Teflon Man

Now playing in River Oaks, Gary Ross has stayed one step ahead of trouble and judgments across the country.

He quickly befriended longtime River Oaks real estate broker George Murray, who helped grant Ross entrée into society. (Murray did not respond to voice mails and e-mails from the Houston Press.) Ross appeared to have the right pedigree, even if you couldn't fully nail down his background. He said he was a Stanford graduate and a former U.S. Marine. He allegedly told some people he was an attorney, others he was the former president of Reliant Energy. One couple said they were told he built a ­mergers-and-acquisitions­ firm that he sold to Goldman Sachs for millions. Mostly, though, he described himself as a self-made real estate tycoon with developments in Palm Beach and the Virgin Islands. Sources say he escorted socialites such as Carolyn Farb to high-society charity galas, including at least one event organized by socialite Becca Cason Thrash. Neither Farb nor Thrash would confirm or deny their alleged meetings with Ross to the Press. Even though Ross never seemed to actually have a job, as far as anybody knew, he was one of them.

By 2006, he made amends with an estranged girlfriend from Florida and invited a few close friends to a beach wedding in the Virgin Islands. Holly Colon was half his age, with a petite figure and bee-stung Botox lips. But the honeymoon didn't last long. They had a tumultuous relationship; over the next few years, Holly would often disappear to her parents' home in Florida. But she always came back. (Ross did not respond to e-mails and voice mails from the Press; Colon could not be reached for comment.)

By the end of 2009, the honeymoon between Ross and River Oaks was over as well. A former friend and neighbor, Carl Norton, accused Ross of defrauding him in a convoluted rare-coin investment. He also sued Ross over a $265,000 loan that, he stated in an affidavit, Ross and his wife said they'd use to buy another River Oaks home. Norton stated that Ross said he'd pay Norton back within 60 days, but then produced a mysterious document indicating that Norton agreed to a five-year payment plan. Figuring he wasn't going to get his money back anyway, Norton ultimately dropped the suit. Ross's wife used the $265,000 for a down payment on a house on Troon Road.

The file for Norton's lawsuit contains a July 2007 e-mail from Colon to Norton, thanking him for the money and describing a rather confusing plan to sell their current home to repay Norton, and a pledge to give him a lien on the newly purchased Troon Road house if he lent them another $100,000 for repairs that would allow them to sell the home for $1.5 million. But mostly, the young, dutiful wife explained how just gosh-darned guilty Ross felt about how things shook out.

"I know what has happened with this coin mess has affected you, but you have no idea how badly this has affected Gary," Colon wrote. "He doesn't sleep at night, and I can hardly get him to eat anything."

Colon added: "If it would make you feel better about me, I will come down right now and give you my yellow diamond ring to you [to] show you how much I am trying to help."

Meanwhile, Ross and Colon found themselves in a dispute with the River Oaks Property Owners association for property improvements that violated the association's rules. Moreover, a referral practice he set up with a contracting company to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Ike had turned the neighborhood against him.

Someone in River Oaks went digging for dirt on Ross, and the resulting October 2009 dossier revealed information about a drug conviction, and copies of lawsuits and unflattering newspaper articles suggested Ross was not who he said he was. It seemed that Ross's only remaining ally was George Murray, who apparently never got a copy of the dossier.

On October 7, six days before John Kloss was found dead, a River Oaks resident e-mailed Murray, asking if he saw the dossier.

"No I did not," Murray stated in his reply. "I must be the only person in this part of town that did not receive one. Carolyn Farb called me this morning saying that she had received one...She was mad as hell about the letter."

When the resident asked why Farb was mad, Murray stated, "She has had a stalker and received this type of thing, and is mad that anyone would do such a cowardly thing as [send an] anonymous unsigned mail to strangers."

That was the kind of response that allowed Ross to get by. Nearly every River Oaks resident who had bad dealings with Ross stuck his head in the sand. The only kind of attention these folks desired was the kind that landed them in society-page photos, clinking champagne flutes to celebrate how much money they had raised for some disease or other. A whiff of scandal, the possibility of coming across as a fallible human being — these are simply not genes embedded in River Oaks DNA. If an impostor really did infiltrate their clan, it could not be admitted — at least not publicly. It was just the sort of thing people had been doing with Ross over the last 30 years.
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