Read Luggage By Kroger: A True Crime Memoir Online
Authors: Gary Taylor
Tags: #crime, #dallas, #femme fatale, #houston, #journalism, #law, #lawyers, #legal thriller, #memoir, #mental illness, #murder, #mystery, #noir, #stalkers, #suicide, #suspense, #texas, #true crime, #women
"Strong?" she asked, obviously a
"Jim Strong," he continued, adding
with a laugh, "It's my name." Introduction complete, Jim turned to
a new conversational assault on me, asking her: "Is Taylor making
you bored? I came to tell him he's late for the Herpes Help
meeting. But don't let that scare you away."
"Let me guess," she said, ignoring
his inference that I might have Herpes, and she should find a new
date. "You're another one, aren't you?"
"Another reporter?" Jim asked
providing clarification. "You have a nose for shit, don't you?
Smell us a mile away? But you're right. I do radio
Suddenly Catherine stepped back and
looked at both of us. Then she said, "Say, wouldn't you guys like
to see James's house? Can I give you a tour?"
"Can't wait," said
She turned then and led us around
the living area, into a side room, and up a flight of stairs. She
opened the door at the top, and the three of us entered James's
bedroom. We started walking in different directions looking at his
stuff. Catherine rifled through one of his dresser drawers and
grabbed a pair of underpants. Clenching her fist, she shoved it
inside and jammed it against the crotch.
"The host with the most," she
giggled, stretching the shorts like they had a massive erection and
mimicking a ring master at the circus. "Yes, folks, our James is
"Uninhibited little gal, aren't
you?" I said, while I watched Strong pawing through James's closet,
pulling out a pair of trousers.
"Must be his cheap scotch," she
mumbled, tossing the shorts on his king-sized bed while rooting
through more stuff in the dresser. "Now he can tell all his friends
I've been in his drawers."
I spied a large Bible on an antique
lectern he had placed at the foot of his bed. In the living room it
would have been an intriguing conversation piece. Up here, however,
it seemed out of place. I imagined him reading the scriptures
before hopping into the sack with some prostitute. I turned the
pages and found the section where God turns Lott's wife into a
block of salt. When I started to read out loud, Catherine and
Strong hopped on his bed and lay next to each other listening
pensively. Then I could hear her mumbling only half to
"What's the matter with me?" she
was asking. "I don't know what I am doing. Where is the payoff on
this? These guys have nothing."
I stopped reading and asked, "You
Before she could answer, a small, secret side
door burst open and James stormed into the room.
"What the fuck is going on in
here?" he yelled, as Strong and Catherine just continued to lay on
the bed. Catherine started laughing and slowly stood up.
"Ah, James, what's the problem? I'm
just doing my job. I thought you wanted all your friends to see
your fine new place."
I watched his mutilated shorts
slide off the bed and onto the floor as she stood up to look at
him. Strong just laid there laughing. James looked at me and I
said, "Nice Bible, James. Family heirloom or did you buy this
specially for your new townhome?"
James just scowled, looked us over,
and then stomped out through the main door to the bedroom. I looked
at Catherine and said, "What's the big deal?"
Catherine picked up his underwear and tossed
it in a wicker basket by the dresser. Still laughing, she made her
way to the door while Strong got to his feet. In the doorway she
turned and started to laugh.
"He's just pissed, I guess, because
I'm supposed to be his date for this thing. I'd better go back
downstairs and pretend to be the hostess. He's also very
sentimental about the bed. It's a five-hundred-year-old
I looked at Strong and said, "A
five-hundred-year-old bed? Think of the stories that piece of
furniture could tell. We probably should leave, huh? Seen enough of
his place? Let's find a bar."
Strong nodded and made for the
door. Catherine said, "Good idea, I'll show you guys
Downstairs Catherine asked for my phone
number. I asked for two of her cards. I used one to jot down my
office extension and handed it back. The other I dropped in my
"I'll call you some time," I said,
walking across the porch.
Just then we heard a tremendous
crash to the side of the building as James slammed a bag of empty
liquor bottles into the trash can, breaking all the glass and
mumbling something that sounded like, "Motherfuckers."
"Again I ask, What's the big deal?"
I said to Catherine. She looked to the side of the building,
started laughing, and said, "This is going to be a long weekend.
Call me some time."
Then she turned to the trash cans
and yelled, "Hey James, quit making so Goddamn much noise over
there. We were just having some fun."
I heard her cackling as she walked toward the
trash cans all set to make up with James. Then I drove away
wondering what the future might hold.
I Led Three Lives
Catherine was destined to become several
important things to me. But most prominently, she would become my
problem solver. Before I met her, I had a bunch of problems. Then,
all of sudden, with her in my life I had only one.
I didn't see her again for about
two weeks after the party while the Tedesco estate jury trial raged
in Harris County Probate Court. I wasn't covering it, and I was
busy with cases on my own beat. So I stayed away. I spent the time
self-absorbed in my personal dilemma, something I had been doing a
lot. And I thought about Herbert A. Philbrick.
For those who
don't recall, Philbrick shared his life story in the early Cold War
1950s with a tension-filled book and then a television series
I Led Three
. The stories followed his adventures
living three secret, separate lives simultaneously. To most of the
world, Philbrick was a private citizen working in a Boston
advertising agency. To the Soviets, however, he was a communist
sympathizer and spy in his own country. And, for the US government,
he was a double agent, placing himself in danger to help his nation
fight the Red menace. On one level the program thrilled viewers by
dramatizing the dangers of a regular guy acting as international
spy. On another level, however, Philbrick offered a message for
everyone, even those in more mundane walks of life. To a certain
extent, each of us lives several lives that often intersect. Some
follow more contradictory simultaneous paths than others. But each
of us must learn to balance those lives, adjusting the tempo to
make the combination a tool for growth rather than destruction. If
those paths cross and conflict, sooner or later you have to choose
one and leave the others behind.
So it was that I came to analyze my
three lives and now, years later, recognize how they worked to
first lead me into the turmoil ahead, and then, in the end, deliver
me from disaster. It's been hard for me to appreciate the story of
Catherine and me without first understanding my three lives and how
she helped to forge them into a single path. They weren't as
glamorous as Philbrick's, but each had its moments. First came my
life as a dedicated, professional journalist. Second was my life as
a responsible husband and father. And, third came my life as a
reckless, but charming, rogue. I had no regrets about any one of
them while realizing there were times when one interfered with
another. Somehow I had managed to maintain them on separate but
parallel lines for more than a decade—my entire adult life to that
date—until they led me to Catherine, and I had to choose. I enjoyed
each life in its own way and would be hard-pressed to pick one over
another. Actually, now that I think about it, the charming rogue
beats hell out of the other two. But seriously, how long can you
effectively juggle that one against anything else—unless you are a
congressman or member of the Royal Family?
Of the three lives that comprised
my existence, however, "professional journalist" dominated as the
strongest thread among three layers of twine twisted into a single
rope. That life overlapped the others and drove them along. And my
focus on the integrity of that professional life would turn out to
be my strongest weapon in the battle of wills about to ensue with
The professional emerged first and at a
surprisingly early age, spawned by ego and its inspirational
sidekick, ambition. Who can explain the roots of a work ethic?
Nature versus nurture traditionally frames the debate. Is anyone
born with a work ethic? Although I tend to doubt that, I recall
things I did as a child that would indicate I had one before I even
became aware of the concept of work or watched my old man bury
himself alive with it. In trying to understand it over the years, I
have transferred the concept to ambition, which might be a more
natural explanation of how a disposition toward success could
trigger the conclusion you must work hard to get ahead. Whatever
the explanation of the work ethic, I had it. And I harnessed it to
push forward in a career of journalism that perfectly fit my
Almost as soon as I could write at
all, I started turning that skill into story telling. I remember
writing Christmas plays in the fourth grade about Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer and then following with a historical epic
centered on a Colonial era Yankee peddler hero named Will. We
actually performed these scripts in my fourth grade class, and I
got a big kick from the attention. So it was an interest in writing
that drew me toward journalism in the beginning, but it was the
work ethic that helped me achieve it.
Looking at the genes, I now know
that my ancestry included hard workers. Poor white trash doesn't
leave much of a paper trail, but I still have found records of
some. They all trod similar paths toward the future, traveling west
into central Missouri in the 1830s from Virginia and Kentucky. My
mother's primary line, the Wrights, are traceable back to Scotland.
Meanwhile, my Taylors begin as far as I know with a man named
Joseph Taylor born in 1811 to unknowns in Madison County, Kentucky.
Before Joseph there is simply a void. But I do know he farmed land
in Missouri and worked his grandson mercilessly, according to a
diary kept by the boy, Cicero Hampton Taylor, who grew up to become
my great grandfather. Cicero lived to the age of ninety-six and did
not die until I was in my teens. I regret that I never took the
trouble to talk with him about his life when I had the opportunity.
No one ever starts caring about genealogy until all the good
sources are dead. But at least another relative shared Cicero's
diary with me as well as some observations on the son that became a
grandpa I would never know, Elsus Bower Taylor. He died of natural
causes in 1944, three years before my birth.
Folks called Elsus "Nub" because of
a dreadful accident he suffered as a child when he burned off a
hand after falling into a fireplace. But the handicap didn't stop
him from becoming well known in central Missouri for his skills at
breaking mules. He also earned a reputation as a hard-drinking
scoundrel. My dad used to joke about their practice of moving every
year to a new farm space and talked about times when they were so
poor he couldn't have shoes. The Great Depression hit them hard,
and my father, Dale Kempster Taylor, escaped by lying about his age
to join Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. He
returned to the farm in the late 1930s determined to make something
more of himself. He met my mom, who came from more stable farming
stock, and they moved to the nearest big city of St. Louis about
the time World War II began.
A CCC-related hernia kept my dad
out of the service until near the end of the war when he
volunteered and accepted an assignment guarding prisoners in
Washington State. For some reason only Dale could fathom, he
decided to leave the exciting Pacific Northwest after the war and
return to grungy old St. Louis to seek his fortune and provide me a
place of birth in 1947. Armed only with a grade school education
and ambition, he found a job pumping gas and eventually turned that
into a prosperous life, first owning a gas station and then
launching what would become the city's largest lawnmower sales and
So it would seem that Dale's
offspring might be expected to have "worker" stamped on their
genes. That predilection received reinforcement when I learned to
accept twelve-hour workdays as the norm just from watching him
never come home. I was destined to become intricately acquainted
with those twelve-hour days in just a few years ahead, but back
then, like any other kid, I saw my old man as a hero and concluded
that twelve-hour days must be the hero's schedule. Since I, of
course, wanted to be a hero, too, I jumped into that lawnmower work
alongside him as soon as I could, joining the business as a little
gofer the summer after sixth grade at the age of twelve.
witty, my dad was more of a salesman than a mechanic and had earned
his living just after the war selling Fuller Brush products
door-to-door. My mom used to joke about his first day on that job,
when he left to sell brushes and came back with a 1948 set of
sold to him by a
prospect. Another family legend claimed he once won a bet by
successfully selling a bag of dog poop within his first dozen doors
after bragging to a rival that he could sell anything. He told me
later the buyer wanted the poop to fertilize a garden. As a
lawnmower magnate he took great pride in sometimes loading a new
lawnmower into his truck and toting it door-to-door until he could
find some homeowner cutting the grass. Then he would carry on like
a vacuum cleaner salesman, unloading the mower and cutting a
section to demonstrate the wonders of the new