The Money Trail
Anybody who thought that Carolyn Stevens' ten-year plea bargain and a jury's decision to put Rose Marie Turford away for well into the next century brought an end to the tale of Houston's own Thelma and Louise obviously hasn't been paying close enough attention to what the story has really been about. The saga has never been exclusively legal. It's been about crime, yes, but it's also been about secrets, conflicting stories, the fame that comes with notoriety -- and, most important, money.
Some of that money was the reward offered by local bail bondsman Clement Romeo after Turford and Stevens fled Houston, leaving Romeo to either get the fugitives back or forfeit a half-million-dollar bond. Romeo announced that he would pay $35,000 to whomever provided the information that led to Turford and Stevens' capture. Carmelia O'Quinn, a 25-year-old Canadian phone-sex supervisor, says now that she was that person -- and that five months after she delivered the tip that delivered Turford and Stevens, she still hasn't seen her money.
O'Quinn surfaced in Toronto last week to claim that she was the tipster who turned in Thelma and Louise. But O'Quinn says that since she blew the whistle, nobody has been interested in hearing anything more from her. She's placed numerous calls to Clement Romeo, she says, but he's failed to return them.
"I thought his business was based on trust," says O'Quinn. "He basically skipped out on me like the ladies skipped out on him." It was only out of frustration that she went public, O'Quinn claims, even though by so doing she may be putting her job on the line.
When asked about O'Quinn, though, Romeo has a succinct response. "I don't even know who she is," he snaps. "She's lying."
Romeo says that his $35,000 reward is going not to O'Quinn but to someone else. He's not willing to reveal, though, just who that someone else might be. "The gentleman wants to remain anonymous," Romeo says, declining to add any more information about him other than the fact that he, too, is Canadian. The skeptical might wonder if this mystery man is a cousin of Avery, the shadowy figure Turford and Stevens claimed had coerced them into robbing from men they met through a telephone dating service.
But this is no laughing matter to Romeo, who makes it clear that his mystery man is no figment of the imagination (as a jury decided Avery was). He says that at least three different women have called his office seeking the reward, but that the anonymous man was the official tipster, and he's the one who will get the $35,000. Romeo admits, though, that the reward has yet to be paid. First, he says, he has to collect collateral from Turford's family in Canada, who put up part of the bond. If he can't collect for various expenses he incurred during the time the women were on the lam, Romeo adds, he'll sue the family or foreclose on their property. Once that's done, he'll pay the reward.
Apparently, the anonymous tipster is a patient man.
For five months, Carmelia O'Quinn was a patient woman. But now, she says, she's scared. She may lose not only the reward, but also her $29,000-a-year job. After she went public with her claim, and her photo appeared in a Toronto paper, her boss, she says, threatened her job if she didn't stop harassing Romeo.
O'Quinn's side of the story goes something like this: O'Quinn first met Rose Marie Turford last summer when Turford came to work at her company, where customers call in to talk about sex.
For three months, says O'Quinn, she supervised Turford's work, monitoring her phone-sex techniques, among other things.
According to O'Quinn, no one was more surprised than she was to put the pieces together -- that the quiet, polite Rose, who went by the last name "Durocher," was in fact a hunted criminal.
Everything about Turford had seemed fairly ordinary, except for one detail that would end up helping O'Quinn identify the fugitives. O'Quinn once saw Turford and another woman (whom she later recognized from media photos as Carolyn Stevens) romantically entangled under a tree in front of their office building.
It was a few months later that O'Quinn saw the two together again, this time on America's Most Wanted and, a few days later, in the Canadian news magazine Maclean's. The magazine mentioned the $35,000 reward and gave Romeo's phone number in Houston. The Rose she supervised had a short, blond mushroom haircut, not the long, strawberry blond style shown in the news photos. But O'Quinn was certain it was the same person, and that Stevens was the woman she had seen Turford embrace in the noontime tryst.
She took her magazine and her hunches to her boss, she says; he kept the magazine and told her through a receptionist to wait ten minutes before calling anyone. Thinking that sounded like a bad idea, O'Quinn stole off to a pay phone and called Romeo. It was the first of what O'Quinn says were many phone calls to his Houston office. But for five months, says O'Quinn, she failed to get through to the bail bondsman, although she did reach his assistant, Nancy Smith, who, she says, told her that everything was in chaos and to wait patiently.
O'Quinn says she has five witnesses who saw her turn the information over to her boss. "If I didn't think I was right in this," O'Quinn says, "I wouldn't put my face all over [the newspaper]."
O'Quinn may be the latest to surface with frustrations resulting from the Turford and Stevens saga, but she isn't the only one to have had job problems as a result of the true crime tale. Another bit player pulled into the story by happenstance has lost his job. Houstonian Kenneth Durham says he was fired after missing work to testify as a witness in the Galveston trial of Leonardo Barera, a Turford and Stevens accomplice.
He's as upset as O'Quinn, though for different reasons. Not only has Durham lost his job, but, he says, Ash Huq, the man he helped rescue, was bragging to him at the Barera trial about how much money he was going to make from movie and book deals.
"He could share some of his money," grouses Durham. "He said on the stand I helped save his life." Durham claims Huq only said thank you once, even though he almost took a bullet for the man.
According to Durham, who has police reports to substantiate much of his tale, he was celebrating Mardi Gras on Crystal Beach last February when a man in handcuffs stumbled toward him, waving a gun. The man, Ash Huq, was hysterical. He said he had been robbed by two women and that their accomplice was still in a nearby beach house. Durham, who had just graduated from a local law enforcement academy, played out the Texas version of the Good Samaritan. He called the police on his pocket phone and then, armed with his revolver, stormed the beach house to capture the accomplice.
The accomplice, identified as Leonardo Barera, shot at Durham but missed. The police arrived shortly thereafter, and Durham helped them arrest Barera. The way Durham sees it, his efforts helped lead police to the eventual arrest of Stevens and Turford, who were captured a few weeks later.
"If everyone is coming out ahead, why not me?" Durham asks.
One answer to that question may be simple: he doesn't have a lawyer.
Ash Huq has kept a low profile until recently. But in January his lawyers filed suit to halt Stevens and Turford from cashing in on movie and book deals for their story. Huq's lawyers argued that the women should not profit from criminal conduct. Though a state district judge said there wasn't adequate evidence that the women had been talking to Hollywood agents, he ruled that any proceeds the pair earned be held in escrow as possible victim compensation.
At the time, Huq's lawyer, Dale Jefferson, created the impression that he was taking his client on some higher moral ground that was beyond made-for-TV trash. But a week after the Turford trial, Jefferson confirmed that serious negotiations for "a package deal" for Huq's side of the story were under way. His client was going for a book and movie deal that should be sealed by the end of March.
Actually, make that clients E plural. Jefferson is also now representing another Turford and Stevens victim, Houston beeper company owner Javeed Gondal. Gondal was the only victim to take the stand in Turford's trial. It's unclear what story Gondal has to tell that might be worth money. During the trial, he admitted to falling asleep during the robbery.
Meanwhile, after Carmelia O'Quinn went public, she placed one last phone call to Clement Romeo. This time, Romeo returned her call. O'Quinn says that Romeo told her that the person who had claimed the reward was a man in her office. He had been the first to reach Houston with the pertinent information, O'Quinn says she was told by Romeo, and he'll be the one who gets the $35,000. If she wants to protest, she'll just have to go to court.
One more thing, O'Quinn says: Romeo advised her to get a lawyer.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.