Case Closed?

A year later, there's still only one suspect in the killing of HPD's Alan Mabry

Early on the morning of May 4, 1995, Houston Police Lieutenant Alan Mabry left his home in the Pecan Grove subdivision to get some milk at a nearby convenience store. He never returned. About ten hours later, his body was pulled from Jones Creek in a rural part of Fort Bend County west of Houston. Mabry had been shot once behind his right ear.

On the surface, Mabry's death appeared to authorities to be a simple case of suicide. But there was nothing simple about Alan Mabry, in life or in death. The 21-year HPD veteran -- who nicknamed himself "Mad Dog" and signed his letters that way -- was wholly obsessed by what he perceived as corruption in the administration of the Police Officers Pension System. Mabry had made more than a few enemies in his relentless attempts to prove his theories. Occasionally, there was a degree of substance in his allegations; to many of his fellow officers, though, Mabry more often than not came off as a crackpot.

Along his quixotic path, Mabry had incurred the wrath of Police Chief Sam Nuchia, who fired the lieutenant after Mabry publicly referred to assistant chief Dennis Storemski as "Dennis the Menace." But just a few weeks before his death, Mabry had won an arbitration battle to be reinstated to the department, and he was said to have never been happier at home with his wife and young son.

The fact that Mabry's life seemed to be on the upswing was just one of the reasons they found it hard to accept that he might have killed himself. Fort Bend Justice of the Peace James Adolphus apparently thought there were enough other troubling questions surrounding Mabry's death to warrant a coroner's inquest. And six weeks after Mabry's body was dragged from Jones Creek, a panel of six Fort Bend residents ruled that he had been murdered.

Since then, however, no suspects have emerged, no calls or tips have been received by investigators and no leads are being pursued. That's because authorities are certain they know who killed Mabry. Unfortunately, the killer is dead.

"I believe Alan Mabry took his own life," says Jim McAllister, the assistant district attorney who investigated Mabry's death.

Despite the murder ruling, McAllister says most of the evidence at the scene pointed directly to suicide. Mabry's car was parked on the road near the bridge over Jones Creek. His pistol and glasses were found in the water at the base of the bridge. Investigators theorized that Mabry had gotten out of his car and walked into the shallow water, and after he shot himself in the head, his glasses and gun dropped to the bottom of the creek while his body was carried about 260 yards downstream by the current.

The six jurors who were convened for the inquest had one other option besides a murder or suicide ruling: they could have left the cause of Mabry's death as "undetermined," which is the option McAllister would have preferred.

Today, the prosecutor says the jurors reached their decision after hearing the testimony of a gun powder expert from the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office. According to trace evidence analyst Amy Haralson, there was an excessive amount of gunpowder on Mabry's right hand and forearm -- so much that it possibly could have been planted to make Mabry's death look like a suicide. Although it was his decision to put her on the witness stand, McAllister believes Haralson's findings and her testimony were faulty.

"There are other ways the gunpowder could have gotten there," says McAllister. "There could have been contamination from the swabs [that were used to take samples off of Mabry's hand]. It could have happened at the lab."

It would have taken quite a conspiracy to plant the gunpowder on Mabry's hand, McAllister adds.

"If someone had planted it beforehand, it would have washed off in the creek," he says. "If they planted it afterward, whoever did it would have to have known who was going to respond to the scene, or who was going to be at the lab. And then those people would have to have been in on it, too. That's a pretty elaborate scheme."

Haralson declined to elaborate on her testimony, but said McAllister has mischaracterized it. She stands by her findings

"I took the stand and I told the truth," Haralson adds.
Immediately after Mabry's death, investigators said they knew of only one insurance policy on the lieutenant's life -- a standard one provided through the police department that pays off regardless of the cause of an officer's death, even suicide. Although McAllister admits he's seen no verification, he says he's been told since the inquest that family members found several more policies Mabry had taken out on himself.

Last November, a copy of Mabry's handwritten will, dated September 30, 1987, was filed with the county attorney's office in Fort Bend. Documents in his probate file place the value of Mabry's estate at approximately $74,000 -- half the value of his community property with his widow, Robbie Jean Gordon, who Mabry named as executor of his estate. There is no mention of Mabry's insurance policies or how much they paid off, if they paid off at all.

After the inquest, Mabry's wife and the couple's 12-year-old son moved from Pecan Grove to Macon, Georgia. Gordon did not return phone calls from the Press. Although the Mabry case formally remains open, it's closed as far as McAllister is concerned.

 
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