The Houston Police Department opened its new police headquarters at 61 Riesner Street in 1952. The relief on the right corner of the building has the words “Order Through Law” and “Justice With Mercy.” Both phrases being equal in importance are at the same level and positioned at the base of the relief.
Long retired from HPD, I now practice law in Houston. Recently, I received an email from a lady thanking me for investigating a missing person in 1980. During that investigation the email sender was a newborn infant and the missing person was her father. She only knew me from stories she had heard about me.
This particular investigation entailed accusations of a public corruption scheme and, like so many HPD investigations, dovetailed into an unsolved missing person case and even the sale of an infant girl to one of the central figures in the crime scenario.
To get to a major point of this story, the woman who asked me for the details of the investigation was the little girl involved in that sale about 35 years ago. Her father was the “missing person” in our rather complex case.
‘Slip and Fall’ Scheme
Today, since her father was never found, she needed to hear about our investigation from one of the actual investigators.
When she introduced herself, it started a flood of memories about a very unusual investigation that began when a young lady came forward and reported the Magnolia assistant police chief’s involvement in an organized fraud scheme. She also claimed a Harris County Precinct 1 deputy constable, a lawyer, a doctor and members of an insurance company were also involved.
During this time period, I was working with HPD Detective Jerry Carpenter, in the Harris County District Attorney’s Special Crimes Bureau and part of our responsibilities included the investigation of public corruption.
After hearing the informant’s allegations, I arranged to meet with her and opened an investigative file regarding possible public corruption.
The informant told me how the scheme worked: the insurance company’s president supplied the assistant chief and the deputy constable a list of insured companies. Job applicants applied to the listed companies and, if they were hired, they staged what they called a “slip and fall.” The employee then filed a workman’s comp claim and went to the doctor and lawyer who were involved in the fraud.
The claim was quickly settled for maximum coverage after the doctor certified the employee was almost totally disabled.
The deputy constable served subpoenas and other paperwork for the fraudulent lawsuits and acted as an enforcer for other illegal activities. The person who “slipped and fell” received only a fraction of the settlement and made additional money by getting other people involved in the scheme.
The young lady who came forward was involved in one of the schemes. She also referred her girlfriend and the girlfriend was involved in an ongoing scheme.
At the time the informant contacted us, the assistant police chief and the deputy constable were pressuring her and her friend to “entertain” insurance executives, investigators and other influential men who could be helpful in settling insurance claims. Basically, they wanted them to have sex with these men, which would place the men in compromising positions.
The informant and her friend feared both men because of their law enforcement positions and didn’t know what to do. One of their friends had crossed these lawmen and he was now missing. They believed the assistant chief was responsible for having their missing friend killed. Because law enforcement was involved, the informant was reluctant to have any further involvement in the scheme.
However, she was being pressured to be involved in prostitution and she wanted no part of it. We brought in Mike Liles, a Baytown police officer, to act as her boyfriend and to protect her.
Mike worked out of the Harris County Organized Crimes Unit and had identification that could stand up under law enforcement scrutiny. The informant introduced Mike as her boyfriend Jimmy Wilburn and told them he just moved to Houston and needed money. She asked if he could work with them in the “slip and fall” scheme and the assistant police chief promptly agreed.
He paid her $300 for recruiting another member into the group and the assistant police chief provided Mike with a list of insured employers and told him to start applying for a job with the companies on the list.
Builders Supply was on the list, so Jerry and I met with the company executives seeking their help in our investigation. They were unhappy learning about all the fake claims with large settlements. These false claims significantly raised their insurance rates and it appeared someone in their company might also be involved.
Since we didn’t know any specifics about such allegations, we only worked with the two company executives. They arranged to have employment records reflect that Jimmy Wilburn was an employee injured his first day on the job.
After these false employment records were established, Mike met with the assistant police chief, who sent him to see the lawyer. In the lawyer’s office, Mike filled out paper work and was sent to the doctor’s office. There he only saw the nurse and filled out more paperwork.
We later learned the doctor’s report showed the doctor examined Mike and found him to be totally disabled. The insurance company settled the claim and the assistant police paid Mike $500.
Several prosecutors worked with us in Special Crimes and Assistant District Attorney Bill Eggleston was assigned to take the prosecutorial lead in this case. Bill presented the investigation to a Harris County grand jury and the grand jurors returned sealed indictments against the members of the fraudulent scheme on May 30, 1980.
We felt it important to serve all the warrants at the same time to keep the suspects from destroying files. Several law enforcement officers met in Special Crimes and we went out to arrest our indicted targets.
The assistant police chief learned of the arrests and had a massive heart attack, making it impossible to arrest him or to talk to him about the missing person.
The deputy constable asked for a lawyer and would not talk.
Mercy Bears Fruit
Soon after the arrests, the assistant police chief died and took to his grave everything he knew about buying the baby and the baby’s missing father.
After running the warrants, our investigation was now out in the open and we began interviewing suspects and gathering records involving the fraudulent claims. At the doctor’s office, we obtained Jimmy Wilburn’s ficticious medical records and one of the nurses cooperated in our investigation.
The wife of the indicted assistant police chief was a party to the purchase of the baby and that was a crime we had to deal with. We had numerous conversations about the child with Children’s Protective Services. The baby’s biological mother wanted to leave the baby with the assistant police chief’s wife. The baby had already been with her for several months and from all accounts the baby was being well cared for.
The assistant police chief’s wife had no involvement in her husband’s affairs and her only sin was not going through the proper adoption channels.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
We showed mercy toward a lady who had recently lost an abusive husband and allowed her to keep the baby she loved with all her heart and soul. More than 35 years later, I learned from this very baby, now a grown woman, that we made the right decision.
The investigation had many suspects and was very involved. The missing man’s mother had made a missing person report with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and they could find no evidence regarding his death. While interviewing members involved in the “slip and fall” scheme, we learned that Richard Allen Cain had some involvement with the assistant police chief and deputy constable. Another source told us Cain was the last person seen with the missing person.
At the time of the baby father’s disappearance, he had threatened to expose the “slip and fall” operation and the assistant police chief’s purchase of the baby. During this time Cain worked at a funeral home off the Eastex Freeway and there was a theory that he lured the missing person to the funeral home, shot him and got rid of the body in the crematory.
Unfortunately, witnesses only offered speculation and we needed to talk with Cain about what we were hearing.
While looking for Cain, we learned he was in jail in El Paso. Jerry and I contacted the authorities who promised to hold him until we arrived. We boarded the quickest flight we could get to El Paso. One there we found that Cain would only admit to knowing the missing man and tried to shift any suspicion regarding his disappearance to the dead assistant police chief.
Although Cain was willing to talk with us, we got no useful information regarding the missing person. However, during our conversation with him Cain made several mentions of women he had been with in Houston. He bragged how women found him to be irresistible and his conversation convinced us he was a sexual predator. We felt confident we would find cases on him when we returned to Houston.
Once back home we found where Cain abducted an airline stewardess at gun point and sexually assaulted her. He had told her he worked at a funeral home and could easily dispose of her body if she did not do what he said.
The victim identified Cain as her attacker and he was charged on Nov. 10, 1980 with Aggravated Rape. On Dec. 16, a jury convicted him and sentenced him to serve 60 years in prison. Texas prison records show he is still in prison.
From our investigation Jerry and I felt certain Cain had killed the baby’s father and disposed of the body at the funeral home. No matter how hard we worked, we found no proof or witnesses to support our suspicions. We were both glad Cain was off the streets of Houston but were disappointed we could not give closure to the missing man’s family.
The lady who contacted me had learned most of the details of our investigation from talking to family and friends of her missing father. Today, she is still haunted by the uncertainty of what happened to her father back in 1980.
The missing man’s mother has passed away, not knowing for certain what happened to her son.
During my career with the Houston Police Department, I spent many hours enforcing the law, keeping order and seeking justice for victims of crime.
I believed in justice with mercy but didn’t fully understand its importance until my later years.