Dean MacGuigan loved Pati Margello, and Pati loved Dean, but Pati was just a drug addict, scam artist, and hooker, while Dean was the drug-addicted, ne’er-do-well son of a glamorous du Pont heiress. Which is how part of a reported $25 million family fortune may have found its way into the hands of three hired killers, who are accused of beating and strangling Pati one summer night in 1998. The author tracks the crime from a red-neon-lit Las Vegas motel to a mansion in the rolling hills of Delaware— and to a shocking dénouement amid the expensive greens of an exclusive new golf course.
On August 2, 1998, a woman of no importance was beaten and strangled to death in a cheap motel in Las Vegas, Nevada, that rents rooms on an hourly basis to prostitutes, drug addicts, perverts, and, on this occasion, a trio of alleged murderers for hire. Across the country in a grand mansion at the end of a quarter-mile-long driveway in the rolling hills of Delaware, an heiress from one of America’s most prominent families and her third husband were making plans for the opening of an exclusive new golf club that he would manage on land that she had inherited. The two stories are closely related.
The Del Mar Resort Motel, at the wrong end of Las Vegas Boulevard, is a few motels away from the one where the television star David Strickland committed suicide in March of this year by hanging himself with a bedsheet. The room where that happened is in great demand by the sort of people who rent rooms by the hour, as is Room No. 6 at the Del Mar, where the murder under consideration took place. Anything goes in these places. No questions asked. A 15-year-old girl testified in court recently that she and her probation officer had engaged in sex at the Del Mar on two occasions when she was 14.
Outside is a red neon sign that says, adult movies. The dirty movies are included in the cost of a room, which is $30 for three hours. On August 2, 1998, a woman named Diana Hironaga checked into Room No. 6 under her own name, along with two accomplices and the woman who would allegedly become their victim. Diana Hironaga was a fading porn star. She had appeared in 16 films, of the variety in which no orifice is off-limits. She hung around slot machines in hotel lobbies, which is how she met a man named Christopher Moseley, from Greenville, Delaware, who was throwing around money as if he were rich, which he was not. But his wife was, and like a lot of rich women with poor husbands, she called the shots where money was concerned, both for her husband and for her son from her first marriage, who had formed a romantic alliance with a woman she considered utterly unsuitable. Her son’s name was Dean MacGuigan. He had been born Dean Chandor, the son of E. Haring Chandor of New York, but when he was still young his mother had had his last name changed to that of her second husband, Dr. John MacGuigan.
None of the three alleged killers felt any animosity toward the woman they were about to murder. According to police, for them it was a job. A rich guy from Delaware was paying the trio for their efforts, and they all needed the money. The victim’s name was Pati Margello. She was from South Philadelphia, and by all reports she was a very nice person. The people I have spoken to all had good things to say about her, even as a mother. Her son loved her. Yes, she was a scam artist and a drug addict. Yes, she reportedly had aids. Yes, she was an occasional hooker, which meant that she did it only for drug money, and then gave only hand jobs and blow jobs, or so Dean MacGuigan told the police about the woman he loved. But there was something very likable about her, even though she tended to get rambunctious after a few Bacardis. People said she had once been beautiful, but drugs put an end to that. Further, her teeth had been knocked out in an altercation with a drug dealer she had tried to scam, according to neighborhood gossip. She was in love with Dean MacGuigan, who was waiting for her back at the Las Vegas Hilton, but she had been promised $2,000 for a night out on the town with a couple of high rollers, and she and Dean needed the money.
Dean MacGuigan, 42, was in Las Vegas to establish a six-week residency so that he could divorce his wife, Linda, whom he had walked out on almost two years earlier. He had then moved in with Pati Margello at her house in South Philadelphia, which acquaintances described as a filthy-dirty drug addict’s dump, with dog shit everywhere. Like Pati, Dean was a drug addict reportedly with aids. Dean’s mother, Lisa, 70, was the wife of Christopher Moseley, the man who hired Diana Hironaga to arrange the murder of Pati Margello. She was also a member of the du Pont family.
I did, um, in whatever state, uh, ultimately ask for, for, um, Pati to be killed. And, um, then I did in fact pay for it. —Christopher Moseley to Detective David Mesinar and F.B.I. special agent Brett Shields prior to his arrest on September 17, 1998, at the Fieldstone Club, a state-of-the-art private golf club in Greenville, Delaware, which he was going to manage.
Although Diana Hironaga used the stage name of Kiane Lee when she was performing in porn films or meeting strangers in hotel lobbies, she checked into the Del Mar motel that night under her own name. According to prosecutors, after having arranged how he would pay Hironaga for her services, Christopher Moseley had returned to Serendip, his wife’s estate in Greenville, to prepare for the Fieldstone Club’s launch party and to await word that the murder was a fait accompli. Before giving the order to have Pati killed, Moseley had tried to buy her off, but Pati wasn’t one to be bought off easily when it came to Dean MacGuigan. She had taken money and promised to leave Dean before, only to party with the money and stay right where she was. Most recently there had been an ugly scene in Moseley’s suite at the Las Vegas Hilton, where Dean and Pati were also staying. Diana Hironaga was present. “Don’t try and buy me off, you son of a bitch,” Pati screamed at Moseley, Dean later recalled. “Take your money and shove it up your ass!” Moseley told her, “You better watch yourself, young lady, or I’ll take you out.” Then he called hotel security and had her removed from his suite. “She was out of control,” he said. Shortly after that scene, Moseley gave Hironaga the go-ahead for the murder. Moseley paid her a retainer fee of $5,000 up front, “because she was behind in her parole payments.” (Hironaga maintains the money was for secretarial work.) Although it is understandable that any mother, let alone one as grand as Lisa Dean Chandor MacGuigan Moseley, would object to a woman like Pati Margello as a life partner for her son, surely there were better solutions to the family problem than the one Moseley chose.
According to police, Hironaga hired two accomplices, whom Moseley met before he left town. One was Ricardo Murillo, a tough, 40-year-old alleged drug dealer who knew his way around the low-life sector of Las Vegas. The other, Joseph Balignasa, 27, was an unemployed Filipino dishwasher whose connection to Murillo was drugs. Hironaga then lured Pati out for what she promised would be a night on the town with two big spenders, and she said there wouldn’t have to be sex. In his statement to the police, Dean MacGuigan later said, “They were contacts of [Diana Hironaga] from out of town, quote high rollers, coming in wanting to go out, have a good time, make a lot of money in the casinos and just have some fun.” Compensation of $2,000 was a major score for someone like no-longer-young, no-longer-beautiful Pati Margello. Dean saw her and Diana off about midnight in the bar of the Hilton and told her he would be waiting for her in their room. Pati had been fitted with dentures, but that night she was wearing only the upper plate, and it was broken because Dean had sat on it. “I sit on them all the time,” Dean later told the police. “I see her take them out every day.”
Pati dressed smartly for her $2,000 score and her night on the town. “She was in black,” Dean told the police. “She had a jacket that may have had some white on it, black pumps, black bag, orangish lipstick.” He said that he had bought her some nylons, dark tan in color. From the beginning, Pati Margello must have sensed that something was wrong. It would not have been out of line for her to expect to arrive at the MGM Grand or Caesars Palace in a limousine or a town car. Instead, the group met up shortly after midnight at the San Francisco Bay Club, not one of the classier nightspots in town. Hironaga made the introductions. Pati had reason to be distrustful of Hironaga, whom she knew to be associated with Christopher Moseley, who was determined to break up her romance with Dean MacGuigan. Hironaga had been in Moseley’s bedroom when he threatened to have Pati taken out. Moreover, Pati had been around enough in her 45 years to realize that there was no way Ricardo Murillo and Joseph Balignasa could ever be mistaken for high rollers. They just didn’t have the right look, even though Balignasa was wearing a Calvin Klein belt with CK on the buckle. Pati was paired off with Balignasa, who was about five feet four. The one thing all four had in common was a fondness for drugs, and that night, according to Balignasa, they were on methamphetamine, which is called crystal meth in drug parlance and is said to give the highest of highs. From the San Francisco Bay Club the quartet drove to the Del Mar motel in Murillo’s girlfriend’s nondescript white car, and Hironaga booked a room. The wonder is that Pati didn’t make a run for it then and there, but she didn’t. She went along with the three of them to Room No. 6.
Ihappen to have been in that room in May of this year, during Joseph Balignasa’s trial. (Balignasa was tried separately in Las Vegas because he was the only one of the accused killers who didn’t subsequently cross state lines, and his first trial ended with a mistrial. Along with Murillo and Moseley, he is pleading not guilty.) On a visit to the crime scene with the trial historian Judy Spreckels, I went up to the front desk, asked to rent Room No. 6, and handed over $30 in cash. The manager spotted us for the media types we were and wasn’t about to let us in, but then he recognized me from the O. J. Simpson trial. He asked me if I thought that O. J. was really guilty, and I said yes. He said he was in total agreement, and introduced himself as Rodger O’Neill. He said the room was currently occupied, but if we came back at the same time the next day, he’d show it to us and we wouldn’t have to pay. He told me Room No. 6 was very popular. “A lot of sickos come here and want to take the room where the girl was murdered,” he said.
No set designer could have come up with anything grimmer, or grimier, for a hooker to be murdered in. The curtains, closed tight, looked as if they hadn’t been opened in years. A large mirror was tilted out from one wall so that customers could watch themselves take drugs and have sex while dirty movies played on the television set. It occurred to me that ejaculations in the low thousands had taken place in that bed. As if reading my thoughts, Rodger O’Neill said, “We change the sheets after each customer.”
On the night of the murder, Balignasa says, the quartet took drugs. They didn’t have sex or watch dirty movies. They were there for another purpose. There weren’t enough chairs for all of them, so at least some of them must have sat on the bed with its well-worn spread. At some point Pati clearly began to feel uncomfortable. About 2:30 she used the telephone several times, speaking in a low voice so that the others couldn’t hear. She called Dean at the Las Vegas Hilton. He wasn’t in, so she left a message. MacGuigan later told the police she said, “Deanie, I think I need you, baby. This is really weird.” He added, “I’d gone out to take a walk because I was going stir crazy in the room, and I wasn’t going to gamble and had broken up, uh, a fight.” Pati then called a friend named Jimmy Facenta, but he wasn’t in, either, and she left a message saying that she was at the Del Mar. Then she called Dean again, and this time he answered. She told him that she didn’t feel right about where she was, and she asked him to come and get her. He said he didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford a taxi. He told her to take a taxi and come back to the Hilton. Perhaps he did not comprehend the seriousness of her call. He also told her that he had been in an altercation outside and had stopped a fight between a Hispanic man and a woman, and that he had gotten his nose broken. (When his wife, Linda, whom he was in Las Vegas to divorce, heard this later, she said that Dean had once told her the exact same story, about having his nose broken while he was coming to the aid of a woman who was being beaten up by a Hispanic man.) By the time Pati spoke to Dean that night, she sensed that she was in real danger, and she suspected that Christopher Moseley was involved. She asked Dean if he thought Moseley had set her up. Dean said no. Then she asked him if he was in on this with his stepfather. Dean denied that he was, but he didn’t go to help her, even though the Hilton was only a mile from the Del Mar. Instead, he went to sleep and didn’t wake up until 11 o’clock in the morning.
After Dean let her down, Pati must have realized that she was on her own. She excused herself and went to the bathroom, hoping perhaps that she could climb out the window, but there was no window. According to Balignasa, when Pati was in the bathroom, Hironaga said to her accomplices, in what sounds like a line from a Gloria Grahame movie, “Are you guys going to do this or not?,” as if to indicate that she was sick of waiting. Standing in that dreadful, creepy room afterward, I could imagine the toilet flushing, the sound of water running. I could almost see the door opening and Pati coming out of the bathroom, facing the three people who are accused of killing her. Murillo, the thug of the bunch, grabbed her and started to choke her, according to Balignasa. As rotten as Pati’s life was, she still wanted it, and she fought hard to save it. Both Hironaga and Balignasa claim that Murillo forced her down onto the bed, then onto the floor, and started beating her. The porn star and the unemployed dishwasher have implicated each other in helping Murillo as he held a pillow over her face to muffle her screams. She still wouldn’t die. Murillo said to Balignasa, “Give me your belt.” Balignasa pulled off his belt with the CK on the buckle and handed it to him. Hironaga and Balignasa say Murillo pulled the belt tight around Pati’s neck and finished her off. He stuffed the buckle in her mouth with her broken upper denture. It had taken the three of them 15 minutes to kill her.
“Do you think Dean had something to do with this murder, or is he capable of that?,” F.B.I. special agent Brett Shields asked Christopher Moseley.
“I don’t think he did. I think he really cared for this woman, and I think he still does,” Moseley replied.
Diana Hironaga’s plan for the murder, which Christopher Moseley, in military fashion, named Operation Dean, hadn’t gone much beyond the murder itself. No one had given any thought, for example, to disposing of the body. It was now 3:30 in the morning. The three-hour rental of the room was up. Hironaga went to the desk and took the room for another three hours, then went back to sit with Pati’s body while Murillo and Balignasa drove in Murillo’s girlfriend’s car to a Walgreen’s drugstore three blocks north of the Del Mar. This was like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They didn’t consider that Walgreen’s, which is open 24 hours a day, might have 30 surveillance cameras. In a video that was shown at the Balignasa trial, one camera picks up the two alleged killers deciding which plastic garbage bags and tape to buy to hide the body of the dead woman, while another shows them up at the cash register dutifully paying for those items, along with some cans of 7-Up and Coke.
As emaciated and ravaged by drugs as Pati Margello had become, she was still too big to fit into a garbage bag, so, according to police, they folded her body in two, breaking 15 of her ribs in the process, 9 on one side and 6 on the other. Then the killers tied her in that position with the jumper cables from Murillo’s girlfriend’s car and television cable wire. There was blood, so they wrapped the body in a bedsheet before stuffing it into the garbage bag. They removed the grate from the air-conditioning unit on the wall, shoved the wrapped body through the 10-inch opening into the space behind, and replaced the grate. They wiped for fingerprints. They put Pati’s shoes and purse into a plastic bag together with some of the towels they had used to wipe up the blood. Then they left the Del Mar. They stopped at the same Walgreen’s drugstore so that Hironaga could buy some Band-Aids and cigarettes. Balignasa put the bag with Pati’s shoes and purse into a trash bin behind the store. Then they dropped Hironaga off at the Hilton, where she was also staying. Before she fell asleep, she telephoned Christopher Moseley at Serendip. It was now 6:30 in the morning in Las Vegas, 9:30 in Greenville. She notified him that Pati Margello would no longer be a problem. Two days later, on August 4, Hironaga and Murillo flew first-class to the Philadelphia airport, which also serves Greenville. There a chauffeur sent by Moseley gave them a packet containing $15,000. They did not see Moseley. They returned on the next plane to Las Vegas.
In April of this year, several weeks before flying to Las Vegas for the Balignasa trial, I went to family court in Wilmington, where Linda MacGuigan, the 45-year-old wife of Dean MacGuigan, made a plea for increased financial support. Since Dean did not stay in Las Vegas long enough to establish residency to divorce her, the couple is still married. Linda, who suffers from the muscular disease fibromyalgia syndrome, lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and for several years she has been virtually destitute. We dined together at the Du Pont Hotel the night before the hearing, and she told me stories of the family life at Serendip and Louviers, the marital home where she and Dean had lived. For a year after leaving Louviers, she said, she was on welfare, but in February 1998, at a family-court hearing, she was awarded $4,000 a month from Dean’s $2 million trust fund. She told me that she prefers to be called Rags, a nickname she acquired because of her fondness for reggae music. That night she was with a California friend named Pauline Miller, who had been a friend of Dean and Linda’s when they were together.
The next morning, as we waited for the hearing to begin, Linda and Dean MacGuigan, who had not seen each other for two years, did not speak. It was the first of my two encounters with Dean, both in courtrooms. For a crack addict allegedly suffering from aids, he looked surprisingly healthy to me. The signs of addiction and illness were not visible in his face, as they had been in photographs I had seen of him. He had obviously been in rehab after leaving Las Vegas, where he had cooperated with the police and the F.B.I. in setting up his stepfather, Christopher Moseley, for his arrest at the launch of the Fieldstone Club. From all reports, his mother, who remains loyal to Moseley, no longer speaks to him. I had expected to encounter a scumbag, but his looks were distinctly at odds with his reputation. There is a slightly snobby cast to his face, and his class shines through his scruffy clothes. His tweed jacket was shabby and needed to go to the cleaners, but it was well cut. As for voice, manners, style—they’re all there. His nose is aristocratic, very like his mother’s. “It’s the du Pont nose,” whispered Linda MacGuigan. The du Pont nose, I noted, didn’t have the look of a nose that had been broken in the last year.
Dean came over to Pauline Miller and hugged her warmly. He asked her about her husband, whom he called by name, and about her dog, whose name he remembered. Pauline said the dog had died, and they shared a moment of mourning for the animal. Linda looked straight ahead during this conversation.
Dean now lives in Manassas, Virginia. That day he was with his divorce lawyer and a woman named Janet Oddonino, an airline employee, at whose house he is currently living. She heard me remark to Dean’s lawyer, Gary Lance Smith, “Who’s the lady in the palazzo pajamas?” When I saw her several weeks later at the Balignasa trial in Las Vegas, where Dean was a witness, she said, “I’m the one who was in the palazzo pajamas.” At the hearing, Dean told the judge that he was currently employed as a waiter at a T.G.I. Friday’s, where he was paid $2.10 an hour and tips. The court’s judgment came down against Linda. Instead of getting an increase in support, she learned that what she had been receiving would be cut in half. Wilmington is probably not the ideal place to take on a du Pont.
If she knew I was speaking to you, she’d never speak to me again. I don’t know anything, really. —A friend of Lisa Moseley’s who asked to remain anonymous.
Back in the 50s in New York, I used to stare at elegant folks such as Ann and Bill Woodward and think how wonderful their lives must be. Then Ann killed Bill. I was not part of the high life back then, merely a fringe character standing in the stag line at dances. There was a girl named Lisa Dean from Wilmington, Delaware, who fascinated me. I knew who she was, but she didn’t know me. What she had that other postdebs of her era didn’t have was a strain of the exotic about her, passed down from a Lebanese great-grandmother. She made me think of what Rebecca de Winter in Hitchcock’s Rebecca must have looked like as she danced past stag lines, roaring with laughter, madly popular. Like all really stylish women, Lisa Dean found her look early and never changed it. “Sleek” and “glamorous” were the adjectives that applied to her. She looked rich, even before you knew she was. When people talked about her, and they often did, someone in the group would invariably say, “She’s a du Pont,” and images of privilege would fill the air. Her mother, Paulina du Pont Dean, was the daughter of William K. du Pont, whose great-grandfather founded DuPont in 1802. Today, DuPont is the largest chemical company in America.
In 1953, Lisa Dean married a popular but controversial figure in New York society named E. Haring “Red” Chandor. Chandor was the first of Lisa’s three husbands, and Lisa was the third of Red’s five wives. Chandor, a raconteur and wit who is now 78, had a reputation in those days as a charming rascal and prankster, whose rich-boy mischief was a staple of society columns, including Cholly Knickerbocker’s in the New York Journal-American. In all three of her marriages, Lisa was the one with the money, an advantage which tends to guarantee the leading role in any partnership. But there are du Ponts and du Ponts, and some are richer than others. Chandor once referred to Lisa as a “pauper du Pont.” However, her reported $25 million fortune—measly compared with the fortunes of some of her relatives—was ample enough for her to be able recently to offer to put up $4 million, and later $8 million, in bail for her incarcerated current husband, who is in the North Las Vegas Detention Center awaiting trial. Bail was denied in each case. Nevada considers Christopher Moseley a flight risk.
By all accounts, the young Chandors were briefly happy and very much a part of the New York social scene. Wherever it was fashionable to be, they were. Lisa was photographed by Richard Avedon for Harper’s Bazaar. The society painter René Bouché painted her portrait. In 1955, dressed as a Lebanese slave girl, she won first prize for best costume at socialite Fernanda Wanamaker Leas’s “A Night in Baghdad” party in Southampton, and pictures of her with Gary Cooper, dressed as a Foreign Legionnaire, who won for best men’s costume, appeared in the New York tabloids. They lived on the Upper East Side and soon had two sons, Peter and Dean. The marriage looked perfect.
Even the obstetrician who delivered Lisa’s second son, Dean, was the fashionable obstetrician of the day. His name was Dr. John MacGuigan. “Everyone went to Dr. MacGuigan,” said a New York hostess when I told her this story. The Chandor marriage came apart when Lisa fell in love with MacGuigan, who was also her gynecologist. MacGuigan, too, was married at the time. Lisa moved into a new apartment at 765 Park Avenue, and MacGuigan followed. Chandor served Lisa with papers for divorce on the ground of adultery, but the suit was dropped in 1959 when Chandor, in a feat of derring-do, absconded with his older son, Peter. The headline on the New York Daily News read, n.y. socialite seizes son, 5,in fla., flees law. Chandor took his son to Venezuela and Brazil and then to Cap d’Antibes in the South of France. The “kidnapping” was New York society’s favorite fun read for months. Chandor was caught four months later at the airport in Nice, and Peter was returned to his mother. Lisa was quoted in Cholly Knickerbocker’s column as saying about Chandor, “He deserves a good long jail sentence, and I’m not going to let him off the hook.” Chandor was sentenced to 120 days for contempt of court. He served 80 days and got two years’ probation. Such untoward behavior got the couple kicked out of the Social Register, which was still a big deal in New York in the 50s, when people in their set used the Social Register as their telephone book. Lisa and MacGuigan married, and the last name of the two Chandor sons was changed to MacGuigan, engendering a bitterness on Chandor’s part that persists to this day.
Lisa MacGuigan moved back to Delaware with her husband and two sons. Greenville, where most of the rich of Wilmington live, including many members of the du Pont family, has rolling hills, ducal gates, long driveways, and stately mansions. The area is sometimes referred to as “château country.” There, Peter and Dean MacGuigan lived on their mother’s estate, Serendip. Having left behind her front-page social life in New York, Lisa settled into country life, developing passions for gardening and golf. Her gardens at Serendip are renowned. For years busloads of tourists would arrive to admire them. She was already a golf champion at Shinnecock in Southampton. Back home she belonged to Bidermann, the golf club favored by members of the du Pont clan and named after the husband of one of them, which is considered more exclusive by far than the Wilmington Country Club, nearby.
Chandor swears that MacGuigan was abusive to his sons and that both boys hated him. (Dean’s attorney says that Dean “had great love and respect” for his adoptive father.) Even before they left New York, Peter had been kicked out of more than one school. By the time he was 14 or 15, he had a $100-a-day drug habit. Dean went to Lawrenceville, a prep school in New Jersey, and to the University of Virginia, where, according to Chandor, he was known as the coke king of the campus. He was arrested twice for dealing drugs, Chandor says, and could have received 15 years on each charge, but after his mother appeared on his behalf, he wound up serving less than a year. Dean had a brief career on Wall Street at PaineWebber. There are varying stories about his ethics and capabilities in the job. His wife, Linda, is quite blunt on the subject of his career in finance. “He was fired for bilking clients,” she told me. (Dean’s attorney says that Dean was a top broker at PaineWebber, did nothing illegal, and left the company to pursue real-estate investments.) Dean MacGuigan’s life has seemingly been distinguished only by the multiplicity of his failures.
In 1985, John MacGuigan died of a heart attack. From all reports, Lisa was devastated by his death. Three years later, she placed an ad in the newspaper for a groundskeeper, and a man named Christopher Moseley applied and got the job. “Groundskeeper” is a high-class word for gardener. At Serendip it also meant chauffeur.
Not long into his employment, love bloomed. Moseley, who is 11 years younger than Lisa, is said to have declared his love when the two of them were planting a tree. He soon moved from the gardener’s cottage to the main house. They married in 1989. Moseley had two previous wives and four children, but they play no part in this story. Rags MacGuigan said about Moseley, “Peter and Dean just hated Christopher. Dean’s goal was to screw up Christopher. Once, Dean ordered a gun, because he said he was going to kill Christopher, but he never got around to picking up the gun. Finally, Christopher picked up the gun. There was no way something wasn’t going to happen. It was all fueled by drugs and booze.” (According to his lawyer, “Dean describes himself as a gentleman and basically a pacifist. He says that murder is not a component of his makeup.”) Dean said on the stand at the Balignasa trial about his stepfather, “Over the years, we got along well and horribly. When he was drinking, he would do maliciously nasty things to me.”
Although there are those who refer to Lisa as Lady Chatterley for having dallied with her gardener, the circumstances of the gardener’s life are so atypical as to be worth noting. Moseley comes from a socially registered family on Long Island. His late father, Frederick Moseley Jr., was captain of the Harvard football and hockey teams and later a prominent figure on Wall Street, where he was an executive vice president of J. P. Morgan & Co. Christopher was con-sidered a hell-raiser and a bit of a family dis- appointment. He attended an exclusive New England prep school, although he did not graduate. Two weeks after his 18th birthday he joined the army, where he served for a total of 25 years as a communications expert. He was honorably discharged as a first sergeant in 1985. As with most of the people in this story, ambition did not play a big part in his life. When his father died, he returned home. He asked if he had been left anything in the will, and his stepmother replied, “Yes, debts.” Relatives and people who knew him say he would tell fanciful tales of his exploits in espionage and secret government work during his army years, but his military records reportedly do not support his claims. No one ever believed him, anyway. “He always told stories,” a stepsibling of his confided to me. J. Simpson Dean, Lisa’s brother, was quoted in a Wilmington paper as saying about him after his arrest, “To be perfectly honest with you, I never paid any attention to [his stories].”
I heard that Moseley doesn’t really mind being in jail. It reminds him of the army.—Another friend of Lisa Moseley’s who wishes to remain anonymous.
In 1991, Dean met Linda Youngstrom Plescia at a nightclub in Palm Springs, California. Linda had been a bookkeeper for a television production company in Hollywood. She had been married previously and had a son. Linda and Dean fell in love. But Lisa was a hard mother to please when it came to the women in Dean’s life. She never liked Linda, and the feeling became mutual. “She never spoke to me,” says Rags. Dean and Linda were married at Serendip in 1992. The wedding was a preview of the marriage ahead. Rags recalls that at the bridal dinner the night before the wedding, at the house where Lisa had grown up, Peter MacGuigan, who was to be the best man for Dean, was drunk on alcohol and codeine cough medicine. He behaved appallingly. His mother had already banned him from staying in the house. He went to a local bar, but he was so crazed that the bartender refused to serve him. After everyone had gone to bed, he climbed up to Dean’s room, smashed in the window with a tire iron, and got into a fistfight with his brother. Peter was disinvited to the wedding by his mother, and the best-man duties were taken over by another guest. According to Rags, Dean was unwell at the time of their marriage, perhaps with aids.
Dean’s lawyer denies that Dean has aids, and insists that Pati had been given a clean bill of health shortly before her death. However, after the murder Pati’s son, Eric Howarth, discovered a handwritten letter from Dean to Pati in which he wrote, “You may never see your Grandchildren because of me. I should have told you I had Aids + not waited 6 mos. You have been showing signs of it.… I’ve had it for 10 years.… I feel like a murderer.”
When Linda walked into the front hall of Serendip on her wedding day, one and a half hours early so that she could change into her wedding dress, her about-to-be mother-in-law said to her, “What the hell are you doing here?” Linda and Dean were married by the same female Presbyterian minister who had married Lisa and Moseley. Dean built a house in La Quinta, California, but it soon went into foreclosure. They returned to Delaware and moved into a lovely estate called Louviers, a du Pont house which Lisa rented for them for $2,500 a month. The house is painted ocher and has white pillars. The halls and rooms are graceful in proportion, but it was never a happy house. “We weren’t invited to her dinner parties,” says Rags. “We weren’t introduced to anybody.”
In 1995, Dean’s brother, Peter, died of a heroin overdose in Boulder, Colorado. At his mother’s request, there was no obituary in the papers. Lisa, who doesn’t attend funerals, did not attend Peter’s, just as she had not attended her husband John MacGuigan’s. Dean, increasingly drugged, was discontented at Louviers. Rags claims that he was abusive to her. Previously, she says, he had dragged her by her hair and hit her. (Dean’s lawyer vehemently denies that Dean ever abused her.)
Dean reportedly met Pati Margello at a drug rehab, although Linda disputes this. Pati was 42. He was 39. “We fell in love and were soul mates for two years approximately, ending with her death,” Dean testified at the Balignasa trial.
Meanwhile, at Louviers, Rags had a call from Moseley, asking if she would allow Lisa to come over and collect some heirlooms she had given Dean. “Christopher always remained the hired help, but with bedroom privileges,” says Rags. Lisa arrived, clipboard in hand, with Moseley and Lesley Davis, the new groundskeeper. “She wanted me to go through every room at Louviers,” says Rags. “She had Lesley pack up things and put them in the trunk. The rent had been paid to the end of the lease, but she had said, ‘I want you out of here as soon as possible. Whatever arrangement you make with Chris is all right with me.’ Then she said I could only communicate with the family by fax. I was told not to call.”
Rags was fired, like a maid. Adequate provision was not made for her, she says, nor were her possessions ever returned. In a letter she wrote to her lawyer, she said, “In my meeting with Chris [Moseley] at Louviers on 3/26/97, at which Chris requested that my mother be present as witness, he pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants, put it on the kitchen table, and told us he always ‘packed heat’ and that he ‘knew how to get things done.’ ”
Dean’s liaison with Pati was anathema to his mother, particularly during a brief period when Pati moved into Louviers with Dean, after Rags had left. Their drugged behavior was unacceptable to the family, and they abused the house. The feces their dogs left on the floors seemed not to offend them. When they were moving out, Dean reported to the police that $15,000 worth of computer equipment and jewelry had been stolen from the house, but the police found the equipment in the back of the car Pati was driving, and she and Dean were fined for falsely reporting an incident. “My mother didn’t like Pati,” Dean said on the stand. Lisa cut Dean’s money off, and he moved out of Louviers into Pati’s mother’s house at 1320 Moore Street in South Philadelphia. It is a low-income neighborhood, but the antics of the addicts were as unpopular there as they had been in château country. Curiously, Dean seemed to prefer low life to high life.
When I went to look at the house in May, it was boarded up and I was not able to enter, but people told me that it was beyond slovenly; it was filthy. Dean and Pati had no money, not even for food. At the Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Church, in South Philadelphia, the poor could obtain food donated by parishioners. Pati, who was a member of the parish and had gone to parochial school there, started appearing every two weeks, and soon every week. She wanted only soup or pasta. “She didn’t take vegetables, because of her teeth. She couldn’t chew,” said Mary De Gregorio, who oversees the program at Saint Nicholas. “One time she called me and said, ‘Can my boyfriend pick up the food?’ After that, Dean started to come.”
“What were they like?” I asked.
“Her arm was wrapped up once. She told me various stories about how it happened. She said her dog bit her. She said she was hit by a car. I felt sorry for her. I was tempted to give her some soap along with the food, they were so dirty,” replied De Gregorio.
The pristine nature of the property was preserved to provide members and heir guests with an unparalleled golf experience.… Most simply put, Fieldstone is pure golf for the golf enthusiast. —From the brochure describing Fieldstone Golf Club.
At the heart of this story is a 184-acre tract of rolling piedmont and woodland only 10 minutes from downtown Wilmington. Lisa inherited the land from her maternal grandmother, and she and Moseley were developing it into the Fieldstone Club, designed to be the finest 18-hole golf course in Delaware. At one time the land was to have gone to Peter and Dean. After Peter’s death, it was to have gone to Dean, who had the idea for a top-of-the-line golf course. After Dean became ill, Lisa deeded the land to Moseley. At the family-court hearing in Wilmington in May at which Rags MacGuigan pleaded that she was destitute, Dean told the judge that he had turned over his interest in the land to his stepfather without being paid, “because I love my mother and she requested it. I did what she wanted.” In truth, he was very unhappy to have part of his inheritance in the hands of a stepfather he disliked intensely.
Moseley, along with two partners, hired Hurdzan/Fry Golf Design to construct Fieldstone. He was no longer the sergeant, no longer the gardener. The club became his passion, but he had the Pati Margello problem to deal with first.
In July 1998, Dean was sent to Las Vegas to establish a six-week residency so that he could divorce Rags. Christopher Moseley went along to find a lawyer for Dean, get him a job, keep him off drugs, and dole out money to him. In Dean’s first days in Las Vegas, according to Moseley, he managed to go through $7,000, mostly on gambling and drugs. He spent part of the money on a plane ticket for Pati so that she could come out and join him. That infuriated Moseley.
[Pati and I] had a rocky tumultuous relationship, which was one that was just our style. Usually when the police were called to our house, it was to save me. Chris thought she wasn’t good enough for me, that, uh, she was a risk. Everything with Chris is missions, operatives. He was in the military many years. —Dean MacGuigan at his police interrogation in Las Vegas.
When Dean woke up at 11 a.m. in the Las Vegas Hilton on August 2, 1998, Pati wasn’t there. Later he told the police he hadn’t known what to think about her absence. “Pati is, was, a very compulsive, energetic girl,” he said. “She would go off, you know, 18 hours, and just be having fun.” At about 11 o’clock that night, he called Diana Hironaga in her room and said, “What the hell happened to Pati last night? She never showed up.” Hironaga said she had dropped her off in the lobby that morning. “Don’t worry about it, Dean. You know these high rollers. She probably just got a better offer.”
Dean said he thought she might have flown back to Philadelphia. “Her house was in some danger of getting a city sticker on it [indicating that it was a “vacant public nuisance”], and her dog had died, and she was very upset about things.” The next day he made a few calls to his stepfather at Serendip, asking if he knew of Pati’s whereabouts. Moseley said he didn’t, but he assured Dean that everything was all right.
Two days later, Dean wrote out a report, which began, “There is a missing person, my girlfriend, Pati Margello. She is about 5’ 5” tall, Black hair, and is missing half of her middle finger on one hand.” Before he turned it in to the police, he saw on television that the body of an unidentified woman had been found inside an air-conditioning duct at the Del Mar motel, where Pati had been when she called him. A maid had complained of an unpleasant odor, and the motel handyman discovered the body. The Del Mar had to have the room cleaned professionally several times in order to get rid of the stench of Pati Margello’s decomposing body.
Dean went to the police the following day and said that he believed the woman in his report and the unidentified woman found at the Del Mar motel were the same. If Diana Hironaga had checked into the Del Mar under her stage name of Kiane Lee, she might not have been found so quickly and informed on her alleged accomplices. By then, Joseph Balignasa had already been arrested on a drug charge and was in jail. Dean cooperated with the police and allowed them to record several conversations he had with Moseley. I do not have transcripts of those conversations, but something sufficiently incriminating was said by Moseley to cause homicide detective David Mesinar of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police and F.B.I. special agent Brett Shields to fly east and interview him.
Moseley didn’t know they were coming, and they didn’t realize that their visit would coincide with the launch party for the Fieldstone Club. The golf course, which is still under construction, is spectacular. The clubhouse will be at the crest of the highest hill on the huge property. There, under a yellow-and-white-striped tent, the party was about to begin. Waiters were setting up drink tables and carrying out glasses and ice. Moseley had not yet arrived. Mesinar and Shields told a person at the desk of a construction-site office that they wanted to speak with him, and a call was made to Moseley, who showed up 20 minutes later. He immediately called Lisa and told her to get an attorney, but he spoke to the detectives without one. The questioning took place in the temporary office on the Fieldstone grounds. Moseley began by telling the police, “I was pretty well drunk most of the time I was in Las Vegas.”
“Do you have access to all of your wife’s money?” F.B.I. agent Brett Shields asked Christopher Moseley.
“No, I don’t have access to the money. We have a very tight marital agreement. She occasionally floats me a loan.” …
“Did she know Pati?”
“She has seen her or met her, I think, once and just basically refuses to have anything to do with her.… “
“How did you tell your wife? I mean, how did the conversation come up?”
“I just, like, said that Pati was no longer with us.… “
“What was her response when you told her that?”
“Her response was basically a little disbelief that I would take that drastic a measure.”
Mesinar and Shields questioned Moseley for an hour and a quarter. It was reported in the Wilmington paper that some people cried when the police led Moseley away in handcuffs. They took him to the F.B.I. office in Wilmington, where he was booked. After his arrest, Moseley resigned his position at the Fieldstone Club, but the scandal seems not to have affected business. When I visited the club in early June, I learned that the initiation fee is $45,000.
Lisa, who had been forewarned by her husband, did not appear at the launch party. She was at Serendip when the call came from Detective Mesinar telling her that her husband was in jail, charged with murder. Mesinar said that he and Shields wanted to come by and talk with her. “I can hardly wait,” she replied, in what Mesinar says was a sarcastic voice.
Serendip is a grandly proportioned and elegant house at the end of a long drive. Lisa opened the door herself. This is a house with servants, but there were no servants around. She was alone. She led the police upstairs to a second-floor library, and they sat down. The detectives told her what had happened. She listened, but didn’t say much, except to tell them that she had no information. She said that she had not cared for Pati and had not approved of her relationship with Dean. When Mesinar asked her what she thought of Pati’s death, she replied, “Well, I can’t honestly tell you I’m sorry.”
After they left, Mesinar realized that he had forgotten his briefcase, and he had to go back. Lisa opened the door and let him go upstairs to get it. When I met Detective Mesinar at the Las Vegas courthouse during the Balignasa trial, he recalled that the smell of tobacco smoke from Lisa’s and Moseley’s chain-smoking permeated the upholstered furniture and cushions of the grand house. As I listened to him, I recalled a story in Ralph Cipriano’s article on this case in Philadelphia Magazine. Cipriano wrote that once, according to Moseley, when he had quit smoking for three weeks, Lisa insisted that if he didn’t start up again she would divorce him. She said she didn’t want anyone to kiss her whose breath wasn’t as bad as her own.
“The problem I have here is if you’re willing to take Dean down with you and you’re willing to take your wife down with you, because this money is going to be traced back to your wife,” F.B.I. agent Brett Shields told Christopher Moseley in questioning him.
“I don’t want to take either one of them down with me,” said Moseley.…
“This is the problem I’m having, ’cause Kiane [Diana Hironaga] is telling us there’s a voice mail that explicitly says that Pati’s no longer a problem, mission complete, Step 5, she’s no longer with us. Now, if you didn’t pick up that voice message, that means your wife picked up that voice message, ’cause what you’ve said is that only you and your wife are present here, and that’s leading me to believe that maybe you confided some of these things in your wife.… “
“She knew after the fact. She had nothin’ to do with it. The money was not in any way, shape, manner or form given to me to do what I did,” Moseley replied.
When prosecutor William Koot handed Dean MacGuigan a photograph of Pati Margello for identification at the Balignasa trial, Dean responded, with emotion, “That’s my Pati.” As he left the stand that day he appeared upset. Janet Oddonino followed him out the door of the courtroom. I went out into the corridor in time to see Dean and Janet, arms around each other, running down the long hallway to the stairwell, laughing. They looked, inappropriately, carefree.
The person I most wanted to talk to while I was in Las Vegas for the Balignasa trial was Christopher Moseley, who has been sitting in the North Las Vegas Detention Center for nearly a year waiting for his trial to begin this October. I wrote him a letter and told him I was going to be writing about his case. I told him that I knew one of his stepsiblings and that I used to know his wife, sort of. I said that the kind of people he and Lisa were accustomed to having dinner with were starting to tell stories. I asked him if he would care to make a statement. He didn’t reply to my letter, but he gave copies of it to his Las Vegas lawyer, John Fadgen, and to Lisa. I had also written to Lisa, but she had not answered. Casino owner Steve Wynn, one of the major figures in Las Vegas, made a call to an F.B.I. agent to see if he could get me into the jail to meet with Moseley. The next day the F.B.I. agent said, “His lawyer would be a fool to let you in there.” I knew that, but it was worth a try.
I did get in to meet John Fadgen, a jovial fellow of 60 or so with snow-white hair. He has a bungalow-type office within walking distance of the courthouse where the Balignasa trial was taking place. The story goes that Moseley got Fadgen’s name from a prisoner in the next cell who was doing time for a Mob offense. Fadgen and I had a big laugh over the stupidity of Diana Hironaga’s signing in at the Del Mar motel under her own name. “If she’d taken an ad out in the Las Vegas Sun it wouldn’t have been more obvious,” he said. He was then deeply immersed in the murder trial of a Las Vegas Mob figure named Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein, a lieutenant of slain mobster Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilatro, which he would later win. He spoke glowingly of Lisa, with whom he was in regular communication. He said that Lisa and Moseley talked on the telephone every day, that they were very close.
The future looks bleak for Christopher Moseley. In all probability he will never set eyes on Serendip again, or play a round of golf at the Fieldstone Club, which he so wanted to manage. The likelihood is that he will receive at least 25 years. For a man of 60, which he will be on his next birthday, that’s the same thing as a life sentence. His case wasn’t helped when the lawyer for Diana Hironaga, about whom nobody had given a thought since the murder, except to joke about how stupid she was, provided new information that adds a further twist to this twisted plot. Hironaga pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge, but, in hopes of receiving something less than a life sentence, she claimed that Moseley had hired her to kill Dean MacGuigan as well as Pati—a charge that Fadgen says is “absolutely untrue.” Her sentencing is set for December. It was at this point that Lisa made a second bail offer, of $8 million, along with a promise to have Moseley wear a surveillance ankle bracelet and have police live at Serendip in order to ensure that he would not make a run for it. No way, Jose, was the court’s response.
After the murder, Dean returned briefly to South Philadelphia. Unknown people had been in Pati’s house and ripped open her furniture, looking for drugs. A friend of hers told me, “Pati was adept at hiding drugs.” Dean paid a visit to Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Church, where he and Pati used to go for free food. He told Mary De Gregorio that he wanted to have a memorial service for Pati. He didn’t tell her that Pati had been murdered; he said she had been killed in a “bad accident.” He said that he wanted to leave a donation. De Gregorio, who still thought he was a street person, said he didn’t have to leave any money. Dean said he could afford it and, taking out a wad of bills, handed her a 20. De Gregorio told me, “I thought he should keep it. Then I read in the paper that he was a du Pont.”
In May, when I went to South Philadelphia to see where Pati and Dean had lived, I dropped in on a man named Bob Santoro, who had been a close friend of Pati Margello’s for years. Because of her drug addiction, Santoro once stopped speaking to her for three years, but he remains loyal to her and her memory. “Pati never put a needle in her arm,” he insisted. “And the only person Pati ever hurt was herself.” Through a fluke of timing, Pati’s son from an early marriage, Eric Howarth, happened to be in Santoro’s house that day, out of sight upstairs, reluctant to see me. I could hear him say, “I don’t want to talk to anybody from the media.” Ralph Cipriano, who first wrote about this story in Philadelphia Magazine, talked him into coming down. Eric, 30, is a credit to his mother. A guitarist of talent, he is a musician by trade. “When this is all over,” he said, “I’m going away with my guitar and my music.” He told me how hurtful it had been for him to have his mother portrayed in the press only as a prostitute and a drug addict. His memories of her are filled with affection. “Even when she was bad on drugs, and I went to her, she was always there for me,” he said.
Dean wanted to have Pati’s body shipped east and buried in Philadelphia. In Moseley’s statement to the police, he said he gave Dean money to pay for the funeral of the woman he had paid to have killed. But Eric Howarth would have none of the family’s largesse. “I didn’t want them to have anything to do with my mother’s funeral,” he said. “I hate those rich people.” In the end, Bob Santoro helped out with Pati’s funeral.
I recently heard that Eric is considering filing a civil suit against Lisa Moseley after the criminal trials—of Christopher Moseley, Ricardo Murillo, and Joseph Balignasa, whose first trial ended in a mistrial—are finished. That may depend on two things: at what point Lisa Moseley knew of the alleged plot to murder Pati, and whether it was her money that paid for the disastrous Operation Dean.
Dean MacGuigan has recently filed suit for divorce from Linda “Rags” MacGuigan in Manassas, Virginia, where he is living in the home of Janet Oddonino, who accompanied him to family court in Wilmington and to the Balignasa criminal trial in Las Vegas. Dean will be a witness for the prosecution at his stepfather’s trial in Las Vegas. Recently I asked Gary Lance Smith, Dean MacGuigan’s lawyer, whether Dean and his mother were still not speaking. He declined to answer. He did say that Dean is astonished that his mother continues to believe in Moseley’s lies, and in Moseley. Dean, it seems, is interested in writing a book in order to tell his side of the story.
Meanwhile, Lisa Dean Moseley, the mystery figure of the story, remains secluded at Serendip. She has made no statement. She rarely appears in public. Her friends are worried about her. “Beyond anorexic, weighs zero,” said one. “She’s very frail,” said another, whom I had asked to intercede. “She’s being very, very strong about everything, strong in that sense, but frail. She’ll never talk to you. She’s a very private person. She talks about the case all the time. She’s very loyal to Christopher. I suppose they’ll move him to a prison in Delaware so that she can visit him.” Then the friend said, “What do you suppose was in Christopher’s mind when he did such a thing? Of course he was drunk.” I asked if Lisa would be going to the trial in October. “Oh, yes, Lisa’s going to the trial.”
Dominick Dunne is a best-selling author and special correspondent for Vanity Fair. His diary is a mainstay of the magazine.