Roy Beene was a Houston criminal-defense attorney who occasionally landed big-name clients such as capital murder defendant Cynthia Campbell Ray and James "Humpy" Parker, a former sheriff of San Jacinto County.

However, his real notoriety came in far more novel ways. Beene was gross. It was a point of pride with him, a benchmark by which all others who aspire to crudeness could be measured.

And Beene loved to cook up moneymaking schemes. Former associates in the Harris County Courthouse believe Beene may have been hard at work in that pursuit last fall, when it was reported that he died after a tumble at an Acapulco mansion. In fact, some of his friends believe the 59-year-old Beene may have pulled the ultimate scam by faking his death.

Those friends find the fatal sequence of events too incredible to accept. Beene's sister, Tish Ogden of Midland, concedes that Beene could be strange. "He was a real nonconformist," Ogden says. "He didn't like rules very well."

Roy Beene began his legal career enforcing rules of law. Attorney Bob C. Hunt met the colorful lawyer when Beene was a city prosecutor in 1967. For years the two breakfasted together at the former One's A Meal in River Oaks Shopping Center.

Beene took a major step up in the early 1970s, joining Will Wilson's Special Prosecution Team against organized crime. Wilson, a former Texas attorney general who busted up the rackets in Galveston County during the 1950s, based his unit of federal prosecutors in New Jersey. It targeted New York's five Mafia families.

Years later Beene would regale bar crowds with his stories of that crime-fighting, as well as his stint with the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans.

"He was a big name-dropper," says Jim Skelton, who knew Beene since their law school days together.

Hunt praised Beene's courtroom talents both as a prosecutor and defense attorney. But by the time he went into private practice, Beene already had built a reputation as a crude and cantankerous type of person.

"Beene was an asshole," Hunt says. "He was a good lawyer, but he pissed everybody off."

In one federal court trial, Beene managed to alienate every one of the attorneys on his own side of the case. It reached the point where Beene had to move from the counsel table and take a seat near the spectator gallery. "Beene wouldn't sit with the rest of the lawyers, and they wouldn't sit with him," Hunt says.

Discussions about subjects as basic as religion could send Beene into a tirade. Skelton remembers when they were at a barbecue joint and he jokingly introduced a woman to Beene, describing him as a direct descendant of infamous Wild West Judge Roy Bean.

"She had a camera and wanted to get a picture with him," Skelton recalls. "He went off the deep end, cursing so loud that everyone in the place heard it. He was totally out of control."

However, Beene stayed in command of his courtroom skills. A staple of his business was handling pornography cases for defendants such as bookstore or peep show operators. He defended former sheriff Parker on charges of mistreating prisoners.

Among his oddball cases was the 1985 prostitution charge against Raymond Freda Sr., who was accused by Montgomery County officials of running the Hot Tub Club brothel from his prison cell. Freda, as mobster Raymond Conti, had been a member of the federal Witness Protection Program.

For three weeks in 1986 Beene represented Cynthia Campbell Ray. She and accomplice David West were later convicted of murdering her parents while they slept in their posh Memorial home. Ray got a life prison term in that case -- and Beene got her house as a legal fee.

Hunt says Ray never forgave Beene for the exorbitant cost of his brief representation. "The rumor around prison was that the first thing that she was going to do if she ever got out was to kill Roy Beene."

That case demonstrated Beene's knack for turning a phrase. Clifford Irving, in his book Daddy's Girl about Ray, gave Beene's summary for West's devotion and allure to Ray: "One of the strongest fibers in the world is a cunt hair."

Beene relished the nature of shock, getting attention through inappropriate remarks. But his housekeeping was also cause for alarm.

Garbage would pile up for days after Beene moved into Ray's old house in a neighborhood near Westheimer and Shepherd. His car was even worse: Half-eaten hamburgers rotted on the floor next to sheaves of legal papers. Beene even bragged that a rat made its home in the old Chevrolet, sharing the lawyer's cast-off food.

With suspect sanitary practices, a sour outlook and the apparent goal of grossing out those he met, Beene would hardly seem to be on anybody's social list. Yet the attorney had an uncanny knack for charming others with his refreshing bluntness.

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Steven Long