Death of an Informant

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

Since his death, she has discovered more about his shady life -- and most of what she's found makes her only more convinced that he was killed. Melinda notes that her father died on March 16 -- the anniversary of the day in 1980 that Waldhauser and MacDonald entered guilty pleas.

In 1981, Chaline had been shot while walking across a field next to the Target store on Westheimer. He was hospitalized for the wounds; Rogers remembers going to his hospital room as a child of nine. But no one was ever arrested, and she never knew why he'd been shot -- at least, not until after her father's death. Inexplicably, at his memorial service last March, a friend of Chaline's confessed to Rogers that he had been involved in setting up her father to be shot 16 years before.

That revelation, of course, didn't explain anything about Chaline's death. To unearth more information, Rogers hired a pair of private investigators, John Bozman and his wife Carolyn. Over the past couple of months, they've compiled a list of incidents and circumstantial evidence -- facts that say Chaline had plenty of enemies, but not that anyone actually killed him. Among their findings:

*Shortly before Donnie was arrested last February, he'd agreed to sell his Jeep to a friend for $2,000 down and assumption of the $400 monthly payments. Instead of the full $2,000, the friend gave Donnie only $400, with the balance due that weekend. But by the weekend, Donnie was in jail for forgery, and the Jeep had been impounded for the friend's traffic tickets. Chaline paid to have the vehicle released, but he refused to return it to its would-be owner until he paid the remaining $1,600. Donnie's friend was not pleased, and investigators say he has dropped out of sight since Chaline's death.

*Rogers says her father bought a waitress an expensive ring. But not only was the waitress married, she also allegedly had another boyfriend -- one of Chaline's drinking buddies and his sometime errand boy. Chaline was reportedly upset when he learned of that relationship. And like the man who purchased the Jeep, the boyfriend hasn't been seen much around the usual watering holes since Chaline's death.

*Two weeks before Chaline turned up dead, he helped a female friend buy a van. Flush from a $26,000 insurance settlement from a car crash, he also loaned the woman and her husband $1,000 to help them and another couple pay bills. The two husbands, though, allegedly took the money and the van and headed to Mexico. After the wayward men returned home, as some sort of consolation, Chaline took their wives out for a night on the town. Word soon spread that the jealous husbands were looking for someone to kick Chaline's butt. Police questioned the wives and the alleged hired muscle, and decided there was nothing to the story.

Taken individually, says John Bozman, the incidents are less than ominous. And even collectively, he admits, they prove nothing -- except that Donald Wayne Chaline's death should not have been an open-and-shut case.

On March 16, the last evening of Don Chaline's life, Coady Reynolds arrived at Liars Sports Bar around 6 p.m. Chaline was already sitting at the large L-shaped bar, just beyond the pool tables and dart boards. That Saturday night was a special occasion: the birthday of Sun Woo, one of the bar's owners. Reynolds said he and Chaline planned to help her celebrate by "getting as drunk as she could."

Chaline didn't drink as much as he often did. Instead, the two old friends reminisced about old girlfriends and the trips they used to take. Reynolds describes the conversation as one of the best they'd had in years.

By 10 o'clock, the birthday group began to thin out, and the bar's late crowd was starting to arrive. Reynolds announced that he was headed home, and Chaline, as usual, said he was leaving right behind him. And as usual, Chaline wasn't.

Shortly after Reynolds left, Jeanette Hill, the bleached-blond owner of the Cork Club, dropped by Liars. When Woo decided she wanted to go bar-hopping, Hill says that Chaline suggested the birthday entourage make the short trip down Bissonnet to the Cork Club. Inside the dimly lit dive, Woo sang on the karaoke machine, and Hill kept an eye on Chaline. It was something she was used to doing; she liked him, but didn't trust him.

Her reservations stemmed from experience. According to Hill, she once lost $5,000 she invested in a bail-bonds business with Chaline; the venture went belly-up. Most of the money, she claims, went to pay Chaline's living expenses. Still, she later gave him a job at her bar. His kids say he was responsible for the Cork Club's success, but according to Hill, she caught him stealing from her vending machines. She never felt entirely sure of him again.

So while Woo and her friends belted out karaoke tunes, Hill tried to make sure Chaline behaved himself. He did. As a matter of fact, she says, he spent the rest of the evening on the other side of the bar, deep in conversation with a man none of the regulars from the Cork Club or Liars had ever seen. Hill describes the visitor as a large, somewhat older man who was going bald. The only thing she recalls for certain was that Chaline and the man seemed to have known each other for years but had not seen each other for quite some time.

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