Throughout the 1980s, McNutt threw himself into Republican Party politics, serving as chairman of the 1980 Navarro County Reagan-Bush campaign. And politics led him to the woman who would become his first wife, 22-year-old Alicia Nygaard. Nygaard’s father, Max, was a major player in Republican circles. The Nygaards regularly hosted President Ronald Reagan and his family when they would visit, and they counted conservative icons like the late Lyn Nofziger as intimates. Michael Reagan and Alicia Nygaard were very close and went to Arizona State University together.
McNutt started courting Nygaard after her society debut in 1983. He asked if she wanted to attend the 1984 Republican Convention at the Dallas Convention Center, where Reagan was nominated for a second term. He had tickets. “But she knew that he knew she had a standing invitation to the presidential box instead of just the open admission tickets he had,” a Nygaard family friend says. “He was networking as much as he was asking her out.”
If Alicia Nygaard knew, she didn’t mind, and friends say she was swept away by McNutt’s kindness and thoughtfulness. “He has a way of winning people over,” the Nygaard family friend says. “He’s very charming at first. People like that are. He wanted to pray on the first date.”
The courting in 1984 led to a lavish wedding in April 1986, which in turn led McNutt to a job working for the Reagan-Bush transition team in Washington, D.C. Friends say that it wasn’t long after the wedding that Nygaard started seeing past the face McNutt showed to the world.
“She saw his confrontations with his father over how he embarrassed the family with things he did, and how they couldn’t keep covering up for him,” Smith says.
Brother Bob McNutt—who took the reins of Collin Street Bakery when Bill McNutt Jr. retired in 1998—says that he was never privy to any confrontations or interventions between his father and brother. “I wasn’t called into the room to say, ‘Here, your brother needs—’ I don’t know what,” Bob says.
In 1987, McNutt began working in the Reagan administration’s Office of Management and Budget in Washington, which reports to the White House and, in a broad sense, is part of it. There he handled privatization issues. “Bill is one of the best networkers that I have ever known,” says a former colleague who is now an oil executive in Houston who declined to be named. “He made a lot of friends in a very short time. Bill was introduced to me by a mutual friend from Dallas. Early in 1988, he left to join the Bush for President campaign staff, which I believe was his main goal in going to Washington. Bill was considered hardworking and innovative, and he was especially computer savvy, which was not so common 20 years ago. Like many on the transition team, after President Bush took office, he was appointed to a position in the Bush administration.”
McNutt’s career in Washington was a success. But his personal life was in shambles and deteriorating quickly. A source close to the couple at the time says McNutt would obsess about other women, following them around. In one case, the source says, McNutt was so taken with a woman at an event that he tried to take her picture while she was using the toilet.
“He followed her into the bathroom,” the source says. “Her brother was there and nearly got into a fight with Bill.”
But McNutt’s lawyer, Hank Judin, describes it much differently. “This question is laughable,” Judin writes in an e-mail. “This is the case where, because the lines for the ladies room were long at a public event, a young man brought his sister into the men’s room. Bill and others in the crowded men’s room thought this was hilarious. When a number of them whipped out their cameras, the young man and the woman promptly departed. Someone reported the incident to the arena security forces. When they learned the man and woman had been in the men’s room, they laughed and walked off.”
Much more serious is the accusation that McNutt physically and psychologically abused his wife—alternately being cruel and remorseful. Smith describes an example of his dual nature. An argument with McNutt turned violent, and it was serious enough that his wife had to go to the hospital—though her own priest told her not to report the incident because, the priest said, she couldn’t save the marriage if her husband was in jail. When she came home, McNutt was on his knees, weeping and begging for forgiveness.
McNutt responded to Smith’s allegation himself, writing, “The last question is outrageous and untrue. It doesn’t deserve to be dignified. We were divorced over 15 years ago. My ex-wife and I are both remarried.”
Two weeks after their second son was born in 1990, Alicia Nygaard McNutt left her husband in Washington, D.C. Their divorce was granted in 1994. The record is sealed. She kept their two sons away from McNutt.
Back in dallas in the late 1990s and early 2000s, McNutt, who was no longer a direct part of the family fruitcake business, tried to establish himself as a businessman. He started a direct marketing firm that he ran from home and was involved in several private equity investments and partnerships. McNutt had proven himself adept at making political connections, but he failed to do so in the private sector. Because of the nature of the investment business and the need for maintaining relationships, none of the people contacted who did business with him wanted to be named. But they weren’t shy in their criticism.
“Oh, we have no problem throwing him under the bus, but that can burn you,” says one former investment partner. “He just creeped us out. You mention Bill McNutt’s name, and people will roll their eyes and shake their head.”
McNutt eventually remarried—to Susana Rabel—in April 2006. At the ceremony, held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his groomsmen included his brother, an English lord, and Lamar Hunt Jr., among other notables. Beyond his new marriage, though, 2006 was a tumultuous year for McNutt. His father passed away at the age of 81. And his brother Bob removed him from the board of directors of Collin Street Bakery, severing all ties between Bill McNutt and the fruitcake company his father had built into a small empire.
“I just felt more comfortable, since I was going to have to move forward under my game plan, that it would be better to do that with a board that didn’t include him,” Bob McNutt says.
The next year, McNutt was among the class of 22 deacons confirmed to serve the congregation of the 4,600-member Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Deacons serve three-year terms. The membership makes recommendations, a committee nominates them from these recommendations, and then the congregation votes and elects the deacons. They are considered men of the highest spiritual character.
Again, though, McNutt appeared to have another side to his personality. While he was still basking in the embrace of Christian fellowship, a former employee, Halina Grodd, was sitting in the offices of the Highland Park Police Department, telling police how McNutt had been stalking her ever since she’d resigned in June. Grodd told Officer Joe Garber on August 20 that McNutt had been following her and making her feel threatened. He was obsessed, she told Garber, driving by her Lomo Alto Drive high-rise at all hours in his white Hummer, and calling and hanging up repeatedly. There hadn’t been violence, but McNutt could be explosive, and she didn’t know how far he might go, she told Garber. She was scared. She’d tried everything she could think of to that point, even contacting McNutt’s brother Bob, asking for his help in reigning in his older brother. She said Bob McNutt was the one who told her to report Bill McNutt to the police. Bob McNutt declined to comment on this claim.
Garber took the report, but without specific charges or evidence in hand, police could not pursue the matter until laws were broken, according to HPPD Detective Marty Nevil.
An hour later, Grodd also reported the alleged harassment, threats, and stalking to the University Park Police Department, even though none of it had occurred within the UPPD’s jurisdiction. She simply wanted a record of it within the same city where McNutt’s McFarlin Boulevard home is located.
Nothing came of the allegations. McNutt wouldn’t be so fortunate a year later.