Houston Oilman Hal Kuntz Commits Suicide in Penthouse

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A prominent Houston oilman committed suicide in his River Oaks penthouse last month, officials confirmed this week.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office confirms that Hal G. Kuntz died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on August 18. Houston police officers who responded to a call for shots fired at Kuntz's Royalton at River Oaks penthouse, located off Allen Parkway, at around 3:30 p.m. found the 76 year old on his patio with a pistol nearby, according to a department spokesman.

"Witnesses told us that he apparently had been in some pain, some chronic pain, and was also having medical issues," said HPD spokesman John Cannon.

According to an obituary that ran in the Houston Chronicle last Sunday, which states that Kuntz "passed away from natural causes," Kuntz joined Mobil Oil as a geophysicist before starting his own oil and gas exploration company in the 1970s. Court documents listed Kuntz as a minority owner and general manager of CLK, a geological consulting firm, before he retired from the business.

The multimillion dollar fortune Kuntz amassed from his oil and gas holdings became a focal point of his decade-long court battle with ex-wife Vesta Frommer, whom he divorced in 1999. The protracted legal fight with Frommer, which made it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court in 2003, even managed to change court discovery rules in Texas.

Since Kuntz's divorce had granted his ex-wife a 25 percent share of royalties from his oil and gas holdings, Frommer asked for documents related to any of Kuntz's royalty interests obtained during their 15-year marriage. Kuntz instead argued that he only had access to the documents, not possession, custody, or control of the records, and therefore couldn't turn them over. While a trial court ordered Kuntz to turn over documents that proved what, exactly, his royalty oil and gas interests were, the Texas Supreme Court overturned the order and sided with Kuntz - giving new meaning to what it means to "possess" or "control" documents, and whether those documents are subject to discovery in court.

Longtime Houston Press readers might remember Kuntz's messy divorce for another reason: the drawn-out divorce proceedings laid bare some of the bizarre behavior surrounding Kuntz and his girlfriend-turned-wife, Annette Galik, then a Harris County Family Court Judge. As Tim Fleck wrote in 2002 ("Judge Love Strikes Again"), Kuntz's ex-wife alleged that during their nine-year-old daughter's overnight stays at Kuntz's multimillion dollar River Oaks mansion, Kuntz hosted as many as three different women and allowed the girl access to an unlocked gun room. During the court proceedings, one of the girl's teachers claimed Kuntz showed up drunk at her piano recital (at one point, walking up to a chalkboard and scrawling "naughty" while the girl was performing). Frommer also claimed Kuntz tried to use his judge/girlfriend Galik to threaten her ("You're in contempt," he allegedly said).

The claims were serious enough to get a Harris County family court judge to issue a restraining order barring Galik - then a fellow Harris County family court judge - from staying overnight at her oilman boyfriend's mansion whenever his daughter was visiting.

Court records show Kuntz and Galik, who eventually married, bought their roof-top Royalton penthouse in 2006 for $1.9 million. Kuntz and his wife had been fighting a lawsuit by the Royalton homeowners association claiming they badly damaged the high-rise's roof when they installed a deck last year. Kuntz and his wife filed documents arguing they weren't at fault on August 18, the day of Kuntz's death. The case was set for a court hearing later this month.

We've reached out to Kuntz's family for any comment on his suicide, and will update this post if we hear anything. Kuntz served as a board member for numerous oil industry organizations, two banks, and the Houston Grand Opera. His obituary published in the Chron asks that donations be made to the Hal G. Kuntz Memorial Fund, which will provide scholarships through the American Festival for the Arts.

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