Coming to No Good End

Undertaker Jay Herman shot his lover, Edwina Prosen, to death in 1991. That's the only thing he and her family have agreed on since.

She fell in love with the peaceful little town where he had his funeral home. By all accounts, residents were similarly enamored of her. And this was a package deal for Johnson. Prosen's mother joined them there when her husband died. Youngest son Jeff lived with them as well.

"She loved the country, the wildlife and the lush green trees and nature there," Robert Prosen says. "Mother grew up in the big city and had lived there all her life. This was a wonderful dream. She felt like this was her place to stay. She felt like it was worth whatever she had to tolerate, at least initially."

By the late 1980s financial pressures heavily strained that relationship.
In April 1989 state regulators revoked Johnson's funeral home license and fined him $10,000 for violations. He had overcharged at his Houston funeral home and had operated multiple mortuaries without having licensed directors at each of them.

State enforcement closed the coffin on his Ad-Loff Funeral Home. An embittered Johnson blamed the revocation of his license on what he said was influence exerted by Service Corporation International, the funeral giant that bought the rival Levi Funeral Home.

His monument and tombstone company in Houston was destroyed by an arson fire in late 1989. The blaze occurred not long after Johnson requested the insurer to increase the dollar amount of his property coverage.

Asked in a deposition about accusations of arson, Johnson said, "There's been so many accusations against me that it's not even funny." Johnson himself was never a suspect, but the suspicious nature of the fire delayed the insurance settlement by several months. When it came, Johnson groused that it was inadequate to cover his costs.

Johnson pulled back his operations to the Sweeny Funeral Home. Financial institutions felt the effects from the fallout from the savings and loan collapses and the depressed oil economy. The FDIC seized the First Capital Bank in Angleton and wanted Johnson to make good on some $150,000 in overdue loans. By mid-1991 authorities threatened foreclosure of his West Columbia funeral home property.

Stripped of his operating license, Johnson could rely only on licensed director Edwina Prosen for his future. Though they were live-in companions, marriage had never been in the works. Sweeny Police Chief Jerry Murphy said that, in the early years of bliss for the couple, Johnson had told associates that he would never marry because Texas was a community property state that would require him to give her assets if they divorced.

However, Johnson maintained he was her common-law husband after the shooting, although Prosen had done nothing while they were together to give legal merit to that later claim. Her friends said that, as the relationship soured, she was thankful to have kept her independent status.

Fights between the couple escalated, some of them involving Jeff Prosen. In the relatively small living quarters behind the funeral home, Johnson and the son clashed regularly. Jeff argued with him over his treatment of Edwina, and Johnson criticized the loose lifestyle of her son.

"Wherever Edwina went, Jeff went," Johnson told attorneys later. "Jeff was bad news."

With Edwina's mother and her son living there, Johnson said, "The only place we could talk was in the bedroom at night, kind of what you'd call pillow talk.... She kept asking me to give him another chance."

Jeff Prosen married in August 1991, but Johnson said that only added one more person to the complicated arrangement. "He never really left. He was always showing up for meals, him and his wife."

On the eve of Jeff's wedding, Johnson said he and Prosen's son Robert had a "family-style disagreement." He said he told Robert that "Jeff wasn't worth the powder to blow him to hell and back."

In another eerie indication of the growing feud, Johnson began using an elaborate telephone tape-recording system. Some of those tapes revealed Johnson yelling and screaming at Edwina, although Johnson's friends said he referred to her as his "baby."

Jeff Prosen, who shopped with his mother the day before the shooting, said she planned to leave Johnson as soon as she finished taking care of a few business matters. One of them was reportedly to substitute her sons in place of Johnson as her life insurance beneficiary.

Johnson and his mate both had extensive life coverage, more than $300,000 worth. The last policy, offered as part of his National Rifle Association membership, had been taken out at his insistence only four months earlier. At that same time, he checked with another insurance carrier about getting $1-million whole life policies on each of them. The agent said she felt uncomfortable and never called Johnson back with detailed information.

With their double indemnity clauses on existing policies, payouts would be at least $675,000 in the event of accidental death. They kept their payments current, and Johnson, 11 days before the shooting, checked to make sure that another policy would pay off Edwina Prosen's Cadillac if she died.

Attorneys for Johnson later waved aside sinister notions about the extensive coverage, saying it was prudent business practice to fully insure a financial partner to guard against unforeseeable calamities.

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