Deadly Charades: Double Lives, Extortion and the Suicide of a Respected Professor

A respected A&M prof with secrets to hide commits suicide and implicates his alleged blackmailer in a case where no one was really who he or she seemed to be.

In the end, she thinks, Duplaisir had an accomplice: "What killed Jim was silence," she says. "He wasn't talking about what was ailing him. People weren't saying to him, 'Why are you stumbling down the hall? Why are you wearing so much goddamn cologne?'"

Then he took a surprising step: He started cruising online for gay and pre-op transgender men. He created a profile — using his real name and a photo taken at A&M — and a catchy handle: "Texas Top."

"He would just get...completely stoned, and he'd be chatting with these men who were wanting to be women," Miriam says. "I was very hurt."

Before jumping to his death, A&M professor Jim Aune warned his alleged blackmailer that he would be prosecuted.
Courtesy of Miriam Aune
Before jumping to his death, A&M professor Jim Aune warned his alleged blackmailer that he would be prosecuted.
Miriam Aune says she told her husband that he was being scammed, but he didn't believe her.
Miriam Aune says she told her husband that he was being scammed, but he didn't believe her.

But nothing would hurt like Aune's admission just days before he was diagnosed with prostate cancer: He had had an affair. When Miriam asked who the woman was, Aune said, "It's not a her." But at least he tried to soften the blow by emphasizing that his lover was very ­effeminate.

Miriam says that day — not the day her husband leaped to his death — was the worst one of her life. While she was left to ponder the cracks in the foundation of her marriage, Aune continued his descent. He ramped up his threats of suicide — something Miriam says "was always his way of trying to communicate when something was more than he could handle."

And it was a threat of suicide that led Aune to ask Miriam for $1,500 to pay Duplaisir: On the Wednesday morning before Aune died, Miriam walked into their bedroom and found a brief suicide note wrapped around Aune's favorite picture of her at their wedding. She called him immediately and told him to come home. Whatever was going on, she told him, they'd handle it.

By the time he got home and they'd retreated to the bedroom for privacy, he was drunk.

"And he's pacing around, and I said, 'Honey, what did you do?'" Miriam says. "And then he told me. Just kind of blurted it out."

He told her he'd been chatting explicitly with a 16-year-old girl and that her father found out. He was supposed to pay the father $1,500 a month for three months or else the guy would tell the cops. The more Aune told her, the more Miriam felt something was off.

"I'm not in the Bloods or Crips here, but I got a little more street smarts than Jim does," she says. She asked if Aune ever spoke with the girl. No, he said, just the father.

That's when it clicked. Her genius husband had fallen for a low-level con. So brilliant on campus yet often clueless in the real world, Aune made the perfect mark.

"He had the finest mind, you know," Miriam says. "Absolutely eidetic memory...and brilliant. And so fucking dumb."

She says she laughed when Aune told her he had never talked to "Karen."

"I said, 'Jim, come on, even you have to see that this is the biggest pile of horseshit ever planted.'" She adds, "It didn't even occur to him that this was a complete scam...this is laughable. If you saw this in a Law & Order, you would be so pissed off at the writers because they had done such a stupid thing, and who the hell would believe this?"

Still, Aune was anxious. He told her he had to get the $1,500 to the father by 5 p.m. or his career, and possibly his freedom, would come to an end.

"I said, 'Honey, he ain't getting another goddamn dime out of us — what are you, nuts?" Miriam recalls.

As always, she went into fixer mode. She changed computer passwords and told Aune not to answer the phone.

"I thought, he's going to be so desperate that he's going to literally steal his children's future to pay this guy," she says.

That weekend, she contacted Aune's closest friends and scheduled an intervention. It was to be that Wednesday. Aune was going to check into rehab; they weren't going to take no for an answer. Of course, he would never make it.

The week of June 10, Duplaisir suddenly decided to change his plea to guilty. On June 17, clad in a green jail-issue jumpsuit, he stood before Judge Hughes, and, in a somewhat high-pitched, soft-spoken voice, admitted to extorting Aune.

It took Hughes a few minutes to understand the particulars of the scam; prosecutor Sherri Zack had to explain. However, Zack couldn't answer Hughes's questions about the fictitious "Karen" being transgender — had the child, for example, had surgery? Duplaisir's public defender, Marjorie Meyers, said she believed "transgender" did not necessarily connote surgery but meant identifying with the opposite sex. Duplaisir remained silent.

In the back of the room, Miriam tried to silence her cries as a friend rubbed her back. She had come prepared with a victim impact statement in case the judge went straight into sentencing. Unfortunately for her, she will have to wait three months for the chance to tell Duplaisir exactly what she thinks of him.

The night before Aune killed himself, he seemed overcome by a strange sense of peace.

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I couldn't keep myself from commenting on this article because I am the tranny that Jim had an affair with. He actually told me about this blackmailing business shortly before he killed himself. Jim visited me in austin around 2007 but I had been chatting with him for ages. I believe I first met him in 2004 or so when I was about 22 years old. it took him forever to tell me he had two autistic kids and claimed that Miriam was his ex wife and had multiple personality disorder. 

Jim thought he had lost his sex drive forever after he got the prostate cancer operation, so around that time he decided he was done with me. I'm convinced there was no one with whom Jim was fully honest, and while this blackmail shenenigan was the straw that broke the camel's back, there were many more underlying issues. Jim was extremely depressed, avoidant and a liar to the core. To say he was not a happy man is a tremendous understatement. Its like he didn't want to believe he was the victim of a scam so that he could do what he had probably contemplated many times before.

I found out he committed suicide about an hour ago, and I still don't even know how I feel about it. my first reaction was not grief but rather an inexplicable sense of dissociation from reality.

I have several conversations with Jim archived in my email. I feel compelled to read every email exchange I ever had with him and to think about it in this new light that his suicide has shone. 


Being transgendered myself, I read the article with a certain sadness.  TG or not, there is no excuse for Duplaisir's actions.  It is really sad that most news about TGs is negative.  Please understand that wearing women's clothing doesn't make a man anymore of a criminal than it does a woman, well not anymore since the laws have changed.


Doesn't seem like there are any innocent victims in this--would-be pedophiles I can find no sympathy for,  if anything "blackmailera' is doing a good service bringing these freaks out in the open.

Meredith Rogers
Meredith Rogers

I had Aune as a professor and it pains me to see this story progress.


If Duplaisir was living with "lisa's" relatives, how did she come to "live with him off and on?" 

I guess there was one last text you didn't want, or Miriam didn't want to disclose? That wasn't very clear.

Do you realize you mention at the beginning that he died at the hospital later that day, and at the end of the article, you say he died 40 minutes later?

These were things I didn't quite understand.  I hope Miriam recovers from this painful experience...


He should have killed the blackmailer, not himself.

Frankly I couldn't read beyond the first page. I love Ayn Rand heroes, not homosexual zeroes.


Again the Houston Press just loves to Kill Trees with these long overdrawn articles about subjects that really don't mean a whole lot to the average busy Houstonian.

Ok I grabbed a typical article from the Atlantic  - 1200 words

 Your "Charades" article ran 4600 word, which is  to the length of a maxed scientific research paper.

Melanie Pena
Melanie Pena

Wow. Unbelievable. Well written through all the twists.

Danielle Stillman-Diederich
Danielle Stillman-Diederich

This article was really confusing because the term you need to use is "transgender woman" for MTF trans people. If the professor was looking for transgender men he would be talking to FTM trans people (women making a transition to male). This is in sore need of a correction.

Richard Tew
Richard Tew

Both of these guys are sick and deserve everything they get both here and the hereafter.

Bren Ke
Bren Ke

Oh my goodness! You went and committed Journalism again! :)

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