Killer Behind the Badge

Susan White complained to friends and authorities about Deputy Joseph Kent McGowen, but nobody listened. Then he killed her.

"He was always working on a big case," says Michna, who had retired as a captain from HPD after 21 years of service. "Whenever you talk to policeman wannabes, they're always working on that big one. 'Got a big one fixing to go down tomorrow.'"

Although he was beginning to have his doubts about McGowen, Michna, who is now assistant chief deputy constable for the Precinct 5 constable's office, says there was nothing he could really put his finger on -- that is, until the day McGowen came to the Tomball station to tell Michna there had been a threat on his life.

"He said he had received a page on his pager, returned the call and the man had threatened to kill him," says Michna, who decided to check out the story. The phone number was still in the beeper, and Michna traced it to an oil field supply company in north Harris County. Michna drove there and started asking questions. A nervous 45-year-old oil field equipment salesman denied any knowledge of the calls. Still, Michna says, he knew there was something strange afoot and asked the salesman to call him later.

"Turns out this guy calls me back," says Michna, "and he says, 'Look, chief, I don't want to go to the penitentiary. I'm a businessman. But [McGowen's] daddy is a very wealthy man. And he told me that he wants his son out of law enforcement. And he wanted me to call and scare him. And that's what I did for him. Because his daddy promised me a big order."

Michna says he then presented the salesman's story to McGowen's religious parents. McGowen's father, says Michna, vehemently denied any involvement. McGowen's mother, he says, claimed it was the work of the devil. (The Press was unable to contact McGowen's parents.)

"It was so crazy," says Michna, "that I finally told Kent that I didn't know what was going on in his life, but I knew that he was going to do something that was going to embarrass somebody. And when it happens I do not want the headlines in the paper to say 'Kent McGowen, Tomball police officer.' So I told him I was pulling his commission."

During the next year, Michna says he was besieged with calls from McGowen. One day, he says, McGowen would call and claim to have a job with an area law agency. The next day, Michna says, McGowen would call back accusing him of costing him his new job and threatening to get even. After several such calls, Michna had had enough.

"I told him that I was without influence but that his daddy might be doing this to him," recalls Michna. "Then I said don't ever call me again at my home. If you ever call me at home again, I'll try to file charges. You're crazy and I don't want to talk to you."

After leaving the Tomball department, McGowen worked briefly as a reserve deputy with the Precinct 4 constable's office, but he was dismissed from that job in connection with a civil rights violation complaint against him, acording to the Harris County District Attorney's office, which is in possession of his employment records. Despite his problems there and earlier at the Houston and Tomball departments, by October 1990 McGowen was back in the law enforcement business, this time with the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

There are two kinds of sheriff's deputies: district and contract. District deputies are assigned to various precincts in the county and patrol a wide area. Contract deputies -- usually officers with less seniority -- are paid for by civic associations and generally provide security for upscale subdivisions with low crime rates. It's an assignment that a deputy who considered himself a super cop, one who was always working on a "big case," might find beneath his talents. It was in that capacity that McGowen found himself patrolling Olde Oaks, an affluent subdivision in the northwest part of the county, in the summer of 1992.

Susan White and her 15-year-old son, Jason Aguillar, had settled in Olde Oaks that summer. An attractive and athletic 42-year-old, White joined the nearby Northgate Country Club and for a short time she utilized the club's golf course. But White, according to friends, alienated some fellow club members by obsessively talking about her failing second marriage and her problems with Jason, who seemed to be constantly in trouble.

One person to whom she did turn for support was Helen Bazata. An old friend of White's who was running a modeling agency at the time, Bazata says she and White talked on an almost daily basis. White worked for a finance company but had, with Bazata's help, landed a few modeling assignments. She also enrolled in an acting class.

In addition to unloading on Bazata about her crumbling marriage and her troubled son, White also had begun mentioning that she was receiving unwanted attention from a deputy sheriff who patrolled Olde Oaks. On numerous occasions, Bazata says, White complained to her that a Harris County deputy -- Joseph Kent McGowen -- had once again pulled her over as she drove through the quiet neighborhood in her white convertible BMW.

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