Power, Passion And Poison

An Ambitious Politician Meets A Suspicious Death

Produced by Lisa Freed and Linda Martin

Kathy Augustine was a rising star in the Nevada Republican party, known for both her ambition and controversial tactics, when she mysteriously died in 2006.

Correspondent Troy Roberts reports on the investigation into Augustine's sudden death.
In the days after Kathy's death, her husband Chaz Higgs says he was so despondent, he locked himself in the bedroom of their Las Vegas home and slashed his wrists. "I actually did it over and over, because I wanted to make sure," he tells 48 Hours. "I laid down and said, 'Good, now I can be with my wife.' And that was the last thing I remember."

Higgs was rescued the next morning by Kathy's adult daughter, who found him unconscious and called paramedics. "I was hurting. I just couldn't handle the pain anymore," he says. "I loved my wife. And I just couldn't believe that she was taken away from me."

For Kathy's parents, Kay and Phil Alfano, the loss of their only daughter is, at times, too much to bear. "I keep thinking of Kathy as my angel in heaven looking down at me," her mother says.

Kathy's passion for politics began in high school, when she won a coveted internship in Washington, D.C. When she came back, Kathy's mother says her daughter was hooked.

She was a typical "Type A" personality, according to close friend Nancy Vinnick. "Everything in her whole life was organized," Vinnick remembers. "That was just Kathy. All of her clothes were all color coordinated. All of her suits were in order. She was a perfectionist to the T in everything that she did."

A perfectionist in everything, except picking her husbands: there were two brief marriages, and a child before she was 30 years old. "She was so intelligent. So smart. But when it came to men she had a soft spot. She could not make good decisions," her mother Kay explains. "Except for Charles."

Charles Augustine, Kathy's third husband, was an airline pilot 16 years her senior. "He used to refer to her as 'She who must be obeyed.' And, you know, had a sense of humor about it. And, so I think that made the relationship work very well," remembers Kathy's brother Phil.

But as Kathy's political career took off, winning seats in the state legislature, then becoming controller, her ambitions grew, and so did the tensions at home.

They planned to get a divorce.

But before the separation agreement was finalized, Charles suffered a stroke. He died five weeks later, with Kathy by his side.

Kathy retreated to Hawaii where, three weeks later, she stunned family and friends by getting married again. She married 39-year-old Chaz Higgs, her fourth husband. Eight years her junior, he was a registered nurse living in Nevada.

To many, they seemed an unlikely couple. "He just didn't seem like her type at all," says Kathy's friend Nancy Vinnick. "It just didn't seem like they went together."

It was three years after they fell in love, when Chaz found Kathy unconscious in their bed. In a matter of days, she was dead.

As Kathy was laid to rest, suspicion was growing about the cause of her death. In fact, the 50-year-old had just been given a complete physical, and her mother says Kathy was a picture of health.

In fact, the preliminary autopsy found no evidence of a heart attack, and no other obvious cause of death.

But the medical examiner did find an unexplained mark on her buttocks. And Reno police had received a tip suggesting Kathy may have been poisoned.

Detective Dave Jenkins launched an investigation. "It would have necessitated someone who could have access to Kathy in the moments before she lapsed into unconsciousness," Jenkins says.

But Jenkins needed evidence that a crime had been committed. Urine samples taken when Kathy arrived at the hospital were sent to the FBI. Two months later, toxicology reports confirmed the presence of a powerful paralytic drug called succinylcholine. Proof, Jenkins says, that Kathy had been murdered.

Asked who killed Kathy, Det. Jenkins tells Roberts, "I believe to the core of my being it was Chaz Higgs."

Chaz Higgs, the same man who was so distraught over his wife's death that he attempted suicide, was immediately arrested and charged with first degree murder.

"I said, 'You've gotta be kidding me,'" Higgs remembers. "It's just incredible what has happened."

Asked if he killed his wife, Higgs says, "No, no. I wouldn't kill anyone, it's just not in my nature. I wouldn't do that."

Higgs believes investigators are ignoring other possible suspects. After all, Kathy was known for being a controversial politician, with a lot of enemies. But were they deadly enemies?

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