In Only Five Years?
Just bouncing around from one site to another here in the newsroom -- CBS-TV, Toronto -- and happened onto your piece about the murderous fellow with the new social security number and the fascinating job in the insurance business ["Making a Killing," by Steve McVicker, October 22]. One of the best pieces of journalism I've read in the last five years, and I've read a lot.
Back to the Bizarre
Oh, brother. I went to high school with Walt Waldhauser at Westchester High School in the Spring Branch Independent School District. He was one of the photographers for the school newspaper and yearbook. Back when all the news first broke about the Duff-Smith et al. (murders), It just seemed totally surreal. (My ex husband had gone to high school with Duff-Smith. We were seriously weirded out.) This update just added to the sense of unreality. Great story.
Big D Slimed
I was pleased to see that you followed Walter Waldhauser's slime trail to Dallas. You did the world a favor by outing him. Also, I've been meaning to tell you how much I enjoyed your piece on Clarence Bradford ["Breaking the Blue Code of Silence," by Steve McVicker, October 8]. He seems quite a departure from the traditional Texas cop, and I mean that in an entirely complimentary way.
On behalf of the National Viatical Association (NVA), I would like to commend the Houston Press for a public service by exposing the past actions of Mike Davis, a.k.a. Walter Waldhauser Jr. Houston consumers should know that Southwest Viatical, which employs Mr. Davis, has falsely claimed to be an NVA member. Southwest Viatical has been repeatedly asked to cease and desist these false claims.
The NVA is a national trade association dedicated to financially assisting and effectively promoting the needs of people coping with life-threatening illnesses in a compassionate, professional and ethical manner. All of its members undergo both a civil and criminal background check before admittance into the association.
For those considering either a viatical or senior settlement, I encourage them to contact the National Viatical Association at (800)741-9465 or at www.nationalviatical.com.
Valerie Bergman Cooper
National Viatical Association
Texas Department of Insurance staff would like to offer clarification on two points:
The article said there is no evidence that Southwest Viatical registered with the state in either 1997 or 1998. The fact is, Southwest registered in 1996, renewed in 1997 but failed to renew in 1998.
The article states that the legislature placed viatical settlement companies under TDI regulation in 1995, "but rather than regulate, what the department actually does is register viaticals." This inference that TDI does not regulate the viatical settlement industry is unwarranted by the facts. The 1995 law requires registration, but registration does not mean an absence of regulation. As required by the statute, TDI adopted rules, effective February 26, 1996, under which we regulate the viatical settlement industry in numerous ways.
We mandate contract provisions that protect viators' interests; approve or reject all viatical settlement forms; require confidentiality for viators; review advertisements and marketing materials for truthfulness and fairness; prescribe certain information that viators must receive; assure that viators can cancel unsatisfactory contracts within 15 days after getting their money; prohibit viatical companies from inquiring too often about a viator's health; and, when necessary, take enforcement action against companies and brokers that violate our rules and Texas statutes.
Lee Jones, Assistant Director
Public Information Office, TDI
Writer Steve McVicker responds: Southwest Viatical's registration status was based on information provided by the State Department of Insurance. If it is in error, that is because the Department of Insurance did not fully comply with my request for information filed under the Texas Open Records Act.
As for the state's role in regulating viaticals: Registration is still the only regulatory function actually performed by the Texas Department of Insurance. Most of what Lee Jones lists as his department's responsibilities are things that viaticals are required to do by state law.
Thank you for your recent front page article, "Making a Killing" [by Steve Mc-Vicker, October 22] on Walter Walt-hauser/Michael Davis. I just hope now that Walt/Michael has moved back to Texas so that more policemen like Johnny Bonds can keep a close eye on this unsavory character, and be ready to put him away for all of the underhanded schemes he seems to have pulled off his whole life.
Unfortunately, my family has known Walt/Michael for over 20 years -- my younger sister was married to Markham Duff-Smith back in '76 -- after Walt set up Mark's mother's murder, and during the time Mark's sister and family were murdered. My little sister had no idea what kind of men Duff-Smith and Waldhauser were. Their little insurance fraud schemes shed a lot of light on what they were up to.
It took Detective Johnny Bonds to make my sister wake up and understand that her life was in danger because she was next on their hit list. Bonds found out about an insurance policy Duff-Smith was going to take out on her.
Fortunately, we don't have to worry about Duff-Smith anymore, thanks to Bonds. Hopefully, your article will help great detectives like Johnny Bonds make other authorities aware of just how deadly this man can be. If it wasn't for Bonds, my older sister and I probably wouldn't have a little sister alive today if Duff-Smith and Waldhauser had had their way years ago. Thank you, Johnny Bonds!
Name withheld by request
Prey for Him
Your Walter Waldhauser article was an incredible story. I couldn't put it down until I had read the whole thing. You did a fantastic job. Thank you for bringing Waldhauser's current actions and whereabouts to the public's attention. It is a story that needed to be told. I hope you mailed a copy of it to every Dallas official you could think of! It is unbelievable that someone like that would be given a new identity and social security number and could then position himself so easily back into society! He has managed to set himself up to prey on others once again! I can't imagine how Bruce Marshall and his wife must have felt once they realized they had been riding around and having dinner across the table from a murderer.
Thanks for telling this story!
What was the point of Stuart Eskenazi's article ["Easygoing George W. Bush," October 29]? Frankly, I am impressed with the governor's ability to learn from his elders: form bipartisan coalitions and connect with ordinary Texans. Is that what we look for in a leader and statesman?
I inferred from Mr. Eskenazi's writing that the governor's approach might not work in Washington, so it is an approach and chance not worth taking. I find that a cowardly and unacceptable way of thinking. Nothing is gained without risk and Washington needs a leader who is willing to take the high road to end partisanship politics. The fact that Bush is reluctant to run for the presidency is an indicator he is a statesman rather than a "politics as usual" career politician. Hopefully I will be able to cast a vote for Governor Bush in the presidential election of 2000.
Your article on the tobacco industry is long overdue ["Bar Patrons," by Nick Cooper, October 1].
In several years of reading local journals -- including yours -- I have been disturbed to see the names of so many familiar bands and musicians showing up as tag lines in promotional campaigns for cigarettes. As a sporadically performing musician, I am loath to appear at a venue underwritten by R.J. Reynolds, Phillip Morris and their disingenuous ilk. If their tactics weren't making the register ring, they wouldn't be employing them to rope more young people into the habit.
Not that the Bayou City's paying audiences are especially starved for my talent, but I prefer playing at arts institutions, benefits and community events where breathing is not an overriding issue and my clothes and guitar cases don't receive unwanted fumigation. Nonsmoking shows at the Mucky Duck, Rockefeller's and the short-lived house concerts at Sand Mountain Music demonstrate the viability of such performances and could spur some local entrepreneur to open a tobacco-free nightclub. In the meantime, scour the Red Kamel ads: I'll be playing guitar and bass for such stellar outfits as the Emphysema Twins, Lung Sewage, the Smokin' Coronaries and Joe Chemo and the Terminals.
I was amazed to read the Rob Amass declaration that Camel had "saved" Catbirds bar. As a regular of the bar since it received its liquor license almost three years ago, I was not aware that Catbirds ever required saving by anyone, much less that it had required selling its soul to the tobacco companies.
Rather, Catbirds's ability to grow and maintain its customer base is attributable to its reputation as one of the best places in Houston to play NTN (National Trivia Network). Not only does Catbirds have a number of loyal home-team players, it attracts visitors from other top NTN locations in the area. Many of these people (including me) do not smoke, and we don't pick our NTN locations based on logos on matchbooks or advertisements. Moreover, I have never had cigarettes pushed on me, nor to my knowledge has anyone else. Trivia, not tobacco, is the addiction that keeps Catbirds's customers coming night after night.
Brooke E. Smith
I am somewhat puzzled at Nick Cooper's apparent condemnation of the tobacco industry helping support local bars and clubs ["Bar Patrons," October 1]. The industry has been chastised for allegedly marketing to minors, but Mr. Cooper is not satisfied that they appear to be marketing to an exclusively adult population. In addition, I find it amusing that the Houston Press would run such an article, considering the substantial revenue it receives from cigarette ads. I do not smoke, nor do I enjoy being around smoke. However, I do support free enterprise and companies' rights to market legal products.
As a loyal longtime reader of the Houston Press, I'm disheartened by its decision to feature the cartoon "Red Meat," which is not only completely unfunny but disgusting as well. Maybe I just don't get the joke, but I don't see what's so hilarious about cutting up an animal with hedge trimmers or using its head as a hand puppet. Yes, I know it's just a comic strip. But it fails to be comical, week after week. And yes, I know we have freedom of speech in this country. As a graduate of journalism school, I fervently believe in free speech. But just because something is legal, that doesn't make it appropriate. From now on I'll stick to the genius that is "Life In Hell."
Coffee ["Best of Houston," Sept. 24] is not fresh if it was:
1. Roasted two months ago in Seattle
2. Roasted three months ago in California
3. Roasted six months ago in Italy.
Stop fooling your readers and feeding them misinformation about coffee.
You help the community if you tell the truth about coffee standards and freshness. Be coffee smart!
The Way We War
I enjoyed your review of Saving Private Ryan ["Combat Reality," by Peter Rainer, July 23]. You have understood and you talk about the truth of the movie -- how horrible war is, and that later wars (Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War) weren't more horrible than WWII, only better covered by the media.
As a combat veteran, I felt sick watching the movie, and I was at the same time happy that someone had the courage to make this movie in this way. I think it is important for all people to understand that war is the most extreme experience known to man. Spielberg's motion picture gives a clue to all the people fortunate enough not to have experienced war to understand that a war isn't something you just walk away from when it is over.
Fight or Flight
Jackie Harris ["It's Jackie's Neighborhood," by Brad Tyer, Sept. 17] used to live in my neighborhood, and I wish she had never left!
I know what it's like to stand in her shoes! It's a never-ending battle trying to take care of your surroundings. I, too, feel the frustration; the repeated calls to the police seem to fall on deaf ears.
If all my previous longtime neighbors hadn't fled for the suburbs, all these derelicts would never have settled here in the first place! It doesn't have anything to do with racism; these people just don't know how to act in the big city.
We were wrong, but we were led astray
Houston Independent School District did not raise taxes in 1997 for 1998 as we said in our October 29 story, "Easygoing George W. Bush," by Stuart Eskenazi. HISD's public spokesman Terry Abbott pointed out that taxes weren't raised in 1997, although there is a 1998 school board-approved proposal that they be raised for 1999 (going from a tax rate of $1.384 to $1.459). Unfortunately, we received our original misinformation from the district, a representative of which answered "yes" and provided numbers (which were also wrong) when we twice asked if HISD had raised taxes in 1997.
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