By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
As Lois tells it, her new husband's charm was a mix of charisma, utter devotion and idiosyncrasies that were the only clues to his life in "the Agency." "Allen was good at just about everything," recalls his longtime friend and business partner, Henry Buck, "and he was interested in just about everything."
But Allen certainly didn't tell everything. Lois knew his basic biography: how his Dallas family was hard-hit by the Depression, how he'd graduated Texas A&M and worked for Humble Oil four years in Indonesia, and how, soon after Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was recruited for military intelligence work on the South Pacific. In Washington, Rische and his first wife began what would be a family of seven children.
Then, in 1945, they'd moved back to Texas, where Allen established the CIA's first bureau for New Mexico and Texas. Though it might not seem the most promising arena for espionage, Houston, as a hub for the global oil industry, is a nerve center for data about oil and politics in other countries. It was part of Allen Rische's job to talk to everyone who might have such information. In 1969, he and his first wife divorced; she died in 1974.
Much more than this, though, Lois never really found out. By the time she met Allen, he had retired from the CIA and started up Houston's first pager business with Buck, an old friend from the Indonesian oil-field days. Outgoing, deeply protective of his friends and employees, and a man who liked his Remy Martin, Allen Rische never talked about what he'd done for a living.
The dash of mystery helped give his and Lois' life together a heightened, almost storybook quality. It was a quality, Lois says, that she learned to accept during her first visit to Allen's house. Guns, she noticed immediately, were everywhere. A dozen leaned on his bedroom wall alone. Lois inquired what they were for.
"Sweetheart," Allen told her, "We'll get along just fine, but first you must understand one thing ... that I operate on a need-to-know basis."
From the beginning of their romance, the Risches traveled constantly: antiquing expeditions, lavish vacations to Europe, long road trips in which they made no reservations and stopped when they felt like it. But their biggest project was rooted in Houston -- in the Greek Revival house on Helena Street. One day Allen took Lois to see a property he owned, a rickety frame house devoid of paint. The yard brimmed with what Allen termed his treasures: piles of cinder blocks, a dozen old toilets, two Volkswagen bugs, a decrepit rowboat and several rusted-out engines. To Lois, it was all rather refreshing: "I was impressed with the fact that it took such a little piece of trash to bring a look of pride to this man's face," she recalls. "Something basic about his personality was being unabashedly revealed to me, 'I am what I am.'"
Even more impressive, though, was the house's location: virtually next door to a huge white house for which Lois had lusted reverently since 1958. It was, as she puts it, "a decadent beauty," framed by Ionic columns, a balcony and a formal brick courtyard. Within a few months of their marriage, Allen bought the house for the two of them to refurbish. Eight months later, Lois was waking up in the house that she'd dreamed of for two decades.
In those first years, Helena Street was like a charmed circle. When Lois and Allen came home on their wedding night, they heard mariachi music: the Mexican family across the street was having a barbecue and singing. When they learned that their new neighbors were just married, the family threw more ribs on the grill, fashioned Lois a bouquet and feted the couple with wedding melodies and cold beer. Eventually, Allen grabbed his ukulele and joined in. In the years that followed, says Lois, she and Allen would join the Mexicans nearly every weekend for barbecue, beer and old-time mariachi tunes.
For as long as he was well, the lively man who would strike up a conversation with just about anyone was the only Allen Rische that Lois knew. True, he could be a bit set in his ways -- for the three years they lived in his house in Sharpstown, Lois was forbidden to cook dinner, and Allen did insist on always buttering her bread for her. And there was always that element of mystery to him. For such a gentle man, Allen's values system seemed very fierce. What, for example, could explain his antipathy for his children? More than once, he referred to his daughter Brenda as a "bitch"; Pat Gross, the Rische's housekeeper, remembers Allen steaming that all of his children were "reprobates." Lois never knew why.
Then there was the eerie matter of Rische's retarded son Andy. Although he and the former nanny who cared for him lived near Allen's beach house, the nanny never permitted the boy to go out with his father. One day she told Lois that the boy's mother had begged on her deathbed that Allen never be left alone with his son. A few months later, Allen told Lois why: he had meant to kill Andy when he was a baby. "My planning was so deliberate and meticulous that there was no way that I would have been caught," Allen said. "I still don't know why I didn't carry it out."