As horrified neighbors watched at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Thomas Easley, 70, murdered his wife in the driveway of a quiet Payson neighborhood, then turned the gun on himself.
Easley died later at a Phoenix trauma center, but Payson Realtor Marjeane Easley died instantly in the garage of a house on Phoenix Street, where she had sought refuge in the midst of a bitter divorce from her husband of 15 years.
Police declared Marjeane dead at the scene. Thomas was flown to Scottsdale Osborn Hospital where he died around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
Neighbors who watched the shocking events unfold told the Roundup that the tragedy stemmed from a divorce gone bad and that Thomas Easley came by the house repeatedly, where his wife had gone out of fear of his increasingly erratic behavior.
Marjeane Easley was reportedly living in a friend’s house on Phoenix Street as she tried to divorce her husband, said neighbors who knew her. The owner of the house was the elderly husband of a coworker of Easley’s.
“She told us he had Alzheimer’s and was afraid,” said the neighbor.
The neighbor often spoke with Marjeane and said she was a very friendly and energetic woman.
The longtime Payson Realtor had broad community connections. Friends and acquaintances described her as a cheerful, energetic, outgoing woman, involved in local affairs and popular with her associates.
“She was always moving furniture and putting on garage sales,” said the neighbor.
The neighbor watched the shooting from his home.
“I was at my window facing my dining room table when I heard a shot,” he said. “I turned and saw her on the ground and him standing over her fiddling with his pistol. Then I heard another shot and saw a puff of smoke come out of the gun. I yelled for my wife as he put the gun to his head and shot himself.”
Other witnesses reported hearing as many as four shots.
The neighbor’s wife immediately called the police as she ran over to tell them what happened.
“I saw his head moving and told that to the police while I was on the phone with them,” she said.
The neighbors said that the owner of the home where Marjeane was staying told them Thomas had come to his house to speak with Marjeane. He invited the couple to stay in the living room and offered to leave as they conversed, but both said they would rather speak outside, as they had apparently done several times in the past.
But after a long conversation, things took a tragic turn.
On Wednesday, the shaken neighbors gathered in the street beyond the fluttering yellow police tape, as officers gathered evidence around the body, which remained in a pool of blood in the driveway.
The owner of the house remained stunned and in shock. His wife had died earlier this year and he had reportedly offered sanctuary to Marjeane, who had worked with his wife. Police called in the town’s animal control officer to retrieve the owner’s dog, which fled down the street as the shots rang out.
On Friday, a close family member who asked not to be named told the Roundup that Thomas had threatened and assaulted his wife repeatedly over the years. The family member said Thomas drank heavily, used foul language and always had many guns around.
“He’s always been a freak,” said the family member. “I’ve known him for 20 years. He’s always looked the way he did. He’s a heavy drinker. Loaded guns everywhere. Every time we were around — the language was horrendous.”
He said that Thomas frequently slammed her against the wall, choked her and berated her. “He was an extreme, extreme guy. This guy was always looking for a confrontation. We told her, ‘this guy will ruin you.’ We probably knew this would happen some day. He would abuse her. Throw her up against the wall.”
He said none of the family members understood why Marjeane stayed with Thomas so long. “It’s a classic abuse case. Why would they ever stay? I don’t understand that either. Why would you stay in an abusive relationship? And when she finally saw a shred of light — and finally had the courage to leave — this is what happened. I didn’t realize he was stalking her. She didn’t tell me any of it. I asked her several times if he was dangerous. Do you need a restraining order? She said, that’s when most people get killed — when there’s a restraining order. She didn’t think a restraining order would do anything. He would walk right through it.”
The Easleys were in the middle of a divorce after 15 years of marriage. Marjeane filed for divorce on Oct. 23 in Gila County Superior Court. Divorce papers show that the couple owned a home in Gisela, however, police say neither Marjeane nor Thomas were living there at the time of the shooting. Family members said the couple owed more money on the house than it was worth.
Police Chief Don Engler said that Payson police executed a search warrant on the Lazy D hotel room in Star Valley where Thomas was staying the night of the murder-suicide.
Marjeane filed the divorce request and had asked for spousal support of $1,000 per month for the next seven years from Thomas, as well as health insurance coverage.
The divorce filings reported Thomas had just $17,900 per year in income from a retirement fund.
In his response, Thomas agreed to give Marjeane any of the proceeds from the sale of the home in Gisela, but said because of his age, he could not find employment that would support both of them.
However, her family members said that Thomas’ family was well off and he had other resources, which accounted for her request for support in the divorce.
“He wasn’t a poor guy,” said a family member. “He didn’t kill her because she was asking for $1,000 a month. He was a freak and a murderer.”
Marjeane told neighbors that Thomas had Alzheimer’s, but said she could not get a diagnosis from any doctor.
“What scuttlebutt I heard was that they went to an arbitrator, but it did not work out,” said the neighbor. “He wanted her back.”
Engler said the Payson Police Department had no records of calls from either party.