Vicky Howden was married to one man, in love with another and pursuing a third for drugs and compassion in the months before her violent death.
A British emigre of modest schooling but arresting looks, the 26-year-old Howden embodied the Hollywood dream unrealized. With one legitimate acting job to her credit, she stripped at bachelor parties to pay the bills and otherwise survived by keeping different aspects of her life in tidy, separate compartments.
She did not, for example, mix love and marriage and had wed her American husband strictly for working papers. Friends of her lover, a California Highway Patrol officer, did not know she was married. She often wept on her way to stag parties, but once there became the consummate professional, commanding more repeat requests than any dancer in her company.
She could be endearing and dangerous--leading her CHP boyfriend on exhilarating, high-speed chases along the freeway.
But unexpected emotion seeped into Howden's world and suddenly, its neat compartments became a messy jumble. When she died June 10 by firing a .357 magnum revolver into her heart, Howden left behind a tangle of death, heartbroken families, bitterness and litigation:
Her lover had killed himself a month earlier and her husband-of-convenience sat mortally wounded at the dining room table, an apparent victim of Howden's despair before she killed herself. Four children were left fatherless; two of them have filed a civil suit alleging negligence by Ventura County, a major drug company and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, described by police as Howden's former boyfriend, is under investigation by state medical authorities for unprofessional conduct. And Howden's own family is alleging a police cover-up.
Victoria Denise Howden came to Los Angeles about six years ago, when she was nearly 21, to work for Dr. V. Charles Charuvastra's family as a nanny.
Her mother, Geraldine Morgan, said Howden had been eager to leave Torquay, a balmy corner of England where she modeled for local shops.
In Los Angeles, she became her employer's mistress, according to police records and Howden's relatives. She and Charuvastra, now 46, lived together in Sherman Oaks about three years after he and his wife separated, those sources said.
Howden moved out in November, 1989, according to police reports. Her mother said that "the relationship came to an end and it was time to leave."
After Howden's death, detectives discovered that the handgun used to kill Howden and her husband, Charles House, was registered to Charuvastra. They also realized that they had seen the doctor's name elsewhere: on eight bottles of drugs found in Howden's apartment. Ranging from diet pills to diuretics, all had been prescribed between February, 1989--when Howden was living with Charuvastra--and February, 1991, four months before her death, police reports show.
Among the medications was Prozac, a popular but controversial antidepressant that has been blamed for suicide and murder in about 75 lawsuits nationwide.
Howden's autopsy report showed no Prozac in her bloodstream. But in a negligence suit filed in Van Nuys Superior Court, House's children from his first marriage, ages 13 and 9, allege that Prozac was a factor in their father's death.
The suit's defendants include Charuvastra and Prozac's manufacturer, Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis, which maintains that the drug's undeserved, negative publicity is the product of an anti-psychiatry campaign waged by the Church of Scientology.
Medical board officials have declined to discuss details of their investigation, but confirmed that it centers on whether Charuvastra should have prescribed medication to someone described in police reports as his "former girlfriend."
The Thai-born Charuvastra, who grew up and studied medicine in Australia, has declined requests for interviews. One source close to the case said Howden kept pestering Charuvastra for drugs and sympathy after they separated, and that he was unable to extricate himself.
Charuvastra told detectives he did not treat Howden as a patient, had never examined her at his office and had no files on her. A lawyer for the Medical Board of California said it is considered unprofessional conduct, and grounds for possible disciplinary action, for a physician to prescribe medication without a "full, good-faith, prior examination."
Police reports show that Charuvastra prescribed Prozac to Howden last January, after she contacted him and said she was depressed about her immigration status.
She had landed a one-line part on the TV sitcom "Dear John" the previous November--her first, legitimate acting role--and her lack of working papers caused a problem when it came time for Paramount Pictures to pay her, the show's executive producer and casting director said.