Sherwood's Rules

Sherwood Cryer lost his redneck empire the same way he built it: in a tangle of lawyers, women and country music

"You never know what someone will do when he thinks you've destroyed his life," Mickey said, "but I didn't do it." Sherwood is where he is because he doesn't get up and go on. He got there because of the way he treated people, said Mickey. You should talk to his daughter, Cheri Sue.

"I mean, she lost her mother, and then she lost her father. I'm the closest thing to family she's got."

Sherwood wanted his enemies to believe he would always haunt his property, and he told Minnie that when he died, just bury his corpse in the backyard. If anyone came knocking, he told her, just say, " 'Oh, he's around here somewhere,' and you will not be lying."

The simplicity of that plan went all to hell in January 1993, when Minnie died first. Sherwood said she died of grief over losing all that money. Whether that was true or not, the estate she left was large enough for her family to fight over.

Despite the best efforts of $200-an-hour lawyers, Sherwood had salvaged from Mickey Gilley a fair fraction of his kingdom. This fraction was all in Minnie's name. She legally owned the vending company that also manufactured mechanical bulls and the liquor stores that also operated Cheri's Superettes. Just after the verdict, she had signed a long-term lease with Sherwood to operate a beerhouse, a liquor store, a restaurant, a check-cashing service and G's Ice House. Gilley's lawyers protested that Minnie was Sherwood's common-law wife, but Sherwood swore it wasn't true: This was just a deal between two businesspeople.

He admitted later they each had wills leaving the property to the other in the event of death. But at some point, without Sherwood's knowledge, Minnie amended her will to make Cheri Sue her sole beneficiary -- an attempt to guarantee there would be no sharing with Sherwood's other family. Anyway, said Sherwood, "there's where things got fucked up."

Cheri Sue describes herself now as a "domestic engineer." She used to sing at Gilley's, too, but she gave it up to have babies. If you call her, she's liable to hang up abruptly because, she said, "it's just very hard for me to trust anyone anymore."

She never suspected her father would do anything wrong. She gave him the will that she found in her mother's bureau, and she said he told her he would take care of it. He said he told her times were tight, and let's do it later.

Sherwood seems to have begun draining Minnie's estate then and consolidating his own. Foreclosing on all the back rent that Minnie's company owed his company, he sold for about $260,000 the contents of three Superettes and one liquor store. Forging Cheri Sue's name, he cashed two life insurance policies for $50,000. Sherwood explained that she was separating from her husband then and had asked him to keep the money out of her husband's hands. He said she got all of it. She said she got none of it. She wondered why, if it was done with her consent, it was necessary to forge her name.

"Hey dad, shouldn't we probate the will first?" she remembered asking the morning he began hauling bags of coins out of Minnie's house. "Well, gotta go," he answered, and he drove off in Minnie's Cadillac, the trunk so full that the rear end scraped the ground.

That night, Cheri Sue returned from her Jehovah's Witness assembly hall to find her father with a lift truck in the driveway, loading a safe the size of a small car. "Just getting this out your way," he said, and Cheri Sue told him she didn't know what he was doing, but she knew it wasn't right. Sherwood left without responding, and after that, she said, he stopped speaking to her.

He never negotiated with Mickey Gilley, and he didn't with Cheri Sue, either. She never wanted everything her mother left, only the life insurance money and the jewelry in the safes. After the stores had been sold, the policies cashed and the safes hauled away, it wasn't until she received an IRS bill for $152,000 that Cheri Sue went to the lawyers.

Boom: Sherwood's kingdom went up for grabs again, and again he declared full-scale war. Cheri Sue was his daughter, and he loved her, but "hey," he said, "how long do you get your ass beat on before you stop believing in Santa Claus?"

He really had no chance. With all his paper-shuffling, Sherwood had boxed himself in. His own attempts to save his property through the years cost him his property in the end. He tried to argue that the businesses were rightfully his because Minnie was his common-law wife. The lawyers reminded him that he had sworn she was not. He invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid perjuring himself.

When the paper claims on his property began arriving again, Sherwood refused to recognize them. In July 1995, Cheri Sue and her husband at the time, Pasadena police officer Kenny Peloquin, went with a lawyer and a court order to seize assets from Sherwood. He and his girlfriend Debi had moved into Minnie's old house. According to Cheri Sue's side, Kenny found a bag in the car, and as he and Sherwood began playing tug of war over the bag, Debi began slapping at Cheri Sue. Everyone was grunting and shouting, and then the bag broke and bullets spilled everywhere. The invading party ran for their cars with Sherwood racing behind.

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