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A shot in the dark?

What was the cause of a Nevada politician's mysterious collapse? Did politics— or her husband— have anything to do with her death? Hoda Kotb reports.
State Controller Kathy Augustine, center, answers media questions while her attorneys, from left, John Arrascada and Dominic Gentile, listen after the Senate voted to censure her without suspension and without further financial penalties at the Nevada State Legislature, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2004, in Carson City, Nev. Brad Horn / AP

One the fastest-growing areas of the country, the Reno-lake Tahoe-Carson City area of Nevada is full of contrasts: It is beautiful and brash. In-your-face, on the move, looking ahead and self-confident.

One woman, who wielded power at the highest levels of government, personified the place: Kathy Augustine. She called herself a "tough boss" and made her mark there. She attracted attention, right until the end.

Reno likes to call itself “The biggest little city in the world.” It actually used to be the place where Hollywood celebrities would come to get a quickie divorce.  Now, it is the setting for a bizarre saga that could have been pulled from a Hollywood screenplay.

It’s a story of money, power, ambition, and enemies. Investigators say it’s also a story of murder— what they believe could have been the perfect crime if not for one slip of the tongue.

As far as the public knew, Augustine was a prominent politician poised for an even brighter future. She posed with President Bush, with the First Lady, with the President’s father, and Vice President Cheney.  Nevada State Controller Kathy Augustine put herself front and center almost any chance she could get. 

Victoria Campbell, local reporter:  She was tough.  That was evident just upon meeting her. She had a firm handshakes and looked you straight in the eye.

KRNV-TV reporter Victoria Campbell covered Kathy Augustine’s career for years.

Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent: What were your impressions of her as a politician?Campbell:  Kathy Augustine was ambitious, tenacious, and driven. She knew exactly what she wanted.  She knew exactly how she was going to do it. She put her whole heart and all her efforts into it. She never gave in. She never gave up, not ever, not once.

But in her private life, Kathy Augustine wasn’t nearly as much in control. Heidi Smith was Kathy’s friend for nearly 20 years.

Heidi Smith, Kathy Augustine's old friend: We can’t all be perfect. And she knew that her judgment in men was flawed.Kathy was lousy on relationships. She was great at politics, but not good the other way.

And the sorrow in her private life sometimes showed.

Campbell: When Kathy Augustine spoke, and she smiled, it was a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.

She started life as California girl. Born Kathy Alfano in the Los Angeles area, she grew up in  the ‘60s and ‘70s, a time of change and social awareness and new opportunities for women.

Politics became her passion.  She majored in political science and won a coveted internship on Capitol Hill. But after graduation, she took a more traditional route,  a time.  She went to work for an airline in crew scheduling and briefly as a flight attendant.

She traveled across the country, but the high flying might have come with a price: one marriage failed, then another, and as she approached her 30th birthday, she was a single mother raising a daughter on her own.

Then, in 1986, a new man entered her life—a Delta Air Lines pilot named Charles Augustine, 15 years her senior.

He had been a football standout at Notre Dame, 6’3, tough as nails, a Vietnam vet and devout Catholic.  His son, Greg:

Greg Augustine, Charles Augustine's son:  My dad was a great guy, real humble upbringing in a conservative Catholic home. He did, I think, a great job raising us.

When Kathy and Charles said “I do,” it was his second marriage and her third.  They lived in the Las Vegas area. And for a time, this marriage seemed built to last. 

Greg was a teenager then.

Kotb: What was that like for an 18-year-old dealing with a divorce and then your dad remarrying?Greg Augustine: I think it’s always difficult.  But we fared pretty well, and I think, since there was love there in the relationship, it was something new. Seeing your dad happy was a good thing.

By the late ‘80s, though,  her passion for politics came to the fore once again.  And for Kathy Augustine’s marriage, that became a point of contention.

Greg Augustine: My dad didn’t want any part of being in the limelight politically. That was just not his thing.  He wanted to be home.  He wanted his wife at home, and that didn’t happen.

By the early ‘90s, Kathy Augustine’s friends say she was consumed by a newfound passion for the Republican party:

Smith: Kathy soon became addicted and she loved it. She loved the fight.  She loved the pushing to get ahead and she just went for it.

In 1992, she was elected to her first public office — the Nevada Assembly.  The State Senate followed.  Then in 1998 , the most powerful job yet, Nevada State Controller.

Smith: Kathy was a bill collector for the state.  That requires somebody with a steel spine. She collected a lot of bad debt.  You don’t do that by being a sweet little thing.Greg Augustine: She was a tough lady. You don’t get as far as she did in politics and be a sweetheart.  And I don’t think anybody’s going to go on record and say Kathy was a sweetheart at work.

Indeed, while some state workers say you could hear the sound of her laughter booming through the hallways...

Campbell: I think some of her employees and people who also worked in the State Capitol building also remember too that you could hear the sound of her shouting at her employees all around that building.

If she drove her employees hard, she drove herself even harder. And before long her marriage to Charles Augustine paid the price.

Greg Augustine: I think at the end when she was the Controller, I think that was it.  That was it. That was the—Kotb: So they were they living separate lives pretty much for a couple of years?Greg Augustine: I wouldn’t say separate lives.  I mean they didn’t know what each other was doing every minute of the day by any stretch of the imagination.  But he was hoping for the best.

It just never worked out.  Kathy and Charles Augustine eventually decided on a divorce, but he was certainly not pushing for it.

Greg Augustine: Absolutely not. Kotb: Why not?Greg Augustine: Just part of his Catholic upbringing.  You don’t divorce. It just went against the grain, religiously for him. I think he just  kind of resigned himself to the fact that it has to happen. He was almost depressed about it.

And then, later in 2003, fate intervened. Charles Augustine suffered a stroke.  Kathy spent hours by his bedside.

Greg Augustine: Kathy was there. Kotb: And what kind of state was she in? Augustine: She was distraught.  I think she was not happy, obviously, about the stroke.  But again, at this time they were talking about divorce.  And they were really on their way to parting ways.

And when it became clear that the recovery could stretch on for months, Kathy had a frank conversation with her step-son.

Greg Augustine: Okay, here we are in this divorce, if he pulls through this, which at that time it looks like he’s going to, and he was going into rehab. Who’s going to take care of this man?  And, of course, he’s my father, I stepped up...Kotb: So Kathy asked you, “who’s going to take care of this man?”Greg Augustine:  Right...  right.Kotb:   Did you feel animosity toward her knowing that she and your Dad were on the outs, you know?Greg Augustine: I didn’t really feel any animosity then.  

Just days later though, he got a phone call from Kathy.  His father had suffered massive organ failure and died.

Greg Augustine: And this was a total shock.  Because just days before we were talking about rehabilitation and we were talking about whose going to take care of this person.

It turns out Charles Augustine would not rest in peace.  And for Kathy Augustine, Charles’ death was just the beginning of a bizarre chain of events.  She married again, but as she settled into her new life, storm clouds were gathering. Enemies—and a murder investigation were looming on the horizon—

As Nevada’s casinos were doing record business in late 2003, State Controller Kathy Augustine was bouncing back from the death of her third husband, Charles, and taking a gamble by marrying a new man named Chaz Higgs.

Victoria Campbell, KRNV-TV reporter: He swept her off her feet.  She told her family that he was the answer to a prayer, that he was everything she ever wanted. Heidi Smith, Kathy Augustine’s friend: Chaz was there. She had been spending all this time in politics and Chaz was there to comfort her.  She called him her angel because he provided comfort.

Chaz was a registered nurse eight years Kathy’s junior. To some, the pairing seemed a bit odd. 

Smith: I mean, Chaz, with his spiked hair, wouldn’t do well at a political cocktail party to raise money. Kathy was a political animal. She went 24/7.Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent:  And Chaz?Smith: I don’t think in the whole time I knew Chaz I heard him say more than four or five sentences.Kotb: Did you guys used to scratch your heads, thinking “What do those two doing together?”Smith: Never asked...Kotb: …but yeah, well, girls will be girls.  We used to talk a lot, yes.

But friends also say Kathy Augustine seemed to thrive in her new marriage.

Smith: Chaz whipped her into shape. Kathy had gained a lot of weight. Chaz put her on a regimen. He got her exercising. She really looked good.

Even so, something about the marriage just didn’t sit well with those who had been close to Kathy’s previous husband, Charles.

Greg Augustine, Charles Augustine's son: It kind of seemed like a slap in the face to my dad.  So I thought it was disrespectful.

But as 2004 rolled around, whispers about Kathy Augustine’s private life were drowned out by the roar of a public scandal.

Kathy Augustine: I think that both sides of the story have to be told and resigning was not an answer.

Kathy Augustine’s hard-charging style had transformed some state employees into bitter enemies.  That spring they lashed out at their boss—accusing Augustine of forcing them to work on her 2002 campaign on state time — a violation of the state’s campaign finance rules.

Victoria Campbell, KRNV-TV: They took their allegations before the State Assembly, which sent it on to the Senate.

Kathy Augustine became the first official in Nevada history to be impeached. The trial played out for weeks.

There was tension and animosity as some employees described an abusive boss who made them break the law.  Augustine denied the allegations, but after the votes were in, Kathy Augustine was convicted on one charge but acquitted of two others. 

Augustine paid a $15,000 fine. The governor asked her to resign from office, but she refused. And when asked, even insisted she would have no trouble working again with the very employees who wanted to bring her down.

(Heidi Smith, Kathy Augustine's friend: Kathy was a star on the rise, and to some people, she was a thorn in the side. And I always gave her credit for continuing forward, even though she’d made some bitter enemies.

And enemies or not, in 2006, Kathy Augustine felt confident enough to run for an even more important statewide office—Nevada treasurer.

Kotb: And how surprising was that?Campbell: Not at all.  I wasn’t surprised at all. Kathy Augustine was convinced she had a future in state politics.  And she was not going to let a little thing like impeachment stand in her way.

Early last summer, Kathy Augustine was busy campaigning and planning her next political steps.   

Smith: We had talked about her campaign and the people that I had to call to set up fundraising parties.

But all of Kathy Augustine’s hard-charging ambition was about to be stopped in its tracks. One Saturday morning last July, Augustine was supposed to have been at a fundraiser.

Smith: I went out there. She wasn’t there. I came home to give her a call and chew her out.

kathy was not around, because in the early morning hours of July 8th, Chaz Higgs placed a frantic 911 call. Kathy Augustine wasn’t breathing. Apparently, she had suffered a massive heart attack.

Higgs says he administered CPR, but the efforts may have come too late.  Later, he spoke to reporters:

Chaz Higgs
** FILE ** Chaz Higgs, husband of Nevada's impeached state controller Kathy Augustine, speaks to the media in Carson City, Nev., in this July 10, 2006, file photo. Higgs was arrested in Virginia Friday, Sept. 29, 2006 and charged with the murder of Augustine, who died on July 11 2006. A warrant charging Chaz Higgs with first-degree murder was issued in Reno after a coroner's autopsy and results of toxicology tests found a powerful drug in Augustine's system that would have paralyzed her, police said. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Brad Horn, File)Brad Horn / NEVADA APPEAL

Campbell: But by the time she got to the hospital, Kathy Augustine was in a very deep coma.

The news came as a bolt from the blue for her stepson.

Greg Augustine: And I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it.Kotb: Why was it so surprising? Greg Augustine: Because they originally reported a kind of heart trauma. At 50, it didn’t make any sense. Campbell: There was a gym at the Capitol building. And she worked out every day. I mean, it was apparent she was in good health.  Anybody who could have made it through that, that ordeal a couple years ago and still have been standing had to have something going for her.

But Augustine’s husband Chaz Higgs had his own theory—she may have fallen victim to the stress of hard work and long days.

Could it have been stress?  Doctors did not know for sure.

And three days after that 911 call, Kathy Augustine, the tough, determined public servant, lost the fight of her life. She died without ever regaining consciousness. Her family members made the decision to terminate life support.

Phil Alfano, Kathy Augustine's brother: We were comforted by the fact that Kathy had left us with written directives regarding the circumstances under which life-sustaining treatment should be terminated.

The shock reverberated across the state.

Kotb: When you heard the news that Kathy Augustine had died, what did you think, Greg?Greg Augustine: My mind went crazy with scenarios and things that could have happened. But I didn’t know what to think.  It just made no sense. Kotb: A 50-year-old woman dropping dead of a heart attack...Greg Augustine: No, it happens, it happens.  But I don’t think she was that person.  She wasn’t that person.

In fact, questions had begun flying even before Kathy Augustine was buried. Right from the start, her sudden illness and death raised the necessity of an autopsy. And there were troubling details when the results were released...

Victoria Campbell: That found no evidence of a heart attack, no evidence of heart damage, no blockage, no evidence the heart muscle had died.

If a heart attack didn’t kill Kathy Augustine, then what did?

Smith: I wondered what really had happened. And then I just said “I’ll wait for the coroner’s report before I believe it.”

And there was even more troubling information from the autopsy. It was evidence, perhaps, that when it came to Augustine’s death, there was nothing natural about it at all. And now the rumors winding their way through the hills and valleys of Nevada hinted of something far more sinister: murder.

At first, for the public at least, it appeared that Nevada State Controller Kathy Augustine had died of a massive heart attack at the age of 50. 

One newspaper article described the stress that politicians must endure. But at services held for Augustine in Las Vegas four days after her death, those appearances began to change.

KRNV-TV reporter Victoria Campbell: I attended the funeral in Las Vegas.  It was heartbreaking.It was tragic. I mean, this was a woman who was struck down really in what many people would say is the prime of her life.

A pall of grief hung over the mourners, but so did a pall of suspicion.  In the large crowd of mourners, someone was missing.

Campbell: Something just wasn’t right.

And there was more. Troubling details were trickling out about Kathy Augustine’s death.  One reason for suspicion: an unsettling discovery during her autopsy—what appeared to be a mark on Kathy Augustine’s left hip. A possible injection mark that had no medical explanation.

Unexplained injection?  Could that be the cause of Kathy Augustine’s mysterious collapse? And if so—who could have done it, and how?

Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent: When all these factors were coming out in the media reports and stuff, what did you think?Greg Augustine: I thought what everybody thought.  You know, it just seems that there was foul play of some sort involved. And we were shocked. ‘Cause this doesn’t happen to people I know, for sure.  Especially family members.

And political friends like Heidi Smith had big questions too.

Kotb: Did you think because she did have her share of enemies? Politically, did it ever cross your mind that maybe—Heidi Smith, Dateline correspondent: Yeah, I don’t think I can go there.Kotb: The idea that a political enemy...Smith: Rampant rumors.Kotb: Like what?  What were some of the ones kicked around by people?Smith: That she had stepped on too many toes and had to be eliminated. We had rumors of every kind.

At the Reno police department, detectives were quietly conducting an investigation.  

Lt. Jon Catalano, Reno P.D.: We wanted to know what she did not just 12 hours preceding her death, but the week preceding her death: who she was around, who she talked to, what her happenings were, how she felt.Kotb: When you talked to her on the phone, did anything—Smith: Fine.Kotb: —seem out of the ordinary?Smith: Absolutely not.Kotb: She seemed okay?Smith: She seemed okay.

As for Kathy Augustine’s husband, Chaz Higgs? At the funeral, he was the missing man everyone was talking about. 

Kotb: In that entire sea of people, there was no Chaz Higgs?Campbell: There was no Chaz Higgs.  He did not attend. Kotb: And when you didn’t see him, what did you think?Smith: Well, I asked Phil, her brother, what was going on.

The man who’d spoken out in the hours after Augustine’s collapse was suddenly in no position to talk. He had been sidelined by a health crisis of his own. 

Chaz Higgs had tried to take his own life.

Campbell: Chaz Higgs attempted suicide by slashing his wrists.  Kathy Augustine’s daughter came into the room, called paramedics.  And they were able to get him to the hospital.

Higgs recovered after a few days.  But by then, people were beginning to believe there was more to Chaz’s story about the morning he called 911 than he was letting on...

John Tsitouras, neighbor: Because of all this history that we know about him, nothing seems right about the guy, but all this is all hearsay, and that’s why I have to be circumspect.

And police were becoming more suspicious than sympathetic...

Lt. Jon Catalano: Because of the suspicious circumstances surrounding Miss Augustine’s death, we started taking a look at her husband. Our detectives started building a timeline.

As the police delved deeper into the marriage of one of the state’s top officials—a more complicated portrait of Chaz Higgs began to emerge.

Before his life collided with Kathy Augustine’s political rising star, Chaz Higgs had spent much of his career in the Navy. He trained as a Navy Seal and spent 16 years as a medical corpsman and along the way, there were three previous marriages and divorces, a string of bankruptcies...

When he met Augustine, he was working as a nurse at this hospital.  As for their marriage, over time it seems Kathy’s initial infatuation had given way to something else—frustration with Chaz’s inability to deal with her political life.

Smith: Chaz was becoming difficult. It wasn’t his cup of tea, either politics.Victoria Campbell: Earlier this year, Kathy Augustine confided to a friend who was recently widowed, “Don’t do what I did. You need to take time to be by yourself and learn to live by yourself.”  And at that point, she confided that her marriage to Chaz Higgs was on the rocks.Kotb:  What did you think when you heard about that stuff? Greg Augustine:  I think the entire family, we were all, to use Phil’s words, "cautiously suspicious." Kotb: Why? Greg Augustine: (pauses) I don’t know if I should go on anymore.

Last July, a funeral was held in Las Vegas for Nevada State Controller Kathy Augustine.  She had died at age 50 of what originally seemed to be a heart attack.  She was mourned by hundreds of family members,  friends, and state officials.  But her own husband did not attend.  Chaz Higgs had attempted suicide.  And by then, questions were swirling across the state from the casinos of Las Vegas to the quiet streets of the state capital in Carson City...

Suspicion hung in the air.  Turns out the very day Kathy Augustine died police here in Reno received an intriguing phone call — a phone call that would change everything.

Victoria Campbell, local reporter: A nurse calls, a fellow nurse of Chaz Higgs, and says, ‘You know, I think you need to know something.’

That nurse had worked with Chaz Higgs at a hospital the day before Kathy Augustine was stricken.  According to police, Higgs allegedly told the nurse that his marriage was in trouble, but that wasn’t all.

In what police detective David Jenkins thinks may have been a crucial slip of the tongue, Higgs allegedly commented on a much publicized local murder case. 

Allegedly, Chaz Higgs was referring to the high-profile case of wealthy Reno businessman Darren Mack.

Just before Kathy Augustine’s death, Mack had been accused of stabbing his estranged wife to death, shooting the judge who was handling their divorce proceeding, and then fleeing to Mexico.  Mack has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the case.

The tipster, Nurse Kim Ramey, told police Higgs said there was a much better way to commit murder.

Det. Jenkins: And then made specific reference to succinylcholine as a drug that would have been much wiser to have used because it was virtually undetectable.

Succinylcholine:  used correctly, it paralyzes respiratory muscles to allow the insertion of breathing tubes.  But it’s a powerful drug that if mis-used can cause organ failure and even death.  It quickly dissipates from the bloodstream, leaving few traces.

Det. Jenkins: I had never heard of succinylcholine before and so our first thought was to go to the medical community and to ask a professional ‘Hey, is this a plausible story? Is this something that would be a viable scenario?’

And when doctors did not discount the tipster’s scenario, Jenkins went into action:

Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent: At this point, what are you thinking?Det. Jenkins: I’m thinking at that point that an investigation needs to be done, a full-blown investigation which would tend either way to discount the information or to corroborate that and prove it. Sergeant Doug Evans, Reno PD: There’s an old saying that—in any investigation, the clean get cleaner and the dirty get dirtier.  And Chaz, certainly in our estimation, at this point, wasn’t getting cleaner.  Because things were coming in.  Information was coming in that just made you sit back and—and—think that it was getting very suspicious looking.

Chaz Higgs left Nevada and went to see family back east.

Police quietly requested an arrest warrant...  and sent Augustine’s blood and urine samples to the F.B.I. crime lab in Virginia, One of the few places in the world where succinylcholine traces can be detected and while they waited for results - they continued to build their case - and secretly tracked Chaz Higg’s every more.

Det.  Jenkins: We were in a position to use some electronic surveillance techniques that very quickly aided in us being able to place him in a specific area in the country.

Finally, two months later, the F.B.I. lab confirmed that Kathy augustine had succinylcholine in her urine.  It became a huge story across the state. In September, police arrested Chaz Higgs in Virginia and brought him back to Nevada, charging him with murder in the first degree. 

Kotb: And was he shocked when he saw the cops knocking?Campbell: I understand that he was pretty forthcoming.  And he was getting out of the car in front of his brother’s house.  And I believe it was an FBI agent who found him and—said, “Are you Chaz Higgs?”  And he said, “Yes, I am.  Who are you?”  “We’re with the FBI.  Come with us.”

Higgs pleaded not guilty.

But if Kathy Augustine did die by an injection of succinylcholine, it’s even more disturbing to everyone who knew her, because the effects on the victim are so terrifying.

Campbell: That it paralyzes the breathing, but does not stop the brain.  You know something’s wrong.  But you can’t cry out.  You can’t change the expression on your face.  You’re dying by degrees very slowly.

Kathy Augustine’s stepson, Greg:    

Greg Augustine: It saddened me a lot to think that she was possibly given a drug that paralyzed her internal organs, so she suffocated.  And starved her brain and heart of oxygen.  I can’t think of a worse way to go. I can’t think of something more horrific than not being able to defend yourself.  Or not being able to make a phone call.

But as heartbroken as they were over Kathy Augustine’s alleged murder, Greg Augustine and his family were facing their own grief and horror and beginning to ask questions about their own father’s sudden death.   They’re afraid there’s a lot more to this story...  another twist...  buried deep in the past.

This winter, as the snow swirls around western Nevada—suspicion and mystery continue to swirl around the alleged murder of State Controller Kathy Augustine.

And the questions now seem to be drifting...  back into the past.

What first looked like a freak medical problem—a sudden heart attack in a healthy 50-year-old woman, now appears quite different. Prosecutors say its medical murder.

Kathy Augustine died last July after prosecutors say she was injected with the paralyzing drug succinylcholine.  A lethal dose, they say, administered by her husband, registered nurse Chaz Higgs.

When Higgs was charged with first degree murder, it opened up another chapter in this bizarre story.  A chapter that had people who knew Kathy Augustine looking back and seeing another series of events—and another sudden death—in a very different light.

Greg Augustine, Charles Augustine's son:  And she had mentioned to me it was massive organ failure.

When Greg Augustine’s father, Kathy’s third husband, Charles—died from complications of a stroke in 2003, he assumed his father had simply taken a turn for the worse.

For Greg Augustine, the questions began with the moment in 2003 when he learned that his father, Charles, Kathy’s third husband, had died from complications of a stroke.

Greg Augustine: And I remember thinking: How does that work?  Does a stroke cause massive organ failure? I was totally shocked at that turn of events.

Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent: Suspicious or just shocked?

Greg Augustine: Not really suspicious then.

Soon, he would have reason to be suspicious. As he thought back in time, there was another moment that set off alarm bells.  It was at his father’s house, at the reception  after Charles Augustine’s funeral:

But looking back, he’s now questioning everything  he thought he knew about his father’s death, beginning with a moment at the reception following his father’s funeral.

Kotb: I mean, there was Kathy...Greg Augustine: Right...Kotb:  Then you saw...Greg Augustine: Chaz. Kotb: Chaz.Greg Augustine: At the wake.Kotb: What was Chaz doing at your dad’s wake? Greg Augustine: I had no idea.  I thought to myself, what is this person doing here?

It was Chaz Higgs. It turns out Kathy Augustine met Chaz Higgs at a Las Vegas hospital, where Higgs had served as Charles Augustine’s nurse.

Greg Augustine remembered that even then, he’d had a strange feeling about Kathy and Chaz when he had seen them in the hospital cafeteria.

Kotb: So while your dad was going through what he was going through in the hospital, and Kathy was at the hospital. Greg Augustine: Right.Kotb: Kathy and Chaz were eating in the cafeteria. Greg Augustine: Right, right.  Absolutely. Kotb: But you didn’t think anything of that. Greg Augustine: Not at first. Kotb: No. Greg Augustine: Not at first.  But it seemed inappropriate. I remember thinking, you know, I’m not sure if that’s in the nurses code of conduct to have lunch with—Kotb: Yeah.Greg Augustine: It just seemed odd.

But as Greg Augustine looks back, the most unsettling event may be the one that took place—thousands of miles away.

It happened in Hawaii. While on vacation, Kathy Augustine and Chaz Higgs had gotten married. Not so unusual until you consider the date:  September 19, 2003, just three weeks after Charles Augustine’s death.

Kotb: What did you think of that timing?Greg Augustine: It was absolutely bizarre behavior on Kathy’s part. Kathy was a person who makes controlled decisions. And she make decisions that are based on research. And thought. And this just seemed so out of character for her. I mean everybody was shocked. It was just so out of the ordinary for her.Kotb: Were you upset with her? Angry at her at that point?Greg Augustine: You know, I thought it was angry. I was sort of numb, I think, at that point.

Numb, and a bit angry perhaps, that the man who had married Kathy Augustine so soon after his father’s death stood to gain much more than her companionship.

Kotb: When your father died, did Kathy gain monetarily?  Did she?Greg Augustine: Well, (sighs) yeah.  At that point they were divorcing.  And they had come up with a settlement amount.  And at that point, yeah.  He had passed on.  Instead of getting half or whatever it was they agreed to, she got it all. Kotb: She got everything.Greg Augustine: Uh-huh (affirms). Kotb: What did you guys think about giving that?Greg Augustine: I thought it was convenient for her.Kotb: I mean they were getting divorced and he’s giving everything to the woman who— Greg Augustine: Well, he wasn’t. Kotb: Yeah. Greg Augustine: You know, he was fighting that.Kotb: Yeah.Greg Augustine: He’s retired.  She had a career.  So, at that point—I’m not sure the terms, we’re looking into that, I think.Kotb: Uh-huh (affirms). Greg Augustine: The detectives maybe. But yeah, it seems convenient.  At the time I was upset.

In light of Kathy Augustine’s death and the murder charges against Chaz Higgs,  Greg Augustine set demanding answers in his father’s death.  What really happened to his dad, Charles?  Could he have been killed the same way Kathy Augustine allegedly was?

Greg Augustine: Any prudent person would have to go through the decision to exhume their father because Chaz was his nurse in the hospital.  Kotb: To think of that possibility.Greg Augustine: It hurts me. It hurts to think because he did have a stroke. He was in the hospital. He didn’t need to be pushed over the edge. That’s certainly not something that my dad deserved, because he was a great guy. 

Greg Augustine wanted answers...  and so did the police. 

In recent court appearances, a man who was used to standing out of the limelight has taken center stage in one of the most-talked-about cases in Nevada history.  42-year-old registered nurse Chaz Higgs is charged with the murder of his wife, State Controller Kathy Augustine.

Prosecutors say Higgs killed her with a lethal dose of the paralytic drug succinylcholine, the very same drug that Higgs allegedly told a fellow nurse would be a good way to commit murder.

Prosecutors say the drug was never given to Augustine when she was hospitalized and it turns out Higgs had information about the drug in his car when he was arrested.

But the defense says there is simply not enough scientific evidence linking Higgs to Augustine’s death.

David Houston, Chaz Higgs' attorney, David Houston: I think it’s a lot of people that have opinions of things that really have no basis in fact.  What the case really surrounds is scientific evidence that we feel is insufficient to support a conviction.  It’s that simple.

In fact, Houston and lead counsel Alan Baum think most of this case will be easy. The allegation that Higgs talked about Succinylcholine?

Houston: Well, you know, the only thing I can say about that is imagine how idiotic it would be for this supposed clever killer who’s going to use this supposed—undetectable drug to go to his coworker right prior the time he’s going to administer this lethal injecting and be ridiculously stupid enough to make that sort of statement and then proceed forward to utilize that exact same drug to murder his wife.  That sounds absurd.Kotb: Why did Chaz Higgs try to kill himself?Houston: Because I think Chaz Higgs loved his wife that much and I think the concept of living without her was so, so devastating, he couldn’t bear it.

And even some friends of Kathy Augustine can’t imagine what the motive could have been.

Heidi Smith, Kathy Augustine’s friend: There was no monetary reward for him. If she left him money—ok that would be something. I mean, it just didn’t make sense. There is a great possibility that somebody else did it.Kotb: Do you think it was someone else?Smith: I don’t know.  But I am—I am open to all options.

Higgs’ attorney David Houston says Kathy Augustine had already transferred her assets to a living trust for her daughter, which Higgs had signed off on.

Houston: There was absolutely no financial motive.  He had nothing to gain. Chaz Higgs, even though Kathy has died, stands to I think receive maybe one vehicle.

Prosecutors see the case very differently.  And there are still some very big unanswered questions. One of the biggest is "What happened to Charles Augustine?" He was Kathy Augustine’s third husband and died while under the care of Chaz Higgs.  His son, Greg, demanded his body be exhumed.

The body of Charles Augustine is exhumed three years after his death at a cemetery in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006. The Clark County coroners office will perform an autopsy to determine if Augustine's cause of death is consistent with what is listed on his death certificate.    (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
The body of Charles Augustine is exhumed three years after his death at a cemetery in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006. The Clark County coroners office will perform an autopsy to determine if Augustine's cause of death is consistent with what is listed on his death certificate. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)Isaac Brekken / AP

And in October, Greg Augustine had his request honored.  Acting on a court order, police in Las Vegas exhumed Charles Augustine’s body to see if he also had Succinylcholine in his system.  The testing is still not completed and may take several months.

Kotb: The exhumation of your dad’s body, was that a very difficult thing?Greg Augustine: That was tough.Kotb: -- To do. Greg Augustine: That was tough.  It was hard to explain it to my kids. Kotb: Yeah.Greg Augustine: You bury ‘em, he’s supposed to stay buried.  He goes to Heaven. You don’t bring him back... Kotb: So now you wait.Greg Augustine: Now we wait. Kotb: For any kind of results. Greg Augustine: Maybe for a long time.

Chaz Higgs’ attorney says authorities will find nothing.

Houston: I think that the fabric of the entire story is rather weak. Kotb: And what’s the principal tenet of your defense? Houston: He didn’t do it.  It’s that simple.

For now, Chaz Higgs awaits trial while the Augustine family awaits answers. 

Greg Augustine: There were a lot of things that point the dirty end of the stick at Chaz Higgs.  But we live in the United States of America. And he’s certainly innocent until proven guilty.  And the detectives have to do their job. At this point, I’m convinced that they will.

And in Nevada, there’s fascination with one of the most bizarre cases in state history.

Smith: Basically, the standard statement is “This sounds like a bad Hollywood movie.”  And it does. It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense for anybody killing Kathy.

An alleged crime no one would have known about if not for a co-worker taking action and calling police...

Kotb:  So that phone call, the timing, everything was critical to your investigation.Det. David Jenkins, Reno PD:  Absolutely, were it not for this individual coming forward, I think it’s entirely likely that this death would have never been recognized as a homicide.Kotb: It could have been the perfect crime.Det. Jenkins: I think it’s very likely it would have been.

And last summer after her death, Kathy’s name remained on the ballot in the Republican primary and she received nearly one fifth of the votes cast for state treasurer. 

Never one to give up, Kathy Augustine’s life in politics had ended up lasting longer than her natural life.

Kotb: Heidi, overall, when you sit back and look at this picture, everything that happened: what’s the first thing that comes into your head? The first thought?Smith: It didn’t happen. The first thing I think of - it was just a bad dream.

Chaz Higgs’ trial on first-degree murder charges is expected to start in July. Again, he has pleaded not guilty.