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Henderson man’s wives died under similar circumstances, report says

Eight years apart with more than 500 miles between them, two women were found dead under similar circumstances.

Both were last seen alive by Alan Sylwester, their husband at the time of their deaths, records show.

Sylwester was questioned but never charged in the death of his first wife, Laura Rhea Gilliom, on March 29, 2011, in Livermore, California.

Almost eight years later, on March 4, his wife of five months, Karen Byer, was found dead inside the master bedroom of their Lake Las Vegas home on Caminito Amore, police said. Sylwester, 62, was arrested by Henderson police last week on one count of murder.

Sylwester and Byer met in the fourth grade and reconnected in early 2018, according to Sylwester’s arrest report. By October, months after Byer was diagnosed with lymphoma, they were married and living together in Lake Las Vegas, a small luxury community in Henderson.

In later interviews with police, friends of the couple would describe their marriage as “off,” although none could explain exactly why, the report states.

One friend told police that Sylwester recently had confided in her “that he was contemplating having the marriage annulled because Karen had obsessive behaviors,” according to the report.

Just before 8 a.m. on March 4, Sylwester called 911. He said he found his wife in bed and not breathing, the report states.

When police arrived, they found Byer nude in the bedroom, where the 63-year-old woman was pronounced dead. On the nightstand were handcuffs and lubricant, according to the report.

Her autopsy the next day revealed bruises around both her wrists and along the length of both arms, her shoulders, elbows and back. Byer also had cuts and marks on her face, lip and eyelids, the report states.

The Clark County coroner’s office determined that she likely had been smothered to death.

According to Sylwester’s arrest report, his first wife died of a medication overdose in 2011, but the Livermore Police Department marked her death as suspicious based on evidence found at the scene and the circumstances leading up to her death.

A request for comment from Livermore police was not returned Monday.

Gilliom, too, was found nude in the bedroom with “suspicious marks” on her body, according to the report. Police also found handcuffs and lubricant on the nightstand.

After each wife’s death, Sylwester told investigators that he had “rough sex” with her the previous night using the handcuffs.

But Henderson detectives noted in the 2019 arrest report that “Alan’s account of the sexual actions and the usage of the handcuffs was inconsistent with the extensive bruising that was found on both of Karen’s wrists.”

Henderson detectives then used an infrared camera to examine Byer’s body further, looking for any injuries that were not discernible to the “naked eye.”

Images from that exam showed a bruising pattern on Byer’s neck “consistent with the fingers of a person’s hand.”

“The additional IR camera images documented the bruising that had already been observed, but provided greater detail of the extent of the trauma to Karen’s body,” detectives wrote.

Attempts to reach both women’s relatives were unsuccessful, but according to Gilliom’s obituary, she was married to Sylwester for 27 years and had two children with him.

She was born in Boston but raised in Memphis, Tennessee, before eventually moving to Livermore in 2001.

Gilliom, 52 at the time of her death, was an avid reader and enjoyed going to concerts, hiking, cycling and traveling. She especially liked taking family vacations to Hawaii.

Records show that Sylwester has been denied bail and is being held at the Clark County Detention Center, where he is awaiting his preliminary hearing on Wednesday morning.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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