How a struggle over an oil fortune made bitter enemies of lifelong friends

I AN THE BEGINNING, there was no fury and there was no hatred. There were no claims of bribery and murder, no FBI agents knocking on doors and no grand jury investigators chasing paper trails. There were no high-stakes legal contests or sordid public displays of private lives.

In the beginning, there were just friends with ambitions founded in oil. It was in the spring of 1974 when Pat S. Holloway and William W. Browning Jr. first began to talk about forming their own business. At the time, Holloway was a successful oil and gas attorney (a former associate of the prestigious firm of Thompson & Knight) with an itching to run his own oil company. Browning was a wealthy Dallas businessman, who was looking for a tax shelter -somewhere to invest the $400,000 monthly oil royalties he inherited from his grandmother’s interests in the East Texas Slaughter oil field.

Even before their talks about getting into the oil exploration business, Holloway had been a trusted Browning family friend and confidant for years; he had acted as the family’s investment counselor and had served as an officer, director or attorney of “virtually every closely held corporation” in which the Brownings had an interest. The Browning family interests included more than $11 million worth of real estate and gas and oil interests in Texas and six other states; a $1.8 million stock and bond portfolio that contained holdings in 40 corporations, ranging from Mobil Oil to McDonald’s; and a sole or majority ownership of several Dallas businesses, including Precision Motors, SRO Clothing Co., Inc. and Piper Southwest Inc. (an aircraft distributing company).

If the two seemed ideal business partners -Holloway possessing the oil business acumen and Browning the capital-they were also two men who, having known each other since their school days at Texas Country Day School (the predecessor of St. Mark’s in Dallas) and Yale University. understood each other’s roguish lifestyles: Holloway, who ran away from home at age 14 to work in the California orange groves, was a bright, streetwise man whose leisure time was consumed with women, drinking and “having a good time”; similarly. Browning was an energetic, adventurous man whose passions centered on exotic cars, airplanes and women.

The two consummated their business marriage on May 31,1974, when they incorporated Humble Exploration Inc. (not to be confused with the corporate name of Exxon Oil’s predecessor). Although neither man was known for his modesty, legend has it that the two partners came up with the name one evening over drinks after deciding that the corporate name would serve as a constant reminder of the attribute of humility. Later, in December 1975, Holloway and Browning further refined their business agreement and set up the Browning’s Children Trust, which would not only guarantee that Browning’s five children would share one day in Humble’s profits, but which would also act as another family tax shelter. Browning’s choices as co-trustees of the newly formed trust were Holloway and Michael Starnes, a one-time SMU theology student who was Browning’s business manager and a Humble vice president. The choice, at the time, seemed natural, since Browning regarded both men highly for their integrity and business judgment.

Like any modest business venture, Humble’s growth was gradual. It was in 1976 that Holloway made the two hires that later proved to be the most significant: consulting geologist Ray Holifield, the man with the genius for finding oil; and a Giddings resident named Bennie Jaehne, a good old farm boy who became Humble’s landman because of his flair for acquiring oil and gas leases. Holloway and Holifield chose a new oil frontier known as the Austin Chalk Trend in which to seek their fortunes. It is a field that stretches generally northeast and southwest from the town of Giddings, roughly 50 miles due east of Austin. By 1977, through the shrewd work of Holloway and landman Jaehne, Humble had several oil and gas leases in Lee, Washington, Fayette, Gonzales, Caldwell, Burleson and Bastrop counties and had begun the hit-or-miss task of drilling the wells.

But while Holloway was in hot pursuit of oil on the Austin Chalk, Browning died of a heart attack while jogging in the mountains near Rociada, New Mexico, on September 11, 1976. Theoretically, the death of Hollo-way’s 46-year-old business partner should have had no bearing on Humble’s operation, since Holloway would now only be investing funds from the children’s trust and returning the profits to the trust rather than to Browning. The Browning family profits would be shared among Browning’s 45-year-old widow, Jane Holland Browning, and his five children, Kathy Browning Cook, 22; Averille Browning, 21; William W. Browning III, 19; Fallon Browning, 17; and Robert H. Browning, 12. But as it turned out, Browning’s death would precipitate one of Texas’ ugliest and longest oil feuds. By 1979, the battle for control of Humble Exploration Inc. would spill into both the federal and state courts.

BROWNING NEVER lived to see Humble prosper. It wasn’t until a year after his death that the gambles, which began in the gentle rolling hills and live oak trees along Texas Farm Road 141 just north of Giddings really paid off. Just before Christmas 1977, the Elder Burttschell No. 1 erupted Hollywood style, spewing honey-colored oil toward the skies over Lee County. It was a sight that sent chills of delight down Holloway’s spine; it was a promising find that would mark the beginning of a success story on the Austin Chalk and make Hollo-way and Holifield not only millionaires, but legends of new oil folklore. Although Hol-loway wasn’t the first to hit on the Austin Chalk, he’s generally regarded as one of the most financially successful.

During the next two years, Holloway molded Humble into a financially healthy oil and gas exploration concern. By the end of 1979, Humble was participating in eight major prospects-large tracts of land, each generally 6,000 to 10,000 net acres of oil and gas properties. In all, the company owned interests in 71 completed wells and nine wells in progress. But while Humble was growing, Browning’s widow, Jane, had become suspicious of Holloway and made the first move in a legal game of chess that would continue for years.

In September 1979, Browning’s widow filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Holloway. Jane Browning alleged that he had gained control of Humble through fraudulent means and had cheated the children’s trust out of millions of dollars.

By late 1983, Browning vs. Holloway had become such a legal travesty that one federal judge described it as a “dizzying sequence of events.” Holloway, who lives on his $800,000 ranch near Giddings and shares an office with the former Lee County judge, Carey Boethel, claims he is the man who built Humble and that Mrs. Browning has entered into a “brazen conspiracy” to take control of the company that is rightfully his. Although he has been temporarily removed as an officer and member of Humble’s board of directors. Holloway has made it clear that he intends to run the company again. Even after five years of courtroom dog-fights, neither Jane Browning nor Holloway is willing to concede defeat, and there seems to be no end in sight.

Neither Holloway nor Mrs. Browning will discuss the legal case or their personal lives. Friends say Mrs. Browning remains very socially prominent, but at the same time has become a very private lady who fears for the safety of her children and grandchildren. All of her three daughters were debutantes; two are currently married and Fallon is pursuing a master’s degree. Today, Mrs. Browning’s son William is running the family car dealership and Robert is enrolled in college.

“She’s a very determined lady,” says one friend. “She feels very strongly that she should defend her children and her children’s right to what their father left them. A lot more than money is at stake here.”

Humble is currently immersed in a complex Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and both Jane Browning and Holloway continue to be locked into fierce federal and state court battles over its control. In addition, Humble’s business activities during the time Holloway was at the helm are the subject of both federal and state grand-jury investigations in Dallas. Today, the multimillion dollar oil concern is run by Don Navarro, who was named in November 1982 as the court-appointed trustee by a federal bankruptcy judge. Navarro, a former Bowie, Texas, Chevrolet dealer and one-time statistician for the U.S. Trustee’s office for the Northern District of Texas, says compromise in the emotional dispute is impossible.

Last April, U.S. bankruptcy Judge Robert C. McGuire gave a vote of confidence to Navarro, who as CEO and board chairman of Humble is paid a $120,000 annual salary. The judge refused to order his removal following a request by Holloway. “Humble is flourishing in its present environment,” McGuire ruled. “The presence of the trustee of Humble has been a valuable buffer in the tempestuous relationships between Holloway and the Browning interests, whose relationships are characterized by suspicion, total distrust and pyrrhic struggles.”

THE BEHIND-THE-SCENES power struggle for Humble began in May 1978, when Holloway, Starnes and Jane Browning met at her fashionable North Dallas home. It was during the meeting, Jane Browning charged, that Holloway bluntly informed her and Starnes that he owned 80 percent of Humble and that the Browning family had no interest in the company other than the 10 percent shown on the corporate books. “Furthermore,” Jane Browning charged, “Holloway cursed and reviled Mrs. Browning and her family for their lack of gratitude” and threatened to “destroy” her and Starnes unless the two transferred the remaining stock interest in Humble to Hollo-way. (A year later, Holloway embarked on an obvious maneuver to eliminate the Browning stock holdings in Humble. On May 16, 1979, Holloway sold all of the assets of Humble to Holloway Exploration Corp., then merged Holloway with Humble.)

When Humble incorporated in 1974, Holloway and Browning had agreed that 50 percent (or 120 shares) of the stock would be held by a mutual business acquaintance, Robert Nance, an independent consulting geologist from Billings, Montana, who had often worked for a company in which both Holloway and Browning had made investments. (One of the questions still unresolved is whether Nance held the stock for Browning or if he bought it outright.) According to the agreement, 40 percent of the stock would go to Holloway and the remaining 10 percent would be held by Starnes for Browning, since Browning had been advised by Holloway that public disclosure of his stock holdings was not desirable from a tax standpoint.

Shortly after Humble was incorporated, however, Nance advised Holloway that because of a potential conflict of interest, he could no longer hold the stock. Nance transferred his 50 percent back to Holloway. Jane Browning alleged that Nance had returned the stock to the corporation, but Holloway never showed the stock transfer on the corporate books. Holloway claims that Nance sold him his 50 percent interest; therefore, none of it rightfully belonged to the Browning interests. “It was never contemplated or agreed that William Browning would own 100 percent of the stock of Humble Exploration Co., and William Browning never owned more than 10 percent of the stock of said corporation,” Holloway claimed.

In her lawsuit, Jane Browning alleged that when her husband died in 1976, Holloway advised Starnes that potentially catastrophic tax problems to the estate could occur if all the Humble stock was shown in Browning’s name. She claims that Starnes and Holloway agreed that although the two of them technically owned Humble, the stock should ultimately benefit only the Browning family. Therefore, Holloway instructed Starnes to show on the corporate books that Nance had sold his stock to Holloway, rather than returning it to the corporation. Starnes was also instructed to issue a certificate of stock in Browning’s name, reflecting that the deceased businessman owned 10 percent of the Humble stock for estate-tax purposes and that the certificate should be dated prior to Browning’s death.

Even more serious were Jane Browning’s charges that Holloway had flatly entered into a conspiracy to “freeze out” the Browning interests from their rightful profits. She alleged that the former oil and gas attorney had personally profited from investments made with the trust’s money. The lawsuit named more than 30 specific instances in which Holloway had allegedly acted improperly. In one instance, Jane Browning charged that Holloway “converted, embezzled and misappropriated” lease acreage belonging to the trust by mortgaging 17 wells and leases (which he had passed off as his own) to a third party. She also charged that Holloway created a number of companies-including Sterling Pipeline, Austin Chalk Drilling Co., Flojo Trading Co., BP Fuel Services Inc. and Bar 7 Investments-to profit from lease acquisition, oil and gas production or related activities rightfully belonging to the Browning’s Children Trust.

Holloway denied the allegations, claiming that Jane Browning had entered into a conspiracy with Starnes to seize all the property acquired by Humble. He also claimed that Starnes, as co-trustee, had the responsibility to maintain the accounting and lease records for the trust. Holloway also says he resigned as trustee for the trust on December 31, 1978.

WHILE MRS. BROWNING was waging her offensive in the state courts, Holloway was developing a strategy to block her in the federal bankruptcy courts. In November 1979, anticipating that Mrs. Browning would be seeking a large claim against Humble, Holloway filed a motion to place Humble into voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the same time, he and his second wife, Robbie, filed for personal bankruptcy. Humble’s bankruptcy petition listed its total assets at more than $163 million with debts just under $13 million.

Ironically, both the corporate and personal bankruptcies were filed at a time when both Humble and Holloway seemed to be prospering. For instance, only a month before filing for bankruptcy, Humble had made a $200,000 down-payment on a $1.5 million 25-B Lear Jet and had projected oil and gas revenues of $735,000 for 1979. Even two years after filing for bankruptcy, there were still signs that it was business as usual at Humble. In January 1982, for example, Hol-loway was still jetting about the country on quasi-business trips with his family and charging them to Humble. One such trip, which cost $19,744.58, included visits to Austin, Nassau and Las Vegas. The expense forms indicate the leg to Las Vegas was a trip to “take State Senator whose district covers all of Giddings field area and Houston-help we need with the Highway Department regarding rig moving and gravel trucks and who also owns land, businesses and farm where we have taken leases.”

In a February 1980 deposition. Humble controller Joe Holt openly admitted the bankruptcy, absent the Browning claim, had nothing to do with Humble’s financial health:

Q. As of November 19, 1979 (the date the petition was filed) was Humble able to pay it s debts as they came due?

A. Yes, I believe so.

Q. Was it experiencing any financial difficulty?

A. No.

Q. Do you know what Humble expected to accomplish by going into a Chapter 11?

A. To the best of my knowledge, had the claims of the Brownings been allowed, then, of course, Humble would have, therefore, been insolvent taking into consideration the Browning claim.

Although financial information listed in Holloway’s personal bankruptcy petition didn’t list his income as an officer of Humble, it did indicate his income outside Humble was $169,000 in 1978 and $339,000 for the first 11 months of 1979.

Holloway continued to live well even after the bankruptcy, according to financial statements and inventory appraisals created when Robbie Holloway filed for divorce in October 1980. Holloway and Robbie owned three Cadillacs, a Mercedes 450 SL, a Lincoln, a ski boat, a 10-carat diamond and 150 head of cattle. The Holloways’ real-estate holdings included a $1.3 million home in Preston Trails, an 805-acre ranch near Giddings valued at $805,000, a $237.000 condo at Matagordo Bay and one third interest in a 103-acre pecan farm located in Lee and Washington Counties. The two also had an extensive stock portfolio, an estimated $335,000 worth of oil and gas mineral interests and interests in dozens of wells (a 1981 income tax return for Holloway and his third wife, Brenda, listed a net royalty income of more than $1 million) and 2,685 shares of the now-defunct Abilene National Bank.

The bankruptcy petition proved an effective strategy for Holloway. Not only did it complicate the legal issues, but it delayed Jane Browning’s offensive in the state courts. Even though Jane Browning filed her original lawsuit in late 1979, it wasn’t until the summer of 1982 that she and Holloway faced off in court. After several unsuccessful attempts at settlements, the lawsuit was transferred to Judge Dee Brown Walker’s that July. For more than seven weeks, Jane Browning and Holloway dragged each other through the dirt, mustering every ounce of legal fight they had.

Shortly before the trial began. Walker had consolidated another lawsuit with Jane Browning, filed by a group of investors for which Humble operated 188 wells The investors, who were collectively referred to as the American Petroleum Partners but who entered the lawsuit as Fairway Land Co et al., were ired over Holloway’s decision to “shut in” or cease production of 155 wells in May 1982. Holloway had made the harsh decision after the investors notified him in a May 21 letter that they were revoking Humbles authority to purchase any of the oil and gas produced by the wells or sell it to another purchaser. In its lawsuit the investment group indicated the reason it revoked Humble’s authority was because it believed that Humble, which was instructing buyers to pay it directly, was not forwarding the investors their share of the profits.

On May 28, shortly after Walker gained jurisdiction in the lawsuit, he approved a request by Jane Browning’s attorneys to appoint a receiver to take control of Humble’s assets. In addition, Walker ordered armed guards posted on a 24-hour basis at Humble’s headquarters which are located in an office building on Dallas Parkway The shotgun-toting security men would remain on duty until the following November to ensure that documents would not be tampered with or removed from Humble offices while a court-appointed accountant poured over the records for receiver John Wright a Grand Prairie attorney who was a former state legislator.

AS IF THE stakes in the Holloway-Brown-ing dual weren’t high enough, the clincher came one day the following August when Jane Browning’s attorney, Jack Ayres received a chilling phone call from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The caller, an elderly lady named Betty Gardner, identified herself as Holloway’s mother-in-law. Mrs Gardner felt obligated to inform Ayres that she had overheard a conversation between her daughter and Holloway in which the two talked of murdering several individuals they considered bitter enemies. The list of intended victims, Mrs. Gardner said, not only included Ayres, but Jane Browning and Judge Walker.

Ayres. a former Richardson police officer is the type of man who might be inclined to dismiss such a phone call as a crank But he took this one seriously and immediately reported it to the Dallas office of the FBI When such circumstances arise, trained investigators like Ayres tend to worry about their future safety only when hard information warrants it. This time the information was there. Ayres knew that Holloway’s third wife, the former Brenda Mohammadi-Manizani, had recently completed a sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Worth for her admitted involvement in a conspiracy to dynamite an automobile. Ayres was also privy to information, which suggested that Holloway, although a brilliant and sophisticated businessman, also possessed a dark side. Not only had Holloway had his share of run-ins with the police as a youth, but was known to have resorted to physical violence on more recent occasions. For example, Robbie Holloway testified in divorce proceedings that on one occasion her ex-husband hit her so hard he broke her nose, requiring plastic surgery.

As it turned out, FBI agents were never able to prove or disprove Mrs. Gardner’s allegations. Her phone call was untimely, since it occurred near the conclusion of the lengthy trial in Walker’s court. Now, as the jury considered the voluminous evidence, plainclothes Dallas County Sheriffs deputies sat quietly on courtroom benches with their eyes trained on spectators. After a jury foreman read a verdict awarding Jane Browning and the children’s trust a S72 million judgment, the entire Browning family was whisked from the courtroom by sheriffs deputies. Judge Walker, who refused police protection, did allow his bailiff to follow him to and from work for a few days. Fearing a possible mistrial, the FBI intentionally delayed investigating Mrs. Gardner’s phone call. After the trial, Iowa federal agents interviewed her but concluded that her story could not be corroborated. Ironically, the FBI never interviewed Holloway or his wife.

The August 26, 1982, jury decision in favor of Jane Browning resulted in a harsh verdict against Holloway. Ruling on 89 special issues, the jury concluded that Holloway had violated his obligation to Bill Browning and had defrauded him in connection with [the issuance or acquistion of] shares of Humble stock issued in the name of Robert Nance. The jury also decided that Holloway had “formed and carried out” a conspiracy to convert oil, gas and mineral interests belonging to the Browning’s Children Trusts to his own use and had failed to ensure that funds owned by the trust were separately designated and distinctly identified as property of the Browning interests- that he had “co-mingled trust funds with his individual funds.” Holloway. because he was a trustee for the trust, was also chided by the jury for failing to exercise “undivided loyalty” to the children’s trusts in the acquisition of oil and gas leases because he had competed with the trust by acquiring leases for the benefit of Humble Exploration.

Although the decision had the legal effect of turning control of Humble over to Jane Browning and her children, the widow soon learned that the Humble man had another card up his sleeve. As it turned out, she would never collect a penny of the $72 million judgment. More importantly, she would learn that her victory in the state court would be negated in federal court later. A state jury had ruled, but in terms of the bigger picture, the jury was still out.

HOLLOWAY STRUCK IN the courts again in November 1982-this time filing a multi-million dollar federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the Brownings and their attorneys had entered into a conspiracy to bribe Judge Walker. Listing 192 “factual allegations.” Holloway claimed that Judge Walker was a biased judge and had “committed numerous illegal acts against plaintiffs in which he was acting in a non-judicial function and capacity.”

More specifically. Holloway alleged that Judge Walker had financial relationships with the Browning family, its attorneys and other court-appointed officers and that he had held secret meetings with Jane Browning’s attorneys. Holloway further alleged that Jane Browning’s attorneys had represented Judge Walker from time to time and one of them, G.H. Kelsoe, was a one-time campaign treasurer for the judge.

Judge Walker has essentially adopted a strategy of not specifically addressing Holloway’s allegations, and has filed court briefs indicating that as a judge he has total civil immunity. However, Dallas accountant J.R. Hurt, who worked as the court receiver’s accountant, was reportedly ired by Holloway’s far-reaching allegations and has launched a counter-offensive of his own. As a portion of discovery in connection with the lawsuit, Hurt requested a series of financial documents with which he intended to em-barass Holloway.

For instance, Hurt, who has been through the Humble books, asked for copies of bank statements, deposit slips and copies of the front and back of cancelled checks from various Holloway bank accounts for the period January 1977 to December 1982.

Hurt claimed that some of the other documents and financial records he requested would show that Holloway had co-mingled the Browning’s Children Trust with those of Humble; overbilled his investors for the anticipated costs to be incurred in drilling, equipping and operating the company’s oil and gas wells; and financed the acquisition of leases on behalf of his relatives with his investors’ funds. The accountant even requested copies of Humble’s legal expenses, which he said would show that Holloway “is, at heart, still an attorney at law who still enjoys filing shotgun pleadings and enjoys litigation, regardless as to whose expense it may be.”

Attorney W.R. Sessions, another defendant in Holloway’s lawsuit, charged that the current bankruptcy court trustee running Humble accepted his appointment while still employed in the office of the United States Trustee, which Sessions said was in clear violation of federal law. Navarro denies Sessions’ allegation.

AROUND THE SAME time that Hollo-way was pressing his bribery allegations, Humble’s business affairs had become the subject of a court of inquiry in Lee County. Charles J. Sebesta Jr., district attorney for Burleson, Lee and Washington counties, claims it was in the fall of 1982 that royalty owners began complaining that Humble was not paying them their fair share of the profits for the sale of oil and gas from wells drilled on their properties. The inquiry lasted until the winter of 1983, when it was continued as a formal grand jury investigation.

Sebesta says that the grand jury probe has come to a standstill, but not because he believes Holloway hasn’t been cheating royalty owners in Lee County. “The investigation is still pending,” he says. “It’s ground to a halt simply because we don’t have the manpower to do what we need to do.” In addition to allegations that Humble wasn’t paying the royalty owners, Sebesta says the grand jury was looking into complaints that Holloway was charging off personal expenses to his business investors. “For instance, you might want to ask Mr. Holloway how he got the bulldozing done on his ranch for free?” says Sebesta.

But investigators in Lee County weren’t the only law enforcement authorities poking into the activities of Holloway and his alterego, Humble. Humble and Holloway’s associations with the now-defunct Abilene National Bank has drawn the attention of a federal task force investigating the former bank’s relationships with several independent oil companies. Last December, six Humble employees, including executive vice-president Dean A. Johnson III, were subpoenaed before a Dallas County grand jury that was investigating Humble’s business affairs. Johnson has admitted in federal bankruptcy hearings that he has retained a criminal attorney in connection with the grand jury investigation, which is being coordinated by Richard Zadina, who heads Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade’s white-collar crime unit. Sources also say that Humble has hired a criminal attorney to represent the half dozen employees who were asked to testify before the grand jury.

The Dallas County grand jury investigation has progressed at a snail’s pace. Although Zadina says the grand jury probe is still active, informed sources say it has been wrought with problems and delays. One of the more significant problems came in late May when Mike Miller, the assistant district attorney who closely supervised the investigation, resigned. Miller says he resigned for greener legal pastures, but a source claims he was becoming extremely frustrated because the grand jury had failed to indict Holloway. Zadina denies that allegation, as well as reports that the district attorney’s office has been receiving political pressure not to indict Holloway.

EVEN WHILE LAW-enforcement officials continue to quietly dig into Humble’s affairs, the battle in the courts remains as high-profile as ever. Late last year, it became clear that the trials and tribulations of Humble were a textbook case of the jurisdictional battles of federal and state courts. Last December 5, U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders voided the August 1982 jury decision in Judge Walker’s court, claiming that the case was not heard by the right judge because Humble had filed for bankruptcy three years earlier. Sanders, who made his ruling in response to a formal request by Jane Browning’s attorneys that federal trustee Navarro release Humble’s assets or pay damages to satisfy the 1982 state court jury verdict, expressed no opinion on the merits of the Browning’s claim against Humble.

Presently, Holloway and Jane Browning are engaged in cross-fire appeals of the federal and state court rulings. The state court of appeals is currently considering Hollo-way’s appeal of the $72 million judgment rendered against him in the 1982 state civil trial and Jane Browning’s attorneys have appealed Sanders’ ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Last April, a federal bankruptcy judge declined to remove Navarro as Humble’s trustee and denied Hok loway’s request to convert his personal bankruptcy from Chapter 7 back to Chapter 11.

In his first formal report to the bankruptcy court last April, Navarro painted an optimistic picture of Humble’s financial future, once it’s decided who will prevail in the power struggle. When he first took over as trustee in late 1982, Navarro said Humble was in a shambles, that employee morale was low, production was declining, the legal department was disorganized, drilling programs had come to a virtual standstill-even the board meeting minutes book was missing. He says that he hired a private investigator to look into Humble’s past activities almost immediately, but the investigator found no evidence of any “blatant fraud” by any Humble employee.

Navarro also claims that in the summer of 1983 he wanted to conduct a three-year audit of Humble, but the Browning interests opposed the idea. Earlier this year, he began an audit of the Browning’s Children Trust to determine what amount of money is owned by the Browning interests. He says that Holloway is still giving him informal input about business decisions, but that the Brownings have chosen not to communicate with him. “The fight is so emotional, I have not seen any grounds for settling it,” says Navarro. “This is one you live with day and night.”

Last year, Humble collected $30 million in revenues, and today it owns or operates more than 150 wells. Navarro is traveling around the country making business deals for Humble and the company’s employees continue to be well-paid and enjoy such amenities as free breakfasts and lunches served in the Humble offices. Things seem to be going so well that it might even be easy for those who work at Humble to forget they work in the midst of a complex bankrupcy. On the other hand, no one will be able to ignore the gloomy shadows cast by the feud- at least not until either the Humble man or the widow wins.


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