Lindsey's Loss

Excerpts from Steven Long's new book, Out of Control, on the Clara Harris murder case (St. Martin's Press, $6.99)

Lindsey Harris and her father were at home alone when Clara Harris arrived that night. David was playing the new $90,000 grand piano that had been installed in the music room. Their Friendswood mansion boasted two other pianos, a set of drums and David's gym.

Lindsey loved to hear him play, and her father's love for music had been passed on to her as well. She was an above-average violinist, good to the point that her music competed with her duties as a high school cheerleader back home in Columbus, Ohio, where she lived with her mom, Deborah Shank, and stepdad, Jim.

She was four years old when her parents divorced. Now, at 16, she had made Clara a large part of her life for ten years. She watched her father and his wife grow in their relationship.

"They loved each other," she remembered. "They told each other that they loved each other all the time. They got along very well."

His daughter was to be part of a dream come true for the family. David, an orthodontist, and Clara, a Colombian-born dentist, had been establishing a dental empire in their corner of the world. Owners of a handful of dental offices, the two were now building what they envisioned as a one-stop dental supermarket on Clear Lake City Boulevard, the gateway to the prosperous community minutes southeast of downtown Houston. It would house not only David's orthodontic practice but dental hygiene facilities, general dentists and other peripheral specialties. David had even planned an office for Lindsey if she chose to become a dentist.

But when Lindsey arrived at the family mansion in late June for her summer stay, she noticed new friction. David had told Lindsey recently that he wasn't getting any attention at all from his wife. Before, Lindsey had felt that she was a part of the family. Now, Clara's life constantly revolved around the couple's own children, Lindsey's twin half-brothers.

On that night of July 16, 2002, the music ended when Clara came home. David followed her upstairs. His daughter heard them talking but didn't think much about it.

By the next morning, their words had become louder. Clara was confronting him about what she'd just learned: He was having an affair with Gail Bridges, a worker at one of their clinics.

"Do you love her?" Clara asked, dying inside.

"I don't know," David answered, less than honestly.

"I started to shake," Clara remembered. "I cried, and he tried to hold me. I didn't want him to touch me."

David grabbed Clara's arms and told her, "I'll do anything not to get a divorce."

Clara went downstairs where Lindsey was making breakfast. "I already know," she told her stepmother. "Everybody in the office knows."

"I felt really bad for her," Lindsey remembered.

Clara ran upstairs and slapped her husband on the face.

David grabbed her arm with the strength of an athlete and threw her down. Lindsey heard the fighting and dashed up to their room.

"What are you doing to her, Dad? She just found out. What are you doing?"

David Harris sneered at his wife and daughter. "You two are perfect," he said. "I am leaving. You will never see me again."

In a week that would be true, in ways none of them imagined at the time. What began as a domestic rift behind closed doors would rip into national headlines. And at the core of it would be a naive teenager witnessing a sudden, violent death.

When Lindsey arrived at the dental office in June, she met Gail Bridges and liked her instantly.

"I thought she was really nice and really pretty," she recalled about her father's receptionist. "She was petite and bubbly. Her hair was perfectly in place, and her nails were done."

Lindsey's first recollection of anything going on between her father and Gail occurred when she "saw him put his hand on her leg," she said. "At the time I didn't think anything of it." As she saw David and the woman more each day, she realized that the relationship between them went beyond the way a professional treats an employee.

In the close quarters of the dental office, David's daughter took everything in. One day, when David dropped a patient file, she saw Gail bend over to pick it up, not at the knees, but at the waist. Moreover, when she bent over, her bottom was turned provocatively to face David, who was sitting close by.

"I was really confused, he wasn't like that," Lindsey said. "Gail was the aggressor."

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steven Long