Death of an Informant

Donald Chaline died as he had lived: in a tangle of crime, alcohol and mystery.

Even as a kid, Coady Reynolds remembers, Don Chaline was drawn to the wild side of life. His brother Nolan would grow up to be an HPDofficer, but Don was clearly destined for more nefarious endeavors. "He was like standing beside a tornado," recalls Reynolds. "And if he didn't like you, he'd let you know."

Reynolds and Chaline grew up together on Houston's rough-and-tumble blue-collar north side. They lost touch for a while after graduating from Sam Houston High in 1965, but a decade later, their shared love of nightlife reunited them. When they ran into each other at Name Droppers, a club on Hillcroft, Reynolds saw that Chaline hadn't changed: He still liked to drink and was still good with his fists.

It became Reynolds's job to keep Chaline out of brawls, and it was no easy task. Members of the Houston Oilers sometimes stopped at Name Droppers to quench their powerful thirsts, and Reynolds recalls that former center Carl Mauck was one of the thirstiest members of the team. Although Mauck was a friendly sort, one evening he apparently said something that irked Chaline. And for the rest of the night, Chaline wondered aloud whether or not he could whip Mauck's butt. Recalls Reynolds, "He was convinced that if he got the first punch in, and got Mauck to his knees so he could kick him, he'd have a 50-50 chance of taking him." Reynolds convinced Chaline to let the slight slide.

The friends -- both recently divorced -- became roommates, and over the next ten years or so often shared an apartment or lived in the same complex. In many ways, it was an odd relationship. Reynolds always held down a nine-to-five job and tried to keep Chaline out of trouble. Chaline, Reynolds says, kept life interesting: He was always on the move, doing things that he and Reynolds didn't discuss. "He didn't want me to be in a position to hurt either of us," Reynolds explains.

They both loved gambling, especially poker. When they played for stakes Reynolds could afford, he generally beat Chaline. "But if you were playing for big money," Reynolds recalls, "he could make you fold with three aces in a heartbeat. He was a bluffer."

Over the years, the two fell in and out of relationships with women. In the mid-'70s -- around the same time Markham Duff-Smith had his mother killed -- Chaline developed a close relationship with Kathy Cobb, a woman in her early twenties, about ten years younger than he was. The couple tooled around Houston in matching canary-yellow Cadillacs; the vanity plates read "DON I" and "ON II." At one point, they even settled down briefly in Surfside, where Chaline fished and operated a water-sports concession. But he wasn't meant for the quiet life; he and Kathy broke up.

Though he wasn't meant to be a one-woman man, Chaline felt something for the two kids from his previous marriage, and occasionally attempted to perform his paternal duties. On the weekends that he had custody of son Donnie and daughter Melinda, his ex-wife would meet Chaline at Northwest Mall for the exchange. He'd then take the kids to the bars he frequented -- places like Wildcatters and the Frontier Club. While the children occupied themselves with the jukebox, pinball and video games, Chaline drank vodka and 7-Ups and held court with his friends, many of them outlaws and con artists. Donnie, the older of the kids, came to feel right at home.

At the McClennan County Jail, located just east of Waco, visitors line up to talk over telephones to the incarcerated family and friends who sit behind one of five windows. The glass is smudged with handprints and lipmarks.

Behind one of the windows sits a 26-year-old man of medium build, with short dark hair and dark eyes. Like his fellow inmates, Donald Wayne Chaline II is clad in a bright orange jail uniform. Donnie, as he's still known to his family, is awaiting resolution of the forgery charges that have brought him to McClennan County. He also faces forgery charges in Liberty County and has pled guilty to similar crimes in other counties.

"I've got a bit of a paper-hanging problem," he says over the jail phone. He laughs at the understatement.

Since beginning his life of crime several years ago, Donnie estimates that he has forged between three and six million dollars worth of stolen payroll checks. "I'd go to a city and get a temporary driver's license," he explains. "Then I'd break into a building and get checks off the bottom of the ledger." He'd make the checks payable in amounts of $400 to $500 each, always to one of his alter egos: Stephen Mark Albarron or Donald Marcello, the latter surname borrowed from the New Orleans crime family. Then he'd cash each check at a different store.

Donnie claims that while he was "working," he raked in about $5,000 a day -- a figure that sounds fairly accurate to a prosecutor in one of the counties where Donnie still faces charges.

"He ain't blowing smoke," says the assistant D.A., who asked not to be identified. "At one point he had purchased cars for five topless dancers. And when it comes to forgers, he's one of the smartest I've ever seen. Whoever taught him taught him well."

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