The 2014 Murder Of Socialite Nancy Pfister Rocked The Aspen Community

Nancy Pfister was a fixture of the Aspen social scene. The scion of a wealthy local family who helped build some of the community's famous ski destinations, Pfister rubbed shoulders with celebrities and was known by just about everyone in town - until the day her lifeless body was found in her closet, struck with a hammer, wrapped in plastic bags, and bound in electric cord.

The loss shocked the community, and authorities scrambled for answers. It didn't take them long to find Trey and Nancy Styler, an elderly couple from similar social circles to Pfister who had since fallen on hard times. Trying to make a new start in Aspen, the Stylers were renting Pfister's house while she was in Australia, but things had taken an ugly turn.

Were the Stylers responsible for the demise of a pillar of the Aspen community? Authorities thought so, but at first they had only circumstantial evidence. Then, a series of incendiary revelations shook the case and the community, leading authorities to wonder if there was much more to Pfister's life - and death - than they had initially believed.

  • Nancy Pfister’s Lifeless Body Was Discovered In Her Walk-In Closet By A Friend

    Kathy Carpenter and Nancy Pfister had been friends ever since Carpenter first arrived in Aspen. "There was something special about her," Carpenter said of Pfister. "Either you love Nancy or you hate her... I loved her." In fact, Carpenter - a single mother and bank teller - was also considered Nancy Pfister's personal assistant, a task which she did as a friend and not for pay. So when Pfister was out of town, Carpenter was the one who watched her house, took care of her dog, and so on.

    That's why Carpenter is the one who found her body. She hadn't heard from Pfister for three days when she went to her home on the evening of February 26, 2014. "I went into the bedroom, called her name, looked around," Carpenter recalled. There she found a smear of blood on the headboard of Pfister's bed and an "atrocious, awful odor" coming from the closet. "It wasn't right." Opening the closet door, Carpenter found the lifeless body of her friend, wrapped in plastic and bound with electrical cord.

  • Pfister Was A Local Socialite Known To Many, Often Rubbing Elbows With Celebrities
    Photo: Cashman Photo Enterprises Inc. / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Pfister Was A Local Socialite Known To Many, Often Rubbing Elbows With Celebrities

    "In this part of the world," CBS News wrote, reporting on the event, "the Pfister family is as much a part of the landscape as the trees for which this city was named." In fact, Nancy Pfister's father developed one of Aspen's famous ski destinations, Buttermilk Mountain, leading Nancy Pfister to become "Aspen royalty."

    "She was like - a tornado - she was always doing stuff," one of Nancy Pfister's high school boyfriends recalled. Later in her life, Pfister rubbed elbows with celebrities. She is rumored to have dated both Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas, and to have palled around with legendary "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson. "Nancy and Hunter were a team," family friend Tim Mooney later recalled. "They'd laugh and cry. They were always at the top of the heap."

  • In The Months Leading Up To Her Demise, She Began Renting Out Her Home

    Nancy Pfister may have been an Aspen institution, but she wasn't a fan of the Rocky Mountain winters. As cold weather came in, she would usually indulge in trips to warmer climes. However, she didn't have complete access to her family's wealth, so she sometimes had to resort to other means of raising money to pay for her trips. In the winter of 2013, she was planning a trip to Australia. Partially to finance it, she decided to rent out her house in Aspen during the months leading up to the trip and also while she was gone.

    "The ad read, 'three-bedroom house, three-and-a-half baths,'" Nancy Styler, one half of the couple who rented Pfister's house, later recalled. "'House on the mountain. No cats.'" The couple who took her up on the ad were both in their 60s - a retired anesthesiologist and his wife, a world-renowned expert in lily pads and founder of the Victoria Conservancy, a branch of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society. To them, the house seemed like a perfect opportunity for a new start in a new town.

  • Trey And Nancy Styler Were Also Prominent Social Figures Before Falling On Hard Times

    William "Trey" Styler had been a prosperous anesthesiologist in Denver until a neurological disorder curtailed his practice. His wife, Nancy, was an expert in waterlilies and founder of the Victoria Conservancy, a nonprofit that specialized in raising Victoria amazonica, the giant waterlilies first discovered in the 1800s. The conservancy provided the massive plants - whose leaves can reach up to 8 feet in diameter - to water gardens all over the world, including the Denver Botanic Gardens, Hudson Gardens, and University of Denver.

    With Trey Styler no longer able to work as an anesthesiologist, the pair had fallen on hard times, and were hoping to restart their life in Aspen. The once prosperous couple were now half a million dollars in debt, and hoped to repair their finances by using their medical knowledge to start a spa in the affluent city. Nancy Pfister's house seemed like the perfect opportunity - but it didn't turn out that way.

  • Hostility Began To Brew Between The Two Parties Early On

    "Before we gave her the money she treated me as an equal," Nancy Styler later alleged, speaking about her tense relationship with Pfister, who requested $12,000 upfront for the use of her home. "Once we gave her the money I became kind of a slave." After Pfister initially bonded with the pair over their plans to open a spa, even encouraging them to use her home as their base of operations, and inviting them to move in with her for a month while she got ready for her trip, Styler claimed Pfister transformed completely as soon as the first payment had changed hands.

    "I've never been treated so poorly by anyone in my life," Styler later said. While the deal had included the Stylers helping Pfister to prepare for her trip, according to Nancy Styler, it quickly became something else entirely. "Get my cigarettes. Get my Champagne. Get this. Do that. Rub my feet," she said, recalling Pfister's orders. Having already invested a large amount in the accommodations, however, the couple decided to stick it out until Pfister left for Australia. But it didn't end there. 

    "She was on Facebook saying awful things about us. Sending us emails," Nancy Styler alleged. “You're liars. You're cheats. You're taking advantage of my good nature. You owe me money for this. You owe me money for that.” Pfister eventually decided to cut her Australian vacation short and return to Aspen months early - and she wanted the Stylers out. While it is unclear how accurate Nancy's claims were, all of this nonetheless culminated in what the police would later see as a motive for the Stylers to take Pfister's life. 

  • When Pfister Showed Up Dead, The Couple Was Hauled In By Police

    In short order, the Stylers had gone from trying to restart their life to being kicked out, leaving behind thousands of dollars worth of spa equipment that was being stored in Pfister's garage. Furthermore, Pfister was demanding thousands more in payment for "damages to her house." It was enough to make anyone angry - but was it enough to kill someone over?

    The authorities thought so. Within a few hours of Kathy Carpenter's panicked 911 call, the police were knocking on the door of the hotel where the Stylers were staying, and before long the Stylers were in separate interrogation rooms, being grilled about their whereabouts and their relationship with the deceased. For 12 hours, the couple was questioned, but although they had a motive, there wasn't enough evidence to hold them - at least, not yet.