Lethal love: Husband pushes wife off cliff for life insurance

Fraud of the Month: December 2015

By James Quiggle

image“Bye Harold,” family members of Toni Henthorn cheered as officers escorted the dead woman’s husband Harold from the courtroom in chains.

Henthorn had just received life in federal prison for shoving Toni off a cliff during a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. His motive: $4.5 million worth of life-insurance money that would funnel to him with Toni out of the way.

Toni was a prominent eye doctor and surgeon in Jackson, Miss. Harold was a self-described fundraiser for nonprofits and churches. The couple moved to a Denver suburb soon after getting married. Their daughter Haley came next.

Henthorn planned a surprise hike in the mountains for the couple’s 12th wedding anniversary. He and Toni left on a beautiful September day for the trails 75 miles north of Denver. The couple headed off the trail for rugged, more isolated terrain after about two miles. Then Toni’s brother Barry Bertolet suddenly received a text from Harold. “She’s gone,” Henthorn tapped out.

Flock to memorial service

Toni had slipped off a 140-foot cliff, he claimed. She was dead at age 50.

Hundreds of people flocked to Toni’s memorial service. Clues gradually added up as investigators probed her death. Henthorn was arrested, and prosecutors built a convincing circumstantial case for the jury.

Officers found a trail map in Henthorn’s Jeep with a pink, hand-drawn X on the spot where Toni fell. He hemmed and hawed about what the X meant when confronted.

Henthorn also was unemployed and sponging off Toni. Henthorn hadn’t worked for years. He lived off Toni’s medical income and her parent’s oil wealth. He’d printed phony business cards describing himself as a fundraiser for nonprofits and churches. Yet investigators found no evidence of clients. His supposed business trips were to a nearby Panera Bread store, where he surfed the Internet.

The three life-insurance policies would make him a rich man with Toni dead.

Mouth to mouth bogus

Henthorn also claimed he climbed down the mountainside and tried to give the stricken Toni mouth-to-mouth. Except her lipstick was intact when rescuers reached her body.

And he kept shifting stories about how Toni died, family members testified. She lagged behind, then disappeared. She slipped off the secluded rock face while taking a photo of the view. He was looking at his phone then suddenly she was gone.

Henthorn also made nine hikes to scout cliffs where he could push Toni.

Nor did he sound distraught at her death scene. He gave the Park Service 911 operator a coldly detailed rundown of his location — including his latitude and longitude. He also detailed Toni’s supposed respiration and pulse rates.

The jury didn’t buy Henthorn’s excuse that Toni’s death was a tragic, accidental slip. He was convicted first-degree murder after just 11 hours of talks.

Prosecutors also are reexamining the mysterious death of his first wife, Lynn. Their Jeep mysteriously slipped and crushed Lynn while she changed a tire 20 years ago. Henthorn received $600,000 in life-insurance money, yet never was charged.

As for Toni, her brother Barry and his wife are moving to adopt 10-year-old Haley. Barry echoed Toni’s family members after the conviction.

“We are overjoyed with the verdict, and relieved this won't happen to any other lady,” he said “We don't have to worry anymore.”

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