Falling in Love

Barnett Garrison had a way with women. And women had their way with Barnett Garrison.

Like Candace, Niecee grew up on a farm, and like Candace, she took the first man out of there. But Niecee's farm was in Texas, her man was not rich, and during World War II, she arrived in Houston as the wife of a stevedore.

"I probably mix a little realism with my romanticism," she says. When the stevedore began beating her, Niecee had a child by him, thinking a child would change things. The child only locked her in. Niecee worked in Pasadena factories, raised her daughter and stood by her man for 20 years. In 1963, after her daughter came of age, she packed up her clothes and left.

She developed a preference after that for men more wounded than wounding. If Candace was a destroyer of men, Niecee became their nurse -- "the Florence Nightingale syndrome," she called it. Thus, when her best friend committed suicide, Niecee offered to the widower the concern she had extended to the friend. She took care of the man's children, cried with and consoled him. She offered wisdom: "The heart that finds love once always searches for it again." Niecee became his friend and, in 1965, his wife.

They lived in a little house on the banks of the San Jacinto River. O.C. Wolcik, like Barnett, had been a track star in high school, and ever after was known as Speedy. He cut sheet metal for a living, and Niecee worked as a receptionist in a doctor's office. They taught Sunday school together, held hands at parties, grew old without conflict. "It was a safe love," said Niecee. "A storybook marriage."

A friend described Niecee's life as "boring." A pastor who knew her 30 years said he "couldn't think of a thing unique about her in any way." Speedy's brother, Marvin, said "Niecee was pretty strong-headed." He lived beside the couple and recalled that when Niecee gave an opinion, she would say, "That's how we feel, isn't it, Speedy?" And Speedy, who never said much, would nod his head.

"She was the kind of woman who made a man think he was doing what he wanted to do," said Marvin, "when really he was doing what she wanted him to do."

The butler came at 10 a.m., and found Barnett beneath Candace's window, unconscious in a pool of blood.

Candace was still in her room when police told her the news. She became "incoherent," the news stories say. Barnett was taken to Methodist Hospital and placed under the care of the best doctors. For six weeks, he lay in a coma, and when he emerged, Candace bought a Cadillac and Ferrari for the doctors, and took her man, such as he was, back to the lair.

There he lay.
"On or about April 16, 1973," according to Candace's divorce petition, "without the knowledge or consent of the Plaintiff, Barnett Garrison was taken from his residence by his parents." Candace called them, but they told her Barnett would not be coming to the phone or returning to her home. Again and again, Candace called and had others call for her. She never got through. Candace wrote letters, sent flowers and gifts, offered condolences when Barnett's father died. Much of it came back in the return mail.

It took lawyers to get them into the same room again. When Barnett refused to be left alone with his wife, Candace realized at last that her lures no longer affected him. She concluded that her husband had been "brainwashed" against her, and in 1974, she filed for divorce.

The lawyers were still haggling two years later, when Candace, stuffed with painkillers and sleeping pills, was found dead in a Miami hotel room. They haggled on. In the end, Candace was buried beside her murdered husband, and the crippled husband was given $500,000 for his perpetual care.

Barnett went on with his life. He was variously described in this period as "a nice man," "a hell of a nice guy" and "a very funny guy for someone severely brain-damaged." In the Sugar Land subdivision of Venetian Estates, he settled in with his mother. He had trouble walking, neighbors said, but got along quite well aboard a large tricycle. He mowed the yard and did odd jobs. Barnett's social life consisted of his mother's garden club meetings and Bible study groups and coffee with the neighbors. Gaston White said Barnett would appear with his empty mug and his dog ("He loved his puppy dog"), and sometimes they would watch movies together, and sometimes Barnett would sit on the back porch and smoke his pipe. He spoke haltingly and never had much to say. When the Whites asked about his accident, Barnett answered with only a word. "Crazy," he murmured and shook his head.

He stopped coming outside when his mother grew ill. For 20 years, Maude Emily Garrison had been Barnett's protector, and as she was dying of cancer, she began arranging for his future. There were two other children -- Barnett's twin sister, Annette Schmidt, and a brother named Gary Garrison -- and Maude Emily went to some trouble to keep them from Barnett. In her will, "after lengthy and careful consideration," she declared that Gary must deliver a written promise never to interfere in Barnett's estate, or Gary's share of Maude Emily's property would go to charity. Later, she added a proviso that anyone who contested this will also would forfeit their right to benefit from it.

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