Dead Center

Shortly after Tara Sganga met and fell in love with Shawn Roberts, she became aware of the helicopters.

She had never seen them before. Once Roberts pointed them out to her, and once she started on the crystal meth, she finally understood why Roberts had been so frightened. They hovered outside Sganga's apartment, and they followed on the freeway. Secret agents.

On Roberts's behalf, she approached strangers in public and demanded to know why they were following the couple. Roberts was mixed up with something, but whenever friends and family asked Sganga what she was talking about, she would say something like, "I can't tell you. I'm in too deep."

They met at a party at a mutual friend's house on New Year's Eve 2005. That Roberts was attracted to Sganga was no surprise. A slim, 5'2" brunette, the 31-year-old Sganga had an outgoing, vibrant personality that masked a chronic insecurity.

At some point that night, the solidly built, 6'1" Roberts found Sganga and laid down the Shawn Roberts Story: He was a hotshot criminal defense attorney. He was a protégé of the legendary Racehorse Haynes. He'd also been a successful sports agent, representing San Diego Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer. At just 35, he had a gorgeous townhome near the Galleria and a $98,000 Mercedes Roadster. He let Sganga drive it, and was nice enough not to tell her that was only because he had stopped paying the note. The creditors wanted it back, so he couldn't be seen driving it. Still, it was important he had it in his possession.

Possessions were important to Roberts, because he was wrestling with a serious drug problem, and as more money went in his arm, the possessions became fewer and fewer. He always seemed to hold onto his guns, though. He had a passion for firearms. Knives, too. On the rare occasion one of Sganga's girlfriends visited, Roberts would proudly display a knife or gun. The women weren't sure what message, if any, he was trying to send, but it gave them the chills.

Sganga's good friend Maha, who asked that her last name not be used for this story, didn't like Roberts from the start. Maha didn't like the strange calls she'd receive from Sganga, full of panic that Maha chalked up to crystal meth: "He's planning on killing me, Maha," Tara would say. Maha would just respond, "Tara, stop the drugs. You're hallucinating."

Sganga's mother and sister had bad feelings about Roberts as well, although they bit their lips at first. And that was hard to do, because sometimes Roberts would be so out of it that he would pass out during meals, face-down in his food.

Eventually, Sganga let Roberts move in. He was a wounded little bird, and Sganga was going to nurse him back to health, because that's the kind of thing she always did.

Soon, Sganga was hard to get ahold of. Her cell phone's voice mail was always full. Roberts would steal her phone and hold onto it for days, and when Sganga was finally able to call friends or family, it would be a rushed call, as if she were using a jailhouse phone. Roberts didn't want her seeing her friends. On the rare times Sganga made an appearance, her friends and family noted how gaunt she'd become. Her hair had grown brittle. She'd talk about the helicopters, or, at her worst, would say that she'd overheard Roberts on the phone, plotting her death. She told people that, scrolling through her cell phone one day, she found out Roberts had taken a picture of her while she slept and sent it to a mysterious third party.

Before Sganga met Roberts, her family and friends could never picture her coming to such an undignified end, being found in a bathtub with heroin in her system. But when they looked back on it, they wondered if, from the moment Roberts entered her life, such a thing was inevitable.

And over the next three years, other families whose loved ones entered Roberts's orbit might wonder the same thing.

The first to go was Roberts's own mother, in August 2008, 17 months after Sganga died. By this time, Roberts was living with a woman named Amanda Linscomb, whom he would marry in Las Vegas in September 2008. Roberts's mother slept on a cot in their Manvel home. Her life ended with a bullet to the brain in that home's backyard. The death was ruled a suicide. Roberts told authorities she did it right in front of him. Linscomb was allegedly inside at the time.

March 2009: A man Roberts met in rehab moved into that same home and overdosed four days later.

April 2010: Linscomb overdosed in a friend's Willis apartment, while the friend and Roberts were present. The case is still under investigation by the Texas Rangers.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow