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Who Killed A Popular Aspen Socialite Found Stuffed In A Closet?
Popular socialite Nancy Pfister had been a beloved fixture in Aspen, but someone wanted her dead.
Amid the picturesque mountain backdrop, the life of one of Aspen’s most prominent residents was cut violently short.
Nancy Pfister was found dead, bound with an extension cord and wrapped in multiple plastic bags and blankets, in the closet of her mountainside chalet by close friend Kathy Carpenter in February of 2014, according to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.”
The 57-year-old had been bludgeoned to death as she slept, then dragged from the bed and tucked into the closet. The death was quickly ruled a homicide, but unraveling who killed the socialite would be much more complex.
Known for her joyful, spontaneous spirit, Pfister was once engaged to actor Michael Douglas and partied with Jack Nicholson and Hunter S. Thompson.
“She had a lot of famous friends; she had a lot of friends who were not famous. She treated everyone the same way. She had a very genuine connection with people,” friend Mary Conover said.
Pfister’s father, Art Pfister, made the family’s fortune after turning his ranch into the popular Buttermilk Ski resort.
For most of her life, she lived a life of privilege, jetting off to exotic locales at a moment’s notice and getting to know everyone — from the busboy to the wealthy elite — in the quiet resort community.
“It was like she had a secret and she wanted to share it with you. And that secret was, let’s all lighten up and have fun and enjoy life and be grateful,” friend Billy Clayton told Dateline’s Keith Morrison.
At 29-years-old, Pfister had her only child, a daughter named Juliana.
Juliana would later describe her mother to CBS’ “48 Hours” as a “complete social butterfly” who was a “really special person.”
"She was the person I loved the most in the whole universe. She is the person I love most," Juliana said. "But I bet if she wasn't my mom, she would have been one of my best friends."
But Pfister’s blunt personality didn’t endear her to everyone. After her death, investigators considered she may have had a disgruntled lover, while also looking closely at the couple who had been renting her home just before her murder.
Pfister had been found wrapped up like a mummy, covered in plastic bags and blankets, in the closet of her master bedroom. Authorities would later discover that she died from blunt force trauma to the head. They also found that the killer had flipped her mattress over in an attempt to conceal a large blood stain at the head of the bed.
“It did appear to be, yes, a premeditated crime that occurred while she was sleeping,” Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan said.
Lisa Miller, an investigator with the district attorney’s office, said authorities believed Pfister had likely been killed by more than one person, given the physical demands it would have taken to flip the mattress over, drag the dead body into the closet and wrap it in plastic.
There were also no signs of forced entry, suggesting the killer had a key to get into the Buttermilk Mountain home.
Shortly before her death, Pfister had rented her home out while she was away in Australia to Dr. William ‘”Trey” Styler, an anesthesiologist, and his wife Nancy. The couple had once lived a lavish life in an upscale area of Denver, where they were known among the botany community for their ability to grow giant Victoria waterlilies.
But the couple hit hard times after Trey got sick and had to close his medical practice, sending the couple into debt.
They wanted a fresh start and decided to relocate to Aspen, where they planned to open a spa. They saw Pfister’s ad in the newspaper looking for renters and decided to respond. At first, the couple — who were both in their 60s — hit it off with Pfister.
Pfister even suggested they move in a month early with her as she got ready to leave on her trip.
“We went up there and it just seemed perfect,” Nancy Styler recalled.
But soon after moving in, trouble began to brew.
“After the first couple of days, she treated me like a slave. Like ‘get my cigarettes, get this, get my drink’ and I was not used to being so disrespected,” Nancy Styler told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.” “It was not pretty.”
The trouble continued after Pfister left for her vacation. Nancy Styler said she discovered several items in the home — like the stove and dishwasher — didn’t work and the couple refused to pay their $4,000 rent until the repairs were made.
Carpenter, who was serving as a go-between in Pfister’s absence, arranged for the repairs to be made and the couple paid her $6,000 in cash for their rent.
Yet, the Stylers decided they wanted to move out amid the drama and told Carpenter they’d be out by Feb. 22, 2014, moving instead to a nearby motel in Basalt.
Unable to find another renter, Pfister was forced to cut her trip early and returned home on Feb. 22.
After moving into the motel, the Stylers returned to Pfister’s home several times in the days that followed to collect more of their belongings, but they told authorities they never saw Pfister again.
When they were brought in for questioning, Nancy Styler admitted she had once said she wanted to kill Pfister, but insisted it had just been an exaggeration in a moment of frustration.
“I said, you know, ‘I would like to wring her neck. Because she is such a drunk and making me so crazy,” Nancy Styler said in the interrogation video, obtained by “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.”
Trey also denied being involved in the murder and told investigators that he was physically incapable of committing a murder.
“My condition is such that I don’t think I could beat up a kid,” he said.
The Stylers were arrested after a city worker in Basalt stumbled upon a trash bag placed into a public trash can behind their motel. Inside, investigators discovered a bloody hammer, along with a prescription pill bottle in Pfister’s name and a vehicle registration card for Nancy and Trey Styler’s Jaguar.
Three days later, a key to Pfister’s master bedroom closet was found near a trashcan outside their motel.
Although the couple was behind bars, investigators also considered other possible suspects.
“We would have been amiss had we not looked at the possibility that someone was setting these people up,” Miller said.
They took a hard look at Carpenter after noting the bizarre comments Pfister’s friend had made in the 911 call to report the death.
“She’s dead — full of blood,” a hysterical Carpenter said.
Yet, Pfister’s body had been concealed in blankets and a plastic bag, making it difficult to tell that it was even a body at all.
“We’re looking at photos of the crime scene and we knew there’s no way that she saw what she said she saw,” Miller said, adding that Carpenter also had keys to the home since she often watched the property while Pfister was away.
“Kathy Carpenter really cared about Nancy Pfister. She became her person, like, to drive her different places. I think she enjoyed it because she got invited around to places and things that she probably would not have gotten invited to had she not been with Nancy Pfister,” Pfister’s friend Rita Bellino told “Snapped: Killer Couples” of the friendship.
Carpenter had also been the last known person to see Pfister alive and had pinned up a “do not disturb” sign on Pfister’s door when she left.
Carpenter told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered” she left the note there so her friend could recover from jetlag in peace and insisted she had nothing to do with Pfister’s murder.
“I had nothing to do with this. She was my dear friend. I loved her,” she said.
But investigators also pointed out that the day after Carpenter found Pfister’s body she went to the bank and took out the $6,000 in cash and an heirloom ring from Pfister’s safe deposit box.
Carpenter insisted to “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered” that she wanted to give the money and ring to Pfister’s daughter, Juliana, as part of an earlier promise she’d made to her friend.
“I wanted to fulfill her wish,” she said.
Despite her denials, investigators had come up with a theory of their own. They believed that Carpenter bonded with the Stylers over their shared frustration with Pfister and worked together to carry out the murder. Carpenter was arrested three weeks after Pfister was killed and held along with the Stylers.
It seemed like the case was all wrapped up, until a sudden surprise confession from Trey. The accomplished doctor admitted to killing Pfister with the hammer but insisted he acted alone.
“I lost my mind. Or at least, I lost my rationale mind,” he said in his confession, telling authorities he had snuck out of the motel while his wife was sleeping to carry out the murder.
With the confession in hand, authorities released Carpenter and Nancy Styler. Trey Styler was convicted of first-degree murder in Pfister’s death. He took his own life in his prison cell in 2015.