By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
He told Barbara Jean he wanted a reconciliation. She didn't give him that. But she did consent to have a Saturday dinner with him and their children. Maybe it would be a small taste of the old times they'd had together.
At about 4 p.m. Harrell stopped by his daughter's place of work to pick up the keys to Barbara Jean's house because, he said, he wanted to drop off some flowers. Around 5:40 p.m. Barbara Jean, Billie III, Michelle, Ben and Ben's girlfriend arrived at Barbara Jean's house. They went through the house, but there was no sign of Billie Bob. The only area they hadn't checked was the upstairs master bedroom, which was locked.
One of the sons broke open the door. Inside, they found Harrell's nude body lying face down on the floor. Beside the body was a Winchester model 37 shotgun with a spent shell. An unfired shell was in one of the front pockets of a pair of blue jean shorts also on the floor. A police report notes that the butt of the shotgun was shattered, indicating that the weapon had been placed against the floor or a wall beam at the time of discharge.
An autopsy by the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office lists the cause of Harrell's death as a suicide from a contact shotgun wound to the chest. "The shotgun blast struck the heart and went toward the left side striking the lung and hemidiaphragm." There is some indication of a downward trajectory, since the report also mentions that Harrell's spleen was shredded by the blast, although veteran crime investigators note that it is not unusual for the BB-like 7.5-millimeter pellets to travel in odd directions inside the body.
Two veteran homicide investigators, who requested anonymity, reviewed the police and autopsy reports at the request of the Press. They indicated that while there are some minor discrepancies, Harrell's death appears to be a clear-cut case of suicide.
That finding, however unanimous among authorities, has yet to be accepted by two of the people closest to Harrell: his parents.
At their home in Trinity, east of Huntsville, Billie Bob Sr. and Tina Harrell, who are still taking their son's death hard, cautiously greet a reporter. Their minister, Guy Hargrove, who was also their dead son's pastor, is there too. The interview begins with Billie Sr. reading from Isaiah 57:
"The righteous perishes,
And no man takes it to heart;
Merciful men are taken away,
While no one considers
That the righteous is taken away from evil.
He shall enter into peace;
They shall rest in their beds,
Each one walking in his uprightness.
That Bible verse, he says, has given him and his wife great comfort since the death of their son, a man who they say always tried to do the right thing. And they cannot conceive that their son would take his own life, under any circumstances.
"He never showed any signs like that at all to us, or to anybody we've talked to," says Billie Sr. "That's what puzzles us so much."
The eldest Harrell is also puzzled by his and his wife's suddenly strained relationship with their grandchildren and former daughter-in-law. The grandparents say their son intended to make the payments on their new house and motor home. Now, they say, their grandchildren do not plan to honor their father's wishes.
But what the elder Harrells do not seem to understand is that, at the moment, their grandchildren are trying to figure out how to pay the estate taxes they owe as a result of their father's death. The Harrell children also want to know what happened to the $2.25 million their father supposedly received in exchange for ten years' worth of lottery installments. To find out, they recently hired attorney Norman Riedmueller, who says he has some questions for Vic Bonner, Paul Hulse and Stone Street Capital.
"So far there is no definite evidence of wrongdoing," says Riedmueller. "But I think it's safe to say that there's supposed to be some money in this estate. Yes, he was generous to churches, but the present state of affairs is that [the kids] can't raise the money to pay the taxes that are owed. There's nothing there. You'd think they'd be rolling in dough. And that's my assignment: Where's the money? This estate should not be in the condition it's in."
While their grandparents live 20 miles away and are in denial that Billie Bob Jr.'s death was a suicide, the Harrell children attend classes at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, living in a house that their father bought for them. From time to time, they reflect on what they had, what they've lost -- and what they really need.
"You've got to be happy with yourself," says Ben, "and happy with your loved ones. You don't take that for granted."
Ben's words are hauntingly similar to what are believed to be among the last thoughts of his father. In the bedroom where Billie Bob Harrell Jr. took his life, there were also three handwritten, unsigned notes. One was apparently meant for his ex-wife. It might as well have been addressed to his entire family:
"I didn't want this. I just wanted you."
E-mail Steve McVicker at steve.mcvicker@ houstonpress.com.