Read Wasted Online

Authors: Suzy Spencer

Tags: #True Crime, #General

Wasted (4 page)

BOOK: Wasted
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The detective glanced at his watch. It read 5:45 p.m. He knew LeBlanc had been paged by the police at 4:45 p.m. “Who with?”
“Some friends.”
“I know that not to be true.” Hunt stared J. R. Thomas straight into his eyes—blue eyes like J. R.’s momma’s. “I know she was here later than that.” His voice was deep and gravelly.
“Uh.” J. R. Thomas was scared, “Maybe she’s inside.”
“Well, let’s go look.” Detective Hunt took a step forward.
The dogs jerked on their collars. J. R. held them tightly.
“Why don’t you go put up the dogs first.”
J. R. Thomas put up the dogs. Then he said to Detective Hunt, “I’ll go get her.” He started into the house. Detective Hunt followed. J. R. glared nervously at the officer. “I said I’d get her!” The cop followed J. R. into the house anyway. “Kim!” yelled J. R. He looked up the stairs. Detective Hunt stopped in the kitchen. Deputy Nelson of the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Department and the two Travis County Sheriff’s Department deputies started up the stairs.
They found Kim LeBlanc in bed with Justin Thomas. They woke up the couple. “Downstairs,” they said to Kim.
The officers carefully watched Justin Thomas. He was hollow-cheeked and intimidating with a protruding brow that was made even more prominent by a Mohawk haircut. “Come downtown and answer some questions.”
“I ain’t going nowhere,” said Justin. “I don’t want to answer no questions.” Even though he’d lain in bed, he hadn’t slept for days. “If you ain’t got a warrant, you can’t do this.”
Kim LeBlanc reached the bottom of the stairs just as Detective Hunt started up them. He stared at the young woman. She was gaunt and frail. She wore shorts and a dark-colored tank top. Her eyebrows were perfectly plucked, but she wore not a lick of makeup.
“Are you Kim LeBlanc?” asked Detective Hunt.
“Yes,” she answered softly. She was dazed with the sleep of Valium.
“I need to talk to you about your friend Regina Hartwell, who’s missing. Would you like to come voluntarily with me down to the police station? You don’t have to. You aren’t under arrest.”
“Yes.” Her voice was still quiet, but her dazed state was moving toward detachment.
She was still dazed and detached when Deputy Nelson came down the stairs with Justin. Detective Hunt couldn’t help but stare—Thomas looked like Yul Brynner in
The King and I
, bald except for one black, top knot of hair.
“Justin Thomas,” said Nelson to Hunt.
“Is he coming downtown?” said Hunt.
“He is,” replied Nelson. “Let’s place them in separate patrol cars until we talk to them.”
Amy Seymoure and her parents moved into their comfortable home in Pasadena, Texas when she was just three years old. Not long thereafter, Mark, Toni, and Regina Hartwell moved next door. It was a 1970s, middle-class neighborhood of sidewalk-lined streets, oak trees and yards big enough for touch football.
The Hartwells’was a modest, one-story, pink, brick home with three white columns on quiet San Jacinto Drive. But the quiet outside of the house was nothing like the inside. Inside, the home was volatile. Amy sensed the explosiveness, even as a child.
She and Regina played doctor at Regina’s house. Amy, trying to be a good little play doctor, once took a Q-tip to Regina’s ear to remove a pretend blockage from it. But the little girl with child hands probed too deeply and Regina yelled.
Regina’s grandmother, who was watching the children, became furious. She ordered the two little girls onto opposite ends of the couch and then screamed at them. It was nothing like what Amy was used to. Regina’s grandmother berated the two little girls so loudly and so strongly that twenty years later, Amy still vividly remembered the scolding. It seemed irrational to her. Regina’s grandmother, Dorothy Rhoden, was harsh and stern.
Regina’s mother, Toni Hartwell, was the same, and they were equally strict on Regina. In hot, humid Texas, in a community close to the Gulf coast, little Regina wasn’t allowed to play outside in bare feet. If she did, she was disciplined. She wasn’t allowed to wear pants or shorts. Toni wanted her beautiful daughter with daddy’s cheekbones to be in a dress.
But the child Regina Hartwell was not one to be regulated. She screamed and yelled at her parents. She cursed at them, seeming to rarely ever hold anything back. She had a strong personality and fight-for-survival traits that would later be both her virtue and her death.
Regina Hartwell had had that wider-than-the-nearby-Pasadena-Freeway rebellious streak from the beginning. In kindergarten, once, she and Amy hadn’t wanted to take their scheduled naps, so they hid under a school table. Of course, they got caught. It was a scene and memory that Amy never forgot.
A little girl can cope with only so much, and eventually Regina began to mutilate herself. It started out innocently enough—she would scratch mosquito bites until they bled and scabbed over, a tendency that seemed typically childlike at the time.
But Regina picked at the scabs until they formed scars all over her legs. This picking became an obsession with her, primarily because of her mother’s overreaction to the situation. Toni Hartwell always grounded her daughter for two weeks for scratching mosquito bites. That harsh discipline for mosquito-bite scratching made little, hardheaded Regina that much more determined to scratch the bites.
When Regina Hartwell was seven years old, her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Toni was only thirty-two years old then, and her life expectancy, because of the MS, was now only 43.4 years. Months later, Toni was discharged from her $4.25 an hour job at Channel Sheet Metal.
Life wasn’t feeling so good.
Amy was back again at Regina’s. This time, Amy infuriated Toni. Mrs. Hartwell was so irate that she walked next door to the Seymoures’ and knocked on the door. Amy’s mother opened the door.
“Amy and Regina are no longer allowed to play together,” Toni Hartwell said. And she turned around and walked back into her own yard and house.
For the next six months to a year, the girls were not allowed to play together.
The two children had been playing together every day for five or more years. They had attended Children’s University Pre-School and Kindergarten together. They attended the same elementary school. They saw each other at school everyday.
But when Regina and Amy came home from school, they saw each other only from their driveways. Little Amy stood in her driveway, little Regina stood in her driveway, and they talked to each other from their concrete drives. Because of Toni Hartwell, Amy was not allowed to step a toe into the green grass of Regina’s yard. And Regina was certainly not allowed to step a toe onto the much greener grass of Amy’s yard.
“Can I have a piece of watermelon?”
Toni Hartwell looked at her daughter and grimaced. She felt like hell. The pain from her MS was torture, creeping into her body, hardening her brain tissue, hardening her spinal tissue, causing tremors, nearing her toward paralysis, destroying her life. She hurt. Horribly.
“I just want a piece of watermelon,” said Regina.
Toni didn’t want to get up. She couldn’t. It hurt.
“I want a piece of watermelon.”
Toni got up, went into the kitchen, hefted the heavy melon onto the table, ripped a knife into it as if it were a fish to be gutted, and slid the ripe fruit in front of Regina.
Regina stared from the melon to her mother, and back again.
“You wanted watermelon, you got it. Eat it. Eat it all, and don’t stop until it’s all gone.”
“But . . . ,” stammered Regina, “I just wanted one piece.”
“You don’t get up from this table until it’s all gone.”
Regina ate the melon until she passed out in the sticky, sweet, red juice of one of Texas’s best fruits.
Toni Hartwell wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t beautiful either. Regina thought her mother was gorgeous. Toni often walked around in a housecoat, with a cigarette in her hand, and her brown hair in curlers. She covered the curlers with scarves or bonnets. The bonnets had feathers on them. If she didn’t cover her hair with curlers and scarves and bonnets, she covered it with a wig. She needed glasses.
Antoinette E. Hartwell made a lasting impression.
The sweet aroma of mother mingled with the sickening scent of burning flesh. Toni Hartwell pressed her lit cigarette into her daughter’s back. The hot, ashened tobacco made a perfect circle of black around red, blood red.
Toni did it time and again until Regina’s fair-skinned back became dotted with scars, dotted like beautiful Swiss fabric.
Regina, Toni’s sweet-eyed, twelve-year-old daughter, was proud of her mother. In fact, Regina hero-worshipped her. Toni had a couple of years of community college behind her, San Jacinto Junior College. She was an expert seamstress and marksman, and she’d won contests and medals for her sewing and shooting.
Regina couldn’t get enough of her mom; they were a pair.
But her mother was busy. She had to work. It didn’t matter that Toni Hartwell had multiple sclerosis. She was a working wife and mother with her own business, cleaning airplanes. Her cleaning service wasn’t a big business, but it brought in a few extra thousand and nudged the family’s annual income into the $30,000 range. Not bad for 1982.
So, despite her ever increasing physical pain, Toni still got up and made the minimum one-hour drive from Pasadena to Houston’s giant, sea-of-concrete Intercontinental Airport.
There, Toni cleaned planes for Airesearch Aviation, a division of The Garrett Corporation, a sometime employer of her plane-mechanic husband, Mark L. Hartwell.
On April 22, 1982, while at work at Intercontinental, Toni walked out of an Airesearch personnel door that was built into a huge, sliding, metal hangar door. Just as she passed through it, another employee slid open a portion of the hangar with a tractor. He didn’t see her. He didn’t hear her. No one did. The hangar door slammed against the personnel door and snapped it shut. It snapped closed on Toni Hartwell. She was crushed to death.
She was thirty-seven years old.
At the time of her death, the whereabouts of Toni Hartwell’s father was unknown. It had been unknown since the day Toni was born, November 22, 1944 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Toni’s husband of almost fifteen years (they were married on May 20, 1967) sued Airesearch Aviation and his employer, The Garrett Corporation.
Mark Hartwell’s lawsuit stated: “Antoinette E. Hartwell was a loving wife, parent and daughter, and her services to your Plaintiffs have been lost forever. She was working and earning money to help support her family and was fully able to carry out her duties of employment and other activities and responsibilities of life provided by a wife and mother. But much more importantly, her life meant much more to her family than just her ability to help care and provide for her loved ones. The loss of inheritance of prospective accumulations is also gone.”
The lawsuit also read, “The survivors’ greatest damage and loss results from their deprivation of her comfort, care, advice, counsel, education, and loss of society. Moreover, they have suffered mental anguish.”
After Regina’s mother died, the tension and harsh discipline eased. But a new opposition arose—a tension between father and daughter. Before Toni’s death, Mark didn’t figure prominently in his daughter’s life, but now he was her sole emotional support. Mark Hartwell didn’t appear to know what to do with his only daughter or how to handle her.
Regina, lonely and yearning for a mom, recreated Toni in her mind. This Toni loved, adored, and cared for Regina with the soothing comfort of a listening friend. She was the perfect, fantasy mom. That ideal, as the years passed, became real to Regina.
Mark Hartwell, a short, heavyset man who drank and smoked like Toni, had a lot to live up to. As much as he may have wanted, as much as he may have tried, Mark Hartwell couldn’t be the father his daughter wanted or needed.
So, young Regina Hartwell began looking for love in other places. She began clinging to other girls, idolizing older girls, in a constant search of female love, tenderness, and acceptance.
In the sixth grade, Regina hero-worshipped a girl who was two years older than she. Her freshman year in high school, she worshipped a girl who was a senior. It seemed to be one girl after another. She simply wanted a mother figure.
In 1986, nearly four years after Toni Hartwell’s death, Mark Hartwell and his only natural child, Regina Stephanie Hartwell, were awarded a total of $2 million in damages. Mark received $1.6 million. Regina received $400,000.
Sixteen-year-old Regina’s $400,000 was placed in trust. Prior to age eighteen, Regina’s lawsuit money could be distributed to either Regina or her natural or legal guardian, Mark Hartwell. At age eighteen, if Regina wanted, she could receive $40,000 from her trust. If she wanted, from ages nineteen to twenty-five, she could receive varying amounts—from a low of $24,000 to a high of $42,517. The balance was to be distributed to her on her twenty-fifth birthday.
Regina Hartwell, a beautiful daughter with expressive eyes like her dad’s, with smarts, with wit, with a smile that could light up all of Houston, with a sweet, innocent look of a young Reba McEntire, but with a sad wisdom that seemed beyond her years, tried to buy the friendship of these girls with her new money.
She bought them expensive gifts, pricey purses, even foreign cars. While still in high school, Regina bought a used Mercedes convertible and gave it to a friend—the same girl who was a senior when Regina was a freshman. Hartwell did this because she couldn’t have the love of the two people she wanted most—her father and mother.
It became a pattern that she learned long, hard, and well—seek a woman you can’t have and try like the devil to buy her.
Maybe that’s what Mark Hartwell believed when Regina was sweet, sixteen years old and he bought her a beautiful, mint-condition, used Porsche 911. He drove up to Pasadena High, a giant red bow atop the silver-blue convertible, and in a community where Regina’s friends drove Buick LeSabres, Ford Thunderbirds, and Amy a Saab, Mark Hartwell presented his daughter with a $30,000 car.
“It’s yours,” he said, “under one condition—that when you start getting the money from your trust, you pay me for half of the car. $15,000.”
“Deal,” said Regina.
Maybe Mark Hartwell was just trying to buy his daughter’s love. Maybe he was trying to alleviate his guilt because of what he was about to do.
Mark Hartwell bought a new house, got married, obtained a new stepson, and took off. He gave Regina the Porsche and the modest Pasadena house, then sped to Seabrook, Texas.
Another Houston suburb, Seabrook is close to NASA, its astronauts and engineers, and the Gulf of Mexico. Seabrook is prestigious.
December 29, 1987, Mark Hartwell married Dian Frances Cantrell Swate Corley, a thrice-divorced mother of four children.
Regina was not happy. She considered the marriage a betrayal of her own mother. To others, Mark Hartwell was just trying to move on with life after a devastating loss. But Regina never forgave her father.
BOOK: Wasted
8.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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