Houston Babylon

Four of the spookiest true tales in our city's history

At the rally, Sherrie and Larry smoked pot and struck up a romance that later receded into a friendship with romantic overtones. Sherrie would feel awkward introducing her new boyfriends to Larry; Larry would often express his disapproval of them, telling her they weren't sensitive enough for her. (In other words, they weren't like Larry, who painted and played Dylan songs on the guitar.) "Everything always felt like a test with Larry," Sherrie says. "He was like one of those diamond merchants from Amsterdam. Always examining."

Over the next few years, they would run into each other at parties, and it soon became apparent that Larry had gone beyond the usual hippie drugs like pot and acid and had taken to shooting up meth. "Living in Houston, where everything is so slow and sticky, kinda drove him crazy," Sherrie says. "I think he needed that for stimulation."

Larry soon became addicted. Sherrie says he seemed like a hopeless case, constantly strung-out and paranoid. She ran into Larry in Austin in May of 1970, and he told her he was heading out to California. That was the last time Sherrie saw him.

In a scene typical of early Houston, a slave woman tries not to laugh as three well-armed and drunken "rowdy loafers" harass and alarm a respectable family from the upper crust. A similar confrontation led to Houston's first publicized public hanging.
Gary Zaboly illustration from Stephen Hardin's Texian Macabre
In a scene typical of early Houston, a slave woman tries not to laugh as three well-armed and drunken "rowdy loafers" harass and alarm a respectable family from the upper crust. A similar confrontation led to Houston's first publicized public hanging.
Dr. Robert H. Watson was a physician and one of early Houston's leading citizens. He liked to do two things in his spare time: drink, and collect human skulls. He also liked to drink from the skulls, and here, according to one of his friends, he drinks from one "that had yet brains in it." He reportedly toasted the following: "This when living was not worth a pin, but now how precious with good liquor in."
Gary Zaboly illustration from Stephen Hardin's Texian Macabre
Dr. Robert H. Watson was a physician and one of early Houston's leading citizens. He liked to do two things in his spare time: drink, and collect human skulls. He also liked to drink from the skulls, and here, according to one of his friends, he drinks from one "that had yet brains in it." He reportedly toasted the following: "This when living was not worth a pin, but now how precious with good liquor in."

And amazingly, Larry started to turn his life around in the Golden State. A California man, a healer of sorts, had seen potential in the strung-out Larry and sobered him up, introduced him to God and helped him pay his way all through medical school. Degree in hand and a San Francisco-area internship under his belt, Dr. Larry told his friends that he and his benefactor were heading down to South America, where he would serve as a medical missionary.

Unfortunately, that benefactor's name was the Reverend Jim Jones, and Larry — Dr. Laurence Schacht — became the physician for the People's Temple. Schacht committed "revolutionary suicide" by Jones's side in 1978.

"I was home with my young son on a week-day morning when I saw the shocking headlines of mass death in the jungle," Tatum wrote in a memoir she has yet to complete. "According to the article, a young doctor from Houston had formulated the poisonous mixture. The name 'Dr. Laurence Schacht' leaped out at me, but at first I thought it must be someone else. It took a moment for me to realize that 'Laurence' was, of course, Larry, and to recall hearing that he had attended medical school. In another moment my blood turned cold as it all just hit me. 'That's Larry, that's Larry,' I said out loud."

The Mansion on Todville Road

In the fall of 1984, a mortified Houston watched as then-prosecutor Rusty Hardin tried accused murderer Danny Lee Garrett. That spring, Garrett's co-defendant, Karla Faye Tucker, had been convicted in a separate trial and sentenced to death for her role in the horrific pickax slayings of Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton, and Garrett would soon join Tucker on death row.

Meanwhile, a few miles southwest of the courthouse, the tenderloin district near the corner of Westheimer and Montrose was teeming with young male street hustlers, even more so than today. Ungentrified Montrose was still sliding downward as the Oil Bust extended into its third year. Cheap rents abounded. Thousands of kids ended up there, where many succumbed to selling their young bodies to aging sugar daddies in exchange for money, booze, crack, smack, crank, acid or X.

Though neither a runaway nor a prostitute, 23-year-old Jeff Statton was in the thick of the scene. Statton had an auto theft conviction and a stay in a mental hospital under his belt. He was also shooting heroin and living with a 17-year-old kid named Lance, and with their eviction from their Montrose apartment looming, Lance said he knew an older guy who would take them in.

This was Bill List, a portly, balding 57-year-old businessman. After a stint in the coffin-and-crypt trade, and a prison stay (for sex with underage boys) and ensuing divorce, the Ohio native made a fortune in the '70s with a trailer rental business. While so many of his neighbors were scraping by, List was living large on Galveston Bay.

There, on Seabrook's Todville Road, List built his dream home: a two-story, 34,000-square-foot brick leviathan with white wrought-iron-encrusted verandas wrapping both floors. Inside, List had placed several huge bars, hundreds of potted plants, multiple Jacuzzis, an enormous gameroom and an atrium complete with indoor swimming pool. In the terrazzo-tiled lobby, List installed a sneeze-shielded steam table, the better to serve guests at his 35-foot dinner table.

"You didn't know whether to be impressed, amazed or disgusted," says Statton. "The sheer size was impressive, but then you'd look closer and it was, 'What kind of hideous thing is this monstrosity?'"

Statton says that for much of his stay in the "Holiday Inn on acid," most of the rooms were unfurnished. One day, List dispatched a moving truck to the mansion. "I was all excited. I wanted to bring people over," Statton remembers. It turns out List had purchased a defunct hotel's inventory. "He had bought all these tweed couches and paintings that had magic marker prices written on the back of them. Just craziness. No sense to the whole thing."

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8 comments
carlalex75
carlalex75

Houston was the murder capital in the early 80s. Clocking about 3 times the murders than now days. I think it was 82 or 84 that it had the record number of homicides in the country. Would like to find an article on that. And Jeffery Statton wasn't List murderer, he was in the other end of the house when it happened

innerlooper
innerlooper

Never knew that much about the horror on Toddville Road until this juicy cover story.  Interesting that List's killer, Statton, befriended Elmer Wayne Henley in prison.  The two have an awful lot in common.

Geezy
Geezy

Damn Houston You Scary!!!!

artichokev
artichokev

perfect seasonal article

I came to Houston from NYC in 1988 & was greeted with a news item about a mummy wrapped body found in a a Montrose attic

this poor soul had been the entertainment at a debauched party and was covered in duct tape, save for a few strategic holes

unfortunately the host had a seizure & in the ensuing excitement the bound lad was forgotten by the party-goers

the host was taken to a hospital for a protracted admission as he was found to have a brain tumor

only months later when neighbors noted a foul odor, was the decomposed youth discovered

I learned that NYC had nothing on my new town when it came to edge & that if ever mummified, always have a designated buddy (or two) to bail you out of unforeseen circumstances

DuckDuckGoose
DuckDuckGoose

"Houston and New Orleans stand alone as the creepiest cities on the Gulf Coast."   Galveston might have something to say about that.

 

Great series of stories. Continue, please sir.

roadsscholar
roadsscholar

@innerlooper 

Read the story again, innerlooper.  Jeffrey Statton didn't kill List.  Elbert "Smiley" Homan did.

jnovalomax
jnovalomax

 @DuckDuckGoose Pre-Fertitta Galveston was creepy. Now it's like freakin' Orlando. Well, that's an exaggeration, but it's a lot less scary than it was.

 
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