Death of an Informant

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

Donnie greatly enjoyed the weekends he and Melinda spent hanging out in bars with their dad. At the age of 15, Donnie decided to move in with Chaline -- and he began leading quite a life for a teenage boy.

According to Donnie, Chaline was often on the road for a week at a time, setting up high-stakes poker games -- with $50,000 buy-ins -- in places like New York, Chicago and Atlanta. Chaline would take over a hotel suite and stock it with booze and topless dancers; the marathon games could last 18 hours or longer.

While Chaline was out of town, he gave Donnie $300 a week in spending money and allowed him to drive the Cadillac. He didn't worry that Donnie would skip school; he knew the boy liked to be seen driving the luxury car.

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As Donnie got older, he and his dad became best friends and running buddies, hitting all the topless bars in town, taking trips to Las Vegas and generally flirting with trouble. Once, Donnie remembers, they were watching an Oilers game on a bar's TV. When another patron said he "hated the fucking Oilers," Chaline punched the man in the head.

"He told the guy, 'Don't talk like that in front of my son,'" laughs Donnie. "And I was 24 years old."

Donnie also became Chaline's partner in crime. Donnie doesn't say who taught him the finer points of the art of forgery, but he does claim that he and Chaline transported up to 60 kilos of cocaine at a time from the Rio Grande Valley to Chicago for a Mexican drug family, the name of which he says he can't remember.

"Mom was mad that he got me involved in his lifestyle," says Donnie, "but it was me that chose that route. There's more romance to living on a prayer than working your ass off."

Three years ago, Donnie remembers, he was leaving the Tampico Bay Beach Club on FM 1960 when he heard someone call his name. As he turned around, Donnie was punched in the mouth and fell to the ground of the parking lot. The next thing he knew, he was lying face up on the asphalt, and a stranger was shoving a pistol into his mouth.

The man asked Donnie where his father was, and whether he was still living with his girlfriend Kathy. Donnie successfully feigned ignorance, and his assailant let him go.

Donnie figures that whoever jumped him hadn't seen his dad in quite some time; it had been around eight years since Chaline and Kathy had been a couple. Perhaps, Donnie speculates, the stranger hadn't kept up with the world because he'd been in prison.

The information Chaline provided on the Wanstrath murders had helped convict four men, including Duff-Smith. Allen Wayne Janecka, the hit man, is still on death row. Paul MacDonald, who helped arrange the murders, was released in 1984. But Bonds, who has kept track of his former prey, thinks he's highly unlikely to have threatened Donnie, much less to have killed Chaline. MacDonald, says Bonds, is not a dangerous man.

The fourth man, Walter A. Waldhauser Jr., was released from prison in 1990. The mastermind of the murders, he changed his name to Michael Davis, and according to state records, last November renewed his Texas driver's license using his father's Houston address.

But Bonds says he doesn't suspect Waldhauser either: "Walt wouldn't have the guts."

After her father's death, 24-year-old Melinda Rogers, along with her second husband and their infant son, moved into her father's townhouse. Every day, she walks past the bloodstained sidewalk where his body was found.

Chaline's death obsesses her for other reasons, as well. She'd only recently reconciled with her father, who hadn't been around much when she was growing up and whose shady dealings she disapproved of. (Straight arrows, she and her husband both hope to go into law enforcement.) In February 1992, two weeks before her first wedding, Chaline called her and said he wanted to be part of the ceremony. Rogers agreed, and the two began to repair their strained relationship.

In 1995, Rogers was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and had to undergo chemotherapy. Chaline moved in with his daughter, helping to care both for her and for the foster children that she and her husband had taken in. And last year, after Rogers gave birth to Chaline's first grandchild on his 50th birthday, he once again made himself handy.

In other ways, too, Chaline began settling down. He found straight employment bidding jobs for a construction company. And plagued by congestive heart problems and dizzy spells, he started paying attention to his health. Rogers says he was trying to lose weight, had cut back on his drinking, was using salt substitute and was actually going to a doctor when he was sick.

She feels cheated by her father's death; unlike her brother, she'd only felt close to him for a few years. In the townhouse's living room, she has set up an office where she spends hours on the phone, searching for information related to her father, hoping to convince officials to reopen the case.

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