BEFORE THE GUNS AND THE DRUGS, before the stake-outs of his house
and the federal indictment—in other words, before he befriended Gary
Don Franks—professor Paul Schlieve seemed to lead a quiet, normal life.
Short and pudgy, with quick, watchful eyes, Schlieve joined the faculty
of UNT’s College of Education in 1981, after completing a doctorate in
educational media from Southern Illinois University. Around campus, he
quickly established a reputation as a computer expert, which scored him
invitations to sit on many influential university committees.
put in long hours on campus. He had his office telephone permanently
forwarded to his mobile phone so students could reach him at night, on
weekends, even while he was on vacation. He converted the living room
of his three-bedroom house into a makeshift computer lab, so students
could work on projects after hours.
To his UNT colleagues,
Schlieve’s general attitude toward life seemed cautious, even prudish.
Once, on a road trip to Idaho with another professor, he kept the
cruise control at 5 mph below the speed limit the whole way there. On
the way back, when the other professor was pulled over for speeding,
Schlieve nervously remarked that he hadn’t been pulled over in more
than 20 years. His personal life was unsurprisingly tame, too. No one
at UNT can remember him going on a date or even making a passing sexual
reference. Some people at UNT guessed that he was gay (a rumor that he
denied on many occasions), but his closest friends said the best
description was “asexual.” “He’s basically a techno geek who was on his
own,” says Wayne Hresko, a former UNT professor who has been friends
with Schlieve for more than two decades.
Yet Paul Schlieve’s
life never seemed particularly empty. Away from UNT, he busied himself
with more work: writing books about computer programs, doing computer
consulting for local schools, and serving on the guiding committee of a
Boy Scouts camp in North Dakota, among other things. And he always
seemed to have a new project that he would pour himself into—including
housing and coaching young men who had fallen into trouble with the law.
started in the early 1980s with a man named Richard Bradley, who is now
39 and works in construction. According to Schlieve’s friends, the
professor helped Bradley get into Alcoholics Anonymous and straighten
up his life. After Bradley, Schlieve helped two or three other guys.
“Paul is a good-hearted person and thinks he can help everybody,”
Bradley says now. Schlieve’s friends thought it was perfectly normal—at
least until the professor set his sights on Gary Don Franks.
in Krum, a small, rural town about 9 miles northwest of Denton, Franks,
who is 13 years younger than Schlieve, grew up poor and learned the art
of intimidation at an early age. Not long after finishing high school,
he moved to Denton and started running with methamphetamine addicts and
drug dealers. By age 15, he was showing up at “cooks,” where
pseudoephedrine tablets, anhydrous ammonium, and battery juice are
mixed together to create the powdery stimulant commonly known as meth.
a hulking, tattooed figure, easily moved up the ladder of the meth
world. Sergeant Steve Macsas, supervisor of the Denton Police
Department’s special operations section, says that in his 20s Franks
developed “the sort of stature in [Denton’s meth subculture] that made
people afraid of him.” Nevertheless, he didn’t have the one skill
absolutely necessary for a successful career criminal: avoiding
incarceration. In 1988, at age 22, Franks went to prison for the first
time on a drug charge. Not long after being released, he went back on
other charges in 1989. And in 1991 Franks was again arrested on drug
charges and was sentenced to prison for the rest of the 1990s.
those nine years behind bars, the only people Franks kept in close
touch with were family members and a recovering meth addict named Donna
Hargrove, whom he met in the 1980s. Franks had been a bad boy on the
streets, but in letters to Donna he was a sweetheart. He told her he
wanted to straighten up and start an equine service. (He had learned to
take care of horses at Texas A&M in the 1980s.) He also promised to
marry her. Upon his release in January 2000, Franks moved into Donna’s
Denton-area trailer park and started working on his business. “I was so
excited,” Donna recalls now. “We were ready to start a new life.”
|PARDNERS IN CRIME:
On May 19, 2003, Pilot Point police stopped Paul Schlieve (left), who
was driving Gary Don Frank’s truck. In it, police found 217 grams of
meth, three handguns, and a sawed-off shotgun (below right).
SCHLIEVE AND GARY DON FRANKS had met briefly in the 1980s,
but the true start of their friendship came on a warm day in the summer
of 2000. Franks told Donna that he wanted to go see an old
acquaintance, and they loaded into the car. Fifteen minutes later, they
pulled up to a modest, one-story house about three blocks north of
UNT’s campus. When Schlieve answered the door, he greeted Franks
warmly. They sat in Schlieve’s living room and talked for several
hours. The next day, Franks went back to talk to Schlieve. Soon, the
men were spending time together every day, and not just casually.
Schlieve hired Franks to help him renovate a rental property he owned
in Denton. He also offered to invest in Franks’ equine service.
first, Donna, now a beauty-school instructor in Denton, was grateful
for Schlieve’s interest in and encouragement of Franks’ business.
Schlieve seemed like an ideal role model. Not only was he a professor,
he also ran his own computer consulting firm and was a member of MENSA.
men’s friendship grew quickly, but it also hit a major roadblock after
only a few months. In the fall of 2000, Franks was arrested on drug
possession charges and later on a parole violation. The evidence on the
drug charges was flimsy, and the case was eventually dismissed. In the
meantime, though, Franks sat in jail for about eight months. In some
ways, that period of incarceration may have strengthened the men’s
fledgling bond. Schlieve hired an attorney to represent Franks. He also
kept in close touch with Franks through phone calls, jail visits, and
letters. “I am so ready for you to be out of there so I can go on with
my life!” he wrote in one letter.
Schlieve’s new obsession with
Franks attracted the attention of the professor’s friends, but Schlieve
continued to support him. “We have talked about friends of mine not
approving of my association with you,” Schlieve wrote in another
letter. “Not because they dislike you, but because they are afraid I
may end up ’in trouble’ because I am in the company of someone who is
sometimes associated with people who sometimes do illegal things.”
started talking to Franks about eventually moving together to Colorado
where they would buy a ranch and start a business offering guided
horseback tours of a national forest. To prepare, Schlieve promised to
start buying horses when Franks got out of jail. In the meantime, he
made arrangements to hire Franks as his personal research assistant at
UNT as soon as Franks was released.
FRANKS WAS SET FREE IN THE SPRING OF 2001, and it was around
that time, according to Donna, the good professor started to act
quite unlike himself. For one thing, he was acting anything but asexual.
first, Donna says, she thought nothing of the long periods of time
Franks would spend alone with Schlieve, or of the many nights Franks
slept at the professor’s house. Slowly, though, she says she realized
that her husband’s relationship with Schlieve went beyond friendship.
Sometime that spring 2001, she says, Schlieve demanded to watch her and
Franks have sex. Later, she says, Schlieve pushed the boundaries
further. “One night Paul was really drunk and started to fondle Gary,”
she says. “And Gary tried to use me to get out of it. He said, ’Paul,
don’t do that. It makes Donna nervous.’” But Schlieve continued, Donna
says, and the behavior became more frequent.
Franks eventually became a “kept man”—and she accepted the arrangement.
“I just gave up to the drug,” she says now. “I guess I decided that I
would let Gary take what he could get from Paul and then take whatever
I could get from Gary.” For Franks, she says, the arrangement was not
about love or sexual attraction; instead, it was about the money. (Both
Franks and Schlieve have denied ever having a sexual relationship.)
Donna tells it, Schlieve wasn’t just pushing sexual boundaries; he also
started using drugs. She can’t remember exactly when, but sometime
after the spring of 2001, Schlieve and Franks came to her trailer one
night and smoked crack cocaine. Later, she says, Franks started taking
Schlieve along to dope houses. Nearly everyone in the dope world
thought Schlieve was an undercover cop, she says, so Franks, to deflect
suspicion, introduced Schlieve as his “dad.” (Schlieve, through his
lawyer, emphatically denies ever using drugs but declined further
Even if Schlieve weren’t doing drugs, he was clearly
surrounding himself with people who were. In October 2001, undercover
officers staked out Schlieve’s house after getting a tip about possible
drug activity there. One night, a couple of officers saw three people
in their 20s walk out the door and get into a car. The officers
followed and eventually pulled the car over. The officers found that
the man was carrying a baggie of meth, which he said he had purchased
from Franks. The two women confirmed that Franks had meth.
couple of days later, the officers used a confidential informant to
arrange a sting operation for Franks on the night of October 3. When
Franks arrived for the sale at the appointed location, the police
arrested him and Donna, who had come along. (Donna says her husband was
trying to pass off the fake drugs as real to make a quick sale.) The
dope, it turned out, was vitamin powder with a splash of ether to give
it the characteristic smell of meth. Still, Franks and Donna were
arrested and charged with sale of a “simulated controlled substance”
and sent to the Denton County Jail.
While Franks was in jail,
Schlieve—as before—worked diligently to get him out. This time, though,
the professor made a mistake that would cost him his job. Although
Franks was behind bars, Schlieve continued to turn in timecards,
indicating that Franks was working at the university. When the UNT
Police Department got word, it opened a formal investigation and
discovered Franks was paid while he was incarcerated. He also had been
hired without the proper qualifications; he held a position that was
supposed to be filled by a student.
Shortly before Christmas
2001, UNT officials suspended Schlieve, pending an investigation into
his employment of Franks. Schlieve sent hundreds of pages of letters to
various university officials, arguing that, despite being behind bars,
Franks had indeed worked all of the hours marked on the timecards. He
said that Franks had worked mainly from home, which was why no one
remembers seeing him on campus more than a few times.
The university didn’t buy it. On July 1, 2002, Schlieve was terminated.
|Paul Schlieve||Gary Don Franks|
CAREER WAS IN SHAMBLES, but there was at least one positive development
for him in the fall of 2002: Franks’ charges were dismissed. Franks was
coming home—to Schlieve—and he wasn’t coming home alone.
Franks would later explain in court, he was driving through Gainesville
the day he was released from jail when he passed the trailer home of a
friend. As he did, he noticed a familiar-looking woman sitting on the
porch with a child. Intrigued, Franks backed up and stopped in front of
the trailer. “Remember me?” the woman asked him through his window. He
did. Franks had met Sheila McCann at a dope dealer’s house the week
before he went to jail in 2001. She was attractive, close to his age,
and single. He and Sheila talked for a while, and then he took her and
her son to dinner. Later that night, Franks brought Sheila to
Schlieve’s house, where he planned to live. She spent the night, and a
few days later, she moved in with Franks and the ex-professor, even
though Franks was still married to Donna. (Franks saw Donna only
occasionally after that; they divorced in February 2003. Franks then
During the first few months, Sheila now
recalls, she thought nothing could be more perfect. She was living in a
nice house in a nice neighborhood with a sweet man and his smart,
seemingly friendly housemate. She and Franks started spending their
days going to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and
taking care of Franks and Schlieve’s horses.
Sheila saw a different side of Schlieve, just as Donna had. As Sheila’s
relationship with Franks grew stronger, Schlieve started drinking
heavily and wanted to spend more and more time with Franks. “He’d get
drunk and just bawl. He was one of them kind of drunks,” Sheila says.
She also says Schlieve encouraged Franks to drink, even though Franks
was committed to staying clean. And he started asking almost nightly to
watch Sheila and Franks have sex. From Sheila’s perspective, Schlieve
was acting like a jealous lover—and she didn’t want the competition. At
the beginning of 2003, she told Franks that she wanted to move.
soon got her wish. Franks and Schlieve had long been thinking about
renting a ranch north of Denton for the horse business, and in February
2003 they settled on a 100-acre property in the tiny Grayson County
town of Tioga. Sheila and Franks moved out of the Denton house and into
the one-bedroom ranch house. Schlieve planned to visit on weekends.
ON A GRAY JANUARY MORNING OF THIS YEAR, Gary Don Franks arrived in
court wearing an ensemble straight from the county jail’s wardrobe: a
wrinkled gray suit, a plain red tie, and bright orange plastic
slippers. Franks, who pled guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence,
was the prosecution’s star witness in the case against Paul Schlieve on
charges of conspiracy to distribute drugs. After taking the oath,
Franks settled into the stand and answered the prosecutor’s first
question: how did he know Schlieve? With a shaky voice and lingering
mistiness, he delivered the goods: “Paul is my best friend,” he said,
stopping to wipe his eyes. “He helped me out. He gave me a place to
live. He gave me a job. Paul helped build my self-esteem after I got
out of prison.”
During four days of testimony, the jury never
heard about the strait-laced Paul Schlieve, the mild-mannered UNT
professor. Instead, the trial focused on the four manic months in 2003
after Franks, Sheila, and Schlieve moved to the ranch in Tioga. As more
than a half dozen witnesses (including Franks and Sheila) described it,
life there revolved almost entirely around drugs. It started almost
immediately after the move, when Schlieve (according to Franks and
Sheila) gave Franks a wad of cash and asked him to get some meth. In
the following weeks, Schlieve sent Franks out to buy drugs about 30
times. “The meth was coming from different people,” Sheila said. “Paul
would give Franks money to go out and find him some drugs.” Franks
said, “We would binge for a few days, and then stop for a while. It
wasn’t [nonstop] or anything.”
At first, the drug use occurred
in the privacy of the ranch house and only on occasion. By March,
however, witnesses testified that Schlieve starting accompanying Franks
on the drug runs. Nearly everyone in the meth underworld near Tioga was
suspicious of Schlieve. He was so clean-cut and articulate that most
people assumed he was a narc. Franks fell back on his old habit of
calling Schlieve “Dad,” yet no one felt comfortable around the
ex-professor. “I had a real funny feeling in front of him … a funny
feeling in my gut,” says Gary Meeks, a meth user who testified that he
saw Schlieve using drugs.
Meth addicts often fall in love not
only with the drug, but also with the process of making it, and this,
according to many of the trial’s witnesses, is what happened to
Schlieve. He allegedly became more and more obsessed with the “cooking”
process, and he developed some grand ambitions. “Paul wanted to have a
big dope cook-off and have as many people to the ranch to cook as much
as they could, and he would give a bonus to the one who produced the
best one, the most,” Sheila testified. “I heard Franks and him talking
about it all the time.”
That would never happen, but Franks and
Schlieve did have smaller cooks at the ranch starting in late March or
April. In all, there were five cooks at the ranch, according to the
testimony, all allegedly funded by Schlieve; the last one on May 16 or
17. On May 19, Franks made a mistake that would land him back in
jail—and this time Schlieve would go with him.
Franks went out
that day to sell some of the leftover dope to a dealer who lived
nearby, but the dealer wasn’t home. Instead, Franks and an acquaintance
named Robert Reynolds drove to the house of another acquaintance,
Robert Loftis. As it happened, it was perhaps the worst place in Denton
County that Franks could have gone. That afternoon, a federal narcotics
task force was doing a sweep of rural North Texas, and one of the
suspects in the sweep lived at Loftis’ house. Soon after Franks
arrived, a couple of task force members came and talked to Loftis in
the front yard. The woman they were after wasn’t home, so the officers
What happened next isn’t entirely clear. Witnesses tell
different stories. Some involved may have been high on drugs. But what
we do know is that panic ensued.
Franks told Loftis that he
needed to call his “daddy” and then pulled his cell phone from his
pocket and called Schlieve. He implored Schlieve to “get his butt over”
to Loftis’ house and help him remove some guns from the premises,
because Schlieve had a gun permit and gun possession was a violation of
Franks’ parole. After several phone calls, Schlieve agreed, and about
20 minutes later he arrived at the house.
Reynolds, and Loftis tried to decide what to do next, knowing that the
police were nearby and they were heavily armed and had loads of drugs.
Franks testified that he wanted to flush the dope down the sink, but
Schlieve insisted on keeping it. Attempting to fool the cops, Franks
left in Schlieve’s truck. Schlieve and Reynolds left in Franks’.
didn’t get far. Soon after he pulled out of the driveway, a Pilot Point
police officer, who had been staking out the house, pulled behind the
truck and turned on his lights. When the officer asked to search the
vehicle, Schlieve refused. After a K-9 unit arrived and dogs sniffed
the car, however, the police got their way. Inside a duffle bag in
Franks’ truck, they found 217 grams of methamphetamine powder, 230
grams of methamphetamine waste, three handguns, and a sawed-off shotgun.
friends now maintain that the ex-professor was set up. Some theorize
that Schlieve didn’t know what was in the duffle bag. Other friends
think that law enforcement officers set up Schlieve because they were
frustrated that he was always bailing Franks out of trouble. “He made
some people way up high very angry, and they went after him with a
vengeance,” said one friend from UNT, who refuses to give his name.
Some friends even suggested that the school was in on a conspiracy to
take the teacher down.
During the course of the trial in
January, Jerry Cobb, Schlieve’s attorney, did his best to poke holes in
the prosecution’s case. He pointed out that nearly all of the witnesses
were convicts who were high on meth during the period in question. He
also pointed out that nearly all of them would be eligible for reduced
sentences in exchange for their testimony. Cobb didn’t call a single
witness, however—not even Schlieve. In the end, the jury found
Schlieve, now 51, guilty on four counts involving drugs and/or
firearms. Cobb says Schlieve will appeal.
Today, while he awaits
his sentencing, Schlieve resides at the Grayson County Jail.
Ironically, in 2000, in a letter to Franks, Schlieve wrote: “… I can’t
really understand [prison life] just by visiting [you]. Even if I got
arrested for something and spent a few days in jail, because of who I
am and what I am, I would always know, deep down, that the end of
incarceration was coming shortly … .” Given the circumstances, it is
not likely Schlieve will be released before 2019.
Leif Strickland has written for the Dallas Morning News and Newsweek. He recently moved from Dallas to LA.
Photos: Courtesy of DEA