Mad Dog's Demise
At first, the tenants in the office building at 602 Sawyer were puzzled by the tall, heavy-set man with the bald head. He would show up at their offices unannounced, introduce himself as "Mad Dog," then proceed to grill them on what sort of business their companies conducted and the physical condition of their offices. Mad Dog was the self-adopted sobriquet of Lieutenant Alan Mabry, a man who was obsessed by his work -- as a policeman and as a board member of the Police Officers Pension System, which owned the seven-story building near downtown. Mabry always struck those who came in contact with him as a man on a mission -- although some of his colleagues wondered whether his wasn't a mission of self-destruction.
As Mabry became a fixture around the building, the tenants' puzzlement turned to annoyance. One of them, the U.S. Secret Service, didn't care for his habit of roaming the halls of the building late at night, and others complained to the property manager about his unwelcome drop-in interrogations. The president of one company leasing space at 602 Sawyer put his complaint in writing:
"Much to my dismay, I have been informed that a certain individual calling himself 'Mad Dog' has visited my office on two occasions. 'Mad Dog' looked more like 'Elmer Fudd.' 'Mad Dog' claims to be a trustee for the Policeman's Pension Fund. If this is true, I am appalled. If this is true and you have some control over his habits, keep this 'animal' away from my office. 'It' is not welcome. Let's put an end to the 'Madness."
Alan Mabry saw demons everywhere. Some were real; others were imagined. Either way, they tormented him right up to his very last second.
Mabry's life of 44 years ended when he was fatally shot in the head -- by himself or someone else -- shortly before sunrise on May 4. His death came after 21 often controversial years with the Houston Police Department, during which he had come to be regarded by fellow officers as either a crusading gadfly or a dangerous pain in the ass -- and sometimes both, depending on the officer's point of view.
For years, Mabry had railed about corruption and mismanagement within the Police Officers Pension System, first as a paying member and later as a trustee of the fund. Whenever he could, Mabry would buttonhole other cops, investigators, board members and reporters to spin the latest plot he claimed to have uncovered. More often than not, his allegations could not be substantiated, at least not by the conventional methods or standards.
During the past few years, however, Mabry's theories seemed to be coming significantly closer to the mark. His accusations of wrongdoing in the administration of the police pension fund had resulted in the downfall of the board's chairman -- or at least Mabry claimed they had. But Mabry's less-than-private obsession with the workings of the pension system, along with his sometimes unorthodox behavior, was an embarrassment to the brass of the Houston Police Department, who prefer to keep the department's dirty laundry within the department's inner sanctum. And Mabry angered the HPD hierarchy with his public, by-name criticism of high-ranking officers -- so much so that he ended up getting fired.
But life had been good for Mabry in the weeks leading to his death. He had been reinstated to his position as a lieutenant with HPD and awarded his back pay, although an arbitrator had noted that Mabry's conduct had at times been improper. While fighting for reinstatement, according to people close to him, Mabry was able to spend a good deal of time with his wife and his 11-year-old son, to whom he was said to be especially devoted. Given the recent positive turn of events in his life, it came as a shock to many of Mabry's friends and relatives that, immediately after his body was pulled from a small stream in rural Fort Bend County, authorities would suggest that he had died by his own hand.
Almost six weeks after his death, there has been no official ruling on whether Mabry committed suicide or was murdered. Because of the controversy, a Fort Bend County justice of the peace -- whose job it is to rule on the cause of death -- has elected to hold an inquest into the fatal shooting before determining whether the case should be investigated further.
"The cause of death is very, very obvious," says Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James C. Adolphus, who will preside over the inquest. "It was a contact gunshot wound behind the right ear, toward the back of the head.
Alan Mabry grew up in Riverside Terrace in southeast Houston. The neighborhood sits just east of Highway 288 and north of the 610 Loop South, although those two freeways weren't there when Mabry was a youth. Nor was much of the crime and decay that now afflicts parts of Riverside Terrace. When Mabry was attending Southland Elementary (now Thompson Elementary) and Cullen Junior High in the 1950s and '60s, the neighborhood was a middle-class enclave of wood-framed homes where post-World War II parents were bringing up baby boomers.
He went to high school at nearby Jesse Jones Senior High. The school sits on St. Lo Road, which, like many other streets in the area, is named after the site of a famous military battle. And it was at Jones High that Mabry got a taste of the quasi-military life that would later become his vocation by enrolling in the Junior ROTC. Even then, Mabry's penchant for questioning authority in a semi-regimented milieu stood out.
Mabry and Kent Gee were both members of the Class of '68 at Jones, and Gee was Mabry's commanding officer in ROTC. Gee, who's now a consultant for HPD, remembers Mabry fondly, describing him as very intelligent and always driven to search for the truth -- a trait that he retained for the rest of his life, and one that could sometimes get under the high school CO's skin.
"I remember giving him some orders," recalls Gee, "and I can still remember seeing him just roll his eyes toward the ceiling like, 'Oh, shit, what a dumbass!' And then he'd ask you why? And you're going, 'Why? Because it's an order!'"
"He was always looking for a better solution, and, sometimes, if reason didn't prevail, sarcasm would. The guy was on a mission."
Following his graduating from Jones, Mabry headed west to Abilene Christian College, but returned home after a year and enrolled at the University of Houston, where he earned a degree in economics. Shortly after graduation, he married Robbie Gordon, and remained so until his death (Mrs. Mabry declined to be interviewed for this story).
In 1973, five years out of high school, Mabry joined the Houston Police Department. He became a cop out of "his strong desire to improve society at the grassroots level," according to his obituary. By 1982, he had risen up the HPD promotional ladder to the rank of lieutenant. It was a pivotal time in Mabry's obsessive personal and professional life. In 1984, he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board of the Police Officers Pension System. The year before he had become a father. Mabry would take both of his new jobs very seriously for the rest of his life.
When his appointed term on the pension board expired in 1984, Mabry decided to become a candidate for a full term as a trustee. He ran and lost. But instead of simply accepting defeat and devoting himself to his family and his job as a jail supervisor, Mabry ran again. And again. And again.
During his short time as an appointed board member, Mabry had become convinced that board chairman Dalton Baskin, another veteran Houston police officer, was corrupt and that the pension fund was making bad investments as a result. For the next decade, Mabry would dog Baskin, insisting to anyone who would listen -- and many who wouldn't -- that Baskin was on the take and that pension funds were being frittered away in questionable deals and kickbacks between Baskin and his associates. But Mabry's allegations were pretty much ignored, perhaps because the coffers of the pension fund more than tripled from just more than $300 million to just under $1 billion during Baskin's eight years as board chairman. Mabry, who was also an active member of the Houston Police Patrolmen's Union, was dismissed as a well-meaning but often misguided and overzealous eccentric, even by people who liked him and got along with him most of the time.
"Sometimes I wouldn't agree with his methods," says a police sergeant who called Mabry a friend. "He was balls to the wall and damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. And depending on the situation, sometimes that wasn't the right method.
"But Alan was one of the most honest people I knew. There was no gray area for him. It was either right or wrong. That's how he saw things. Unfortunately, we live in a world now where there's always a gray area. I don't think he ever did anything out of spite. But I think he became so obsessed with pursuing an issue that sometimes he overlooked some of the things he'd do that could damage people's reputations. And maybe that's why some people considered him dangerous."
Indeed, Mabry often fired at will, even if his target wasn't fully in his sights. He vigorously questioned the Baskin-chaired board's deal to become partners with the BSL Corporation by investing $3.5 million in pension funds in the Wedgewood Golf Course in Conroe. He wasn't the only person to be suspicious of BSLand owners Richard Bischoff and Andrew Schatte -- federal authorities had scrutinized an investment by the city's municipal employees' pension fund in BSL golf courses, although nothing came of it. Mabry claimed the investment of police retirement funds in Wedgewood was a bad idea and suggested there was something underhanded about the deal. A 1994 appraisal for the board did reveal that the golf course was worth only $3.3 million. But the pension fund also has received $370,000 in cash distribution from the golf course's operating profits, a return of about 4 percent on the original investment. While it hasn't been as profitable as the pension board had hoped, no evidence has surfaced that any crimes were committed in putting the deal together. But Mabry, in an article he authored for Badge and Gun, a publication of the Houston Police Officers Association, characterized Bischoff and Schatte as "crooks." The two businessmen subsequently filed a lawsuit against Mabry for slander and libel. The suit was still pending at the time of Mabry's death.
But in late 1993 and early 1994, after years of leveling accusations at Dalton Baskin, some of Mabry's claims started to stick. In the fall of 1993, investigators from HPD's internal affairs division began looking seriously at some of Mabry's charges. In December, Baskin was relieved of duty by Chief Sam Nuchia, and, that same month, Baskin lost his bid for re-election to the pension board. He was officially fired from the force three months later. In Nuchia's termination notice to Baskin, the chief accused him of taking money -- $46,000 -- in exchange for helping secure pension system funds for a proposed office building development.
According to city records, the Houston Police Pension System board was negotiating in June 1990 with NCNB Texas for the purchase of an office building at 602 Sawyer, not far from HPD's central headquarters west of downtown. Baskin wrote to bank officials informing them that he preferred working with Milton McGinty Jr., and NCNB hired McGinty as a consultant on the sale of the building, which the pension system purchased for $4.9 million. Less than a year later, Baskin was hired by McGinty as a pension consultant for McGinty's company, City Associates. McGinty's company was then hired by the pension system to manage the fund's newly acquired building. Baskin was paid $36,000 by McGinty for his consultations.
In 1992, according to Baskin's termination letter, the pension board chairman began trying to persuade his fellow directors to construct an addition to the Sawyer Street building, which housed the pension system's headquarters as well as various other tenants. In December of that year, Baskin signed a contract with McGinty that promised McGinty $72,000 and a percentage of the construction costs in return for managing the proposed project. In January 1993, the rest of the board -- unaware of the agreement between Baskin and McGinty -- allocated money to study the construction project. Later that month, Baskin signed a second consulting contract with McGinty to oversee the development of the addition. In exchange, Baskin received $10,000. After details of the relationship between Baskin and McGinty began coming to light, the project was rejected by the board.
Although Baskin's contractual arrangements with McGinty were also the focus of investigations by both federal authorities and a Harris County grand jury, according to one investigator, the perception that Mabry was directly responsible for those probes -- and therefore perhaps was a target of revenge -- is a misconception, and one that Mabry perpetuated.
"I would not characterize Lieutenant Mabry as the progenitor of those investigations," says the investigator. What Mabry provided authorities was video tapes of board meetings he had attended. "He cooperated," the investigator says. "He served as a source of information for the FBI. He was a good source of information, but he had very little firsthand knowledge, which is what is important in a criminal investigation.
"Lieutenant Mabry was very useful in giving a feeling for the background, the interpersonal relationships between the members of the board. The biggest problem with Lieutenant Mabry was that he didn't really know. He had heard all these rumors, but he knew very little from a firsthand knowledge point of view. Which meant he wasn't a very important witness in any criminal prosecution except for background."
Nevertheless, by January 1994, Mabry was on a roll. He felt vindicated. Baskin, his longtime nemesis, had been voted off the pension system board, fired from the Houston Police Department and was under the scrutiny of federal and county investigators. And making it all the sweeter for Mabry was the fact that it was Mad Dog himself, after running unsuccessfully for the board three times in ten years, who finally wrested away Baskin's seat. Now Mabry was legitimate. Now he had real power. It was an intoxicating experience for the lieutenant.
The board of the Police Officers Pension System is composed of seven directors, three of whom must be police officers selected by HPD's rank and file. Those three trustees appoint retired officers to two other positions on the board, the mayor makes one appointment and the seventh spot is automatically filled by the city treasurer.
Like Mabry, Lieutenant Craig Goralski was elected to the pension board in January 1994 on a reform platform. Goralski says Mabry wanted the two of them to run as a team with a joint advertising campaign. But even though they were kindred spirits in the sense that both wanted to bring change and accountability to the board, Goralski balked at teaming up with Mabry, fearing that an association with Mad Dog would damage his credibility.
"I seldom saw Alan on target," says Goralski. "What I saw was a scattergun approach."
The relationship between the two reformers was made even more uncomfortable after their successful election, when Goralski says Mabry insisted on becoming chairman of the board. Goralski, who has a master's degree in business and recently graduated from law school, thought he was better qualified. Even after Goralski won the chairmanship, Mabry attempted to talk him into running the board as a partnership. Goralski wasn't too keen on that idea.
"He didn't care much for that and I think it kind of offended him," recalls Goralski. "But Alan was kind of hot and cold. He'd be friendly with you one minute and angry the next."
After being sworn in as a board member, Mabry's eccentricities went on full display during trustee meetings. His colleagues were taken aback when the lieutenant showed up in overalls and a green cap. He seldom sat at the conference table with the others, preferring instead to stalk about the room while business was conducted, and he frequently interrupted speakers and complained about violations of parliamentary procedure. In eventually backing Goralski's bid to become chairman, Mabry told another candidate he would make the candidate's life miserable and give him ulcers if he pursued the chairmanship.
After less than a month on the board, Mabry was making it next to impossible for the trustees to conduct business, Goralski says. He recalls one especially irritating incident when he was attempting to question a BSL consultant about the finances of Wedgewood Golf Course.
"Alan got in my ear," says Goralski, "and he kept saying, 'Military strategy! Think military strategy!' He kept saying it over and over in my ear while I was trying to have this conversation."
But Mabry's peculiar and infuriating behavior was not limited to the pension board meetings. He was, by inclination, something of a joker, which didn't go over too well with some of his more buttoned-down colleagues. There was the time that Mabry, in filling out a form, penciled in the blank for "sex" with the word "seldom," then handed the form to an apparently embarrassed female employee of the pension system. And there were other off-color comments and actions that Goralski found offensive.
"Alan made a mockery of our positions as trustees," claims Goralski. "That's when I lost respect for him."
But Mabry was unfazed by criticism. He seemed to thrive on it, to become even more emboldened by it. On January 14, 1994, he went to City Hall seeking a copy of a letter concerning former pension board chairman Baskin, with whom Mabry remained obsessed. When the city treasurer refused to provide Mabry with a copy, Mad Dog headed for the city attorney's office, where he was once again denied the letter. City Attorney Benjamin Hall instead suggested Mabry take his complaint elsewhere and handed him a piece of paper with the telephone number of the city's Public Integrity Review Group. A pissed-off Mabry took the piece of paper, crumpled it up, threw it away and stormed out of Hall's office. Hall reported the incident to Chief Nuchia, who was already building a case to oust Mabry from HPD. Mabry would continue to help Nuchia toward that end by allegedly tending to pension system business on HPD time without permission. And on January 31, a little more than two weeks after his rancorous visit to City Hall, Alan Mabry, at least in Sam Nuchia's eyes, finally went too far.
On that Monday, Mabry, in the absence of the scheduled speaker, decided to deliver an impromptu address about the pension fund to a cadet class at the Police Academy. Introducing himself to the cadets as Mad Dog Mabry, he spoke for just 20 minutes, but nonetheless managed to do himself quite a bit of damage in that short time. First Mabry mentioned his longtime adversary, Baskin, and claimed that if Baskin, who had not yet been officially terminated, were allowed to reach his 20-year retirement date before leaving the department it would be because he was blackmailing Nuchia. Mabry then went on to refer to Assistant Chief Dennis Storemski as "Dennis the Menace."
Mabry's freewheeling performance was promptly reported to Nuchia. Four hours later, the lieutenant was placed on "relief of duty at home" status, the first step toward an indefinite suspension, which is the police department's way of saying, "You're fired." His termination became official that June. Alan Mabry's world had been rocked. In the opinion of a police union attorney, the firing was the culmination of a vendetta Nuchia had pursued against Mabry for being outspoken.
"Nuchia wanted him bad," claims Murray Malakoff, counsel for the Houston Police Patrolmen's Union.
The chief's desire to get rid of Mabry had intensified after the lieutenant was elected to the pension board, Malakoff says, and, after the incident in the city attorney's office, the chief had even tried to have Mabry certified as mentally unfit. The attorney notes that Mabry's notice of termination included accounts of the officer's encounters with tenants of 602 Sawyer, a matter that seems well out of the scope of Nuchia's jurisdiction -- and hardly a reason for dismissal from the police department.
"I don't know why Nuchia got mad at him," says Malakoff. "My theory is that the chief was punishing him because he didn't go to internal affairs with the wrongdoings at the pension board. Instead, he went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
Nuchia declined to comment directly, but police department spokesman Jack Cato says the chief disputes Malakoff's contention that he had it in for Mabry. In firing Mabry, Cato says, Nuchia based his decision on an investigation by HPD's internal affairs division and took action he deemed "appropriate."
Pension board chairman Goralski, who works on Nuchia's legal staff, says Mabry's termination was "the chief's prerogative. That's all I can say. Alan and I didn't talk much about his firing. Since I work in the chief's office, he kind of viewed me as the enemy."
Despite Mabry's firing, a state district judge ruled that he could remain on the pension board while appealing his termination to an arbitrator. But the judge also stipulated that Mabry could not vote on any pension system business. Mad Dog continued to attend board meetings, but was more subdued, and he was humbled to the point that he even asked the other trustees if they would mind if he sat with them at the conference table.
"We didn't want to humiliate him," says Goralski. "We just wanted to conduct our business without disruption."
While his firing was being appealed, Mabry supported himself and his family by working at a friend's lumber company in Sugar Land and spent a good deal of time with his wife and their 11-year-old son, Robert, who goes by his nickname "Bo." Susan Parkman, one of the Mabrys' neighbors in the upscale subdivision of Pecan Grove east of Richmond, describes the family as the "Three Musketeers" who did everything together. Although one of the investigators on the Baskin case says Mabry had unloaded on him about domestic troubles on several occasions, Parkman emphatically denies that Mabry and his wife were having marital problems.
And, at least outwardly, Mabry seemed to be in high spirits. He was an assistant coach on his son's Little League team last fall, and in addition to helping with batting and fielding practice, he served as the team's unofficial cheerleader.
"Alan had a chant that he used to do that used to drive the opposing team mad," recalls Parkman, whose husband managed the team on which Mabry's son and two of Parkman's sons played. "It's kind of a singsongy cheer. It's, 'Way to go Rangers, way to go!' Then, what drove everybody mad, at the end of it he'd go, 'Ooh!... ooh!...' Now the whole crowd does it. That's what he was known for. It was very effective in getting everyone pumped up." At the end of the season, the team showed its appreciation to Mabry by bestowing its spirit trophy on him.
"Alan," says Parkman, "was a wonderful, wonderful guy."
Mabry never discussed the problems he was having with the police department, Parkman says, but was excited at the prospect of returning to work. In March, an arbitrator ruled that while Mabry was guilty of four of the eight violations cited in his termination notice, none of them was severe enough to merit his dismissal from the force. The arbitrator's assessment of Mabry's address to the cadets at the police academy and his reference to Assistant Chief Storemski as "Dennis the Menace," was especially noteworthy, since it was that episode that triggered Mabry's firing.
"The moniker of 'Dennis the Menace' is not necessarily derisive," the arbitrator wrote. "On the contrary, it refers to a popular child's comic cartoon character featured in a television series and movie appropriate for the viewing of young children."
The arbitrator ordered that Mabry be reinstated with full back pay. Mabry was bloodied but unbowed, having taken Nuchia's best shot and remained standing. And with his own legal problems behind him, Mabry once again turned his attention to his personal antichrist, Dalton Baskin.
Although Baskin had been fired from the department, authorities' scrutiny of the former pension board chairman had not resulted in criminal charges. A Harris County grand jury that reviewed the case declined to indict Baskin at the recommendation of the district attorney's office, which indicated it did not believe there was enough evidence for a conviction. Fearing that if Baskin were not indicted, he, too, might win his HPD job back through arbitration, Mabry began pushing for the Baskin investigation to be reopened by a second grand jury. He even convinced the foreman and assistant foreman of the original grand jury to write Judge Caprice Cosper urging her to have another grand jury give Baskin a second look.
"Mabry played everybody off everybody to get this thing reopened," says Glenda Joe, the assistant foreman of the grand jury. "He was doing everything he could to get the investigation back on track." But Joe says she was unaware of any new evidence against Baskin.
In an interview with Channel 2's John McPherson a few weeks before his death, Mabry pleaded his case.
"A new grand jury must hear all the evidence," said Mabry. "Police officers do not get the benefit of the doubt, and they should not, when it comes to matters of fiduciary trust or theft. We have no excuse. We can never claim that we didn't know better."
On the evening of Wednesday, May 3, Alan Mabry led his obnoxious but endearing cheer while watching his son play at a Richmond ballpark. The following day, he was scheduled to testify in a pretrial hearing on a lawsuit Dalton Baskin has filed against the Internal Revenue Service. Mabry was up early that Thursday morning, pouring himself a bowl of cereal at 5 o'clock but discovering there was no milk in his refrigerator. Driving the half-mile from his house to a convenience store, Mabry purchased a carton of milk. He left the store, but he never returned home.
Around 1 o'clock that afternoon, a police patrolman from the small town of Fulshear in Fort Bend County spotted what turned out to be Mabry's unmarked HPD car abandoned on the side of Bois D'Arc Road, about 15 miles northwest of Mabry's house. The car was facing east, just beyond a small low-water bridge that spans Jones Creek. Mabry's empty wallet and the container of milk were still inside. His keys were found on the road about 20 yards behind the car.
After learning that Mabry had been reported missing, divers were called and arrived at the scene around 6 p.m. Two hours later, Mabry's body -- with a single fatal gunshot wound to the back of his head -- was located in the muddy water about 260 yards downstream to the south. His glasses and .38-caliber Smith & Wesson were later discovered at the southern base of the concrete bridge. Investigators at the scene theorized that Mabry may have shot himself while standing in the water at the base of the bridge. The impact of the gunshot could have knocked off his glasses, and the current could have then carried his body to the point where the divers found it.
Mabry's death is not officially being investigated by the Houston Police Department, since it did not occur within the city, but the department did dispatch homicide detectives that night to monitor the scene. According to one veteran investigator, the prevailing sentiment in the homicide division is Mabry's death "is what it is" -- in other words, a suicide. Another detective points out that if Mabry did kill himself, he would have had financial incentive to make his death look mysterious. An insurance agent who handles benefits for Houston police officers confirmed that Mabry's life insurance policy paid $120,000 on an accidental death. And even if it is determined that he committed suicide, Mabry's policy will pay his beneficiaries $60,000 -- apparently, a not unusual benefit for the families of police officers.
But there are others in the department, as well as his friends and family members, who seriously doubt that Alan Mabry took his own life at a time when things seemed to be going his way again.
"A lot of guys, they're just real suspicious," says one HPD officer. And, in fact, there are a few odd, if not suspicious, details about Mabry's death. They could mean something -- or nothing at all.
For example, Jones Creek, where Mabry's body was found, is actually part of an irrigation system for area farms and usually doesn't have any water in it, although it did that day. And, according to a law enforcement official who was on the scene, when a team of tracking dogs was turned loose, they never headed for the south side of the bridge, where Mabry's glasses and gun were found -- and where he supposedly entered the water and shot himself. Instead, the dogs immediately headed west on Bois D'Arc Road, sniffed around for a moment on the northwest corner of the bridge, then headed south along the edge of the creek to where Mabry's body was found.
Some reports characterized Mabry as having been unusually subdued just before his death. If he was, it was something that had gone unnoticed by Mabry's neighbor and Little League acquaintance, Susan Parkman, who saw Mabry at the ball game the night before he died.
"My husband had his arm around him and was asking him how things were going," says Parkman. "We stood there and talked. He didn't have a care in the world. He was just delighted to be at the ballfield. Happy that things were working out in his life. Everything was right with the world. His team was getting beat horribly that night, but he was still sitting there cheering. So when we heard the news the next day there was no doubt in our minds that he had not killed himself."
This coming Tuesday, 12 registered Fort Bend voters will be assembled from a pool of potential jurors to examine the evidence in the death of Alan Mabry. Among others, they will hear from the Texas Rangers, the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office, the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Department and the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office, which conducted the autopsy on Mabry's body. After weighing the evidence, the jurors will decide whether or not the case should be investigated further as a homicide, or simply ruled a suicide. Even if a determination is made that Mabry killed himself, it is not likely to put to rest all the questions surrounding Mad Dog's demise.
"Alan was a mystery," observes pension board chairman Craig Goralski. "And I suspect his death will remain that way, like his life. Maybe the rest of us were just missing something. Maybe he saw things other people didn't. And you can take that either way.
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