Despite accusations of murder by his stepchildren, Phoenix businessman Peter J. Mizioch was recently awarded $4.5 million in life insurance benefits. The children of the deceased, Phyllis Mizioch have accused their stepfather of murdering their mother for her life insurance money. Ms. Mizioch died at her Phoenix resident in July, 2010.

What makes this story even more interesting is that Mizioch has collected life-insurance payments on three other murdered individuals. Those three homicides are still unsolved. The victims in those cases were all associated with Mizioch: Wayne M. “Mike” Snodgrass, Mizioch’s business partner killed at his Phoenix office in 1989, Ronald J. Bianchi, who owed Mizioch money was found dead in Payson in 1999 and David Stark, another Mizioch associate was killed in 2005 in Detroit. All victims died of gunshot wounds.

After the suspicious death of their mother, Phyllis Mizioch’s three children — Mark, Jimmy and Russell Montoya sued Mizioch under an Arizona law that prohibits a murderer from receiving any financial benefits resulting from the homicide. Arizona Revised Statues § 14-2803 states:
A. A person who feloniously and intentionally kills the decedent forfeits all benefits under this chapter with respect to the decedent’s estate, including an intestate share, an elective share, an omitted spouse’s or child’s share, a homestead allowance, exempt property and a family allowance. If the decedent died intestate, the decedent’s intestate estate passes as if the killer disclaimed that person’s intestate share.
Most states have similar “slayer statutes”.
Prior to his wife’s murder, the 72 year old Mizioch had taken out two separate life insurance policies on his wife: one for $1 million and another for $3.5 million. Mizioch named himself as the primary beneficiary of both policies.

Mizioch and his wife had separated and were contemplating divorce during the summer of 2010. Ms. Mizioch had met with associates to discuss the impending divorce in the afternoon of July 6, 2010. Later that evening, Ms. Mizioch’s step-niece found Ms. Mizioch dead in her home, shot three times. Mizioch was identified by the police as a suspect in his wife’s death. The Phoenix police informed the life insurance companies that Mizioch was a suspect, which would have made it illegal for Mizioch to collect under the life insurance policies. Despite their suspicions, Phoenix police never filed charges against Mizioch. Of course, Mizioch denied having anything to do with his late wife’s death.

A lawsuit in federal court soon followed with the life insurance policies claiming that Mizioch was not entitled to the life insurance proceeds and Mizioch arguing that he was. The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge James Teilborg, ultimately ruled that in the absence of testimony or direct evidence implicating Mizioch, the three prior murders and insurance policies did not in and of themselves prove Mizioch’s culpability. In his ruling, Tielborg stated that “Mr. Mizioch’s alleged involvement in past and unrelated crimes – ie., loan sharking, money laundering and the murders of Wayne Snodgrass and Ron Bianchi – does not create an issue of material fact regarding his responsibility for the murder of his wife”. With his ruling, Teilborg ordered the payment of the life insurance proceeds to Mizioch.

Phyllis Mizioch’s children expressed their frustration with the decision, but ultimately, the life insurance companies paid Mizioch. Did Mizioch beat the system and murder his wife to receive $4.5 million? With his prior associations with murdered individuals, all murdered in the same fashion as Ms. Mizioch, it seems only Peter Mizioch will ever know.

Read the entire decision here.