his antipathy for their landlord. Kathy Carpenter's mom told investigators she heard Masson say of Pfister, "I'll kill her."

Moreover, William's condition was shaky in the days after the body's discovery, as opposed to deteriorating while he was in custody. The affidavit recounts an exchange that began with Styler under the covers of a bed in a room he and Masson were renting at an area lodge. Some excerpts from what followed:

"William Styler had a very difficult time standing."

"I was barely able to help him into a standing position."

"I learned through both Stylers that William Styler had a medical condition akin to Lou Gehrig's disease."

"Starting about fourteen years ago, William Styler began breaking his feet consistently."

Given these physical infirmities, authorities clearly felt that William had help in killing Pfister — and the more they learned about the murder scene, the firmer this belief became. For instance, the mattress had been flipped in order to hide a blood stain, and the report's author writes, "Knowing the physical and medical state of William Styler, it is difficult to believe that he could flip a queen-sized mattress from one side to the other."

The affidavit contains much more damning info, including details of William's failed polygraph test and the author's conclusion that "I have probable cause to believe that Nancy [Masson] Styler conspired to and was complicit in the murder of Nancy Pfister."

Nonetheless, 9th Judicial District DA Sherry Caloia ultimately dropped charges against Masson and accepted William's guilty plea. She also cleared Carpenter.

But in the 48 Hours program, Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan made it clear she thinks Masson at least knew about the killing, and might have had an active hand in it.

"What really stuck out at me...was she couldn’t stop talking about how horrible a person that she thought Nancy Pfister was,” Bryan said. "It appeared that there could have been enough anger there that she would actually have been the one who killed Nancy Pfister.”

Bryan also continued to harbor doubts about Carpenter, telling the program, “Kathy Carpenter was a little bit too quick to point the finger at suspects after discovering the body. She did have motive. Nancy Pfister treated her badly at times. She hurt her. There was this up and down — their relationship was a roller coaster."

Then, on August 6, 2015, William's body was found in his cell, located in the Arrowhead Correctional Center. He had hanged himself.

When William died, Masson was living in Massachusetts and hyping a book titled Guilty by Matrimony, which was said to be scheduled for release last November. Thus far, however, the book hasn't appeared, and the Aspen Times now reports that Masson filed for personal bankruptcy in July 2015.

Her financial situation was presumably improved immeasurably due to William's insurance policy, which made her a $1 million beneficiary. But according to the Times, the bankruptcy court has only authorized the payout of $150,000 thus far, with that amount to be managed by a trustee.

The remainder was put in limbo after Juliana Pfister filed what's termed an "adversary action" in Masson's bankruptcy — a move that followed and essentially replaced a wrongful-death lawsuit put forward in January. In the claim, Juliana argued that William was physically incapable of killing Nancy Pfister without help.

These maneuvers raised the possibility of a legal showdown in which Masson might have to address her role, or lack thereof, in Nancy Pfister's death. But now, a brief filed last week by attorneys for both Juliana and Masson and accessed by the Times states that "the parties have reached an agreement in principle that is expected to lead in a few weeks to the parties being able to dismiss this adversary proceeding."

If such a settlement comes to pass, the details probably won't be made public; they seldom are in such circumstances. So we may never know whether Juliana now believes that Masson had nothing to do with killing her mother, or if she fears she would never be able to prove it.

Look below to see William's final booking photo, the aforementioned affidavit (issued under the name Nancy Styler) and two videos about the case from 48 Hours.

Nancy Styler Arrest Affidavits

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts