Update: Read Part 2 of this series, Friends With Benefits.
To Jennifer Estopinal, something was troubling about her dad Kenneth Jackson's mysterious new friend: a man who called himself "Dennis Shaw."
Estopinal, a vivacious, youthful-looking 48-year-old brunette, says she first heard Jackson mention Shaw in June of 2009, and by the next month, his name was coming up in every conversation. And as a matter of fact, her father told her that he had actually first met Shaw 20 years before, when Shaw would stop and talk with him while Jackson was out checking on his Montrose rental properties. For all those years, the two had been passing acquaintances, but now that Jackson was ailing — he was bed-ridden after suffering a hip injury — the two were becoming inseparable.
According to Jackson, a then-89-year-old retired FBI agent who once worked on the JFK assassination, Shaw was an amazing man. The son of a London-bred half-Indian father and an Englishwoman, Shaw claimed to have grown up on Inwood Street in the heart of River Oaks. The slightly chubby, suave, olive-skinned Shaw also said that he had packed a ton of action into his forty-odd years on the planet. He'd been in the CIA, he said, and he'd graduated from Rice and Harvard Law School. His net worth was approximately $75 million, he said, and he owned both a plane and a yacht.
Estopinal says that Shaw told her father that he spent most of his time in New York, where he had a stunning and successful girlfriend named Deborah and a high-flying career as a corporate attorney. (He claimed to be licensed to practice law in both Texas and New York.) At the moment, Shaw told Jackson, he was back in Houston to tend to the estate of his late father.
"My dad was kinda laughing about it," Estopinal remembers. "He said, 'If this guy is only half of what he says he is, he's something else. But it all seems a bit much.'"
A couple of weeks passed. Estopinal never saw Shaw, but her dad was still talking about him all the time. "Why don't I ever see this guy?" she asked her dad. "Why does he only come by when I'm not here?"
"Yeah, that is kind of strange," her dad said. "He does always come by really late."
Despite her misgivings, Jackson and Shaw continued visiting regularly at Jackson's home on Greenbriar near the Texas Medical Center. Estopinal says that one day Shaw made her dad an offer: While he was in town, Shaw said, he would be more than happy to help Jackson prepare a new version of his will. He would provide this service at no charge, so long as he — Shaw — could be the executor. He would do this, he said, because they were such good friends.
Not coincidentally, Shaw had also become fast friends with Jackson's long-estranged wife Virginia Anne "Ginger" Jackson. At 62, she was 27 years her husband's junior, and according to the divorce petition Kenneth Jackson would file the following year, though they had been married since 1972, the couple had been living separate lives under the same roof since roughly 1995. (Kenneth Jackson would withdraw the divorce petition two days before his death in 2010.)
Though Jackson was a lifelong night owl, Ginger Jackson and Shaw stayed up even later.
"He would hang out with her until 2:30, three in the morning," Estopinal says. "She would come upstairs and take a shower and he would question her and she would say they were just talking and having something to drink. He was working on Ginger. He knew she was more malleable, easily influenced. My dad had his wits about him. He [Shaw] worked on her big-time and she was the one who gave him the money."
Police would later say that Ginger Jackson agreed to give Shaw an amount between $4,000 and $10,000. "The purpose of the money...one thing was said and then another," Estopinal remembers. "[Ginger Jackson] told the police that the money was given to a lawyer to secure her financial future."
(Ginger Jackson was never implicated in any wrongdoing. Indeed, police would later describe her as a pawn rather than a wrongdoer.)
Strange as all that was, Estopinal's sense of alarm grew exponentially after she finally met Shaw at a doctor's appointment he had helped arrange for her father. She started Googling "Dennis Shaw" and came up with little. Thinking he looked Indian, she "Indianized" his name to Dinesh Shah. Since that's a common name, she had to wade through thousands of hits before she found one on a law Web site that chilled her to the bone.
Along with a friend named David Collie, a Dinesh Shah seized control of the entire life of Joan Blaffer Johnson, a River Oaks heiress to a huge ExxonMobil fortune. This Shah had moved in with the woman — a granddaughter of Robert Lee Blaffer, a co-founder of Exxon forerunner Humble Oil — and lived with her for years. He even acted as a quasi-father figure to her children. The arrangement came to a horrifying end.