Portrait of a Ladykiller

Pat Russell is a smooth-talking swindler who courts rich and lonely ladies with his debonair charm, He woos himself into their hearts. And into their wills.

“PAT WANTED ME TO DIE,” she told me in a barely audible whisper.

It was a rainy Saturday in October 1996, and forlorn Gladys Kingsbury, old as the century and terminally ill, was talking about her former beau and caretaker, Pat Russell.

Though she was gaunt and weak from the stomach cancer that soon would kill her, she nevertheless had pulled her wispy hair into a neat bun, and her nails were carefully painted ballerina pink.

As I leaned forward to listen, Gladys recounted in her quavering voice the heartbreaking tale of how Russell, 20 years her junior, had insinuated himself into her life, assumed control of her fortune, and then abandoned her. Since she had become ill and helpless, she said, Russell-on several occasions-had intentionally left her alone without food and water, Now that she was near death, the sole heir to the bulk of her fortune didn’t come around at all.

I lived less than a block away and had known Gladys since my girlhood days as a student at the Dallas Ballet, where she and her sister Helen had been on the board of directors. Decades earlier, the sisters had founded the Highland Park School of Dance, one of the first ballet schools in the city. Occasionally cantankerous, always outspoken and high-spirited. Gladys Kingsbury was familiar to everyone.

“She wasn’t the kind of person you could ignore,” says neighbor Sharon Marynick, Indeed, Gladys seemed to be friends with the whole neighborhood. Mild days found the energetic spinster working in her flower garden, her aristocratically beaked nose and Katharine Hepburn cheekbones protected by a wide-brimmed straw hat.

As she aged, Gladys became more and more dependent on her friends, particularly on the dapper and courtly Pat Russell, whom Gladys had known for two decades. A sharp dresser who carried a cane like a badge of distinction, Russell was what they call “a walker,” a valued escort for single or widowed ladies of a certain age and income. By all accounts, he was cherished by the lonely ladies of the Park Cities, whom Russell enthusiastically squired to charity balls and various cultural events. At the ladies’ expense, of course.

For years, Gladys had been first among his interests. When the Kingsbury sisters first met Russell, Gladys was immediately smitten; tall, taciturn Helen distrusted him and kept the suave charmer at arm’s length from her sister.

But after Helen died in 1985, Russell and the grieving Gladys became inseparable. He delighted her by turning the lonely living room in her teeny-tiny house into a four-star restaurant, with candles flickering on the table set with Kingsbury family silver. Soon the smooth talker with the studied Southern charm was buying Gladys’ groceries for her. In 1992, she granted Russell power of attorney so he could manage her checkbook. In gratitude, she changed her will, leaving almost everything to him, including her house and most of her savings. But then Gladys was diagnosed with cancer, and Russell’s attentions waned.

Her whispered story of betrayal prompted me to find out more about Pat Russell. Gladys’ friends told me that for years, they had heard rumors of rich women losing everything to Russell. One widow he had been escorting died in a house fire. Others, like Gladys, had loved Pat Russell so much they rewrote their wills for him. My search took me through stacks of court documents, faded photographs, and yellowed newspaper clippings. In the end, I pieced together a scrapbook of sad, swan-song romances between a series of lonely, wealthy women and a predatory, aging gigolo.

Some of Gladys’ neighbors had reported their concerns to the Highland Park Police, who soon discovered that Russell had withdrawn tens of thousands of dollars from Gladys Kingsbury’s accounts to pay for everything from his rent to a friend’s legal fees. I discovered that Gladys wasn’t Russell’s only target: Five other women had turned large amounts of money over to him. They all fit the same profile: elderly, lonely, and rich. They all moved in a circle where a man on your arm is as essential as the label on your gown.

Pat Russell did not return numerous phone calls requesting an interview for this story, and repeated attempts to reach him through his attorney were also unsuccessful.

But as I gathered the stories of Russell and the lonely ladies who loved him, I became convinced that Gladys was right: Pat Russell wanted her to die.

PAT RUSSELL was determined to surround himself with people who could show htm the world of art, refinement, and money-a different world than the lower middle-class Galveston where he grew up. His parents separated when he was young, and Russell was reared by his mother and aunt, both teachers. A precocious student who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Houston, he contracted polio shortly after graduation. Nevertheless, by 1957, he had earned a degree in law from SMU. He took time out to tour Europe, and in the early 1960s, Russell returned to Dallas and opened a small general practice, handling estates and personal injury cases.

The bout with polio forced Russell to walk with a cane, something he turned into a debonair accessory of sophistication. Tall and good-looking with thick, white-blond hair and an easy sense of humor, Russell affected elaborate, old-fashioned manners. “Dah-ling,” he would coo, “may I fix you a cocktail? You look absolutely lovely today.’ He had a way of waving a lady into a chair with a dramatic sweep of his hand that older women found irresistible.

Russell didn’t have much money, but his elegant manners, the wealthy women he escorted, and the expensive places he took them gave everyone the impression he was well-off. He was a fixture at old-fashioned restaurants such as Old Warsaw and Chez Gerard. He claimed he spoke five languages; at Clair de Lune, one of his favorites, he always ordered in French. His women friends suspected that Russell was gay, but they didn’t care. “If you met him, you’d say he was the most charming man in the world,” says an old friend. “When you were with him, he made you feel like you were the only woman in the world.”

YOU COULDN’T HELP NOTICING ALLA Mae Russell (no relation to Pat). Her bright blonde wigs and red lipstick always turned heads, and the looks lingered on the jewelry she wore to charity balls-diamonds, emeralds, and pearls worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It was inevitable that she and Russell would meet-Russell made a point of knowing everyone. So, of course, he attached himself to Alia Mae. They threw extravagant dinner parties together-Pat cooking rich French food. Alia Mae’s mansion providing luxurious ambiance. Alia Mae paid for everything. Russell appeared to live the high life, buying a new Lincoln Continental every year and moving into a spacious house around the comer from Alia Mae’s Park Lane palace.

Then, in the early morning hours of Jan. 6, 1976, Alia Mae awoke in a cloud of black smoke. Fire officials concluded that she was only able to take a few steps before the raging fire burned through the bedroom door and literally knocked her down. Firefighters found her charred body a few feet from the window.

When Alia Mae’s only relatives, nephews James Crowe and Furnon Darby, arrived the next day to survey the damage, they found Pat Russell already on the scene. The Dallas Fire Department’s arson unit launched an investigation into the fire and found that $45,000 worth of Alia Mae’s vast jewelry collection was destroyed. But detailed insurance records revealed that significant pieces of jewelry, several furs, and pieces of art were missing. Alia Mae liked to hide her jewels in odd places around her house-she was eccentrically inclined to stuff necklaces in the toes of her shoes, for instance. Two days after the fire, Crowe got a call at his office in Idaho from Russell, who demanded $250,000 in cash to cover what he said were unpaid-and undocumented-fees for legal work he had done for Alia Mae.

Next, Crowe and Darby received a curious proposal from Russell. He claimed he had a will that Alia Mae had authorized but never signed, and that two other wills, written by two different lawyers, existed. In his letter, Russell told the nephews that the other wills provided very little inheritance for either of them,

Russell explained he had led the other lawyers to believe that he had a revised, signed will that superseded theirs. But “For a will to be successfully revoked,” Russell wrote Crowe, “it must be physically destroyed.”

Not surprisingly, Russell had a solution: Pay him the $250,000 for the supposed legal services and return five pieces of jewelry that Russell said were his gifts to Alia Mae. In exchange, he would get the other lawyers to send him the signed wills and he would “take whatever steps necessary to prevent its probation.”

Russell was bluffing. Alia Mae’s final will according to the nephews’ lawyer, had beendestroyed in the fire that killed her. Ultimately, the judge who probated Alia Maes estate determined that Darby and Crowe should be the sole inheritors. Although Russell didn’t get the $250,000 he demanded, Dallas County probate records show that Alia Mae’s family did pay him $75,000 just to get rid of him.

“I wish I had never heard of Pal Russell.” says Fumon Darby.

ON April 26,1982, Russell arrived at his new home, the federal penitentiary at Big Spring, Texas, where he’d been sentenced to spend four years for arranging marriages between alleged prostitutes and Iranian immigrants. He joined a convivial group of infamous white-collar criminals: West Texas con man Billie Sol Estes, who swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars out of investors; LTV chairman Paul Thayer, convicted of passing confidential stock information to his girlfriend; and Denton rancher Rex Cauble, who got caught using his private airstrip to smuggle marijuana.

Pat Russell’s social life was as lively in prison as it had been on Park Lane. Despite his new status as a felon, Dixie Jones, a wealthy divorcee still gorgeous in her 70s, drove her Cadillac four and a half hours from Dallas every weekend to see him. “She’d come back just ecstatic,” remembers lifelong friend Wil-letta Stellmacher. “’Guess who Pat’s roommate is? Billie Sol Estes!’ Dixie would gush.”

When Russell was released in December 1984, he told friends that he was now a financial consultant. But soon he was dabbling in law again-this time without a license-handling small legal matters for friends, and even a divorce. Not until 1988 did the Bar slapped him with a permanent injunction.

Russell sold his home on Lively Lane and was looking fora way to resume his grand style of living when Helen Kingsbury died in 1985, leaving Gladys alone and lonely. Russell began to split his time between Gladys and Dixie Jones, who had begun to show the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

By 1986, virtually the only two people Dixie still saw were her old friend (and former son-in-law) Cyrus Assayesh and Pat Russell, whose relationship with Dixie included taking care of her. Assayesh stayed with Dixie when he was not in Europe; Russell spent weeks at a time with Dixie at her sprawling Santa Fe house. They both tried to keep Willetta Stell-macher from seeing Dixie, Stellmacher says. even as her friend’s condition deteriorated.

Despite Russell ?s protests, Stellmacher took Dixie to the Samuel Clinic {now called the Alt-shuler Adult Outpatient Clinic), where specialists diagnosed Dixie with Alzheimer’s disease. She was “seriously impaired mentally and unable to manage her affairs,’” according to Dr. Malcolm Horn. Stellmacher urged Russell to hire a nurse, but he refused, insisting that he didn’t need help taking care of Dixie.

In 1987, someone opened a Swiss bank account in Dixie’s name. Over the next two years, nearly $100,000 was wired from her Dallas account to the Swiss account. Assayesh’s father retrieved the money, according to court documents.

A year later, Russell gave up his small apartment and moved into Jones’ Turtle Creek mansion. He immediately made plans for the two of them to travel to Europe. The entire trip, except for the airfare, was charged to a corporation owned by Dixie. Bythesummerofl989, Dixie’s mental state was worse. Still, Russell would sometimes leave her alone for days at a time. Stellmacher. frustrated and worried, petitioned the Dallas County Probate Court to have Dixie’s competency examined. She asked that the court appoint her as Dixie’s guardian. And she requested an inventory of Dixie’s property.

Russell objected to all of it-and the former lawyer fought back. On Jan. 16, 1989, he drafted a document declaring himself secretary and treasurer of the Jones Children’s Haven, a charitable corporation Jones had established in 1950. He immediately transferred all 400 shares of stock in the company-worth about $2 million-into a newly created trust, the Dixie Shelley Jones Foundation, which, with Russell at the helm, controlled all of Dixie’s property, including hercar, the Turtle Creek mansion, and numerous rental properties.

In court pleadings, Russell insisted Dixie was of sound mind. Still, in February 1989, Russell provided the court with a document purporting that Dixie had designated him guardian of her estate and person in the event that she might become incompetent. On April 28,1989, William T. Skinner, M.D., a psychiatrist at St. Paul Medical Center, examined Dixie and concluded that she was not competent to make even the most basic decisions: “She does not comprehend the value difference between five dollars and five thousand dollars. She is incapable of understanding the balance of a checkbook, nor could she go to a grocery store and shop.” According to Skinner, Dixie could not have been competent when she signed the papers that transferred the Children’s Haven stock.

But the doctor went further: “Persons with her degree of impairment are easily exploited, influenced, and are vulnerable to all types of manipulation. It is my opinion that the childlike dependency she had on Mr. Russell has been encouraged and conditioned.”

The court awarded guardianship of Dixie’s estate to her daughter. Shelly Jones, and NCNB, the bank that had been the temporary trustee; it further ruled that in the future, Stell-macher would have guardianship over Dixie. Pat Russell didn’t show up at the competency hearing, and Stellmacher placed Dixie in a posh nursing home. Russell may have suffered a setback, but another opportunity always seemed to come along.

PALE GREEN AND YELLOW CLOTHS IN Gladys Kingsbury’s favorite shade draped the tables, set for 200 guests and decorated with elaborate floral nosegays. An ice-sculpted ballerina adorned a buffet, and a lively five-piece band kept the dance floor packed. A photographer roamed the room, snapping shots of celebrity guests like Mayor Annette Strauss and international ballet star Peter Martins as they feasted on smoked salmon, chicken cordon bleu, and oysters, washed down with gallons of champagne. Real estate baron Henry S. Miller Jr. and wife Juanita sent flowers. It was Feb. 11, 1990- Gladys Kingsbury’s 90th birthday-and Pat Russell had attended to every detail. The splendid party cost $10,000. Gladys picked up the tab for all of Pat’s thoughtfulness.

Gladys and Russell spent most of their time together. But Russell still managed to find time to have Sunday lunch with his old flame Dixie Jones, though they were always escorted by the ever-vigilant Willetta Stellmacher. “It made Dixie so happy to see Pat that I thought, well, he can’t do anything more to her,” Stellmacher says. She was wrong.

In 1991, 77-year-old Dixie Jones-at one point worth an estimated $12 million-died. Her will provided her daughter. Shelly, and Cyrus Assayesh each with $100,000. They each contested the will, arguing that Dixie was incompetent in 1985, when it was written.

Shortly after Dixie’s death, Russell appeared at Stellmacher’s door. He handed her another Dixie Jones will, this one purportedly written in 1980, when there was no question of her competency. Under the provisions of this will, Russell would be executor of a trust that would hold all of Dixie’s property. And the will gave Russell Dixie’s house in Santa Fe.

It took a year for lawyers to settle the dispute. Willetta Stellmacher says Dixie’s vast fortune had been whittled down to $400,000, The lawyer who handled Jones’ estate would not say how much her daughter, Russell, and Assayesh each received in the end.

Only a month after the settlement of Dixie’s estate, Russell convinced Gladys Kingsbury to sign over power of attorney to him and make him her guardian. A few months later, Gladys drafted a new will naming Russell as executor of her estate. Upon Gladys’ death, Russell would be allowed to live in her house rent-free, with the authority to sell it at his discretion. The will provided for only $15,000 to be split among Sharon Marynick, her son Mark, and Barbara Antle, a former ballet student in Waco. Russell was to receive “the rest and residue” of Gladys’ estate.

In 1995, Pat Russell was on the move again, this time ingratiating himself with Louise Evans Jones, an elderly widow and, not coincidentally, a close friend of Dixie Jones and Alia Mae Russell. It didn’t take Russell long to persuade Louise to rewrite her will, making Russell executor of her estate-worth about $3 million and including a stately house on University Boulevard. After distributing several thousand dollars to charities and friends, Louise’s will left the rest to Russell. “1 give my friend Pat Russell Jr., all of the rest and residue of my estate …,” the document read. The will allowed Dixie’s old pal Cyrus Assayesh, who had also befriended Louise, to live in her house rent-free, with a stipend of $500 to care for her white alley cat, “Tuffy.”

Louise’s goddaughter, Patti Hunt, says Louise told her that she had gone with Russell to sign the will, but he wouldn’t let her read it. Louise also fretfully admitted she had turned over to Russell $50,000 for what he said was an annuity fund. In return for the money, Louise was given a promissory note from a company called the Demensionals.

Russell told Louise she would receive the $50,000 principal plus 10 percent interest when it matured on Feb, 24,19%. According to police records, Russell deposited the money in the account of Justice For All, a corporation he had registered years earlier but whose charter had been revoked because Russell did not pay the taxes. At Louise’s request. Hunt arranged for an attorney to void the will and revoke the power of attorney Louise had signed over to Russell. When the note came due in March 1996, Louise did not receive the promised money, and her attorney couldn’t find Russell or anyone connected with the annuity scheme.

Russell was systematic in his ripoff of his” lady friends, building a daisy chain of money shifting from one trusting woman to another. One, an old friend who prefers to remain anonymous, had given him $30,000 for what she believed was an annuity. An 82-year-old international ballet star (who had introduced Russell to her friends, the Kingsbury sisters, 30 years earlier) also gave Russell $30,000- her life savings-for what he told her was an annuity. A former Idlewild debutante, who asked to remain anonymous, turned over $300,000 to Russell, again for a suppposed annuity. The former debutante said that Russell eventually paid her back about $50,000. (What she didn’t know was that all the money had come from her friend Gladys Kingsbury’s account.) The old friend says Russell arranged for a wine cellar to be built in her house in lieu of repayment. Russell sent the ballerina small monthly payments for about a year from his Justice For All account. But the money stopped coming in when police began investigating Russell’s handling of Gladys Kingsbury’s affaire-that is, when Russell no longer had access to Gladys’ accounts.

IN THE SPRING OF 1996, GLADYS WAS GET-ting sicker. Doctors had determined thai the cancerous tumor could not be removed without killing her. Even then, Russell objected to Sharon Marynick hiring a part-time caretaker for Gladys and arranging for a registered nurse to make regular visits. And so did Gladys. According to Marynick, until she was desperately ill, Gladys continued to cling to Russell. If he didn’t show up to cook her dinner, she wouldn’t eat, turning down her neighbors’ offers of help, believing Russell was her knight in shining armor.

On April 19, Gladys wrote Russell a $ 10,000 check from her Merrill Lynch account for an “investment.” That day, Russell deposited the money into his Justice for All account.

A month later, Russell made four $5,000 transfers from the Merrill Lynch account. (Amounts of less than $ 10.000 do not have to be reported to the federal government.) Russell deposited the $20.000 into the Justice for All account.

Records from that account show that Russell used the money to pay credit card bills, buy memberships to the Dallas Museum of Art and KERA Channel 13, buy theater tickets, and pay off loans. Russell was even depositing Gladys’ monthly $602 Social Security checks into his Justice For All account.

One day in the sweltering summer of August 1996, Aline Byrd knocked on Gladys’ front door. She had not heard from her ailing friend in weeks. No one answered her knock, but the back door swung open a little. Through the crack, Byrd could hear a funny, gasping sound. She followed it to the screened-in porch where Gladys slept on hot summer nights.

“I was shocked,” recalls Byrd. “There was Gladys, lying in her own feces and reaching up to the sky.” Byrd says Gladys told her she had been alone for three days without food or water, passing in and out of delirium. It was not the last time she would suffer under Russell’s care.

In October 1996. after Marynick found her friend lying alone in her bed in a filthy nightgown, she called her husband, a doctor, to come to the house and look Gladys over. Medical records from that time show that Gladys’ weight had dropped to 65 pounds, and her temperature was dangerously low.

The Marynicks were still by Gladys’ side at midnight, when Russell pulled his Lincoln Continental recklessly into the driveway, smashing into a low wall. Bewildered to find the lights blazing and the house full of people, he stumbled inside, perhaps expecting that Gladys had died. “Gladys, are you all right?” he blurted.

Surrounded by friends and neighbors, Gladys sat up in bed and wagged a bony ringer at him, “Pat Russell, you’re no good. I want you out of my house.”

The following Monday, with the help of neighbors, Gladys changed her will and revoked the power of attorney she had given Russell. Records show that between June and October 19%, Russell had withdrawn more than $58,000 from Gladys Kingsbury’s Merrill Lynch account and created a margin account debt of more than $34,000-with no questions asked.

Gladys Kingsbury died on New Year’s Eve 1996. Pat Russell did not attend the funeral. He did contest her most recent will and presented the court with the 1993 will that left him her house, then worth about $200,000.

In April 1997, fearing that a legal wrangle would drain the remainder of Gladys’ estate, the executor, Sam Marynick, paid $3,000 to Russell to “cover attorney’s fees.” In exchange, Russell agreed not to contest the will.

News of Gladys Kingsbury’s pitiful death and the ensuing police investigation spread among Russell’s circle of wealthy women friends, causing them to wonder about the man they knew and loved. “It’s so hard to believe he could do such a thing to someone who loved him. It really makes me very sad,” says one old friend. The case against Pat Russell was closed by Highland Park police shortly after Gladys’ estate was settled. Despite evidence that links Russell to the disappearance of tens of thousands of dollars from Gladys’ accounts, the Dallas County District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute without a living victim. “I feel like I let Gladys down,” admits Detective Randy Milikin, who investigated the case.

Without access to Gladys’ estate, Russell had to sell his antiques. Last year, he quietly moved into a modest apartment near the Gal-leria. Many of the wealthy women Russell once escorted have stopped returning his phone calls. Dinner invitations are rare. Friends say that he now uses a walker-instead of the cane-to get around.

Like many of the women who once depended on him, Russell’s health has declined so much that he has trouble caring for himself. So far, Russell has escaped official accountability for his actions. But his longtime ally, the loneliness that comes with old age, has now become his worst enemy.


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