On an October morning last year, the parking lot in front of the two-story building in DeSoto was filling up with cars and vans belonging to various local media people. A large plastic sign with
an arrow, the kind that used to adorn the roof of snow cone stands, identifies the facility as the William C. Dear Academy. ‧ The building, familiar to some Dallasites under its former name, Buffalo Bill’s Western World, has now been converted into what the headmaster hopes will become the West Point of private investigators, producing an annual regiment of Bill Dear clones. ‧ The fourth estate is present to witness a field exercise that would be highly unusual for almost any other private investigator in Texas but is almost routine operating procedure for Bill Dear, the man who says they call him the real James Bond. If the Guinness Book of World Records included a category for most dead bodies exhumed for what some might call media exposure, Dear would surely lead the list.
Dear’s latest dig involves Lori Ann Williams, a former employee of the Wax Museum of the Southwest, which burned down after Williams’s boss, Patsy Wright, was murdered with poisoned Ny-Quil. When Williams was buried, the common wisdom held that she had died of more or less natural causes, but the real James Bond, Bill Dear, is convinced that someone knocked off Williams with a lethal dose of arsenic. The purpose of today’s exercise is to demonstrate the truth of the Dearian theory to die assembled multitudes of the press.
About five minutes after ten, Dear-Bill Dear-enters the main room to face the media. Dear’s right eyebrow is set in a cocked position, offering the kind of effect that George C. Scott will utilize when he is playing Patton or Mussolini. He is dressed in a nicely tailored gray double-breasted suit with pinstripes, a solid light blue silk tie, and glistening black boots. He is also wearing three diamond rings-more than James Bond ever wore.
The sleuth clears his throat, introduces Dr. Reg McDaniel of the Dallas/Fort Worth Medical Center, who conducted the original autopsy on Williams, and reads a statement from a report by forensic pathologist Dr. Jeffrey J. Barnard. After going through some preliminaries, it’s time for Dear to deliver the goods, the stuff headlines are made of. But there’s a little glitch.
“Despite an extensive exhumation autopsy on September 12,” Dear intones, “as well as complete toxologic evaluation of Ms. Williams’s tissues from two independent laboratories, I am unable to say that she was not poisoned. What I can say is that there are no detectable poisons in her body at this time. This is due to the fact that either she was not poisoned, or that a poison may have been administered but was metabolized and excreted from her body prior to death. “
Well, one or the other. Still, Dear goes on to explain to the crowd that he’s located another mystery suspect in the crime, a shadowy figure he won’t identify, who flunked a test on the lie box in Grand Prairie.
Some reporters are growing testy. Deadlines approach. Is this the old bait and switch? What about, one wants to know, Stanley Lester Poyner? Dear had pinpointed him as a suspect because he had been arrested for taking a ledger book from the burned museum. Now, the reporter says, Poyner is threatening to sue Dear-Bill Dear. What about that?
“I hope he does. I hope he files suit today,” says Dear, arms folded in confident body language across his chest. “I fully an-ticipate that he will be arrested again on other charges.”
The reporters and camera-persons disperse. They will not write the story Dear had hoped for, but they will write, and they will spell the name D-E-A-R. Dear will be right about Poyner, who, coincidentally, is later arrested tor employee theft at a grocery store, but to date has not been fingered for Williams’s death.
And though he didn’t actually solve anything, the affair of the poisons will give Bill Dear new clips to swell his already bulging portfolio, the one that holds the headline from a grocery tabloid: “Globetrotting Gumshoe Solves Cases Cops Can’t Crack.” The globetrotting gumshoe likes to say he has “solved more cases than Sherlock Holmes.. .and made a lot more money.”
Maybe. Sometimes it seems that Bill Dear has created a fictional character that appears in mystery plots and is playing the role himself, only doing it vicariously in a setting that transcends stage or screen. Dear’s theater of choice, in fact, involves serious police business, and the costumes and characters are very real. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spun more than fifty Holmes tales, and the man from Baker Street won almost all of them. Who knows just how many Dear has solved? Maybe somebody needs to count.
AFTER THE HUBBUB DIES AWAY, DEAR RETURNS TO HIS OFFICE, where there is good news. “A Current Affair.” the Fox Network’s adventure in tele-sleaze journalism, has located Sandra Bridewell, the former Black Widow of Dallas fame, in San Francisco. They want Bill Dear to interview her with a hidden microphone. Granted, the assignment is not something that most people would regard as dignified, but it sure beats running around with a camera, kicking in the doors of motel rooms.
All of this is simply one more lurid episode from the pages of Bill Dear’s tabloid of a life. Since the day he arrived in Dallas from South Florida in 1963 in hopes of making a fortune in private sector investigative work, Dear has become a persistent party crasher in the news columns about the local crime scene.
Dear has authored two books based on his exploits. One, The Dungeon Mosler, was the account of his investigation in the disappearance of Dallas Egbert, a teenage genius. Dear had theorized that Egbert had become lost in a maze of steam tunnels beneath the campus at Michigan State during an elaborate game of Dungeons and Dragons.
That wasn’t the case, although Dear did locate Egbert, a sad figure who eventually took his own life. A hero did emerge in the book, though: the author himself.
Another book, Please,. .Don’t Kil! Me, told of how the Texas detective solved the murder of Dean Milo, an Ohio millionaire. The best part is when Dear dresses like a doctor and nabs the villain in a hospital. Dear’s personal logo, other than the James Bond bit, is a jagged scar on his throat. This is the result, he says, of an attack that happened while he was meeting an informant after hours when he was a police officer in the Miami area,
Dear decided that if this sort of day-to-day peril came with the policeman’s territory, he might as well get paid for it. Also, he says, “I like nice clothes, fine cars, and good food, and I couldn’t afford any of that on a policeman’s salary.”
Nor can many cops afford an office like Bill Dear’s. Samurai swords are crossed behind his desk. On the desk itself are a .45 automatic crafted from what appears to be Steuben glass and a coffee cup from Air Force One with an official presidential seal. A reporter presses Dear about his much-used exhumation technique for solving crimes. Just how many people has hedug up? “Oh, four or five,” the detective says. “Including,” Dear says, pausing for effect, “Lee Harvey Oswald.”
Of course, the body in that particularcasket was indeed Oswald’s and not that of the Soviet spy Dear had expected. But that fact, like the absence of any poison in the remains of Lori WilIiams, is just an inconsequential after-thought. There is nothing like a good old exhumation to stimulate the creative juices of the assignment editorsat the TV stations or the city desks atthe newspapers.
But now Bill Dear wants to talkabout something else. “Actually, I’m working on a case a little more stimulating, to me, than the wax museum thing. This business in Irving, involving the death of Glen Courson. It’s fabulous.” The detective launches into an elaborate discourse on how he has methodically secured proof that Glen Courson, hunting guide and owner of a sporting goods store, did not commit suicide but was murdered.
Dear implies that the Irving police and the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office bqtched the crime scene search and played it fast and loose with the evidence to erase their mistakes. The basis of these findings is another Bill Dear phantom witness who provided compelling disclosures while (how else?) under hypnosis.
The chief of the Irving police, at this moment, is enraged at Dear-Bill Dear. It has been rumored that the county medical examiner wants to perform an autopsy on him while he is still alive.
And they are not the only ones who seem to be holding grudges against Bill Dear. The complaints come mostly from two sources that are rarely united in a common cause: police detectives and criminal defense lawyers.
Among other things, members of both professions gripe that Bill Dear is quick to take credit for solving cases that were a) never solved or b) solved by someone other than Bill Dear.
A case in point was the Christi Meeks case in 1985. About a week after the girl’s abduction, a tall man with a handlebar mustache, wearing a Western-cut suit and ostrich skin boots that would cost about two weeks’ pay for a working detective, arrived at the Mesquite police station in far northeast Dallas County.
It was Dear-Bill Dear-carrying several brown envelopes that were sealed and stamped “Confidential.” Dear, who claimed the envelopes contained the identity of the fiend who had murdered Christi, volunteered his services to Mike Meeks, Christia father, for one dollar.
The police, according to the private eye, were to focus their investigation around Christi’s uncle. Danny Anthony, who drove a Country Pride chicken truck. Bill Dear had concluded that Anthony’s route took him into the vicinity of Lake Texoma and that he, therefore, was involved in the crime.
The papers went nuts over Bill Dear’s revelations. Detective Bob Holleman, the investigator on the case, was promptly informed through second-hand sources that he was soon to be part of a peculiar motorcade. The first car would contain Bill Dear and the suspect, the second car would be occupied by Mesquite police, and the rest of the contingent would be made up of a camera crew from CBS’s “West 57th Street.” Dear would escort Danny Anthony to the crime scene at the lake. There, while the network cameras hummed, the suspect, consumed by a tidal wave of self-revulsion, would fall sobbing at Bill Dear’s feet, confess, and kiss the great man’s boots.
That grand occasion never took place because of a couple of glitches. Danny Anthony had an impeccable alibi, backed by four witnesses, for his whereabouts the day Christi disappeared. Furthermore, the kids Christi was playing with all recognized Danny as the little girl’s uncle and confirmed that he was not the man who was talking to her near the fence.
Danny Anthony almost cheerfully agreed to an FBI polygraph exam and breezed. He was never charged, and Bill Dear, who had arrived on the scene equipped with everything but a faithful Indian companion, slipped quietly away before anybody had an opportunity to thank him.
Mesquite police were, to express it one way. miffed. “For a person purporting himself to be a crack detective, you would think that he would at least check out Danny Anthony’s alibi,” says Holleman. Then, selecting his words cautiously. Holleman adds: “Checking out a suspect’s alibi is not exactly an arcane investigative technique.”
Holleman issues a wistful sigh. “I understand that while Bill Dear was in the middle of this case, he told some people that the television character Matt Houston was based on him and that he also had the inside scoop on what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. Sometimes,” the detective continues, “that kind of showmanship is harmless enough. But not when it comes to anything as painful and emotional as the disappearance of a child.”
The murder of Christi Meeks remains a mystery. But while Bill Dear sure as hell didn’t solve that case, the papers, once again, managed to spell his name right.
As for poor Danny Anthony, Mesquite police aren’t sure what he’s up to these days. It has been suggested that if he has any sense. he’s off somewhere hiding under his bed and wondering when the genius of Bill Dear will once again strike fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere.
KEVIN CLANCY OF DALLAS, A CRIMINAL LAWYER. REMEMBERS when Bill Dear made himself a featured character for awhile in yet another of those shattering child disappearance cases, this one involving two-and-a-half-year-old Amber Crum.
Clancy was called upon to represent Amber’s mother’s boyfriend, who claimed that the little girl was grabbed from his pickup while he was in a convenience store.
Clancy says that his client was charged on the basis of anevidence package that contained, Clancy says, “absolutelynothing of substance” beyond accusing the man of beinga drug user.
“They had cut my guy loose,” Clancy says. “But in themeantime. Bill Dear had managed to attract the media.I remember watching him on TV, prancing around out insome field where he claimed Amber Crum was buried. Nobody, in fact, knows to this day that she might not be alive somewhere.
“The thing is that Bill Dear is presented as some kind of Mickey Spillane character, or something out of a comic book. He just doesn’t accomplish very much. Like that business in his dungeon master book. Have you read it? Heil, he didn’t find that kid. The kid called him up one day.
“There are,” Kevin Clancy says, “plenty of private investigators who have substantial backgrounds in investigative technique. Former FBI agents and postal inspectors and so forth. Bill Parker. Al Teel. Paul Mccaghren. Bill Dear doesn’t have those credentials, or, really, any credentials. I could list plenty of others who do a lot of good and effective work, know how to cooperate with law enforcement, and are not obsessed with getting their name in the paper or in representing what they do as being some kind of glamour job.”
Bill Dear’s detractors also allege that the Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies once suspended his P.I.’s license. That is not correct. But ac-cording to Ken Nicholas, a spokesman for the board in Austin, Dear did pay a fine of $3,650 in 1985 that the board accepted in lieu of a suspension. That was the result of a fourteen-count complaint from a client who contended that Dear had not provided a con
tract that detailed the nature of his tees. In the process of investigating that complaint, the board discovered that Dear had helped that same client secure a lake driver’s license and birth certificate.
Late in 1989, the board was again looking into a complaint from another one of Bill Dear’s clients, Barbara Russo of Toronto. In 1987, Russo retained Dear to produce the person who shot Danny Beckon, one of Canada’s leading jockeys. Russo was a close friend of the jockey’s widow.
While the death was ruled a suicide, there seemed to be some evidence that the rider had been knocked off. Dear immediately posted a $100,000 reward for anyone who could substantiate the murder theory. At an inquest, the detective played an unusual tape of a phone conversation that he had had with a phantom caller who spoke with what the papers called a “slight European accent.”
Dear: “What are we talking dollar-wise?”
Caller: “What do you value your life at?”
Dear: “What do I value my life at?”
Caller: “Yeah. I hope you value it at a lot of money. I would say personally 200K.”
Dear: “Would you be able to identify the people who were there the day that Danny died?”
Ultimately, however, this led to a cold trail. A coroner’s jury voted that the jockey had killed himself.
Russo, who was financing the expedition, was so dissatisfied with the detective’s failure to produce a trophy that she complained to the Texas board, claiming Dear had relieved her of $600,000, including expenses, with no results.
The board eventually refused to take any action against Dear. But the clippings are not the kind that Dear allows inside his ample media scrapbook.
Still, there are those who argue that Dear, despite all of this self-induced fanfare, is something more substantial than a magic act and maestro of the grand illusion.
One of those is Tarrant County Constable Jim Palmer, who was involved with Dear in a case last summer. The father of five-year-old Guinivere Burke had taken the girl out of state in defiance of a court order and the child’s grandparents retained the detective to find her.
Tasks of this sort are relatively routine for private investigators. But not many private investigators would have the gall to contend that the father was involved with a satanic cult and issue vague, dark hints that little Guinivere would be the main event in a human sacrifice unless Bill Dear could get to her first.
It was Constable Palmer’s role, as ordered by the court, to find the girl and deliver her back to Dallas.
“Bill put on the damndest display of showmanship I’ve seen in that case,” says Palmer. “But I’ll tell you what, I don’t know if the Israelis looked for Eichmann the way that sumbitch looked for that little girl. And I’d have to say he’s head and shoulders above most of the private investigators I’ve been involved with. It would be a mistake to consider him a fraud. Of course, most of them are dull as dishwater.”
The matter came to a happy conclusion when the sheriffs department in Nebraska located the father after a warrant check in a routine complaint. But it was Bill Dear who flew to Nebraska and waltzed the little girl off the plane at D/FW while the minicams recorded the event for the ten o’clock news.
“The thing about Dear, as a private investigator, is that he can get away with making accusations that a public law enforcement person can’t,” says Filmer. “Most people in public law enforcement realize that if you accuse somebody of something, you damn well better be prepared to prove it. A private detective is very little more than a private citizen and has a little more latitude for speculation than the regular police.”
Constable Palmer faults the media as much as Dear for the detective’s image of grandeur. “The media slavishly provides him with his forum,” Palmer says. “One of the reasons is that a reporter will call the police on a certain story and get a big ’no comment1 and then they’ll call Bill and they can’t shut the sumbitch up.
“So he manipulates the media? So what? He’s not the only one who’s good at it. Look at Zsa Zsa and Jim Bakker. Through it all, I found him a likable guy, and I wouldn’t have any qualms about working with him again.”
Says Richard Riddle, another Dallas private investigator who has worked as Dear’s partner in a number of investigations: “Sure, Bill’s got a big ego. He doesn’t try to hide that. But what people don’t realize is that he works a lot of these cases for a dollar. He’d work every case for a dollar if it involved a child, just because he wants to help bring some child’s killer to justice. And he’ll spend thousands of his money in expenses when he works these cases for free.”
Riddle does concede that the notoriety that Dear gains from the pro bono work is, in Dear’s thinking, an invaluable mechanism to secure clients, such as law firms, willing to pay high-dollar fees for the more routine investigations that never make the newspapers.
These might entail anything from investigation of insurance fraud, to planting undercover men on construction sites to locate on-the-job doners, to surveillance work in divorce cases.
Not surprisingly, more conventional private investigators look upon some of Dear’s activities with a marked lack of enthusiasm.
“About the same time Bill Dear was bringing that little girl back from wherever, I was doing the same thing [on another case] in New Jersey,” says private investigator Bill Forker, who was a homicide detective with the Dallas Police Department for most of his career. “I’ll say that I succeeded in bringing the child back without announcing it to the news media.
“I don’t want to imply that I’m talking about Dear in particular,” Parker says, “but it’s troubling to see private investigators jump into child killings, and most other homicides for that matter, because the families are terribly distraught and out of balance.. .and then these guys solicit their business. It’s like ambulance chasing.”
THE DETECTIVE’S VOICE KEEPS BREAK-ing up, as if he were speaking from lunar orbit. Actually, Dear is communicating, via satellite telephone, from his van. Sundown approaches and Bill Dear is on a mission somewhere in the rolling countryside near Euless, Texas.
Despite the choppy communications, Dear is very clearly articulating his concern that the media image he has crafted for himself, like some laboratory creature manufactured from leftover body parts, seems to be turning on its master.
The monster hasn’t devoured Bill Dear as yet, but it has bitten his foot off. After all of the feinting and jabbing at the Wax Museum/ Exhumation Finding press conference, a long feature in The Dallas Morning News cast Dear, for the first time in his memory, in an unfavorable light.
The business about his 1985 problems with the state licensing board is in the piece, along with some complaints from Russo about his handling of his investigation of the death of the Canadian jockey. Dear hopes that this case will be the topic of his third book, one he’s titled Murder On The Backstretch.
“I’m pissed. I’m really pissed,” Dear says about the article. “I think I know what the basis of it is. The News thinks I’ve been feeding scoops to the Times Herald and they’re trying to get back at me.”
Dear is informed that more unflattering publicity is on the way. Police sources, he is told, have cast some aspersions on the role that he played in die cases of Christi Meeks and Amber Crum.
“Wha…?! Wha…?!” he bellows, followed by a sharp, “Ha.. .ha.. .ha!”
Then Dear launches into a detailed narrative of what he contends happened in both of the crimes. Christi Meeks, Dear now maintains, was murdered try her mother’s boyfriend. The following day, Dear says, Christi’s uncle loaded the little girl’s body into his refrigerated truck, drove to Texoma, and disposed of the remains. ’And I found thorns in the tires of that truck that are just like the ones that grow along that area where the body was found! I worked that case for a lousy buck!” he yells.
And Dear contends that Amber Crum died under similar circumstances at the hands of her mother’s live-in boyfriend. “The mother told me that he did it, but when it came time to tell it to the authorities, the woman assistant DA intimidated her, so she clammed up.”
Bill Dear sighs, “I wish I had arrest and search and seizure powers,” he declares. “If that were the case, these killers wouldn’t be walking loose.”
The fact is that a private investigator’s license, which is not difficult to obtain, gives the licensee about the same authority as an honorary Little Buckaroo Deputy in the Wild Bill Hickok fan club. All it takes is twenty-five cents and a Cheerios box top.
Still, Bill Dear is quick to contend that he can solve cases where the combined resources of a fully manned and fully funded public law enforcement unit will fall flat.
“Listen,” says Dear, warming to the topic, “There are a helluva lotta good Men in Blue,” declining to identify any by name. Then he throws down the gauntlet. “Most police departments,” he charges, “have so many internal problems that they’re their own worst enemy.
“Frankly, I have a terrible rapport with most police departments. Why? Because they don’t want to see a private investigator take credit for solving a case.
“Look at a lot of the national cases that you see being solved on ’A Current Affair’ and shows like that. Who most often breaks those cases? Private investigators. . .that’s who.”
Dear’s voice quivers. “In these child disappearances cases, I worked them for a dollar because I wanted to see them solved. That was my only motivation. And I think I’ve done a helluva job.”
Dear will soon terminate transmission, but not before making it apparent that he is troubled by law enforcement officials who accuse him of being nothing more than a cardboard cop, playing dress-up within the pages of his fictional autobiography.
It seems that a lot of our legendary crime busters wind up in a sad ditch. Bat Masterson finished his days working as a sports-writer. The real Eliot Ness, after busting Al Capone, was eventually charged with killing a pedestrian while driving drunk.
Dear-Bill Dear-is determined to be remembered as a hero and he might succeed. He makes great copy. He’s a gold mine of colorful quotes. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a front-page feature about his detective’s academy. A two-hour documentary on the great private eye will air on British television next fell. His latest project is a comic strip about his exploits.
Now, if he could only solve something for once…