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Newspaper heiress’s marriage on the rocks before drowning, friends say

July 3, 1997

PHOENIX (AP) _ Newspaper heiress Margaret Thorstenson’s marriage to a man 27 years her junior was on the rocks before she drowned in an Arizona lake, two friends said Wednesday after an investigation found no foul play in her death.

Mrs. Thorstenson, 65, drowned May 14 at a lake near Phoenix on May 14, seven months after her marriage to 38-year-old buffalo trainer Collin ``T.C.″ Thorstenson.

Collin ``T.C″ Thorstenson married Margaret for money although he probably did love her, said Jeff Kosta, Margaret’s personal assistant who described her as a mother figure.

``It was definitely for money,″ Kosta said. ``He kept telling me, `I’m waiting to divorce her.′ They were driving each other crazy.″

His remarks came after Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said a seven-week investigation found no evidence of foul play in Mrs. Thorstenson’s death.

Arpaio had said from the start that Thorstenson wasn’t a suspect, but he acknowledged that investigators looked into reports that he had abused a previous wife. Investigators also asked Thorstenson to take a lie detector test, which he refused.

Arpaio noted the couple’s age difference, the length of their marriage and Mrs. Thorstenson’s wealth _ an estimated $200 million from the sale of her late husband Dean Lesher’s newspaper empire to Knight-Ridder in 1995.

``Granted those facts caused lots of suspicion,″ Arpaio said in a news release. ``But it’s time for us to put those suspicions aside. Ms. Thorstenson drowned accidentally.″

But Kosta and Marsha Adams, a neighbor, said they remained uncertain whether the drowning was an accident.

``She wasn’t happy,″ Adams said. ``She said on her birthday (May 4) that the marriage was a mistake.″

Nevertheless, Sheriff’s investigator Capt. Tim Dorn said witnesses described her as happily married. Her husband had little to gain financially if she died, he said.

Mrs. Thorstenson, 65, drowned while the couple was on a camping trip at Bartlett Lake, a reservoir not far from their Scottsdale home.

Thorstenson said he awoke in the middle of the night and found his wife gone. Searchers found Mrs. Thorstenson’s body the next morning in about 8 feet of water, 25 feet from their campsite. Their boat was found 2 1/2 miles away, on the other side of the lake.

She was legally drunk at the time of her death, tests showed; her husband said she drank champagne while he had a few beers.

Although Mr. Thorstenson’s second wife, Kathi, filed complaints that he had abused her during their marriage, there was no evidence of any type of abuse in his marriage to Margaret, Dorn said.

Thorstenson is known for riding and racing buffaloes. His first racing buffalo, Harvey Wallbanger, raced horses in 110-yard dashes and appeared in the Kevin Costner movie ``Dances With Wolves.″

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