Houston Babylon

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

No sense, save for the logic of pure ostentation. List loved to exaggerate his importance and inflate his wealth, and the mansion was a tangible expression of his character. List was much less showy in his personal appearance. When Statton first arrived, he says, List came to the door shirtless and barefoot, wearing only a pair of checkered polyester pants. What little hair he had stood straight up from his head. (He refused to buy shampoo or shaving cream, as both were a waste of money. Bar soap sufficed for both shaving and hair-washing.) Statton thought he was a caretaker.

Estranged from his ex-wife and adult son and daughter, both of whom had changed their last names to distance themselves from their dad, List was free to spend the rest of his days indulging his passion: cruising Montrose for teen boys. Once ensconced in his sprawling bayside lair, List would feed them, give them access to booze and look the other way if they did drugs. And a lavish-if-tacky roof was over their heads, so long as they agreed to help with the cooking, general upkeep...and other things.

Namely sex, and Bill List's appetites were reportedly even more hideous than his mansion. Statton says List was heavily into fisting and enemas, which explains why List needed a never-ending supply of fresh hustlers. While many at first were taken with the party lifestyle of the mansion, few could abide List's demands for long.

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."

"He used the power that his money brought over homeless, hopeless teenage boys," Statton says. "He'd promise them something, bring them allll the way out to Seabrook with no ride back. And then he'd be like, 'Here's 20 bucks. If you don't like it, fuck you.'"

On October 17, 1984, there were four young denizens of the mansion. Statton says it was a "bad combination of people."

There was 19-year-old Elbert Ervin Homan, an angry Pasadena-bred heroin user and crank addict, a Covenant House dropout already convicted of stabbing and robbing a fellow teen. Ironically, he was known on the streets as "Smiley." Statton says he had warned List about kids like Smiley. "I'd tell him, 'These are not St. John's kids you are messin' with. These are street kids. One of these days, one of them is gonna kill you.' And he'd be like, 'Aww, I ain't worried about them. I can take care of myself.'"

There was also Smiley's running buddy, Tim Foran, a.k.a. "Peppermint," a 19-year-old dead-end kid from downstate Illinois. It was Peppermint who introduced Smiley to List in Montrose.

And there was "Joey," a 16-year-old runaway from Tomball List had pounced on when he found him shooting pool at the Midnight Sun bar on West­heimer.

"I was involved with Joey, and Bill repeatedly coerced Joey into sexual deals," Statton says. Statton says List subjected Joey to a constant barrage of emotional blackmail, telling him that he had to have sex with him or he would kick him out. "And you know Jeff's not gonna go with you, because Jeff wants to stay here," List would say. "He's the only person you have, and you will lose him."

Statton says a desperate Joey finally told him all that had been going on. Statton then confronted List and declared his feelings for Joey. "I told him we were in a serious relationship, well, at the time I thought it was a serious relationship, and that he would have to stop. He told me he would, but then he continued to do it."

While only Joey and Peppermint slept with List, all four of the boys had to deal with List's orneriness. "I've looked for a redeeming quality in him, and I never could find one," Statton says. "He never showed any affection toward anyone. Nothing. It was just 'Here's what I want from you, and here's what I am willing to give you for it.' And ultimately I think that's what caused his demise."

One night, after List had gone to bed, the four young men sat up late with a jug and some smokes. One of them joked that they "should just kill the old son of a bitch." They all laughed, but something about the remark must have taken.

The next morning Statton cooked List the same hearty breakfast he always enjoyed, and all in the house would later say that List seemed to be in a good mood, at least by his standards.

List had no clue what he had left behind him that day.

Smiley and List had not gotten along from the start, and the street tough bristled when List ordered him to scrub the terrazzo tiles. Smiley told the others that he wasn't scrubbing any floors. In fact, Smiley said, he was going to trash the fuck out of the place and split.

First went the china, hurled through the windows. Then Peppermint joined in on the fun, and the two hurled a huge potted plant from the second floor veranda into the swimming pool.

And in that moment, Smiley decided he wouldn't be leaving until he had killed Bill List. He soon enlisted Jeff and Joey in his plan. Tim was in, too, though more halfheartedly. "I don't think we would have killed him if Smiley hadn't been there," Statton says. "That's not an excuse, but the original plan was just to trash the place and leave."

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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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