Billie Sol Estes: A Sordid History Atoned: “Sol” Finally Vindicated — PART 3

~ third OF A THREE PART SERIES ~

Billie Sol’s Personal Life:  The Slowly Unfolding Fall

Billie Sol Estes’s Pecos Home, circa 1962

Throughout his life, Billie Sol Estes valued his family above all else, beginning in his childhood with his mother and father, sisters and brothers. And he was devoted to his first wife Patsy, with whom during 54 years of marriage before her death they had four daughters and one son (In order of birth: Pam, January, Dawn, Billie Sol Jr., and Joy).

Billie Sol wrote his autobiography, Billie Sol Estes – A Texas Legend: The Man Who Knows Who Shot JFK in 2005.  He dedicated his memoir to his parents, John and Lillian, as well as his brothers Bob (who preceded him in death), Word and John L., and his sisters Joan and Jean. And he then extended the book dedication thusly:[1]

My rock was my wife Patsy, who loved me for 55 years and gave me my wonderful children, who are the light of my life; to my new bride Dorris, who is my inspiration, lover and friend; and to my grandchildren . . . may they all be wheeler-dealers.

His memoir was published just before a series of events that would nearly tear his family apart.  As it had led to his financial ruin in the 1960s, the gene that caused his lust for fame and fortune was passed to at least one of his children; it resurfaced some fifty years later, nearly destroying the family relationships he had always treasured.  Yet the family was strong enough to withstand that fracture, and heal it sufficiently to bring him peace and happiness in his last few years.  Indeed, his eldest daughter, Pam – the source of that nearly broken family cord – would partially atone for her behavior to Billie Sol and his second wife. Upon his death, she would lead her siblings to come together, arranging a funeral service worthy of “A Texas Legend.”

An Anonymous Source – An Old Friend of Billie Sol Explains the Source of His Family’s Breakdown

When Billie Sol’s old friend, who prefers to remain anonymous, first met Billie Sol in the late 1980s, he and his first wife Patsy were living in Brady Texas.  When Patsy became ill, needing hospital care, daughter Pam had arranged for Billie Sol to move in with his other daughter Joy, who also lived in Granbury, closer to the hospital. After Patsy’s death in February, 2000, other arrangements were made for Billie Sol to move to another small house in Granbury which would be occasionally used as a “Bed & Breakfast” business. The arrangement included the understanding that Billie Sol would have the option of cooking for his guests, for another fee.  All of the “house rules” were set by Pam, whose idea was to generate extra income to offset housing expenses.

By this point, Pam had become a well-known marriage counselor in Granbury, active in other circles and thus became widely known by many of the town’s citizens.  Her public reputation was generally good, though some people who knew her closely were aware that she had a controlling, manipulative streak when it came to her personal affairs, especially those having to do with the financial kind.

Pam had also involved herself in much of Billie Sol’s life, including deciding for him when and where he needed to go, always driving him to his appointments since he had stopped driving. 

At one of those appointments, to a dentist’s office in the spring of 2003, while sitting in the waiting room he met a widow named Dorris Brookover.  The friend of Billie Sol’s who provided this information was personally told—years later, by Dorris—that she realized, too late, that Pam had set up the dentist’s office meeting with Billie Sol, knowing “through the grapevine” that she was recently widowed, very wealthy and now available for possible marriage.  Dorris had also been a resident of the same gated community in Granbury—De Cordova Bend Estates—as Pam and Billie Sol. Pam most likely knew someone in the Dentist’s office who confirmed that Dorris was a client and agreed to alert Pam when she made an appointment, so that another one could be scheduled for Billie Sol in the next slot.  From there, she would rely on Sol’s natural gift of gab to let nature take its course.

Dorris’s first husband, Leroy Brookover, had been the successful owner of Lerondo Oil Servicing Co. (the name is a conflation of “Leroy, Ronald (their son) and Dorris, an oilfield equipment supply company.  His death at age 85 in January, 2003—just a couple of months before Dorris met Billie Sol—caused her to become a very wealthy widow, worth over $16 million in “liquid assets.”  He had retired in 1980, at age 62, and during the 23 years of their retirement—by then, divested from his company—he and his wife had become world travelers.  Mr. and Mrs. Brookover had only one son, Ronnie, who had been badly injured in an automobile accident at a young age and required constant care before he died in his early 20s.  Her only other relative was a cousin who warned her not to marry Billie Sol Estes and became very upset when Dorris did not follow her advice.

Nevertheless, Billie Sol and Dorris were married a few months later, in September, 2003.  Two weeks after that they flew to Paris (accompanied by daughter Pam and her husband Larry) for a honeymoon, where Billie Sol had also scheduled meetings with a Frenchman named William Reymond.  They had recently collaborated in writing a book, titled JFK le Dernier Témoin (“JFK the Last Witness”), which had been published in France and several other countries in a number of languages, but never in English, though that had been the original plan (see Part 2 of this series for more information on the dissolution of the English edition of that project).

For reasons known only to her, his late daughter Pam became upset with Billie Sol for writing his autobiography after the break-up of the partnership he had with Reymond.  Perhaps it was a threat to the sales of her own book on Billie Sol’s life and times, or simply because she would not profit from his book’s sales, she resented his book and the fact that he had created his own publishing company, which he humorously called “BS Productions.” Since her actual concerns remain unknown, it may have been for other reasons, such as possibly some of the content within the book.  

A Preternatural Turn of Events for Billie Sol and Dorris

Unfortunately for Billie Sol and Dorris, Pam had clearly inherited Billie Sol’s strongest genes related to the love of money and power but missed the ones related to charity and empathy for others. When they returned from their trip to Paris, Billie Sol had moved into Dorris’s house several blocks away from Pam’s home, yet still within the same community.  Pam had begun working on another plan, of which they were not invited to participate.  She knew it was now time to proceed with her original plan, and she began making the incremental steps that would lead to her taking over the financial holdings of her new step mother.  And her plan clearly wasn’t about merely passively waiting for the elderly woman to die.

With the assistance of Pam’s second husband, Larry Padget, a medical doctor, and January’s “live-in” partner, a psychiatrist, testimony was assembled that allowed Pam to declare that both Billie Sol and Dorris were unable to care for themselves and thus obtained a court order naming her as their legal guardian.  Fearful that the news of what she had been planning might become the town gossip, she was careful not to use any Granbury attorneys (or anywhere else in Hood County) to avoid any such “leaks.”  Instead, she selected an attorney 50 miles to the north, in Weatherford, Parker County.  She soon secured the legal guardianship documents that authorized her to take complete control over both of their lives. She apparently was able to do that despite not being a blood relative of Dorris, since she had no other relatives left—other than a cousin, the same one who had warned her not to marry Billie Sol and that disagreement effectively ended their relationship.

Billie Sol broke his leg sometime in 2007-08 and Pam used that as an opportunity to begin the second phase of her plan:  She insisted that they move to another house on the same block as hers that had just become available so that she could take better care of them.  In the process, Pam then rented out Dorris’s much larger home and banked the rental income in an account belonging to them but managed by her; from that account, Pam paid all of their living expenses and paid them $200 per month for miscellaneous expenses (their mutual “allowance”).  Dorris would plaintively ask visitors: “What have I done? They’re mean to me when he’s not around. Why are they treating me so meanly?”

With complete power over them, Pam then reminded them on occasion that if they didn’t behave according to her rules, there was always the option of declaring either of them, or both, to be mentally unfit and then they would have to be committed to a mental hospital.

Billie Sol was furious with Pam’s dictatorial rules and eventually decided to take matters into his own hands, secretly arranging for a friend to drive him and Dorris to Austin, where his daughter Dawn lived.  They stayed there several weeks as temporary guests of Dawn while Billie Sol worked with Fort Worth attorney Alex R. Tandy to get out from under the guardianship of Pam; Tandy hired a psychiatrist to evaluate both Dorris and Billie Sol and determined they were fully capable of making their own decisions and taking care of themselves.  Back in Dallas, Billie Sol had expected to spend around 30 minutes to explain his situation to the psychiatrist but the interview lasted three times that.  By the time he left the office he was seething with anger, presumably due the probing done by the psychiatrist, and the frustrations of the situation created by his daughter which he had experienced.

With those documents, Attorney Tandy was able to take the necessary legal actions to have Pam’s guardianship rescinded, and Billie Sol’s and Dorris’s essential personal liberties restored.   

But in the meantime, while Pam exercised her authority over Dorris’s finances, she had begun purchasing real estate, commercial buildings and other property in her own name. That point was eventually reflected in her obituary, which indicated that she had become a “real estate mogul” (see page 3, below). By the time Dorris had recovered her rights to her own estate, its value had nearly been completely lost, going from over $16 million to only $62,000.  But even worse, her health—then in her mid-80s—had suffered during the period under Pam’s yoke.

Soon after their return to Granbury, Billie Sol’s daughter Joy, now assisting them within their home, apparently—though it was never proven—mixed up her medications such that the ones most critical to her health were replaced with something else [a variant of this story is that Dorris was given Billie Sol’s and vice-versa–but that doesn’t explain why Billie Sol’s health was evidently not also affected].  The mixup resulted in multiple trips to her doctor as well as some to the hospital; whenever she was hospitalized, her health dramatically improved, but as soon as she returned home it declined again.

It is conceivable­­—though extremely disturbing, that it was not merely by accident that it occurred—that perhaps Pam, who had done so much to seize most of her estate, might have had a hand in the mix-up.  None of that can ever be proven now, but it might explain the mystery, given Pam’s previous cunning actions. Regardless of who, how or why this occurred, it caused Dorris to be hospitalized more than once and, in fact, she had been hospitalized in the days just before Billie Sol died, on May 13, 2013 and had just returned home the day before he was found dead.   His obituary in the local paper can be found here.

After his death, Pam made the arrangements to have Dorris moved into an assisted living facility and gave the management the order to allow no visitors and no access to telephones.  Dorris Brookover Estes died at age 90 on May 30, 2014, a little over one year after Billie Sol’s death.  Her very short obituary can be found here.

From the Ashes, Larger Truths Emerge: The Vindication of Billie Sol Estes

The View of Billie Sol – From Another Prism

As we explore other facets of Billie Sol’s character traits, it will become clear that his liberal attitudes, in the very conservative 1950s-60s era culture of Central / West Texas, often caused some of the conflicts that seemed to follow him like a shadow.  This side of him was rarely, if ever, reported in all of the massive press coverage that suddenly manifested in the Spring of 1962.

The excerpt below, of the first two paragraphs of his memoir, illustrates those traits in his own words:

The First Two Paragraphs of the First Chapter of Billie Sol’s Book

Having conflated those attributes—the “higher power and grand vision”—to-the men he named is at best a considerable overstatement, and at worst is the epitome of absurdity. Of course, we don’t know the supposedly noble qualities of Vito Genovese or Jimmy Hoffa that made him extend that description to them, but we know enough about some of their shortcomings, and the blemishes of the others, to realize that all of them had positive and negative character traits, just like everyone else.  As for the listed presidents, and MLK and RFK, those traits, on balance, put them mostly above the threshold for that lofty grouping—except for the last president in his listing. 

Estes might have started out thinking that, in 1956, when he slipped into an “over the line” association with LBJ that eventually backfired, putting himself into prison—twice—while allowing Johnson to evade justice even as he was propelled into the Presidency, it is stunning that Billie Sol could write such a sentence over four decades later. Especially after having formally accused him, in 1984, of ordering multiple murders of people who had stood in his way up the political ladder, including JFK.

Just before Billie Sol’s release from his second prison term, in 1983, Pam Estes published a biography in which she did address this.  On the inside flap, she wrote: [2]

“A man who liked giving money away almost as much as he like making it, Billie Sol was well-known in West Texas as a man who would undercut and ruin a competitor before breakfast then find a poor black or Mexican student and pay his college tuition before dinner time. A lay preacher, he helped build black & Latin American Church of Christ congregations and advocated integration in the segregated Texas of the late fifties and early sixties.

The book was titled Billie Sol – King of the Texas Wheeler-Dealers and of course differs from the thousands of articles printed during his fall from grace in 1962. As she put it, he hit a snag “like a pin hitting an over-inflated balloon.”  One example of that was related to what she called the real reason Billie Sol lost the election to the Pecos school board.  She claimed that it was because his supporters:

“ . . . were largely people with little or no influence; blacks, Hispanics, and poor whites.  The people who opposed him claimed they were against him because of his puritanical views on innocent pleasure such as school dances and mixed bathing [i.e. swimming together]. They claim, if elected, he would succeed in imposing his values on the school.

“The real reason they opposed him was because they were afraid that his election would speed integration.  In the early sixties in Texas, integration was still a sensitive subject and anyone even vaguely suspected of being for it would be opposed by the local John Birch Society.  The owners of the local paper, the Independent, were members of the John Birch Society and they vehemently opposed Daddy’s election for that reason—and they assured his defeat.

“Unfortunately, Daddy, with all his millions, decided to retaliate in the only way he knew how.  He decided to start a rival newspaper and put them out of business.

“And the owners of the Independent, fighting for economic survival, began investigating Daddy’s fertilizer tank deals.  Their editor won the Pulitzer prize for his series of articles that led to Daddy’s arrest.  But I’m afraid that the Eastern and national media that lionized the editor for fearless journalism didn’t really want to know the paper’s real motivation”.[3]

Probably the least-understood element of Billie Sol’s personality and essential character traits was his lack of nuance, and a tendency to generalize and rationalize his evaluation of other people.  That — along with being rather naïve and gullible, at least in his younger years —became the source of many of his bad decisions in the mid-1950s.  As Pam also wrote on the inside flap of her book, “Billie Sol had a liking for the Democratic Party and for Lyndon Johnson particularly. When Johnson discovered Billie Sol’s fund-raising abilities, he made full use of him.  Billie Sol’s role in the Johnson political network was to deliver huge sums of cash personally to Johnson or to one of Johnson’s political proteges such as Ralph Yarborough.”

The point about Yarborough being LBJ’s “protégé” was not exactly correct of course, but that was undoubtedly the way it was portrayed; Johnson merely wanted his political rival to be similarly tainted, should this “under the table” device ever be exposed.  But her larger point was that, the more he donated to then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, the more LBJ expected of him, and to assist him in that endeavor, the Senator eagerly helped to develop various fraudulent schemes to exploit Estes’s business empire. 

The following excerpt, from an article in the May 25, 1962 issue of Time magazine, illustrates the point about his naiveté and gullibility while it also validates his extraordinary support for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, in 1952 and 1956:

In 1956, he made a fool of himself by trying to persuade the president of a Pecos bank to help finance a wacky scheme to help Adlai Stevenson win the election. Under the Estes plan, large schools of parakeets, trained to say “I like Adlai” in unison, would fly over U.S. cities. When the banker tried to tell Estes that parakeets could not be trained to say “I like Adlai,” much less say it in unison, Estes got purple angry, accused the banker of being anti-Stevenson, and stomped out.

In a video shown at his May, 2013 funeral, Billie Sol stated that Harry Truman had become a good friend in the early years (Sol was still in his 20s then): 

“I knew him well, he was a very stern person, was a good friend of Jimmy Hoffa, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, I grew up in the Democrat party with Lyndon Johnson from when he was a young man cutting cedars in Johnson City, before he got involved in politics.  LBJ was a man of vision, I remember Cliff Carter driving up in his car looking for leaders.  Don’t ask me to explain Lyndon Johnson, because he was bigger than life.”[4] 

The same video demonstrates that black people had a big influence on Billie and his family; at a time when integration wasn’t popular with many whites.  Billie couldn’t believe that God did not create all people equal.  His recorded voice explained some of that:

 “I was hoping that politically, or some way that we could find a way that not only the black, but the Mexicans would have an equal shot.  “I remember talking to Marshall Keeble [a famed black evangelical preacher] at Nashville Tenn. And I told him that we were going to have to do something.”  He told Billie to go see Martin Luther King in Atlanta.  “So I went to see Martin Luther King and was an early supporter of him to bring equal rights to all people.  But we had a lot of criticism because of the stand he took—they threatened me, with phone calls.  It just wasn’t a popular thing to do to have black people into your home or take them to a restaurant to eat.” 

Participating from afar in Billie Sol’s funeral, his friends Willie Nelson and Larry Gatlin sent messages and recorded songs, possibly declining to personally appear out of fear that they would become distractions.  But a popular black musician, Sir Earl Toon (who wrote and performed the hit song “Celebration”), of Kool and the Gang did appear, declaring, “Billie, I love you!” and stating to the people in attendance, “You don’t know what this man has done for people of color.” He also said that: “Every time I spoke to him he asked, ‘what he could do to help him’.” He also admitted that he was surprised when he asked Billie Sol if he knew the name “Otis Blackwell” and found that yes, he knew all about him (He was in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame as a songwriter for Elvis, among others, and had written “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Fever”, “Great Balls of Fire, and many other songs. 

If there was a “keynote speaker” at Billie Sol’s funeral service, it was the Rev. Floyd Rose. When Billie Sol was 26 years old, in 1951, Floyd was an eleven-year-old black boy from Nashville who was traveling, and preaching, with the black evangelist Marshall Keeble.  They stopped in Pecos for a two-week series of revival-prayer meetings.  Rev. Rose’s comments are summarized below but can be heard in this 13 minute recording of his eulogy to Billie Sol as he reflects on how the then-26 year old millionaire committed to help him become educated so that he could become a preacher:

Rev. Rose’s eulogy summarized:

During the church services, the races were segregated, with whites on one side and blacks on the other.  The young millionaire apparently couldn’t decide on which side he would sit so he stayed outside standing next to his car as he listened to Floyd speak. At the end of the two weeks, Billie Sol handed Floyd a $10 bill, and told him to check with his parents to see if they would allow him to pay all of Floyd’s educational expenses to finish elementary, middle, high school and college. He wanted to send him to Harvard University, then pay him a salary to travel the world and preach. 

Then Rose went with Keeble to Carlsbad, NM to do a service and Billie Sol drove up in a brand-new maroon Cadillac convertible.  This time, he came inside, but didn’t sit on the White side, he went to the “colored” side to sit next to Floyd.  He put his hand around his shoulder, and asked did he call his parents, so Floyd said “yes sir” even though he hadn’t.  Billie Sol gave him another $10 bill. 

When Floyd got back to the National Christian Institute in Nashville, Laura Keeble, who was Marshall’s wife and the secretary at the school, told him that his bill had been paid for the rest of the year; he had also arranged to continue paying him $40 per month for his personal needs. And he kept his word, paying his expenses from the time he was 11 until he was age 23 and had graduated from college.

But it wasn’t just Floyd who was the beneficiary of Billie Sol’s largess.  He helped many other black children including 200 others whose tuition fees to the Nashville Christian Institute (NCI) were paid by him.

But his benevolence was not limited to black students going to NCI. According to the 1995 unpublished manuscript Texas Mafia (p. 127) by Stephen Pegues:

Estes was responsible for sending hundreds of black youngsters to college at Southwestern Christian College and other fine institutions. At one point SWC’s budget fell so far that creditors were repossessing typewriters and other materials. Billie Sol got word of this and flew to Terrell, Texas, with a suitcase full of money. Estes set up a chair and table in the main hallway and started paying the debts, one by one.

The late Mr. Pegues (who died suddenly on September 4, 1997, at age 46 reportedly of a heart attack), also wrote the following excerpt (page 63):

It is also telling that the very last words—a “parting thought”—of his memoirs are: “Make your enemies your partners and then try to outlive them” (italics in original).  That probably explains more than any other possible set of words could, why he became so tethered to Lyndon Johnson that, for several years, they were inseparable, at least in a financial-dependence context. Billie Sol Estes, in his early 30s by 1956-57, had fallen victim to Lyndon Johnson’s siren songs as he enticed the young entrepreneur to find ways around certain Congressionally-set rules developed by the Department of Agriculture.

In manipulating Estes to do things that started “small” but grew to be more and more “over the line” of illegality, Lyndon Johnson had figuratively “hooked” him, as he then steadily drew him further into multiple areas related to the various agricultural regulations that impeded farmers who sought to obey the rules.  The promise of great profits for those who found inventive ways around the rules was what lured Estes – following the demands of Johnson – into a spiral that could never be unwound, just as a bell cannot be “un-rung.”

By 1956, when Estes turned 31 years old, he would be committed to become one of Johnson’s most important financiers, generating millions of dollars in revenue from the various frauds designed by Lyndon Johnson and managed by Estes

In reviewing the totality of Billie Sol Estes’s history and his elemental traits—sorting through the positives and negatives, the “chinks in his armor” and his “Achilles heals” et. cetera—the “net” deductive result exposes his vulnerabilities:  The magnet that proved irresistible to Billie Sol Estes was, in a word, “power,” and the men who wielded it.  Clearly, as the very first sentence on the first page of his memoirs attests, he wanted the reader to understand from the start that he had connections to some of the most powerful men of his era.  The other commonality of the presidents and political leaders on that list is that they were all (relatively) liberal Democrats—there was no mention of Eisenhower or Nixon.

In fact, Billie Sol’s efforts beginning in 1984 after his release from prison were self-initiated, with prodding from (then-U.S. Marshall) Clint Peoples, and driven by his own conscientiousness—a common phenomenon as people age and begin regretting their earlier missteps.  It was his way of seeking atonement and salvation for sins he had been led into making as he complied with Lyndon Johnson’s demands for more cash. Together, Lyndon Johnson’s biographers have attempted to vilify Estes while redeeming the real villain, Johnson himself—the real source of the crimes committed—the one who had always been in the power position, in complete control of the other.

Were it anyone other than a former President, the larger scope of Billie Sol Estes’s lifetime work—especially his efforts to aggressively fight racism through helping black children break the cycle of poverty through education—would be given a measure of credit for having been the hero that he was to many hundreds of people who had been the recipients of his generosity. And LBJ would be properly recognized as the villain behind the scandals improperly named after the wrong man.

Page 2: Billie Sol’s Obituary

Page 3: Pam Estes’s Obituary


END NOTES:

[1]  Estes, Billie Sol, Billie Sol Estes – A Texas Legend: The Man Who Knows Who Shot JFK in 2005

[2] Estes, Pam, Billie Sol: King of the Texas Wheeler-Dealers, Abilene, TX: Noble Craft Books, 1983 (p. 57).

[3] Ibid.

[4] From the video of Billie Sol Estes’s funeral (beginning at about the 9:00 minute mark)


5 thoughts on “Billie Sol Estes: A Sordid History Atoned: “Sol” Finally Vindicated — PART 3

  1. Thank you for your response I have thoroughly enjoyed your book on LBJ. Harold worked at the First National Bank in Pecos. He was my uncle and also the first witness in the Billie Sol case. Trying to find out more about him. Not many witnesses against LBJ’s cronies lived to old age like Harold did, but then again Harold never talked about it even to the family, never.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you haven’t yet read my second book (“Colossus”) I think you would enjoy it as well, especially the 48 page Chapter 1, about Clint Peoples’ long investigation of Billie Sol’s charges against LBJ. I can sell you an autographed copy for $25 with S&H “all-in” just LMK.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s