Sandra Renee Murphy grew up in a rough working-class part of Los Angeles. In spite of her humble beginnings, by the age of 18, a confident Sandy was already working full time. In 1995, she and her best friend decided to head east, searching for a way out from their crude home town. Their destination was the city “built on sin”, Las Vegas. Incredibly, on their first night in a Vegas casino, Sandy put her entire life savings, $13,000.00 on a poker table and bid every penny. That first night in the city, Sandy lost everything. However, the spunky 23-year-old was not easily deterred. Sandy and her friend began selling pieces of lingerie from a huge suitcase on the streets.
The girls’ first business was at a topless bar known as Cheetah’s. This was the place where Sandy met 52-year-old Ted Binion. Sandy’s first impression of Minion wasn’t good. He threw ice at the heavier girls and was arrogant. However, Ted was the one of the owners of the bar, the extremely affluent Binion family. By the end of the evening Sandy described the overweight Ted as “charming.” Most likely, his $50,000,000.00 net worth was part of his charm. One month later, Ted appeared on Sandy’s doorstep, asking her to move into his mansion at 24 Palomino Lane with him. His wife, Lonnie Binion, had left him and filed a petition for divorce.
Ted bought Sandy a BMW and gave her a monthly shopping allowance of $10,000.00, not a bad arrangement for a girl who had lost all her life savings only a month earlier. Soon, Sandy discovered Ted had a dark habit: he was a heroin user and had been for many years. On March 23, 1998, Ted was summoned to appear before the Control Board of the Nevada Gaming Commission. It was an inquest into Ted’s drug use. One of the Board’s policies insisted that all casino licensees be drug-free. Ted was obligated to take a drug test, which he failed. He was also accused of associating with several Mafia members. At the end of the hearing, the Board revoked Ted’s license. Ted’s family still owned the casino, but his family prohibited him from working there anymore. Ted removed his belongings from the casino, including $8,000,000.00 worth of rare silver coins and ingots.
Rick Tabish, Ted’s 33-year-old friend and owner of of a vehicle company, helped Ted to move his belongings fom the casino. Ted, distrustful of banks, asked Tabish if he would help him to bury the fortune on his property. Tabish agreed to the tune of $40,000.00. Tabish brought the money to a desert inside Pahrump, on the side of a busy highway. Tabish built an underground vault to store the silver.
Ted continued on a downward emotional spiral. He used heroin more often than ever, often ignoring Sandy to indulge in his habit. Sandy turned to Tbbish as a shoulder to cry on and the two grew close. It wasn’t long before they began a sexual affair. At 3:55 p.m. on 17 September 1998, Sandy Murphy placed an emergency call, claiming her husband had stopped breathing. Ted wasn’t married to Sandy but he had indeed stopped breathing. An empty xanax, an anxiety-suppressant drug, container and heroin were found beside his body. Under questioning, Sandy recounted Ted’s last 24 hours.
Ted’s heroin dealer had arrived in the morning with several balloons. Irked, Sandy went to the recreation room and eventually fell asleep. By 1:30p.m. Sandy found Ted asleep. She left the house and returned by 4:00p.m. Sandy entered the den and found Ted unresponsive. Sandy administered CPR then called 9-1-1. However, 48 hours later, Tabish was arrested by Ed Howard, a Pahrump police officer while he attempted to open the underground vault containing Ted’s silver fortune. When Howard discovered 48,000 pounds of silver in the back of Tabish’s truck, Tabish changed his story, claiming Ted had told Tabish “if anything happened to [him],he wanted Tabish to remove the silver and put it in safe keeping.” Ted had wanted the money put into a trust for his daughter, Bonnie. Unconvinced, Howard confiscated Tabish’s vehicle and charged him with theft.
Two days later, Sandy posted Tabish’s $100,000 bond. Ted’s lawyer, James Brown, visited police and reported a disturbing phone call he’d received the night before Binion’s death. Binion instructed Brown to “take Sandy out of my will. If I’m dead tomorrow, you’ll know what happened.” Ted died before he had a chance to sign the paperwork and Sandy stood to inherit a fortune. Investigators also learned that Ted was anything but suicidal in the days leading up to his death. Jan Jones, the Las Vegas mayor, reported meeting with Ted and found him in good spirits. Further to that, Ted was known only to smoke heroin rather than to “shoot up“, since smoking made it far more difficult to overdose.
The toxicology reported noted that lividity revealed Ted’s body must have been lying in two different positions for 3 – 4 hours at a time. Clearly, someone had moved Ted after his death. His body in fact looked as though he had been posed. Moreover, it was determined that Ted died around 5:30 a.m., a contradiction to Sandy’s story that she was out during Ted’s drug use. She would have been at home during that time. Ted’s brother Jack, and his sister Vicky, hired private detector Tom Diller to determine if Sandy was involved in Ted’s death. Neither Jack nor Vicky liked Sandy. They saw her as an opportunistic gold digger. What Diller and the police discovered was that Ted was preparing to kick Sandy out of his home due to her infidelity with Rick Tabish. Richard Wright, Ted’s solicitor tld detectives that Linda Carol had contacted him on 24 September that Sandy and Rick had gone on holiday together, to Beverley Hills.
In March 1999, investigators visited Mazula, Montana, Tabish’s home town and visited Tabish’s former employee and friend, Kurt Gratzer. Gratzer informed detectives that Tabish approached him asking if Gratzer would participate in “getting rid of” Ted. A raid on Tabish’s office revealed that Tabish’s business was in financial difficulty and he had lost a number of businesses in recent months. The infusion of silver would change that, Sandy also wanted the silver, as well as the house and Rick Tabish. She was aware that Ted was about to send her packing. The lovers were most likely at the house the day of Ted’s death however the case was no smoking gun. Investigators had to build a case against the two murderous lovers.
At first Sandy thought it was absurd and that nothing would come of it. 10 months after Ted’s death however, Sandy and Tabish were arrested and taken to the Clark County Detention Centre where they were charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, robbery and first degree murder. The police officers informed Sandy that these were capital crimes and she was facing a death sentence. On 30 March, Sandy and Tabish’s trial began. The state’s attorney, David Roger, informed the jury that the case boiled down to three things: betrayal, lust and money. he fingered Tabish as the brains behind the conspiracy. As for Sandy, she had developed a taste for the good life and had no intention of giving it up. Roger claimed that Tabish and Sandy forced a concoction of Xanax and heroin down Ted’s throat. Roger’s forensics expert, Dr. Michael Boden, concluded Ted died of suffocation from a method known as burking, wherein a person sits or presses on a person’s chest and smothers the victim with a pillow. Nice. Poor Ted.
The defense insisted Ted died of a self-indicted drug overdose. Period. They also argued the case was unfairly directed after Ted’s sister Becky called a private investigator into the case. There was compelling evidence however that this was a murder:
- Sandy and Ted’s deteriorating marriage
- Tabish’s financial difficulties
- Tabish and Sandy’s affair
Worse, a witness for the state who knew Ted and Sandy quite well testified that days before the murder Sandy continually claimed “Oh my God he’s going to kill himself”” and “he’s going to overdose.”
On April 4 2000, the state called its star witness, Kurt Gratza. He testified that Tabish had testified about killing Ted and had told him Tabish was going to get him to take a deadly overdose of heroin and xanax. The jury retired to decide Tabish and Sandy’s fate. On 18 April, they returned a verdict: Guilty of count seven: murder in the first degree. On 15 September 2000, Tabish and Sandy returned to court for sentencing. They were both sentenced to life in prison. However, the story doesn’t end there. In 2003, Sandy received some good news. The Supreme Court had overturned the verdict, stating Judge Bonnaville should not have permitted Ken’s lawyer, James Brown, to testify. Brown’s statement that “you’ll know who did it” amounted to testimony from the grave. It was also discovered that the state had paid all of it’s witnesses significant amounts of money by the Binion estate.
14 October 2004, Sandy had high hopes. She had a sharp, new defense team,
there were new prosecutors and she took a very different attitude herself. She didn’t appear in court wearing designer duds and jewelry. This time she presented a plainer, more subdued version of herself. The defense claimed the case wasn’t about greed, but about power. Specifically, they argued, it was about the Binion family manipulating and influencing the case. Incredibly, Gratza revoked his earlier statement that Tabish had hired him to kill Ted. He claimed his testimony was “a huge joke.”
Dr. Boden returned with his “burking” theory and the defense pounced. Several medical experts argued that there was no scientific evidence for “burking.” The so-called button mark on Ted’s chest was actually a type of lesion. A number of medical experts refuted that the amount of liquid heroin in Ted’s stomach was proof that he was forced to drink a poisonous concoction. The amount of heroin the victim smoked was sufficient to build up as a fluid in his stomach. 19 September 2004, a new verdict was entered: not guilty. However the jury maintained that Tabish and Sandy were guilty of attempting to steal Ted’s silver. The crime carried a 5-year sentence but the four years Sandy had already served meant she would not be returning to jail. Sandy and Ted walked out of court as free citizens. Not long afterward, Tabish would be serving more time on an unrelated charge. He is eligible for parole in 2009.
Sandy traded the glamour of Vegas for a quiet life in a California suburb. She said she is happy to live as a “normal citizen.”