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At first, the tenants in the office building at 602 Sawyer were puzzled by the tall, heavy-set man with the bald head. He would show up at their offices unannounced, introduce himself as "Mad Dog," then proceed to grill them on what sort of business their companies conducted and the physical condition of their offices. Mad Dog was the self-adopted sobriquet of Lieutenant Alan Mabry, a man who was obsessed by his work -- as a policeman and as a board member of the Police Officers Pension System, which owned the seven-story building near downtown. Mabry always struck those who came in contact with him as a man on a mission -- although some of his colleagues wondered whether his wasn't a mission of self-destruction.
As Mabry became a fixture around the building, the tenants' puzzlement turned to annoyance. One of them, the U.S. Secret Service, didn't care for his habit of roaming the halls of the building late at night, and others complained to the property manager about his unwelcome drop-in interrogations. The president of one company leasing space at 602 Sawyer put his complaint in writing:
"Much to my dismay, I have been informed that a certain individual calling himself 'Mad Dog' has visited my office on two occasions. 'Mad Dog' looked more like 'Elmer Fudd.' 'Mad Dog' claims to be a trustee for the Policeman's Pension Fund. If this is true, I am appalled. If this is true and you have some control over his habits, keep this 'animal' away from my office. 'It' is not welcome. Let's put an end to the 'Madness."
Alan Mabry saw demons everywhere. Some were real; others were imagined. Either way, they tormented him right up to his very last second.
Mabry's life of 44 years ended when he was fatally shot in the head -- by himself or someone else -- shortly before sunrise on May 4. His death came after 21 often controversial years with the Houston Police Department, during which he had come to be regarded by fellow officers as either a crusading gadfly or a dangerous pain in the ass -- and sometimes both, depending on the officer's point of view.
For years, Mabry had railed about corruption and mismanagement within the Police Officers Pension System, first as a paying member and later as a trustee of the fund. Whenever he could, Mabry would buttonhole other cops, investigators, board members and reporters to spin the latest plot he claimed to have uncovered. More often than not, his allegations could not be substantiated, at least not by the conventional methods or standards.
During the past few years, however, Mabry's theories seemed to be coming significantly closer to the mark. His accusations of wrongdoing in the administration of the police pension fund had resulted in the downfall of the board's chairman -- or at least Mabry claimed they had. But Mabry's less-than-private obsession with the workings of the pension system, along with his sometimes unorthodox behavior, was an embarrassment to the brass of the Houston Police Department, who prefer to keep the department's dirty laundry within the department's inner sanctum. And Mabry angered the HPD hierarchy with his public, by-name criticism of high-ranking officers -- so much so that he ended up getting fired.
But life had been good for Mabry in the weeks leading to his death. He had been reinstated to his position as a lieutenant with HPD and awarded his back pay, although an arbitrator had noted that Mabry's conduct had at times been improper. While fighting for reinstatement, according to people close to him, Mabry was able to spend a good deal of time with his wife and his 11-year-old son, to whom he was said to be especially devoted. Given the recent positive turn of events in his life, it came as a shock to many of Mabry's friends and relatives that, immediately after his body was pulled from a small stream in rural Fort Bend County, authorities would suggest that he had died by his own hand.
Almost six weeks after his death, there has been no official ruling on whether Mabry committed suicide or was murdered. Because of the controversy, a Fort Bend County justice of the peace -- whose job it is to rule on the cause of death -- has elected to hold an inquest into the fatal shooting before determining whether the case should be investigated further.
"The cause of death is very, very obvious," says Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James C. Adolphus, who will preside over the inquest. "It was a contact gunshot wound behind the right ear, toward the back of the head.
"The manner of death?" the judge asks rhetorically. "It depends on who you listen to last."
Alan Mabry grew up in Riverside Terrace in southeast Houston. The neighborhood sits just east of Highway 288 and north of the 610 Loop South, although those two freeways weren't there when Mabry was a youth. Nor was much of the crime and decay that now afflicts parts of Riverside Terrace. When Mabry was attending Southland Elementary (now Thompson Elementary) and Cullen Junior High in the 1950s and '60s, the neighborhood was a middle-class enclave of wood-framed homes where post-World War II parents were bringing up baby boomers.