Monday, June 17, 2024 Jun 17, 2024
90° F Dallas, TX

My Brother’s Murder

He was a victim of a random street killing. The police still have no clues. Faced with Paul’s brutal death, I had to come to terms with who he was.

Paul was so unimposing that when counselor James Anthamatten first met him at Seidler House, he handed Paul a broom and told him to start sweeping, not realizing he was a staff member. Paul went right ahead and started sweeping without a word. He had a way of being almost invisible. Though there were many photos taken at the house, he appears in none of them. He rarely spoke up in staff meetings or initiated a conversation about anything other than professional sports. He never voiced any complaints. “I used to think he wasn’t doing his damn job,” Anthamatten says about Paul’s habit of never raising his voice at any of the residents.


Paul’s affiliation with Seidler House always astounded me. He is proof that not everyone under 35 is interested only in BMWs and Gucci shoes. He doesn’t provide much support for Allan Bloom’s thesis, in The Closing of the American Mind, that his generation has no yardstick to measure right and wrong, or the claims of many others that young people are too confused—due to too much television, war, corruption, the lack of real leaders, etc.—to know what they want. He probably had more reason to rebel than anyone, but he didn’t. He did just the opposite. He really knew exactly what he wanted and achieved it, despite his handicap.

Much of this has to be attributed to his faith. Paul’s church, the Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, is something to behold. Far from the sober Methodism of Highland Park United, it boasts a congregation of 3,200 after just 11 years of pulpit-pounding sermons, teary-eyed confessions, eerie incantations in tongues, and uplifting hymns accompanied by electric guitarists, drummers, trumpeters, and a host of other musicians, including a line of young tambourinists who bounce off the balls of their feet and kick up their legs.

A recent service I attended reached a crescendo after three-and-a-half hours when the preacher enjoined his enemy: “Devil, get your hands off Dallas! Devil, get your hands off Dallas! Devil! Get your hands off Dallas! Dallas belongs to God! Dallas belongs to Jeeeesuus!” while behind the stage a 30-second shot clock—the sanctuary is apparently used for other purposes during the week—flashed 00.

Each week Paul attended two services, a Sunday school class and a prison ministry class. He sat in the same place at the back of the sanctuary (his wife Susan was in the choir). He didn’t carry on like some of his brethren, but then I wouldn’t have expected him to. It wasn’t the showiness of an Assembly of God congregation that attracted him but the intensity. A Sunday spent at Trinity was an opportunity to express his faith over and over again, to be told over and over again that the meek and the righteous will win out over evil. It was the fuel he burned those long nights in inner-city Dallas, his rod and staff, his reason for not fearing as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

And with Paul’s religion came the added satisfaction of doing something that no one in his family had done before him. Picture what it is like to have problems with writing compositions when your father translated the philosopher Althusius—without any prior study of Latin—as part of his doctoral dissertation from the University of Chicago; when your mother breezed through her Ph.D. work while raising a family; and when your two older brothers both graduated near the top of their high school classes, were top-notch swimmers, and went east to college. Only in his underachieving younger brother, me, could he find solace.

Paul tried to compensate for some of his shortcomings. At one point he became an expert on gourmet food while his brothers were still discovering TV dinners. At another, he worked on his multiplication tables so long he could crunch three-digit numbers in his head in less than a second. He was always in the middle of about four books, though I doubt he retained much of any of them.

Though he was four years my senior, Paul always followed my lead when we were kids. We both had imaginations and personalities that did not lend themselves well to the real world. With his assistance I created a pantheon of animal athletes. We would combine cartoon characters like Tom and Jerry and Daffy Duck with our stuffed animals and puppets to create two imaginary football teams. We’d act out their games in the front yard, quickly switching to conventional catch if a friend showed up. Sometimes we’d be on the same team, dodging imaginary defenders, and sometimes we would be foes. In the latter case I might be, say, Pinky Winky (a stuffed pink rabbit missing an eye) taking the snap from Gumby. I might roll out left and throw the ball (straight up in the air, of course) to Mighty Mouse. Paul might be defensive end Pokey or linebacker Daffy Duck going in for the tackle. And Paul would always let my team win.

Paul’s death has become submerged in my consciousness. It is often what I think about when I am alone.

In those days we spent a large part of our waking hours together, but by the time he died I was seeing him only once or twice a year. We would talk about the house on Cornell Avenue in Highland Park, about the Dallas Cowboys, about Seidler House, about anything. Both of us realized there was something wrong with the amount of time we spent apart, but we had changed in a lot of ways. Paul was married and religious; I was neither. Paul settled in Texas; I took off at the first opportunity and lived in Oregon, Alaska, West Africa, New York City, and now North Carolina.

Coming back to Dallas to write about Paul was a strange experience. Knowing so little about Seidler House and Trinity Church, so little about everything Paul had been doing for the last five years, I found myself interviewing people about my own brother. Talking with police and reading their reports, I was often seized with a desire to stop them in midsentence and say, “but this is Paul we’re talking about. You know, Paul.”

And then I remembered the clinical language of the police reports, and I knew that only my effort of memory would keep Paul from becoming a forgotten statistic.

Complainant Carney was alone at the time with no one near him and was bleeding profusely from the head. DFD #717 responded to the scene and transported complainant Carney to Baylor University Medical Center in critical condition.

More than a year later, the police have no witnesses. The man in the red headband has never been found. Nor has the 7-Eleven customer who described him to the clerk, who later told police.

The investigation into my brother’s death consists of little more than questioning criminals brought in from that part of town. At the time of the assault, the investigating officer also interviewed a number of past and present Seidler House staff and residents and left a number of business cards around the area. A crime stopper video has been aired several times in an attempt to bring the customer, or anyone else, forward.

At this point, no one expects the killer(s) to be caught. Too much time has passed, too little is known. In the absence of any hard evidence or a suspect, theories of why and who abound. Two of the wounds went through the skull and all the way into the brain stem, causing my father to speculate that the killer knew what he was doing and was possibly professional. His scenario has Paul being silenced for having seen something, or a victim of mistaken identity.

Doug Denton, the director of Homeward Bound, which oversees Seidler House, suggests that Paul may have simply wandered into something on a rainy night when it was difficult to see. Several people think that it could only have been someone so full of drugs or so deranged that he had absolutely no conception of what he was doing.

The most intriguing theory I heard involved a particular former resident who was terminated from Seidler House after violating curfew, being absent without permission, and arriving at the house drunk. His probation was revoked after Denton testified to such in a hearing in 1986. He was described to me as dangerous, unstable, and psychologically “not all there.” The police took him in and questioned him, along with one other former resident, but did not find enough to charge him with anything. There was no evidence whatsoever tying him to the crime scene, police say.

I guess I like this theory because it comes with a much more plausible motive, one that makes sense and makes Paul’s death more than a freak accident or a random occurrence. That person could have felt some need to take vengeance against Seidler House and found Paul easy prey; Paul, walking up the street one night thinking everyone was or could be as good as he. But it’s only a theory, a far cry from an explanation.

Paul’s death has become submerged in my consciousness. It is often what I think about when I am alone. It overtakes me sometimes in midconversation, leaving me silent and staring blindly at a glass in my hand or a sign on a wall. Friends have worried about me when I’ve suddenly gotten up and gone for two-hour walks. I just need a little fresh air, I tell them—which is about all I’ve gotten from a lot of long walks and a lot of wondering why.