SHE THINKS SHE’S RIGHT. HE’S SURE he’s been wronged. So there are two sides to Rex and Josephine Cauble’s thirty-year divorce. What else is new?
What can you expect from a thirty- eight-year-old marriage, twenty-seven years of which have been spent in separate bedrooms? They say opposites attract, but it’s still hard to imagine sixty- nine-year-old Josephine, in her conservative knit dress, married to the rootin’-tootin’ seventy-six-year-old Rex in his kerchief tie and Western-cut suit. He’s worldly. outspoken, and take-charge. the founder of Cutter Bill Western World stores, a man who went to prison on racketeering charges but runs with big dogs like John Connally. She’s pampered and protected, a little rich girl grown up. Like most divorces, this one beagn with a love story, but it ended with enough devious trickery to make a hit country song. That’s about the only thing Rex and Josephine agree upon these days. Somebody’s done somebody wrong here-the question is, who?
Rex Cauble didn’t slam the cylinder of his revolver against the head of the mayor of little Crockett, Texas, because he caught him jaywalking.
It was June 19, 1962. when Rex says he caught the man in a Houston hotel room with Josephine. Rex feels bad now about the fact that he brought the couple’s young son Lewis along to prove his suspicions. The fourteen-year-old had to watch while Daddy pistol-whipped the mayor until the stranger in Mom’s room looked bloody as a “cow de-horned,” according to Rex.
Today Josephine denies that the incident in the hotel room ever happened. As usual. Rex says. Josephine is lying. Just a few months ago, she explained away the mayor of Crockett story to a Fort Worth reporter as part of a “”setup.” But facts are facts: the ex-mayor is still alive, still wears the pistol scars, and doesn’t deny the story. Has Josephine completely forgotten the year she hid out in Houston with Shamrock Hotel promoter Fred Nahas and his wife, while Houston lawyer Percy Foreman kept an open file on the incident?
Maybe Rex put his pistol up a mite too soon. Because now Rex says Josephine and her son, whom Rex adopted (“He’s not my blood-that’s obvious”), are conspiring to steal a $60 million empire, not to mention deny a marriage.
If it hadn’t been for Texas men with a gusto for making money, Rex says, Josephine might still be a credit clerk at a Topeka. Kansas, men’s shop. Instead, Josephine married a recently divorced millionaire named Lewis Sterling, who died a short time later in Houston. Josephine was left a thirty-year-old widow. About seven months later. Rex says she was so upset by the prospect of cutting coupons that she married him.
She was “a beautiful young woman, who recognized me as an aggressive and smart young man,” Rex recalls. Rex came into the marriage with drilling rigs alone “worth more than $500,000,” if Rex’s memory serves. Josephine came in with an inheritance of more than $2 million, but that was before inheritance taxes. And Josephine had incurred debts of some $328,500, Rex says. He scoffs at a so-called 1951 tax return produced by Josephine’s lawyers showing that he had more debts than assets back then. Claiming it was “manufactured and unsigned,” Rex wonders “why they couldn’t find 1952, ’53, ’54, ’55, and ’56?”
Josephine and Rex looked like the perfect family back in the early days of the marriage, and Rex accepts much of the blame for the eventual breakup. “Actually, I’m as much at fault,” Rex says. “’I was a workaholic. I decided to accumulate an empire and I was well on the way. But I spent too much time working and just neglected my family life. Hell, I’ve made mistakes. The difference between me and them [Josephine and Lewis] is that I’ll own up.”
Rex admits to his own brushes with the law as a young man and can even dig out what he says is a gubernatorial pardon sent his way back in 1948 by the Honorable Beauford H. Jester clearing him of a charge of assault by an automobile. But no matter what Josephine says, Rex huffs, he has never been arrested for pistol-whipping.
Though Rex signed a waiver in 1962 not to fight a divorce, Josephine never followed up on an initial lawsuit threatened eleven years after the marriage began. When Rex considered Josephine’s three heart operations and other ill health over some eight years, he says he “just didn’t have the heart to divorce her.” Instead, they pooled their collective resources and formed a partnership called Cauble Enterprises that endured and prospered until 1982, when Rex was convicted on ten felony counts and sent to prison.
In the early days of prison, Rex didn’t worry about his “partnership” with Josephine. His wife visited frequently and Rex never doubted that Josephine would live up to her word. According to an “oral agreement” they had, Rex says, he had a 31 percent share of Cauble Enterprises to look forward to once he had served his time.
And Josephine’s letters were encouragement too, Rex says. One began “Dearest Darling Husband…” and went on to say, “I’ll cooperate in anything that will help you…and if Lewis doesn’t agree. I’ll do it, and then when we give him his part, we’ll take it out. I mean it.”
It wasn’t long, though, before Josephine’s letters seemed to take on a “different tone,” Rex says. Instead of closing with “All my love my darling husband,” Rex remembers seeing a lot of “as evers” at the bottom of her letters. Soon after July 23, 1986, when Rex finalized his settlement agreement by signing much of his personal net worth over to the federal government, both Josephine and “my sorry son Lewis” became increasingly more distant.
Rex couldn’t help but notice that Josephine brought a lawyer along during her 1986 Christmas visit. “While she was there I said, “Honey, you are going to transfer my interest back to me, aren’t you?” and she said, “Yes, 1 am, if it’s all right with Lewis…’ So I had a suspicion that everything wasn’t right.” Rex says.
While Rex continued to wait behind bars, more unsolved riddles popped up on the outside. A private investigator could find no trace of “Marion Andrews”-a mysterious signature attached to a letter to the editor published in this magazine accusing Rex of “bribing a prison guard with $10,000 so that he could meet a prostitute at a nearby motel.” The letter incensed Rex. “My freedom’s worth a whole lot more than that, and a piece of ass is worth a whole lot less.”
And then there was Lewis.
J.R. Ewing has nothing on this kid, Rex says. Rex finally “quit letting [Lewis] come see him because he’d come all drugged up. [It] just made me sick.” Still, as Rex’s release time got closer, he remembers phoning Lewis to say, “Son, you carried me to Big Spring. How about coming out here and taking me back home from prison?” Rex says Lewis agreed enthusiastically to be at the gate to take care of his dad. He wasn’t.
Lewis had called a couple of days before release day, saying, “Daddy, some things have come up and I can’t come and meet you,” Rex remembers. This time Lewis wasn’t lying. There was much to do before Dad’s release. “They jumped up a horse sale and sold all my horses four days before I got home,” Rex says. Lewis joined Josephine in preparing to change the name of Cauble Enterprises into J&L Partners. And, Rex believes, Josephine was busy putting some of Rex’s pictures back up on the wall shortly before he came by for lunch.
It turns out that Cauble Enterprises was also nervously preparing for Rex’s release. This was before it officially became J&L Partners, but after it fell into the hands of one Carolyn Huckabee, who switched loyalties on Rex after Lewis doubled her salary. Lewis and Josephine had hired Rex’s nemesis at his trial-an ex-FBI agent who provided the pivotal testimony that sent Rex to the pen-to begin accumulating information that might assist them in any future litigation.
Any hopes of an amicable settlement were dashed shortly after Rex’s release when he met with Lewis at the old Cauble Enterprises offices in Denton-now redecorated and manned by Lewis. Rex claims that he asked at that time whether his interests would be transferred back to him, and that Lewis basically said “No.” A set of guidelines was distributed among employees restricting Rex’s access to various parts of the ranch. He left without even retrieving his clothes. It was then that Rex began to ponder his lawsuits.
Rex filed a breach of contract suit in February of 1988. and a counterpetition against Josephine’s divorce suit on July 13 of that same year. Six days after the counterpetition was filed, the county records building in Houston was burglarized. According to Rex, a hole was drilled into one wall to avoid setting off the alarm. Rex’s divorce file was found missing from the building. Police have not yet found any other files disturbed.
The loss of those files was quite a blow, since Josephine’s attorneys claimed to divorce judge Sue Lykes that Rex had no community property rights to the estate because he had never been divorced from one of his previous wives, Glendell Smith.
But Rex refused to take it lying down. With all the drama and hoopla you’d expect of a bitter contest over a $60 million kitty, Rex’s investigators finally tracked down records of a divorce decree filed in Dallas County by Glendell Smith and strode into Judge Lykes’s court beaming, holding the newly discovered document.
“I almost fainted,” Rex says, adding that when his lawyer showed the paper to the judge, she closed down the hearing and “left the stand crying.”
A week later. Judge Lykes awarded all disputed property to Josephine without even mentioning why.
THE MAN WHO NAMED A WESTERN-wear store after his world champion quarter horse, Cutter Bill, has walked a wide circle since that February 22, 1982, day when Judge William Steger handed down a sentence of five years in prison. On that day, Josephine joined former Governor John Connally as a sworn witness testifying to Rex’s character. The same woman who now tells newspapers that “she’s tired of being called a drug smuggler’s wife” sang a different tune then. “I don’t know how he could be found guilty of this.” she told the judge. “I know him too well. I love him very dearly. We’ve had maybe an unusual marriage, but one day with him is worth five days with anybody else.”
Rex says she was either lying then, or she’s lying now.
And Rex fears for his life. Even though a Bosque County grand jury couldn’t find enough evidence to hand down an indictment. Rex is sure that someone has solicited someone to kill him. “I understand that the first ol’ boy who was hired to kill me left for Greece with $10,000,” Rex says. “Now the price is supposed to be right at $100,000. That’s gettin’ a mite pricey.”
Today. Rex is working, without a secretary, in a small office at Dunlop Lawn Service on Maple Avenue. He is trying to overturn his conviction. Though he admits that he’ll need a small fortune to continue his appeal, Rex says don’t expect any out-of-court settlement with Josephine or Lewis. Instead, he draws himself up tall and sets both fists on the table.
“I’ve been broke before,” Rex says, “and I’m going to be right. I am right. And I will not back up.”
Now I’m going to go out and do something bad,” says a jubilant Josephine Cauble just minutes after family court judge Sue Lykes pounded the gavel that ended her thirty-eight-year marriage to “that old fool out there.”’ This day, Friday, October 27, 1989, has been nearly thirty years in the making, ever since Josephine first filed for divorce back in 1962, and the newly christened Josephine Sterling is in the mood to celebrate by misbehaving.
“What are you going to do?” asks Carolyn Huckabee, trusted manager of Josephine’s J&L Partners.
“Jaywalk. Anything,” Josephine answers, and the roomful of confidants cracks up with laughter imagining this petite and fragile sixty-nine-year-old storming through the traffic of downtown Dallas. Josephine is as soft and polished as her gold watch, but her wit is still sharp. For a very rich woman-the partnership she has with her son Lewis Rex Cauble, the “L” of J&L, is valued at some $60 million-Josephine has very little independence. Rex was the one who went to prison, but Josephine says that since he’s been out and roaming the streets of Dallas again, she feels as if she is under house arrest. She doesn’t go to the mall by herself, let alone stroll the streets of town.
Her divorce attorney. Ike Vanden Eykel, offers his arm to escort Josephine into the courtroom. Her helpmate Ruthie, clad in traditional white uniform, is one step behind her wherever she goes, assisting her down steps and trotting her glasses up to the witness stand each time one of Rex’s lawyers calls Josephine to testify.
Ever since Rex got out of prison, she says, he’s been trying to get her money. Every morning, when Josephine calls up to Denton to her offices, she asks, “What’s he suing us for today?”
Obviously this sweet, mannered lady didn’t know she was marrying a criminal when she met Rex Cauble while dining with friends in a Houston restaurant nearly four decades ago. Josephine had grown up with money in Houston and was a wealthy young widow with a toddler son and a multimillion-dollar trust fund of oil stock when she met Rex. He was a wildcatter who had already been rich and broke and married five times, she says. He charmed young Josephine right down the aisle in short order-the two married seven months after they met. “He could sell bare feet to a man with shoes,” Josephine says.
Rex went on-with the help of Josephine’s money-to build himself a reputation as a self-made millionaire rancher. In those early days, Rex took a special interest in Josephine’s son Lewis. The little boy, who was three when Rex and Josephine married, had been named after Josephine’s first husband, Lewis Sterling. Rex adopted him and added “Rex Cauble” to the end of Lewis’s name.
The Cauble men and their lady Josephine made quite a splash at the fancy parties that accompanied the big livestock sales. Each year Rex made sure that Lewis got to meet the big-name entertainment, folks like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Early family photographs show a beautiful Josephine posing with Cutter Bill, Rex’s prize cutting horse, and a happy family attending functions all over the state.
But as Josephine tells it, as the marriage aged, she began to see another side of Rex Cauble.
As Rex’s public life grew, Josephine says she was pushed aside, and she began to know a Rex that she never would have married. She says that he was unkind and uncaring. And philandering. Finally, eleven years into the marriage, in 1962, she filed for divorce.
Josephine says that Rex told her attorney to put off that divorce, and. like most of the people in Josephine’s life, the lawyer was more influenced by Rex than by her. The attorney obliged Rex’s request, Josephine says, and nothing further was done about the divorce for twenty-six years. Josephine was through with marriage. She was in no rush to divorce Rex just so she could marry again. And it just seemed easier not to fight him, she says.
But Rex and Josephine did form a business partnership, Cauble Enterprises, which in time controlled land, oil wells, and the famous Cutter Bill Western World stores in addition to considerable amounts of Exxon stock that Josephine brought to the marriage. And over the years, they did see each other-after all, they were both still parents to Lewis. Occasionally Rex and Josephine would attend a formal social event as Mr. and Mrs. Cauble. But they were married in name only-after 1962, they never lived together.
Josephine didn’t file for divorce again for twenty-six years. But she did think about it now and again-and never more than the year that Rex went to federal prison.
Josephine says that she’s “tired of being known as a drug smuggler’s wife,” referring of course to Rex’s conviction in 1982 as the “range boss” of the much-publicized “Cowboy Mafia.” That was the group, you may remember, found responsible for importing and distributing more than 147.000 pounds of marijuana from 1976 through 1978. That was just one of several little criminal episodes that Josephine discovered along the way.
Rex Cauble’s criminal record is chronicled in various court documents in plain form, starting way back in 1939 when he was indicted for assault with intent to kill, a charge he incurred by driving while under the influence of alcohol. Rex has a rich history of pistol-whipping and fist fighting, too. According to affidavits, on October 3, 1951, he pistol-whipped a service station attendant in Harris County. Apparently. Rex wasn’t too happy with some work the station had done on his car. Another time, a ranch employee stumbled over Rex’s favorite dog, Lep, so Rex pistol-whipped him for his carelessness, the employee says.
Rex’s violence was no surprise to Josephine. She says that through the years she and Lewis lived with Rex, they dodged both his fist and the butt of his gun. But there’s one incident of pistol-whipping that Josephine claims is pure hogwash. That’s the story Rex tells about finding her in a Houston hotel room with the mayor of Crockett. Ridiculous, Josephine says.
But back to Rex. Technically, Rex wasn’t in federal prison either for pistol-whipping or smuggling drugs. He was convicted of violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, and conspiracy to violate RICO, three violations of the Travel Act. and four counts of misapplication of bank funds. And that’s where the story turns to money.
Josephine’s lawyers maintain-and the divorce judge on the Cauble case concurred-that because of those convictions Rex has no claim whatsoever to his wife’s interest in J&L Partners, which is the outgrowth of the old Cauble Enterprises. Cauble signed away those rights twice, divorce lawyer Vanden Eykel says, the first time when he forfeited his interests in Cauble Enterprises to the United States on February 22, 1982, as a result of his RICO conviction. And Rex again signed away his rights, Josephine’s lawyers say. on July 23, 1986, in loan documents that stated in part that Rex “claim[ed] no interest in Cauble Enterprises.”
Rex was judged guilty by jury and then again on May 31, 1983, by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, when it ruled that he had a fair trial. The appeals court wrote then that “the verdict is, in the ancient words, the verdict of the country.”
So these days, rather than using his fists and the butt of his gun, Rex’s weapons are his lawsuits. And the divorce is just one issue, Josephine says, just one way for Rex to get at her money.
Rex says that he was wealthy when he married Josephine, but she’s got the records to show that that’s just not the way it was. By 1951 standards, Rex’s position wasn’t shabby. But he wasn’t even in Josephine’s league. Josephine’s estate at the time of her marriage to Rex was debt-free and worth $2,320,751. And her son’s estate, also debt-free, was worth $2,218,816. Both estates primarily consisted of Exxon stock.
Rex says that he took these assets and really made them grow over the years. But those just aren’t the facts. Under Rex’s hand, Josephine’s estate and, later, Cauble Enterprises, the partnership formed between Rex, Lewis, and Josephine, lost money all but one year from 1957 until 1972 for a total loss of $2.8 million. The one year it made money, it raked in a massive $24,294. According to Josephine’s figuring, if Rex Cauble had left her money alone, her estate and Lewis’s would have generated $75 million from 1951 to the present in dividends from the Exxon stock alone, and the original block of stock itself would be worth $185 million. Instead, Rex Cauble is now trying to get a piece of $60 million.
REX CAUBLE WANTS TO DIE WITH HIS boots on,” says Vanden Eykel. Despite Josephine’s settlement offer of $450,000 in cash and properties. Rex continues to fight. And to lie like a dog in the process, Josephine says.
Divorce judge Sue Lykes became familiar with Rex’s tall tales. At one point in the divorce proceedings Lykes told Rex she would fine him a dollar each time he lied again in her courtroom while under oath. Three more times Rex lied from the witness stand, so Lykes ordered the lump sum support payment from Josephine to Rex be reduced from an even forty grand to $39,997.
Josephine beat Rex in Lykes’s court, and in the words of Vanden Eykel, “it was a home run.”
Still, Rex keeps fighting. And Vanden Eykel thinks he knows why: Rex wants to get Josephine’s money and he wants to clear his name. “Every lawsuit and appeal he files has that underlying motive-he wants to overturn his criminal conviction. This has become his life.”
And Josephine? She’s ready for this whole ordeal to be finished. Her health is on the fragile side, so she’s anxiou to get trips to the courthouse out of her weekly routine. Then she can settle down to her simple pleasures of getting her hair done on Thursdays, having a manicure once a week, and shopping at her favorite dress shops. Maybe she’ll splurge and go to La Costa. But the only task she’s anxious to complete is erasing Rex’s mark from her assets. She wants to return to a simpler day back when she was a Sterling and she watched the value of her oil stock rise. She wants to sell property and buy more Exxon stock. Josephine is “tickled to death” that Exxon is moving to Dallas because it will be convenient for her to go to stockholders’ meetings. Now she would just like to be left alone to clip her coupons.
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