A Socialite Scorned: The Murder of a Tucson High-Roller

By: Kerrie Droban

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On November 1, 1996, wealthy businessman, Gary Triano was murdered in the parking lot of a Tucson country club when a pipe bomb exploded in his car. Authorities combed the wreckage of the murder scene and pored over financial documents searching for the killer, but it seemed there were numerous people who might have had motive to want Gary dead. It took more than a decade for investigators to put the pieces together and collect enough evidence to charge someone with the crime.

By all accounts, Pamela Phillips was a woman who couldn't bear to live without money. She never dated a man unless he could give her things. In 1986, she caught Gary's eye and after a quick divorce from his first wife, they married in a lavish ceremony. Not long after, Pam alleged that Gary began abusing her, and it didn't stop until she finally divorced him in 1993 and moved to Aspen, Colorado. Still, Gary shirked his child support payments, and Pam was no longer able to live in the manner in which she was accustomed. Then she met her neighbor, Ron Young, with whom she began an affair.

Ron was not like the high-rollers Pam usually dated, but he was able to offer her other things. He lent a sympathetic ear to her woes and tried to counsel her in financial matters, and when those things didn't seem to help, he conspired with Pam to commit the perfect murder. Together, they concocted a plan to kill Gary. Pam would then collect on a $2 million life insurance policy that was still in her name and make regular payments to the hit man who would go underground following the murder. They might have gotten away with it too, but for the dogged investigators who never gave up trying to prove their culpability.


Until picking up A Socialite Scorned, I had never read a true crime novel before. I occasionally enjoy a good mystery, and since this book is a real-life mystery, it turned out to be an interesting read. It is the story of wealthy businessman, Gary Triano, who was murdered in a pipe-bomb explosion outside a Tuscon country club in 1996. Oddly enough, even though I lived in Arizona at the time and the story made national news, I don't really recall the case (I suppose having a demanding one-year-old at the time might account for that.:-)). As a consequence, the narrative of this book was brand new to me.

I have to say it always amazes me how many wealthy people seem to have a complete disconnect with reality and what it's like to live like "normal" people. None of the players in this case received any sympathy points from me at all, including Gary, the murder victim. While I certainly don't think he deserved to die the way he did, Gary was just not a relatable person at all. He allegedly abused Pam, both physically and emotionally, and although his two children by his first wife described him as a good, caring father, he repeatedly skipped paying child support to his two children by Pam after their divorce. Gary also allegedly had ties to organized crime and was constantly involved in one sort of litigation or another. He was deeply in debt and yet still lived an extravagant lifestyle. Overall, not the kind of guy I'd like to be friends with.

Pam, from all accounts, seemed to be a money-grubbing witch who would only date wealthy men or men who could be of some use to her. Even the abuse she supposedly suffered at Gary's hands and his financial neglect of their children didn't temper her selfishness in my eyes. From the time she first met Ron until years after the murder, she was constantly complaining about money woes. Her spoiled little rich girl whininess made me want to smack her and tell her to get a grip. She just needed to get a job like the rest of us working stiffs and stop squandering what money she had on luxuries she obviously couldn't afford. I'm not a cold-hearted person, but I couldn't help feeling some satisfaction that she suffered from stress during this time, although of course, she could have prevented it all by not conspiring to kill her ex-husband and simply living within her means. I don't think I'll ever understand greedy people like her. Even after being imprisoned she was on record as having said things that indicated she still felt a sense of entitlement.

Pam's relationship with Ron was completely uncanny. They always seemed to be arguing about money, and in some ways, couldn't seem to stand one another, yet they were once lovers and conspired to commit murder. From all appearances they couldn't seem to live without one another, constantly emailing and phoning even when Ron went into hiding after the murder. Maybe it was because they had no one else to confide in but each other, but their relationship was like some really bizarre and rocky, long-distance marriage. I was also amazed by the level at which they could delude themselves into thinking that what they'd done was somehow OK. I shook my head with incredulity when Ron told Pam that it was immoral and unconscionable that she was not sending his payments. Then Pam said something about having herself committed because she was going bonkers from the stress but she didn't want to offend the Catholic Church. As if committing murder wasn't immoral and wouldn't offend the church!

If there's one thing I've learned from this book, it's that crime definitely doesn't pay. Not that I didn't already know that, but covering up a crime seems like it would be an exhausting amount of work. I also don't think I could be a detective and investigate a case like this. It appears the detectives lived, ate, slept and breathed their job for over a decade until they were finally able to produce enough evidence to arrest Pam and Ron and try their cases. I think living with that burden, as well as trying to get inside the heads of the perpetrators would be soul-draining work.

In any case, A Socialite Scorned was an interesting study of murder for money. I can't precisely say that reading a book like this is enjoyable, but it did feed my intellect on some level. Kerrie Droban is a good writer, and I can't imagine the countless hours she must have spent researching this case and poring over documents to reconstruct the events in detail. That alone gives me great respect for her. The only thing that disappointed me slightly is that the book ends before Pam ever came to trial. In fact, I did a little research of my own and discovered that Pam's trial has been postponed until April 2013, so I guess if I want to know how it turns out, I'll have to keep up with that news on my own. Otherwise, it was a solid book that intrigued me. It may have been my first true crime novel and my first book by Kerrie Droban, but I'll look forward to checking out more from both the genre and the author in the future.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.


Kerrie Droban