The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App

The Accidental Husband

Two wives die in freak accidents 17 years apart and a husband is the only witness - is it a coincidence or something more sinister?

Last Updated Sep 22, 2015 5:38 PM EDT

Produced by Ruth Chenetz and Lindsey Gutterman

In 1999, Southern belle Dr. Toni Bertolet met Rocky Mountain man Harold Henthorn. Toni's brother, Barry, was pleased his 37-year-old sister had found who she was looking for.

"I was extraordinarily happy for my sister. ...It appeared that she found her true love. And if she was happy, I was happy," Barry Bertolet told "48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant. "She experimented with Christian Matchmakers. ...And she met this guy named Harold Henthorn. ... Her comments were that he was very kind, he was very romantic, he was very smart."

Toni and Harold Henthorn
Toni and Harold Henthorn
KCNC

Toni's first marriage ended in divorce. Henthorn, a widower, lost his first wife, Lynn, several years earlier.

"What did you know about Harold's first wife, Lynn?" Van Sant asked Barry Bertolet.

"When we had asked Harold about that, the only response that we had was that she died in a car accident," he replied.

Bertolet's wife, Paula, not wanting to upset Harold, didn't want to pry.

"I thought it was just a bad car wreck and she died," she said. "So we didn't wanna ask him to elaborate. We just took it for face value."

Toni's parents, Bob and Yvonne, had a good feeling when they first met Harold.

"He seemed like a good match for Toni," said Bob Bertolet.

"He told me, he said, 'I was just smitten by Toni,'" said Yvonne Bertolet.

It was easy to be taken with Toni. She was attractive and successful -- a prominent eye doctor and surgeon in Jackson, Mississippi. Mostly though, Toni was known for her caring nature.

"She loved people," Yvonne Bertolet said. "And if she could make somebody feel better, she would. And this started early in her life."

Toni's early days were spent surrounded by her supportive, highly achieving family who had a lucrative oil business. The middle child with two brothers, Toni was a standout in school.

"Did you compete academically?" Van Sant asked Barry Bertolet.

"Oh yeah, and she smoked me," he replied with a laugh. "She's probably the smartest lady I've ever met."

No small praise, coming from Barry, himself a prominent cardiologist.

Harold Henthorn seemed accomplished as well, describing himself as an entrepreneur with his own company.

"He said, 'I'm a fund raiser. I go out to non profits and try to raise money,'" Barry Bertolet said. "I thought that was an interesting, but an odd business at that time, too."

Toni and Harold Henthorn wedding photo
Toni and Harold Henthorn

A year after meeting, the couple celebrated their love, getting married in Mississippi.

"It was a big Southern wedding. Mom made sure of that," said Barry Bertolet.

They soon moved to the Denver, Colorado area, where Henthorn previously lived and said he had business contacts. Toni joined a local ophthalmology practice. But Toni's strong family ties would often bring the loving couple back to Mississippi for holidays.

One thing was missing from their life was a child. And in 2005, Toni and Harold celebrated the birth of their daughter, Haley.

"She did want a child for the very longest time," Barry Bertolet said. "This was just a huge event for her."

Daniel Jarvis was a long-time family friend of Henthorn's.

"He had his daughter. He had his wife ... he had his nice life," Jarvis said. "He seemed like a good husband. It seemed like he provided ... He's a very good father."

When Jarvis decided to move to Colorado, Harold and Toni let him stay with them for several months.

Asked what it was like in the Henthorn household, Jarvis told Van Sant, "I'd say pretty typical. Toni went to work most mornings. Harold, he worked down in his basement. ...He would ... say he was meeting with a client, going to lunch or he was traveling."

Christmas newsletters painted a picture of a happy family, with successful careers for both Toni and Harold. But in 2006, their lives took a terrifying turn. While Barry Bertolet was demonstrating his new CAT scan machine, he discovered that Henthorn's arteries were dangerously clogged.

"Harold ... was in the throes of the beginnings of a heart attack," he said.

Henthorn was rushed into surgery.

"Do you believe that you saved Harold's life?" Van Sant asked Barry Bertolet.

"I know that I did. And Harold would confirm that," he replied.

Toni had her own brush with death in 2011. She was injured in an unusual accident at their mountain cabin, when a heavy wooden beam fell on her.

"She said, 'I saw something on the floor. And if I had not picked it up, it would have killed me instantly. But it hit the back of my neck and fractured a vertebra,'" said Yvonne Bertolet.

"And with that she did lose some sensation in her hands, Barry Bertolet said. "When I would call Harold ... it was like, 'Oh it's no big deal.'"

"I didn't learn about this until much later," Yvonne Bertolet said. "And I said, 'Why didn't somebody call me?' And she said, 'Harold didn't call you?' And I said, 'No.'"

By this time, Toni's family says Harold Henthorn had become a demanding and controlling husband -- even talking with Toni on the phone seemed impossible.

"Harold would always answer. See, he had the house phone hooked up to his cell phone," Yvonne Bertolet explained.

"The only one-on-one conversation I ever had was with Harold. If I tried to talk to Toni or Haley, it was always on speaker phone," said Barry Bertolet.

"Why do you think he did this?" Van Sant asked.

"I think that he likes to control everything," Bertolet replied.

That was also the impression of workers in Toni's eye practice. Christie Drews noticed Henthorn wanted to be involved in everything

"When our doctors would have meetings ... Harold had to be part of it," Drews said. "He had to know everything she was doing."

"Was it common practice to bring in spouses?" Van Sant asked.

"No, 'cause the other doctors never had their spouses part of it," Drews replied.

While the staff adored Toni, office manager Tammi Abbruscato says their feelings for Henthorn were quite different.

"He made us uncomfortable. He was kind of -- there was something creepy about him. ...Always smiling. Always showing what I refer to as a permagrim," Abbruscato told Van Sant. "He was just too friendly. And he was very controlling ... she was not able to schedule anything outside of her normal schedule without first consulting with Harold."

So, it was a pleasant surprise when, in September of 2012, he asked Abbruscato to help plan a 12th wedding anniversary surprise trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. She gladly obliged, secretly clearing Toni's schedule so she could leave early.

"The guy was creepy to me, but she was married to him. And if he was gonna do something nice, it was kind of exciting. You know, maybe for just a moment, I thought, 'Oh, that's kind of cool. Maybe he's not so bad," she said.

The entire office got involved. Drews took out her cell phone to record the surprise.

"It's the last image. It's the last time anybody who was close to her saw her alive," said Abbruscato.

"SHE'S GONE"

On Sept. 29, 2012, Harold and Toni Henthorn headed up a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park as part of that anniversary trip. It was a beautiful fall day. The two of them headed off, hiking up about two miles until they went off trail, where the hiking becomes much more difficult and the terrain rougher.

"Hiking wasn't a big thing for her. Would she go for a walk and go sightseeing? Absolutely, she loved to get exercise. But by no means would she go rock climbing or anything vigorous," said Tammi Abbruscato.

"She had bad knees," Barry Bertolet said. "So she was not a well person to go hiking, particularly in a rugged terrain."

Harold and Toni Henthorn on their anniversary hike
Harold and Toni Henthorn on their anniversary hike
Daniel Jarvis

Photos were taken on that anniversary hike - a hike that went terribly wrong, as Barry Bertolet learned, through text messages from Harold.

"It says, 'Barry... Urgent. Toni is injured ... Critical, requested flight for life. ...And then, he texted me back saying that 'She's gone,'" Bertolet told Van Sant. "Being the big brother and supposed to take care of your sister. You can't do it. It's a bad feeling. ... I needed to be there for my sister and I couldn't."

Part of the text Harold Henthorn sent to his brother-in-law on Sept. 29, 2012.
Part of the text Harold Henthorn sent to his brother-in-law on Sept. 29, 2012.

Toni had fallen 140 feet to her death. Barry Bertolet had to break the news to his parents that his 50-year-old sister had died.

"And Barry said, 'she's gone,'" Bob Bertolet said. "It's the worst two words I've ever heard in my life."

"It was like, 'No, this didn't happen,'" said Yvonne Bertolet.

And for Toni's family, what happened here wasn't adding up -- from Toni, with her bad knees, taking a strenuous hike, to Harold texting Barry during the accident, to the multiple explanations Harold gave about how Toni died.

"The story is that ... he notices that she was lagging behind," Barry Bertolet said. "And he can't find her. So he starts looking over edges. And then he sees that she's down at the bottom."

Then, says Barry Bertolet, that story quickly changed.

"And he tells me then that he got a text message ... and so he has his head down looking at the phone text and sees there's ... like a little flash. And then Toni's not there," he said.

"And does that story change?" Van Sant asked.

"That story changes by the next day. Toni now is taking a picture of Harold," Barry Bertolet explained. "And Toni has, presumably, while setting up a shot of him, fallen backwards off of a cliff. And so here are three stories ... in basically less than 48 hours."

"And what do you think?" Van Sant asked.

"Warning buzzers are going off," said Bertolet.

And there's more: yet another version. This time, Barry Bertolet says Harold told him he was looking away when Toni fell because he was checking Toni's cell phone for any calls from her office. But that's impossible, say Toni's co-workers, because Toni left her phone at the office and Harold quickly called to retrieve it.

"He was sad on the phone but it was, 'I need that phone,'" Abbruscato said. "She died on Saturday. Her body was recovered on Sunday. And he retrieved her phone Monday morning."

"What about the notion that maybe he was suffering post-traumatic stress ... and those crazy versions of stories ... was all a result of shock?" Van Sant asked Barry Bertolet.

"I think you have to take all of that in context ... if he does have this irrational emotional behavior, how does he have it together so well to plan her funeral?" he replied. "Not even 48 hours after his wife has died, he has a video made ... he's got the songs picked out. He's already contacted the people that are gonna sing the songs. ... It's too well planned.

Five days after Toni's death, hundreds gathered at a memorial service. By then, Henthorn had already cremated Toni - a decision which added to the list of red flags for the Bertolets.

"We did not want Toni cremated. And Harold insisted," Yvonne Bertolet said. "We wanted to bring her home and bury her."

"I think he was trying to hide evidence," said Bob Bertolet.

"I think that Harold Henthorn pushed my sister off the mountain," said Barry Bertolet.

"Here you are grieving her death, which you now believe may have been a murder. And if that's the case, the murderer is sitting right next to you," Van Sant remarked.

"Correct," said Barry Bertolet.

Law enforcement, as it does with all deadly falls, was investigating--and they came up with a potential clue. They discovered a map inside Henthorn's Jeep with a hand drawn X on the spot near where Toni fell.

"After the service, he ... came up to me and his first thing was, 'They found a map, they found a map,'" Jarvis told Van Sant.

"He didn't come up and give you a hug and say, 'What a tragedy, I'm so glad you're here'?" Van Sant asked.

"No," said Jarvis.

"The first words out of his mouth is, 'They found a map'?"

"Yeah," said Jarvis.

"Did you have any idea what he was talking about?"

"No clue, no idea," Jarvis replied.

But a few weeks, later Henthorn brought it up again, explaining to Jarvis the map was meant for him to highlight a nice trail. Henthorn also told Jarvis he could never hurt Toni.

"He's saying ... 'You lived with us, you know that there was nothing wrong in our marriage ... You know that I could never do this,'" Jarvis continued.

"And what did you say?" Van Sant asked.

"I said, 'Yes, I agree, I don't believe you could ever do this,'" he replied.

"The Harold that you knew, was he capable of murder?"

"Not the Harold I knew," said Jarvis.

"I knew he did it," Christie Drews told Van Sant

"Co-workers and close friends kind of privately were talking and saying, you know, 'I really feel bad to say this, but I think that Harold did this,'" said Abbruscato.

In fact, many tips were coming into law enforcement -- 16 calls and letters, all requesting Toni's death be further investigated, with fingers pointing at Harold.

And then, Brian Maass, an investigative reporter at Denver CBS affiliate KCNC and a "48 Hours" consultant, received a tip that changed everything.

"Within a day or two after Toni Henthorn's ... accident ... I got an anonymous email at the station. It was very cryptic," Maass told Van Sant. "It just said, Harold Henthorn, 'his first wife died in a freak accident as well.' Her name was Lynn Henthorn. ...Lynn had died 17 years earlier."

Maass began investigating both deaths -- and was shocked by what he found.

"There are so many similarities and so many patterns in these two deaths. Both occurred in very remote locations. In both cases, Harold Henthorn is the only witness," Maass told Van Sant. "In both cases, the accidents are freakish or bizarre, extremely unusual. ...he tells lots of different stories. ...both wives had a lot of insurance money on them ... he was the one who was gonna benefit from that."

ANOTHER UNUSUAL DEATH

"Toni Henthorn had a lot of friends. She had a lot of people who loved her ... and right from the start wanted to see justice. They didn't feel good about what happened," said Brian Maass.

With questions being raised about how Toni Henthorn fell to her death in Rocky Mountain National Park, investigators were now focusing on the only witness, her husband, Harold. Remember, his first wife, Lynn, had also died in unusual circumstances, crushed under their Jeep.

"She was a social worker, so what I remember so much about Lynn were ... the joy and the love that she often carried," Grace Rishell said of the "vivacious, fiery redhead."

Harold and Lynn Henthorn
Harold and Lynn Henthorn
Grace Rishell

Lynn met Harold Henthorn at college and Grace Rishell remembers how happy her sister-in-law seemed during their 12-year marriage.

"She adored him," Rishell said. "She looked at him with very loving, adoring eyes."

It was a feeling Rishell could understand.

"He began to be like this wonderful big brother to me that was very playful, very funny," she said.

"Would you say loving personality?" Van Sant asked.

"Oh, incredibly. Incredibly loving," Rishell replied. "There were a lot of times, as my family began to grow, of watching Harold relate to my girls. And that was one of the most special things to me was how engaging he was with them."

Rishell's daughter, Laura, enjoyed the time she and her sisters spent with Harold, especially after her parents divorced.

"He was a father figure," she said. "I cared about my uncle very much. Our family had a special bond with him. ...He helped us all in ways. ...He was thoughtful. He was there."

"He and Lynn never forgot a birthday or Christmas," Rishell said. "You can't ask for a more loving family."

But on May 6, 1995, tragedy struck.

"We got a call from a paramedic letting us know that there had been an accident. But Lynn was not dead. Lynn was being rushed to the hospital. ...And the second phone call was after midnight. And she was gone. It was horrible pain, it was horrible," Rishell said in tears. "We all came as quick as we could to be there and to comfort Harold."

"And what did you know about the circumstances of Lynn's death? What were you told?" Van Sant asked.

"It was just a freak accident," said Rishell.

Lynn and Harold Henthorn during a previous outing
Lynn and Harold Henthorn during a previous outing
Grace Rishell

Harold Henthorn told law enforcement he and Lynn had gone out for dinner and a drive in a remote area called Sedalia. While driving, Harold thought he was getting a flat tire.

He pulled off the highway onto the shoulder in the dark to change the tire. Lynn, he said, was helping out holding the tire's lug nuts as he removed them. Harold says she dropped one and it went under the vehicle. And at the same time that Lynn went under to retrieve it, Harold says he threw the flat tire in the back, knocking the Jeep off of its jack and onto Lynn.

"The Lynn that you knew so well, was she the kind of woman who would crawl under a car?" Van Sant asked Rishell. "Was that her nature?"

"No. No, it wasn't at all. That's why it did seem odd," she replied.

Anne McNally and Nancy Hodges, who worked with Lynn as social workers, were in disbelief when they heard the story of her crawling under a car.

"She was concerned significantly about safety," said McNally.

"And what to look out for," Van Sant commented.

"She was very careful. And she tried to nurture that in other people, too," said Hodges.

"First of all -- I understood that she had arthritis and ... getting down underneath a car would require some physical -- at least some physical flexibility or agility. Plus the fact that she just was so careful that I kept saying, 'How could that have happened?'" said McNally.

"And, in fact, the police called me," Hodges said. "And I told them ... 'I don't believe that happened. I just cannot believe that happened.'"

But they also could not come up with any other explanation. The thought that Harold Henthorn could be involved seemed far-fetched.

"She loved this man," said McNally.

"Lynn believed in this man," Hodges said. "Even in her death, we were having trouble maybe second guessing her. ...To get from, the rhetorical, 'do you think Harold had something to do with this, Anne', to 'Harold is a murderer,' is a big jump. ...And I don't think -- we just couldn't do it."

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office responded to the accident and started investigating. And just like in Toni Henthorn's case 17 years later, Harold Henthorn told a number of conflicting stories.

Reports say Henthorn told one deputy they were driving back from dinner and told another they were going to dinner. According to one report, Henthorn said Lynn called out his name after the Jeep fell on her. But he told another investigator that Lynn said, "I think something's on me." Henthorn told one deputy he pulled Lynn out from underneath that Jeep. He later said that people who stopped to help pulled her out.

"We were coming down this road, stopped about right there. We looked over, he said the car was on top of his wife and ... her legs were hanging out from underneath," said Patricia Montoya.

Montoya and her family stopped to help Harold -and found someone nearby to call 911. She says she was surprised to see an unconscious Lynn still under the car -- and it was her group that pulled her out.

"The husband ... started screaming at us telling us to get away from her and not touch her. And we all thought that was kind of weird," she said.

Montoya found the entire situation peculiar, wondering why anyone would ever go under a car that is jacked up -- and was dumbfounded by Henthorn's behavior.

"Even though it was May it was still cold, and so we all took our coats off to cover her and her husband wouldn't take his coat off," she said.

So when Montoya called the Douglas County Sheriff's Office the next day to retrieve her jacket, she asked what she thought was an obvious question: "And I asked if the husband, Harold Henthorn, had been arrested," she said.

But six days after Lynn Henthorn was crushed under the Jeep, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office did something that stunned Montoya - they closed the case, calling it an accident, as did the coroner at the time.

"There were lots of conflicts," said Lora Thomas, who became the Douglas County Coroner in 2011, 16 years after Lynn's death.

A Colorado state trooper for decades, Thomas hadn't heard about Lynn's accident until a neighbor knocked on her door after Toni Henthorn's tragic fall.

"He said, 'Lora, I don't think that was an accident. And there's more. The gentleman's first wife died in ... Douglas County many years ago and I don't think that was an accident either,'" she said.

"And you hear this story, what are you thinking?" Van Sant asked Thomas.

"Well, I'm thinking I have to go into investigator mode," she said. "There were lots of things in this story that don't make any sense to me at all."

"If Lynn Henthorn's accident had been properly investigated, could Toni Henthorn be alive today?" Van Sant asked.

"You know Peter, you ask a question that I have asked myself for over two years," Thomas replied.

INVESTIGATING LYNN HENTHORN'S DEATH

What really happened in 1995, the night Lynn Henthorn, Harold's first wife, was crushed under their Jeep? "48 Hours" asked Arnold Wheat, a nationally recognized accident reconstruction specialist, to review Lynn's case.

henthornpvstire.jpg
"48 Hours" correspondent Peter Van Sant
48 Hours

Using a similar make and model as the Henthorn's Jeep Cherokee, Wheat, a "48 Hours" consultant, deflated the tire to the pressure that Henthorn claimed forced him to pull over on that remote, darkened highway.

"This doesn't look flat," Van Sant noted to Wheat.

"No," he replied.

"Is this undrivable, in your opinion?"

"No," Wheat replied. "In most people's minds, a flat tire is flat with the rim on the ground."

"I've driven on a rim. This isn't anywhere close to being on the rim," Van Sant pointed out.

"No, it's not," said Wheat.

"Wouldn't your instinct be to maybe try to make it to the first gas station which is just down that hill about 8 or 9 miles ... where there might be some help," Maass commented.

Then there's an unusual kind of jack that Wheat thinks was similar to the one that Harold, in one report, told investigators he used to change the tire.

"Is this a bit precarious to be putting up a 4,000 pound Jeep Cherokee?" Van Sant asked Wheat of the jack.

"Absolutely," he replied.

Henthorn told investigators he had to use an unconventional jack because the one that came with the Jeep didn't work -- a claim Wheat finds suspicious.

"How often have you heard a jack like this failing?" Van Sant asked.

"Never," said Wheat.

"Never?"

"Never."

What's worse, says Lora Thomas, is it seems investigators just took Harold's word that the jack was defective.

"There is no indication that the sheriff's department tested that jack," she said.

"They never tested it?" Van Sant asked.

"Not in the information that I've read," said Thomas.

Another issue? One of the tire's lug nuts.

Henthorn says Lynn dropped a lug nut that somehow rolled all the way under the Jeep, causing Lynn to go retrieve it.

"They're on a gravel surface ... Lug nuts don't move very far when you drop them on a gravel surface," Wheat explained. "How that lug nut got underneath there just doesn't make sense."

There was also an unexplained footprint, discovered in a bizarre place -- on the front side of the Jeep, near where the tire had been removed.

"Isn't that indicative on a possible boom! Somebody pushed--what could happen?" Van Sant asked Wheat.

"The vehicle's going to fall off," he replied.

"And if someone's under that vehicle?"

"They'll be crushed," said Wheat.

"That certainly is suspicious to me," said Thomas.

"Do you believe, as you sit across from me right now, that Harold Henthorn has gotten away with murder in Lynn's case?" Van Sant asked.

"I think there's a very good chance that he has," Thomas replied.

In December 2014, shortly before her term as coroner ended, Thomas' suspicions led her to make a dramatic decision.

"I don't believe that Lynn Henthorn got justice," she said.

Thomas changed the manner of death in Lynn Henthorn's case from "accident" to "undetermined."

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office also reopened Lynn's case after Toni died. But unlike the coroner, their report, for now, still classifies Lynn's death as an accident.

Meanwhile, after losing his second wife, Toni, in that fatal fall in 2012, federal investigators were zeroing in on Harold Henthorn. They interviewed Daniel Jarvis, who had once briefly lived in the Henthorn house.

"She asked me what Harold had told me about his job and I gave her the details of he said he was a fundraising consultant for churches and hospitals and other nonprofits," Jarvis told Van Sant.

The investigator listened to Jarvis' story, and then presented some jaw dropping news.

"She said, 'Let me go ahead and tell you something, Harold has not worked in 20 years.' And it was kind of like a bomb exploded," he said.

"Federal investigators have come out and proven ... he had no income at all, that he wasn't raising any money," Maass said. "But he was telling everybody that he was this incredibly successful entrepreneur and business man who was raising all this money for various organizations. But that appears now to be a fabrication."

Henthorn reportedly told others that Toni knew he wasn't working -- a claim Toni's family does not believe as they say Harold controlled the finances.

Law enforcement also informed Daniel that the time when Toni was accidently struck in the head at the family's cabin may have actually been the first time Harold tried to kill her.

"So are you now wondering to yourself, 'Do I really know Harold Henthorn?'" Van Sant asked Jarvis.

"Yes, I don't think I do know him," he replied.

And Jarvis now also doubted Harold's story about that map marked with the X near the location where Toni fell.

"It wasn't made for me," Jarvis said. "My belief is it was made for that time."

"And he put an X on there. So what do you think this all adds up to?" Van Sant asked.

"I think he planned to go out there and have nobody around..."

"And do what?"

"And push Toni off a cliff," said Jarvis.

Grace Rishell, Harold Henthorn's ex-sister-in-law, was also coming to grips with what she was hearing.

Rishell always trusted and believed so deeply in him.

"I don't know what happened to him," Rishell told Van Sant. "I look back at my life and at how many years I spent knowing him and I don't know him at all. ...He was a complete fraud. ...And I didn't learn that until the FBI showed up at my door.

Rishell had long believed the deaths of Henthorn's two wives were horrible coincidences until the FBI told her about a secret $400,000 life insurance policy henthorn had taken out ... on her. Rishell says Henthorn forged her signature, making himself the sole beneficiary.

"That was his doing," she told Van Sant. "I did not authorize that policy."

"You die, he profits?"

"He profits, not my girls," Rishell said in tears. "I feel he came in and just preyed on my vulnerability."

"What do you think he was up to?" Van Sant asked.

"I think it's logical to conclude that he was planning on taking my life at some point," she said.

"You potentially were going to be victim number three?"

"Yeah," Rishell said. "He's a dangerous man. ...He needs to be behind bars."

A man who was still free...

HARD-LUCK HUSBAND OR CONNIVING KILLER?

"He was a con man. I know that's who he is now," Grace Rishell told Peter Van Sant.

"A con man, but is he also a killer?" Van Sant asked.

"I believe so, without a doubt," said Rishell.

With two wives dead and an insurance policy taken out on ex-sister-in-law Grace Rishell, investigators continued to take a hard look at Harold Henthorn.

Meanwhile, Denver Investigative Reporter Brian Maass kept the story in the news - and confronted Henthorn several times.

Law enforcement was closing in on Henthorn, and he wasn't talking.

"I wanted to give you another opportunity to explain what's going on," Maass told Henthorn. "I just want to give you a chance to..."

"Talk to my attorney," Henthorn told Maass from his car. "I really don't appreciate you coming on my property like this."

"Federal authorities do not believe that Harold Henthorn is any kind of hard-luck husband who's just a victim of circumstance," Mass told Van Sant. "They think he is a killer."

Harold Henthorn
Harold Henthorn
KCNC

A killer, they believe, with a motive and a bizarre business model: collecting life insurance proceeds worth millions; nearly $500,000 on Lynn and potentially even more on Toni.

"A total of four-and-a-half million worth of life insurance on her," said Maass.

"Do authorities believe that Harold had basically started up a cottage industry here -- marry someone, get life insurance, and off the wife?" Van Sant asked Maass.

"They've connected the dots that way," he replied.

Finally, in November 2014 -- two years after Toni's fatal fall -- Harold Henthorn was arrested and charged by federal authorities with first-degree murder.

"When you learned that Harold had been arrested, what was that moment like for you?" Van Sant asked Rishell.

"Exhilarating. It was a huge, huge victory," she replied.

Henthorn's murder trial will begin in the fall in federal court. It's a case reporter Brian Maass says is no slam dunk.

"It's extremely circumstantial. They apparently don't have any kind of confession," he said. "No eyewitnesses to what happened other than him and his conflicting stories. ...No smoking gun as it were. It's all a circumstantial case."

"Let's talk about the flip side of this," Van Sant said. "How will Harold be defended do you think?"

"I think they will, obviously, have to account for all of his inconsistencies," Maass replied. "Being traumatized, being emotionally overwrought -- being confused by what he had just seen. I suspect that will be part of his defense."

"And ... just maybe Harold Henthorn is the unluckiest man on earth," Van Sant commented.

"Harold Henthorn could just be a hard-luck husband who has terrible, terrible luck," said Maass.

Meanwhile, Henthorn sits in prison awaiting trial. And Toni's family and friends await justice. For Barry Bertolet, his mind wanders back to that time he saved Henthorn from a certain heart attack -- the man he now believes went on to kill his sister.

"I think as a physician, you know you have this oath and obligation to do that," Bertolet said fighting back tears. He paused before adding, "But I'd like to have my sister back."

Lynn Henthorn, right, and Toni Henthorn
Lynn Henthorn, right, and Toni Henthorn

For some, justice for Toni Henthorn will bring justice for Lynn Henthorn, as the prosecution hopes to raise Lynn's death at trial.

"You're going to be a big part of this case coming up soon. You ready for that?" Van Sant asked Grace Rishell.

"Yes. I am so ready to go in there and do my job," she said. "And I'll make sure he never, ever preys on one other soul ... ever again."

He took the lives of those women and had intentions of taking the life of my mother," Laura Rishell said in tears. "He deserves to feel the pain that a lot of us have felt. ...It's a betrayal."

A betrayal that bonds the families of Lynn and Toni.

They share many tragic connections. Perhaps the most unsettling is Toni and Lynn's final resting spot. Henthorn, who quickly had the bodies of both wives cremated, spread their ashes -- 17 years apart -- in the same spot.

And the families share a hope for Haley, Toni and Harold's daughter, who is now 9 years old and living with friends in Colorado. They are working through the courts to bring her to Mississippi, the place Toni considered home.


"I understand that I'm not getting my sister back. And so the victory to me is to save Haley from him," said Barry Bertolet.

"If he were to be found guilty ... where might she end up?" Van Sant asked.

"Hopefully right here," Bertolet said, pointing to the space between he and his wife, Paula. "Right there."

"You'd like to adopt her?"

"Absolutely," Barry Bertolet said. "And that she can be in a place where she's loved by family and grow up in an environment where everybody knew her mom as intelligent, smart, as a hero. ... I want her to know who her mom really was."


On Sept. 21, 2015, a jury found Harold Henthorn guilty of the murder of his wife, Toni.

Henthorn has yet to receive any proceeds from Toni's life insurance. He declined "48 Hours"' request for an interview.

  • Peter Van Sant

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"