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 found instead that on January 19, just five days after a federal magistrate ordered the computers to be turned over, a sophisticated file-deleting system called Shredder had been used on the machines.
At a temporary-injunction hearing April 14, U.S. District Judge David Hittner didn't look too happy when he heard that bit of news. Defense attorneys were not as surprised as the judge, of course; neither was Sheriff Williams, in the audience. They certainly looked as if they wanted to change the subject, though, and quickly.
But they couldn't. As much as they'd like it to happen, Debra Foster -- the painted pit bull who feels like she's been done wrong -- was not about to shrink away. Foster is thoroughly rooted in the pine curtain of eastern Montgomery County. "East County," as they call it, is home to small towns and rural enclaves split by U.S. Highway 59, a thoroughfare that's gained as much fame in the past for speed traps and loosely supervised policing as it has for the drugs that run up and down it from deep-woods meth labs.
When she was 12, the family moved from Houston to a farm in Splendora, between Cleveland and what is now Kingwood. She rode horses, played high school basketball and worked -- both her father and mother insisted on that.
"They will work, all my kids, you can say that about them," says Gladys Bishop. "They're go-getters. They got it from both of us."
Foster says she's just always taken life full on. Recently she filled out an evaluation to become a private investigator. "It said, 'You have to be motivated, a self-starter, self-confident and not afraid to meet people,' and I went, 'Check, check, check, check'; that's me," she says. "You've got to be self-motivated, I know that."
She married right out of high school and had two kids. Thirteen years later she divorced and went to work for her mother, who with two partners had started Quality Trucking in Houston, which delivered supplies to oil companies.
Gladys Bishop had started the company as she too was divorcing in 1977. She runs it alone now, at the age of 73, living in a building shared by the company's office. "It's been a tough old road," she says. "You know how the oil field is: up and down, up and down, up and down. It's all about the management of it -- you have to do what you say you are going to do and build a reputation It's a man's world out there, for sure. I don't back down -- these guys try to put something over on me every now and then, but I've been here a long time."
Foster went into sales, both for Quality Trucking and later, brokering her own pipe-selling deals -- making pitches in the whiskey-sodden arena of courting petroleum clients. "You just gotta be aggressive, and when I went to work in the oil field I just went out and started cold-calling on people, and some of the bigger trucking companies started rumors about that new young lady out there knocking on doors," she says. "Later we all got to be friends."
She was on her own for six or so years making oil equipment sales. Then "the oil industry was going down, down, down, so I wanted to do something different and I didn't want to go back and work at my mother's trucking company anymore in sales," she says. "That was ruining my liver."
She bought a tanning salon in Conroe. Then she heard about the money to be made in bail bonds and opened a company in 1997.
Two years later she heard that a bonding company was looking to sell its prime location and client list (there's a surprising amount of repeat business in the bonding world). "My mother and brother talked to me and said, 'Well, if that's the best location, then you oughta take it.' And I said, 'Well, if you've got the money, I've got the time.' "
Her mother lent her $400,000 for the small lot -- directly across from the jail's front door on the outskirts of Conroe -- and the downtrodden shack that housed the business and the list of clients. She outbid the site's next-door neighbor, Daisy Real of Daisy Bail Bonds.
The two had been friends, Foster says; eventually relations cooled to the point where Foster built a large fence to keep Real from complaining. "All the blinds on her side of the building were falling down from peeking through the window, and my kids they had their buddies over here, and she'd call and tell the sheriff there was a bunch of teenagers partying over here."
Real eventually became one of the leaders of the effort to hinder Foster's business, according to her lawsuit. (Real won't comment, and her lawyer says she has done nothing improper.)
Foster was also beginning to get some heat about her brother, Precinct 4 Constable Travis Bishop. Other bail bond companies accused him of steering business to his sister or helping her find bail jumpers. Foster denies it (her brother did not return phone calls).