Updated at: 10/12/2012 6:35 PM
By KEN RITTER
(AP) LAS VEGAS - A Las Vegas casino waitress. A homeless hitman. An estranged husband angry enough to have his wife killed.
That was the recipe for a plot police say led to the arrest of a firefighter accused of masterminding a brutal murder-for-hire, then crashing his pickup into a freeway barrier at 76 mph in a failed suicide attempt as police closed in.
A police report is now shedding light on what investigators and prosecutors call the true story of George Tiaffay paying $600 to his homeless acquaintance and occasional handyman, Noel Stevens, and of supplying a key to 46-year-old Shauna Tiaffay’s apartment weeks before her Sept. 29 slaying.
There were several twists to the tale before Tiaffay, 40, was arrested on Wednesday.
Stevens was already in jail on unrelated drug charges. Both remained Friday at the Clark County jail in Las Vegas on multiple felony charges, including murder, conspiracy, burglary and robbery that could qualify for the death penalty. Both are due for an initial arraignment Monday. It was not immediately clear if Stevens had a lawyer.
Tiaffay’s lawyer, Robert Langford, wouldn’t talk in detail about the case, but said his client intends to fight the charges.
"On the best of days, when police file charges, they only have 70 percent of the information in a case," Langford told The Associated Press. "It’s the other 30 percent where the truth lies."
Police say Shauna Tiaffay, the mother of an 8-year-old girl, apparently tried to fend off her attacker before she was killed with a hammer blow to the head so severe that medics couldn’t tell if she had been shot or bludgeoned. The mangled fingers on her right hand bore what medics called defensive wounds.
A jogger later found items, including a makeup bag, cellphone and health card bearing Shauna Tiaffay’s name on a dirt path leading away from her townhome development in a suburban tract several miles west of the Las Vegas Strip.
George and Shauna Tiaffay were estranged and separated after seven years of marriage.
Police said he had an alibi. He was at work on a 24-hour shift when Shauna Tiaffay was killed, according to a police report made public Thursday. He was the one who called 911 when he arrived with their daughter at her townhome a little after 9 a.m.
Shauna Tiaffay was still wearing her Palms Resort Casino work uniform when she was found face-up on the floor in the dining area.
The alleged murder conspiracy unraveled after Stevens, who went by the name "Greyhound," allegedly bragged about the slaying to someone who contacted police Sept. 30.
Stevens told the witness he hit the woman so hard the hammer broke, police said, and he later told another witness that he had been promised $20,000 for the killing.
"We got a very good tip and followed it to the end," police homicide Sgt. Matt Sanford said Friday, adding that the gruesome slaying shocked even veteran investigators for its severity.
What police still don’t know is a motive for the slaying, Sanford said. After Tiaffay called 911 to report finding his wife’s body, he referred police questions to his lawyer.
Shauna Tiaffay will be buried Saturday. An obituary in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said she born into a Mormon family in Salt Lake City and lived in Virginia and Pennsylvania before moving to Las Vegas in 1994. She baked cupcakes for co-workers’ birthdays, loved the color pink and considered her daughter her greatest joy in life. Attempts to reach family members on Friday were not immediately successful.
According to a 14-page police report, investigators found that Shauna Tiaffay’s apartment had been burglarized Sept. 4 by someone who took clothing and jewelry and left boxer shorts neatly folded on her washing machine. Investigators found evidence that vodka had been consumed from a bottle in the refrigerator. Shauna Tiaffay didn’t report the break-in to police until Sept. 14.
Police later discovered clothing believed to have belonged to Shauna Tiaffay, including panties, a black dress and swimsuit bottom, in and around tents at Stevens’ two desert campsites. The ring had been sold. Police said Stevens’ DNA was found on the vodka bottle. The matching swimsuit top was still in the townhouse.
Police learned that George Tiaffay and Stevens exchanged 86 cellphone calls in the month before the slaying, and video footage showed the two men in a Walmart store Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, buying items including a hammer, knife and gloves.
Stevens was arrested before dawn Sept. 17 less than three miles from Shauna Tiaffay’s home after police accused him of having a hammer, knife, gloves and cap in a bag he dropped before he was stopped. Police suspected he was out to burglarize homes.
Stevens was released, but arrested again Oct. 1 on a felony drug possession charge when homicide investigators seeking to question him about the slaying located him outside a convenience store and found marijuana in the pockets of his pants. The drug case is pending.
Police later learned that on Sept. 27 George Tiaffay bought a .380 caliber handgun and ammunition and used an indoor range at a Las Vegas gun store. The gun wasn’t registered, and Tiaffay had never been to the store before.
Sanford said Friday police still don’t know why Tiaffay bought the gun.
On Monday, after detectives questioned Tiaffay’s mother and sister, Tiaffay crashed his 2004 Ford F-250 pickup truck into a freeway barrier not far from Shauna Tiaffay’s former home. The Nevada Highway Patrol said Tiaffay was the only occupant of the vehicle.
Tiaffay was hospitalized with cuts and bruises. He was arrested when he was released from the hospital.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)