Teflon Man

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

Sometime in 1977, Richard Thomas met the man his daughter Karen said she wanted to marry. Thomas did not like him.

For one thing, Gary Ross Doelling was freshly paroled from prison, where he served time for a drug conviction. In 1974, when Ross was already on probation from a marijuana bust, he was caught with heroin. In 1976, he was sentenced to five years for the dope and five years, concurrent, for probation violation. Ross apparently found the comforts afforded by the Harris County Jail lacking; before he could be transferred to TDCJ custody, he escaped. He didn't make it far, though; he was captured and slapped with another five-year sentence — concurrent. He wouldn't have to serve one extra day. And thanks to the felon-friendly parole requirements of the pre-65th Texas Legislature, Ross only served 11 months in prison. Once he got out, he put his charm to good use: It didn't take him long to find a girl who fell for him.

He moved in with Karen and her parents, in a four-bedroom, 3,700-square-foot Meyerland home. Pretty soon, they were talking marriage. But Karen was an undergrad with no money, and Ross was an ex-con with no prospects and no credit. They found a house on Grape Street in Meyerland, but there was no way they could get a loan. So they asked Karen's dad to become a party on the mortgage. Richard Thomas said he'd only do so if the couple agreed to ten conditions, including a promise to get married by June 1979. Thomas further displayed the pride and confidence he had in his future son-in-law in Condition No. 9, which stated that the deal was dead if "Gary Doelling's parole is revoked, or if he is charged or convicted of any felony offense." The couple agreed and moved onto Grape Street.

To Thomas's relief, his daughter decided less than a year later that she didn't want to get married. She moved out, but Thomas let his daughter's ex-fiancé stay in the house as long as he continued making payments.

In the meantime, Gary Ross Doelling found a new girl.

She was only around 21 years old, young enough to be enthralled when, at a house party, she saw Gary jump into the swimming pool with his clothes on. She thought he'd be fun. Plus, he drove a Porsche, and while he was vague about what he did for a living, he always seemed to have cash.

And it didn't stop the courtship when Ross was charged with possession of three pounds of cocaine in early 1980. After the bust, Thomas went to court to have the title to the Grape Street home taken out of his (Thomas's) name. It was a battle that would take six years.

Meanwhile, Ross pleaded not guilty to the cocaine charge and got married.

Shortly before the marriage, he was assessed by Houston psychologist Richard Austin, to determine "his emotional and mental status" for court. Based on Ross's conduct over the next three decades, it's difficult to tell just whom Austin was assessing in 1980. There's no record of what Ross told Austin, but Austin walked away with a sympathetic notion of a man whose only real victim was himself.

"Ross's early history indicates that he was a scapegoat for family turmoil and conflict," Austin's May 1980 report states. "He was blamed for problems. This affected his self-esteem and created an image of himself as a troublemaker and a source of trouble...He is also more aware than the usual person that he says things in order to please others or to get their approval. Although he was a bright youngster, winning a spelling bee and reading very well, the family conflict was intolerable."

It continues: "Because he is a bright person, his I.Q. is estimated no lower than 'superior,' or in the 125-130 range, he was actually bored in school. However there was little or no encouragement from his family."

Austin's report describes Ross's mother as a deceptive, narcissistic woman who resented Ross's alcoholic father "and displaced much of that rage to him." She also rejected Ross "as a person." His father was apparently "self-destructive, and [Ross] identified with that male model."

The report also contains observations that were probably crystal clear to the man who wrote them but which drip with dubious terminology, à la "He has what would be described as a 'hole' in his reality testing."

Ross needed to see himself as a "winner," Austin wrote. Because, "in essence, the only person that he really 'cons' is himself."

Fortunately, per Austin, "Gary can definitely learn from experience and...there is a good prognosis that he will learn and change in the future." The doctor believed that prison was no place for this poor young man — a misguided former spelling bee champ without loving parents and positive role models: "To see himself as a loser, or a member of a criminal population, will only hamper his rehabilitation and deny society his capabilities."

Ultimately, Austin's evaluation was moot: The coke charges were dropped, although there does not appear to be a record explaining why.

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