Love Hurts

Six of her ex-lovers or associates are wounded or dead. Authorities wonder if old ways die hard for former Houston attorney Catherine Mehaffey Shelton.

During an interview last week Key confirmed that a dispute arose in February between Hierro and Shelton over complaints lodged by some of Shelton's clients. The clients, Key says, went to reporters with complaints that Hierro had stolen money from them that was intended to pay for legal representation from Shelton.

However, Key says, the clients paid with checks that were written out to Shelton and deposited in Shelton's bank account. He argues that Shelton may have told the clients that it was Hierro who kept their money.

Hierro and Shelton's relationship grew increasingly worse in the months after Hierro quit. Evidently the tensions were coming to a head in mid-October, when an anonymous person began distributing packets of information about Shelton's background to Dallas-area lawyers and judges, Shelton's clients and the media.

Shelton arrives with attorneys Randy Taylor (left) and Jerry Cobb for a hearing on the stalking charge.
Kess Gilhome
Shelton arrives with attorneys Randy Taylor (left) and Jerry Cobb for a hearing on the stalking charge.

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In one version of the packet, a picture of Shelton appears with a "warning" that "the information in this letter will probably affect your criminal case!" The letter, which is accompanied by a lengthy 1981 article about Shelton's legal troubles in Houston, encourages lawyers who have been "abused" by Shelton to contact the State Bar of Texas. "After you read the story about her, you'll see that she couldn't even keep herself out of trouble," the letter states. "Do you really want her handling your case?"

Although it is uncertain who distributed the packets, in mid-November Goranson said that Shelton believed it was Marisa Hierro. Goranson said Hierro, together with an unknown attorney, left Shelton and took some of her best clients on the way out the door.

At the same time, Dallas police allegedly were investigating Shelton for barratry and other possible offenses, according to a source involved in that probe. Shelton believed Marisa Hierro had prompted the investigation, the source said.

Whoever distributed the packets about Catherine Shelton's past had good reason to wish to stay anonymous. The packets were guaranteed to anger her, and when Shelton gets angry, people sometimes get hurt.

Former Houston Post reporter Gary Taylor (no relation to attorney Randy Taylor) found that out in 1980, when he attempted to end a love affair with Shelton, then known by her maiden name, Catherine Mehaffey. Shelton shot Taylor twice. At the time, Shelton was also a suspect in the murder of another ex-lover, Argentinean anesthesiologist George Tedesco, whose case remains unsolved.

Jim Skelton, who represented Shelton in her trial for the attempted murder of Taylor, remembers one of her favorite stories about her formative years. She was barely a toddler when the local priest came to visit her family. Shelton didn't want to see the priest.

"So she starts shouting 'doo-doo' and 'pee-pee' at him -- the only nasty words she knew at that stage in life," Skelton says. "She was a real wampus kitty from the start. Catherine's always been that way."

Shelton was born in the Philadelphia area and moved with her family to Houston at age four. She gained a youthful reputation as a rough-and-tumble tomboy, never afraid to take on other girls or boys in schoolyard fights. She was schooled at the private Catholic Saint Agnes Academy. After graduation she enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin.

The strawberry blond, who had the attractive, impish features of Sissy Spacek, was a popular young woman, known for her quick wit and sometimes abrasive comments.

"She was the classic narcissistic personality," attorney Skelton says. "I've always said she had a misdemeanor brain and a felony mouth. She'd go to a Whataburger and demand to have what McDonald's was serving. Everything with her is eventually confrontational."

Shelton said she was staying at the San Antonio home of her college roommate's parents when she first met her future husband, Matt Quinlan. They were married in 1969 in the Los Angeles area.

Quinlan was a Navy lieutenant, and Shelton went with him to his assignment in Japan. In a deposition in a later court case, she characterized him as "more of a friend than a husband."

That fairly benign description of the marriage did not match exactly with later testimony in the Gary Taylor trial. Shelton admitted that once during the marriage she was holding Quinlan's handgun in their home when the pistol discharged. A Quinlan relative told investigators that she shot at her then-husband.

"You fired that bullet to get his attention, is that correct?" a prosecutor asked her during the trial.

"It got both of our attention," Shelton replied.

She divorced and was back in Houston in 1970, this time going to the University of Houston, graduating from UH law school in 1977. She says she worked many jobs: as a helper at her parents' day-care center, a law clerk, a Red Cross employee, an intern at the district attorney's office and an assistant legal adviser at UH.

She said one client was a woman who worked in a medical office, and she told Shelton about a young anesthesiologist, George Tedesco, who practiced at St. Joseph Hospital. The other woman said Shelton remarked at what a good catch the rising doctor would be.

Shelton dated many men but soon entered an exclusive relationship with Tedesco. By late 1976 she was sharing his southwest Houston town house.

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