By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
He gutted the kitchen and put in new cabinets, countertops and a parquet floor, but when he finished those projects she said she still wasn't ready to come home. Next, he sanded down the hardwood floors and revarnished them to a thick, glossy shine. The lawn was manicured, and fire-red flowers lined the front porch, but Lee still didn't want to come home.
Instead, she wanted to share a two-room shack with no Sheetrock, no insulation and a padlock on the front door. It was her brother's old fishing cabin, a place where he stored rods and reels and let family members crash; the sisters hung frilly heart-dotted curtains in the kitchen and threw brown rugs on the bare floors. Lee liked living in the small fishing community on a street where everyone knows everyone else. It's the type of place where neighbors know what's for dinner next door just by opening the window. Lee was sitting on the front steps when Danny Lynn Gunter started talking to her; he's a friendly guy who liked to visit with his neighbors and tell jokes. He did ductwork repair on commercial air-conditioning units and drained a cooler of Busch every day. He had lived with his wife almost 20 years before they finally married and soon divorced.
Lee had known Danny for years. She hadn't really paid attention to him -- until he started paying attention to her. "Every woman wants to feel desirable and be desired," says Lee's niece Pam Farmer. "Maybe that's what Danny did for her." Their houses are so close that the tips of pine trees planted on either side touch each other. In the evenings Lee cooked Danny dinner, and then the two of them went dancing and drinking at Hickory Ridge, a hole-in-the-wall icehouse on FM 2100. Other nights he took her to a small place at the marina where people sold bait and launched boats. Sitting in the bay breeze, Danny downed can after can of Busch while Lee mixed Miller Lite with tomato juice.
"It wasn't no secret about it," says a neighbor, Lewis Thrasher.
At 2 a.m. Lee would walk across the street to her baby brother's house and wake up his wife to talk. "I think she was going through her second childhood or a teenage thing," Donna Farmer says. She spent hours at the kitchen table listening to Lee talk about how she didn't want to get married again and how she never wanted to live with another man again but how she felt her heart really, truly break the time she told Danny they couldn't see each other anymore. So Lee walked over to Danny's and told him they were back on again. Lee's feelings were torn and twisted; Danny was what she wanted, but Pete kept calling.
Pete loved her, missed her and wanted her to come home. Lee told Pete she had met someone else who was taking her out. "All he told her was "Don't do anything. Don't sleep with anybody right now. We still have things we gotta work out,' " Donna remembers. He didn't want Lee to throw away their 30 years together; he loved Lee so passionately that his sister-in-law was afraid he'd do something drastic -- maybe kill himself or hurt Lee. He did both.
Pete dropped out of high school when he was 15. His father had died after an oil well accident, his older sister was married and out of the house, so he felt like he was in charge of providing for his mother and five younger brothers. He got a job laboring in his uncle's lumberyard in Corpus Christi and then joined the army. Used to being in charge, Pete didn't like taking orders, so he dropped out during basic training. "He stayed in long enough to have his picture taken," says his older sister, Paulette Brewer Moser. Leaving isn't an option in the army, so like most deserters who get caught, Pete spent a year in the pen.
His mother and siblings migrated to Houston, and Pete followed. "We're not a close people as in touchy-feely-be-there-all-the-time people," Paulette says. "We're not a normal family according to what I've seen other families are like." But they fight for each other and they stick together, she says. "Wherever the family moved, eventually everybody came with us."
Pete worked as a truck driver and landed a job at Houston Shell and Concrete. His mother and Mavie Lee Farmer hung out at the same South Houston bar, so she introduced Lee to her 24-year-old son. Lee was six years older than Pete with soft brown hair, clear blue eyes and six daughters. She and Pete dated about six months before moving in together and getting married on Pete's birthday.