Bankruptcy stalls Pfister wrongful death suit

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Nancy Pfister and her daughter, Juliana, at the Hotel Jerome.
Courtesy photo |

The wrongful death lawsuit against Nancy Masson-Styler has been placed on hold due to her bankruptcy case in Massachusetts.

Court papers introduced Wednesday show that Juliana Pfister, the daughter of the slain Nancy Pfister, is seeking 30 days to file a creditor’s claim against Masson-Styler in her bankruptcy case.

“If there’s money in the case, which there will be, she’ll try to get some,” said David B. Madoff of Foxborough, Massachusetts. Madoff is the trustee in the bankruptcy case and filed two motions with Pfister asking the court to give her 30 days to file a claim.

Bankruptcies can protect debtors from paying their creditors in full and some debts are discharged.

“She’s seeking to object the discharge-ability of (Masson-Styler’s) debt (to Pfister) by the bankruptcy,” Madoff said. “And what that means is she’ll have to prove the amount that she’s owed under the wrongful death.”

The bankruptcy court could review the wrongful death claim or it could be kicked back to Pitkin County District Court, where Pfister sued Masson-Styler on Jan. 27.

Last year, on July 10, Masson-Styler filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, listing $26,110 in assets and $91,982 in liabilities.

Less than one month later, her ex-husband, William Styler, serving a 20-year sentence for the second-degree murder of Pfister, hanged himself in his cell at the Arrowhead Correctional Center.

Styler’s life insurance policy listed Masson-Styler as the beneficiary of a $1 million payment, which she collected after he died and she went bankrupt.

After Masson-Styler was served with the wrongful death suit Feb. 11 in Massachusetts, she contacted her bankruptcy attorney, Robert Simonian, about the court action, Madoff said.

Simonian, in turn, informed Madoff about the suit, which had been filed after the deadline for creditors to register a claim in the bankruptcy case, Madoff said. Simonian contacted Madoff because Pfister wasn’t originally notified as part of the bankruptcy’s schedule of creditors.

Simonian could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

David Bovino, one of Pfister’s Aspen attorneys in the wrongful death suit, said she will argue that Masson-Styler owes her money through the bankruptcy because she played a role in her mother’s death.

“The bankruptcy will deal with this claim and make a determination of whether the debt is dischargeable or non-dischargeable,” he said. “Certainly Juliana Pfister will take the position that the debt is non-dischargeable given the wilful intent of Ms. Masson-Styler.”

Along with her then-husband, Masson-Styler originally was a suspect in the murder of Pfister, who was beaten to death with a hammer while she was asleep at her West Buttermilk home. A third suspect, Kathy Carpenter, who handled Pfister’s personal affairs, also was charged. Authorities later cleared Masson-Styler and Carpenter after William Styler confessed that he acted alone.

Authorities learned about Nancy Pfister’s body, which had been placed in a closet at her West Buttermilk Road house, on Feb. 26, 2014. She was 57 at the time of her death.

Prosecutors dismissed the charge with prejudice against Masson-Styler, meaning she can’t be charged again. Masson-Styler divorced her husband in the months after he was sentenced to prison June 20, 2014.

Bovino has maintained that Pfister isn’t financially motivated in her case against Masson-Styler, but she wants her held accountable for the murder.

The lawsuit says Masson-Styler’s book, “Guilt by Matrimony: A Memoir of Love, Madness and the Murder of Nancy Pfister,” which she co-wrote with author Daleen Berry, tainted Pfister’s image.

It also claims that William Styler couldn’t have acted alone.

Inside her bedroom closet, Pfister’s body was discovered wrapped from the neck down in a heavy-duty trash bag. Her neck was wrapped with electrical extension cord, her head shrouded in kitchen trash bags, the suit says.

“A responding sheriff attested based on personal observation of the crime scene and law enforcement experience that it would be difficult for one person acting alone to place a dead body into a trash bag,” the suit says.