Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.
Gary Triano and his wife, Pamela Anne Phillips, were the toasts of Tucson, Arizona’s social scene. He was a high-powered real estate developer, and she was his beautiful, blond trophy spouse. But money troubles soon led to divorce, and a nasty custody battle.
That’s when Phillips took matters into her own hands — and hired a hit man to blow him sky-high. In the end, it would take more than 10 years for justice to be served, including a decade-long search for the bomb maker and an international arrest for the murderous ex-wife.
Oxygen's new series "Dying to Belong," premiering Sunday, August 19 at 7/6c, revisits Triano's murder and his ex-wife's deadly desire to have it all.
Triano was a Tucson native who,according to the Associated Press, made millions investing in Native American-owned bingo halls and slot-machine parlors in Arizona and California, before tribes were allowed to operate their own full-service casinos.
In 1986, Triano married Pamela Phillips, his second wife, who claimed she was worth almost $2 million from her own career as a real estate agent. They soon had two children together, Trevor and Lois. Along with Gary’s two kids from his first marriage, they made one big happy family.
As a rich, glamorous couple during Tucson’s real estate boom, Gary and Pam lived a life of luxury. Their spare time was spent socializing with the city’s business elite and visiting luminaries, including a pre-presidential Donald Trump and his wife at the time, Marla Maples.
"Marla, I love. Marla is like an angel ... And Donald, I adore as well. He is one of the funniest people to be around, you can imagine," Phillips told “48 Hours.”
Unfortunately, Tucson’s building boom didn’t last — and neither did Pam and Gary’s marriage. Phillips had stopped working after the birth of her children, and though her husband had helped her launch an astrology website called Starbabies.com, she was used to the comforts of being a millionaire’s wife. And Triano was on his way to losing his millions.
Triano filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1994, claiming he owed $40 million in debts, according to the Tucson Citizen. He had been named in at least 54 civil cases at the time, many of which accused him of nonpayment of bills and defaulting on loans, court records cited by the Arizona Daily Starshowed.
Adding to his troubles, Triano’s separation from Pamela Phillips had turned nasty. Before finalizing their divorce in late 1993, the couple filed numerous restraining orders against one another, according to the Daily Star.
After the split became official, they fought bitterly over child support and visitation rights, especially after Pam moved with the couple's two children to Aspen, Colorado, without telling him.
On the afternoon of November 1, 1996, Gary Triano had just finished a round of golf at the exclusive La Paloma Country Club in Arizona's Catalina Foothills. His membership was about to be revoked for non-payment of dues. He got into a borrowed Lincoln Town Car to head home — What he didn’t know was all of his closest friends were waiting for him there, getting to throw him a surprise party for his impending 53rd birthday.
According to Tucson Weekly, he found a blue canvass bag on the passenger side seat. When he looked inside, a nearby remote control detonated a pipe bomb filled with a pound of gunpowder, killing him instantly. The explosion blew open his skull and sent fragments of the car flying more than 100 yards away, some pieces landing in the golf club’s swimming pool.
In the wake of Triano’s murder, his ex-wife Pamela Phillips came into a lot of money. In 1992, a year before their split, the couple had purchased a $2 million life insurance policy for Triano. It named their two children as beneficiaries, but Pam was their trustee. Even after their bitter divorce, she kept up payments on it. According to NBC’s “Dateline,” Triano tried to cancel the policy, but because Phillips technically owned it, he was unable to make changes to it without her consent.
In October 1996, a month before Triano’s death, police in Yorba Linda, California, found a van that had been rented and abandoned by a man named Ronald Young, who was wanted in Aspen, Colorado, on check forging and fraud charges. Inside the van, they found a Taser, a shotgun, a series of documents related to Gary Triano — including a list of his known associates and what cars they drove — and copies of his divorce papers from Pam Phillips.
There was also a receipt for a Ramada Inn near Triano's house. Young had spent almost three weeks there, following him and observing his daily habits. In Aspen, Young had lived next door to Phillips and worked for her astrology website. According to NBC’s “Dateline,” police also found letters in Young’s abandoned apartment indicating that he and Phillips were lovers, which she later denied.
Though police began to suspect that Pamela Phillips had enlisted Young to help kill Triano, they had little more than circumstantial evidence. Making matters worse, they had no idea where Young was, since he fled Aspen in 1996. In 2005, the television show “America’s Most Wanted” ran a segment on the Triano murder, asking for information on the location of Ronald Young. He was found living under an assumed name in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When police searched his residence, they found an illegal firearm, which resulted in him spending 10 months in a federal penitentiary.
When authorities arrested Young, they seized computers, dozens of CDs and a digital recorder. On them, they discovered spreadsheets, emails and notes, showing that Pam Phillips had paid him over $400,000 to kill Triano. They even found multiple recordings he had made of them discussing the payments and alluding to their crime. In October 2008, Young and Phillips were indicted in Triano's death. In April 2010, Young was found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. He was later sentenced to two life terms in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Pamela Phillips saw the writing on the wall when Young was arrested in 2005 and fled to Europe in September 2008, a month before her own indictment came down. About 14 months later, she was arrested at an upscale hotel in Vienna, Austria, and later extradited to the United States to stand trial for the murder of her ex-husband.
In April 2014, 18 years after his death, she was also found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. A month later, she was sentenced to spend the remainder of her "natural life" in prison without the possibility of parole. Upon hearing her sentence, she cried out, “I am innocent,” three times in a row, according to CBS News. Now 60 years old, she is serving out her sentence at Perryville State Prison outside Phoenix, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections.
To learn more about the case, watch"Dying to Belong" on Oxygen.
[Photo: Pima County Sheriff's Department]