By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Everybody in Wichita Falls knew Vincent Murphy and his daughter, Dottie. Vincent was a multimillionaire, an oil man and a cattle rancher -- some say the richest man in town. When he was president of the Lions Club, Dottie was its sweetheart. She was homecoming queen, Miss Archer County and later, a lawyer. Dottie takes after her dad; she has his slender build and black hair. Like him, she's a storyteller, the life of the party, smart, successful and hardheaded. "It's been said, complimentary or otherwise, that's she's a chip off the old block," Vincent says. "She don't quit trying."
And that, to Vincent, is the problem. Now 84, he calls Dottie Ann Murphy his D.A.M. daughter (or "Devils Advocate Murphy," as he wrote beneath her signature on a letter). According to Vincent, 56-year-old Dottie is trying to steal all his money and reduce him to "slavery." As his legal guardian, she took control of his cash, canceled his driver's license and stopped his Social Security payments from coming to him. She put his assets into a trust and, as its managing partner, lent herself money to buy a big new house while Vincent lived at a none-too-swank Best Western.
Dottie contends that her father isn't sane enough to handle his financial affairs. Fourteen years ago, after Vincent suffered a head injury, his wife, Marie -- Dottie's mother -- became his legal guardian. Vincent, who now spends much of his days in the offices of his Houston lawyers, maintains that his discombobulation was only temporary and that Marie's guardianship of him was something he and Marie forgot to cancel once he felt better.
But when Marie fell seriously ill, Dottie took over the guardianship and tightened the reins. In court, Dottie held that Vincent is still not capable of handling his own affairs, pointing out that since the accident he has been in and out of a mental institution.
Psychiatrists who originally testified in the matter said that Vincent's sanity isn't a clear call: He's controlling and frustrating to interview and concentrates on irrelevant details. That behavior is easy to see while talking to the old man in his lawyers' offices: Sometimes his stories don't seem to make sense, and he's muddy on dates. But usually, eventually, he arrives at his point -- the point, that is, that he wants to make, which might or might not be related to the question he's responding to. He might be mentally unbalanced, or he might just be an old, ornery Texan.
Late this spring, Harris County courts ruled that Vincent is mentally competent. Though Vincent recovered control of his life, he didn't recover control of his money, which his lawyers estimate at $20 million to $50 million. Dottie and Marie had maneuvered to place it in an irrevocable trust.
Vincent lives at Houston's Four Seasons Hotel, across the street from his downtown lawyers, Crain, Caton & James. With them and attorneys at Hennessy, Gardner & Barth, he's battling to dissolve the trust, get back his money and triumph over the daughter he once adored.
"She is a Jezebel and a threat to humankind," Vincent declares in his lawyers' L.A. Law-style conference room. "I love her. Of course I loved her. I worshiped her. I'm like the feller who said, 'I love you, honey, but I hate your damnable ways.' Your damnable, low-down, thieving ways. "
"Is that a song?" asks Darlene Smith, one of his lawyers.
"Maybe we ought to write one," he says.
Vincent could buy an outhouse, and in two years it'd be worth $50,000, says Don Herron, who owns a pawn shop in Wichita Falls. Vincent started making smart deals when he was 13, working at his daddy's livestock breeding business. He picked cotton and was the first boy from Van Alstyn to graduate from the town school. He did it with honors.
By the time he was 23, Vincent owned a country store and filling station. He met 17-year-old Frances Marie Murphy on a Saturday night playing slot machines at a cafe. She had on little white boots and had the prettiest red-blond hair he'd ever seen. He gave her and her friends a ride home in his new pickup and three months later drove to Oklahoma and married her.
Vincent closed that store and bought a bigger one. He started buying land and cattle, opened pool halls, a breeding barn, a mule business, loan companies, a John Deere dealership and a pawn shop. He struck oil and bought the Chevrolet dealership shown in The Last Picture Show.
He and Marie had two children, Vincent Jr. and Dottie Ann, born 11 months apart. As viewed through court documents, their family life appears to have been turbulent. (Neither Marie nor any of Vince's children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren was willing to be interviewed. Some cited legal concerns; others simply didn't return calls.)
In a deposition, Dottie testified that she saw Vincent beat her mother and brother many, many times. She said she was there when Vincent threw Marie in a bathtub and stomped on her skull. And Dottie told a consulting psychiatrist that she saw her father tear up the furniture.