How Hargan murders were solved by investigators

Fairfax County Courthouse

Editor’s note:  On November 9, 2022, a judge overturned Megan Hargan’s double murder conviction, citing juror misconduct. After a juror tried to recreate Helen Hargan’s shooting by using a rifle, the judge ruled that it was impossible for him to do so. The prosecutor stated that Megan Hargan will be retried.  She is currently in custody.

In the summer 2017 Helen Hargan24-year-old Megan lived with her mother, Pam, 63 and her oldest sister Megan, 34 in McLean, Virginia. Helen was eager to move into the home Pam had generously bought for her. 

Carlos Gutierrez and Helen Hargan

Carlos Gutierrez/Facebook

At 11:30 a.m. on Friday, July 14th 2017, Helen called Carlos Gutierrez her boyfriend who lived near Dallas, Texas. Gutierrez said Helen received shocking news from Megan, her sister. She had just told her that Megan had killed their mother. Gutierrez claimed Helen told him to keep calm and still.  He was even instructed by Helen to “shut down and pretend that everything is normal.”

The 911 call

LinkedIn/Carlos Gutierrez

Helen stopped answering her telephone at 1:15 p.m. Carlos Gutierrez became anxious, and called Fairfax County 911 Dispatch in Virginia. He told 911 dispatcher about Helen’s story about Pam. Helen “won’t answer the phone and I’m thinkin’ maybe somethin’ terrible happened to her, as well.” Gutierrez later stated that he felt that authorities were giving him the runaround on that day.

Entering the home

Fairfax County Courthouse

Pam Hargan was first discovered by patrol officers when they arrived just before 3 p.m. The blanket was placed over her and she was found lying face down on the floor. Her cell phone was partially found on top of the blanket.

A shocking discovery

Fairfax County Courthouse

They discovered this when the officers of patrol went upstairs. Helen Hargan In the bathroom. She was dead, and there was an assault rifle between her legs.

Megan Hargan

Hargan is a family friend

Megan, Helen’s sister, said that Helen left her home around 5 p.m. that morning to find her mother alive. Megan stated that Helen and Pam had been fighting. 

“This morning Helen was informed by Helen’s mom that she was cancelling her contract on the house that she’s building. Helen believed that Helen was going after Carlos and that my mom didn’t want him to be there.

Apparent murder-suicide

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A Fairfax County police spokesperson had already told the media that Helen’s injury was self-inflicted by the police at 8 p.m. This looked like a murder suicide. 

Detective Byerson comes in

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Brian Byerson, the Lead Homicide Detective was not convinced Helen had taken their own life. He was walking through the scene when he decided to tell Peter Van Sant, “Wait!”  “You will make mistakes … if you make assumptions before you actually do the work.”

Detective Elliott examines this scene

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Julia Elliott, a crime scene detective, searched the Hargan house looking for clues. She said that several pieces of evidence caught her attention.

Pam’s cell phone

Hargan crime scene evidence

Det. Julia Elliott noticed something strange about Pam’s cellphone’s location and position. Det says, “It’s lying over the pool of blood and blanket.” Elliott. “It would not fall on top or the blood if you were already covered.” 

This was Det. Elliott said that the phone was “placed here by someone.”

A closer look at the rifle

Hargan crime scene evidence

Examining Helen’s death scene, Det. Elliott noticed that there was much blood on Helen’s floor, but very little on her rifle. She says, “You would expect that if it had been sitting there while she bled so heavily it would also be covered in blood.”

Helen’s cellphone

Hargan crime scene evidence

Helen’s cellphone was found next to her at the bathroom counter. Although Helen had used her phone that day to text and talk with Carlos Gutierrez on the phone, there were no fingerprints. Det. Elliott. “As though someone had taken their hand, and wiped the screen’s front.”

Helen’s autopsy

Hargan crime scene evidence

Helen’s autopsy report was received on Saturday, the day following the shooting. It showed that Helen had sustained a gunshot wound on her head, with the bullet path leading into her neck. This confirmed the death of Det. Byerson confirmed that Helen’s suicide was not an accident. He says, “It tells our that someone else pulled off the trigger.” 

Capital One Bank

Megan Hargan at bank

Det. Byerson received a phone call from Capital One Bank. Someone tried to transfer more money than $400,000 from Pam Hargan’s bank account the day before and on the day of her death. Pam was unaware of the fraud and immediately frozen her account. She then sent her daughter Megan – seen here in the black T-shirt – to the bank to confirm that her mom’s account was frozen. 

The confession almost

Fairfax County Police Department

Five days after the shootings ended, Det. Megan Hargan was interviewed by Byerson. It would last for more than four hours. Megan, according to Byerson, admitted that she tried to transfer funds from her mother’s account. However, she insisted that she didn’t kill anyone.

Despite Det. Megan left the police station that morning, despite Byerson’s suspicions.

An arrest

Megan Hargan mugshot

Megan Hargan was detained on November 9, 2018, 16 months after the deaths Pam and Helen.  

“Murder investigations can be extremely complex … you not only have to be sure, you have to be right,”  Det. When asked about the delay in arrest, Byerson replied.

The trial

William J. Hennessy Jr.

Megan Hargan was convicted of the murders her sister and mother. She was acquitted in May 2013. Megan Hargan was accused of killing her mother and then murdering Helen to get the money she needed to buy her own house. They claim she then staged the scene to make it appear that Helen had killed her mother and then herself.

Defense: “Toe on it!”

Fairfax County Court

The defense argued that Helen – not Megan – was the killer.  They claimed Helen was mentally unstable and angry at her mother for threatening to seize her home if she didn’t end her relationship with Carlos Gutierrez. The defense tells jurors that Helen killed Pam. She used her toes to pull the trigger of the rifle.

According to the prosecution, there is no evidence that Pam Hargan intended to cancel the contract for Helen’s new home.  

Crime scene reconstruction

Iris Dalley Graff

The prosecution hired Iris Dalley Graff, a Forensic Specialist, to reconstruct Helen Hargan’s shooting scene. Graff has examined photos from the scene and does not believe Helen took her own lives.

Graff admits that Helen’s legs were long enough to trigger the trigger.   

The verdict

William J. Hennessy Jr.

After a three-week trial it takes the jury less that two days to reach a verdict.

 Megan Hargan is found guilty for the murder of her sister Helen and mother Pam. Each murder count is recommended by the jury to receive a life sentence. Megan Hargan is due to be sentenced on October 28, 20,22.

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