Estate of Denial: Since Phyllis Mizioch was murdered last summer, her survivors have been fighting in federal court over who should get the $4.5 million life-insurance payout.

Peter J. Mizioch, the widower and named beneficiary on two insurance policies, claims he is entitled to the money.

But her adult children allege in U.S. District Court complaints that their stepfather was responsible for the homicide and should be barred from receiving the money under Arizona law. They have no direct evidence of his involvement, but they say in court filings that his connection to other murder victims with large life-insurance policies that named him or a close associate as beneficiary – a pattern documented in an Arizona Republic investigation in February – is a powerful circumstantial string of events