Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Richard and Nancy Lyon

His Wife Falls Ill

As the Texas heat finally began to wane in September 1990, Nancy Lyon reached the heartrending conclusion that her marriage was over.

She believed that Richard, her husband, was a philandering lout.

Many of her friends and relatives breathed a sigh of relief at Nancy's decision. They wondered what took her so long.

Barbara Bush with Nancy Lyon
Barbara Bush with Nancy Lyon

During an eight-year marriage, the ambitious Nancy had juggled a successful career in Dallas real-estate development with motherhood after giving birth to the couple's two daughters.

Meanwhile Richard, a construction project manager, spent far more money than he earned, and the family was in constant financial peril as a result. Once, he charged an Alfa Romeo sports car to the couple's American Express card when they were too broke to make their mortgage payments.

In the summer of 1989, months after Nancy had given birth to the couple's second child, Richard took up with a girlfriend and began an open affair, leaving his wife alone with the kids while he treated his paramour to romantic trips to the Rockies, New Orleans and New York.

Nancy had finally had enough.

"Over the last year, I have been willing to forgive and overlook your indifference, cruelty and destructive criticism," she wrote Richard on Sept. 12. "Not only are you free to go, but I need to demand that you go before even more damage is done to the children and to me."

The letter went on for nine full pages — a humiliated woman's postmortem on a bad marriage.

Nancy told her husband that it was over — no turning back. But then he batted his eyes and swore he was sorry.

She allowed him back into her life. Her friends groaned.

In time, the attempt at reconciliation would prove ominous.

Four months after Nancy wrote her angry letter, Richard Lyon's Alfa Romeo squealed to a stop outside the emergency room at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon

He went inside and asked for help. Orderlies went out to the sports car and found Nancy in a fetal curl in the passenger's seat.

Richard explained she'd taken ill early the previous afternoon, Jan. 8, 1991. The symptoms included cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.

After a preliminary examination, doctors suspected toxic shock syndrome. Her blood pressure was fluctuating wildly and her breathing grew labored. She would eventually lapse into a coma, and doctors would attach a mechanical breathing apparatus to keep her alive.

Nancy's family, alerted by Richard, hurried to the hospital.

At some point during the death watch, Nancy's father, Bill Dillard, a Dallas developer, buttonholed the doctor who was treating the woman.

Dillard asked whether the hospital had done tests for poisoning.

When the doctor asked why, Dillard said he believed his son-in-law was trying to kill her.


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