From the archives: Murder in the family — (The Statesman)

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The Statesman

Kevin Robbins, American-Statesman Staff

4:59 p.m. Sunday, July 29, 2001

Just before noon one morning last year in Dallas, an employee in the office of the district court clerk takes a lawsuit and in the top-right corner of the first page stamps the word FILED.

The document is brief. Eight paragraphs in all. Now, the text begins, comes Amanda Mayhew Dealey. . .

Dealey is in Austin, her home for almost 20 years. She has been busy with family, her charitable activities, her functions as a civic activist, including a political campaign. But for two years her mind has been occupied by what happened to her father and what has not happened since.

On or about February 28, 1998, Charles Milton Mayhew was murdered while in his home . . .

He was 81. He was slain in his bed. That night, as he lay in the dark with the covers pulled snug in the house where he raised a daughter and a son, someone slipped through the doorway with a 12-gauge shotgun and pointed the barrel at his neck.

Even though Charles Milton Mayhew, Jr. was never formally charged . . .

. . . the investigation produced enough circumstantial evidence . . .

Whoever shot Charles Mayhew to death was careful. His killer took nothing from the house and left nothing behind but the birdshot and wadding the medical examiner found in the wound. No weapon was found. No arrests were made. But in Austin, Dealey developed her own theory about what happened that night.

. . . indicating that Defendant Charles Milton Mayhew, Jr. murdered Charles Milton Mayhew.

FILED, reads the stamp.

2000 FEB 25.

Less than a week before the statute of limitations expires, the mysterious murder of Charles Milton Mayhew Sr. — landholder, retired businessman, would-be developer, one-time millionaire, former small-town mayor, Texas gentleman, father — enters the courts.

Dealey v. Mayhew is scheduled for trial in January. It will take place in Dallas.

It is a wrongful-death lawsuit. Because it is a civil matter, the jury will not be asked to find guilt, a term used in criminal prosecutions. In Dealey v. Mayhew, Dealey’s lawyers must prove to the jury only that it is more likely than not that Chuck Mayhew killed his father. If the jury agrees, it may levy damages but not prison time.

Mayhew has countersued his sister for defamation. In his lawsuit, he denies killing his father. Mayhew’s lawyer would not allow him to be interviewed, but Mayhew’s deposition testimony — sworn under oath and taken earlier this year — gives his version of events.

The testimony reveals a man with a temper. He confesses to mental illness and alcohol dependency and decisions he regrets, but nothing more. He admits to small-stakes gambling on football games, occasional cocaine use and shooting cats and dogs and cattle. But not his father.

“I’ve never, never laid a hand on my father, ” Mayhew said in depositions.

Dealey v. Mayhew is about the unsolved murder of a well-known widower. It also is about a family whose pathos traces the contours of classic Texas myth. The jury likely will hear testimony about an ambitious business partnership and how it crumbled. It will hear of a fortune spent on a lawsuit, consequent appeals and a final, desperate plea to the Supreme Court of the United States. There likely will be talk of rage, suspicion, sin and love.

It seems nothing will be sacred when the Mayhew siblings of Sunnyvale go to court.

When morning came to the tiny town on March 1, 1998, the light bulbs were dark in the Mayhew house at the end of the road. Charles Mayhew was in his bedroom in the secluded house he called home for 46 years.

A modest, simple-living man, he had earned his wealth in an oil-drilling supply business his father founded in 1923 in Dallas. Charles Mayhew invested some of his fortune in land, on which he built a spacious, four-bedroom ranch house in the middle of a field just off a narrow strip of isolated, tree-shaded asphalt called Nance Road.

He was a thin man with wavy hair that was covered most days by a gray hat with a narrow brim. He raced powerboats before his children were born, but by the time he became a father his lifestyle had mellowed. His favorite attire was khaki pants and a white shirt.

“He had really simple tastes, ” Dealey says.

On that March morning, the house was still. His television was on. His Ford Taurus station wagon was in the garage.

His back door was unlocked. It always was unlocked.

Hundreds of miles away, Mandy Dealey was in Chiapas, Mexico, with her husband, Larry Speck.

They had gone there as part of Speck’s duties as dean of the architecture school at the University of Texas. A few days before they left, Dealey spent a Saturday afternoon with her father in Sunnyvale, a quiet pocket of 850 households and 2,350 people about 15 miles east of Dallas.

Dealey and her father packed a box of art and history books for her to take back to Austin. They reminisced about their own family trips to Mexico a long time ago.

The Mayhews were among the original families of Sunnyvale. Charles Mayhew bought 880 acres of rolling land buttoned by ponds and pecan groves. He built the house in 1952, when his daughter was 2 and his son was a newborn.

There were 600 people in Sunnyvale then. The Mayhews lived among country people.

It was an environment Dealey never particularly liked. She was more attracted to the theaters, museums and department stores in Dallas. Dealey and her mother spent Saturdays there while her brother and father spent theirs in a different way.

A family friend introduced her brother to skeet shooting. Soon he was a competitive marksman.

He won the world junior skeet championship. He was among the top three marksmen in the country at the age of 14. He once broke 199 of 200 clays at a competition in England. Wanting to nurture the boy’s skill, Charles Mayhew took his son to matches all over.

“They spent a lot of time together, ” Dealey says. “I do think they were close.”

Dealey was influenced by her mother. Audrey Mayhew was from Kerens, a small town in East Texas, and she wanted her daughter to know the cultural blessings of living so near a city, something she never had as a girl.

Dealey took piano lessons. She learned the names of artists and composers. Etiquette was taught at the home. “I lived in manners school, ” she says now. She studied ballroom dancing at the finest studio in Dallas, a place where the girls waltzed like little ladies with white gloves on their hands.

The Mayhew children attended the best schools in Dallas. Chuck Mayhew went to St. Mark’s School of Texas, a college preparatory academy for boys. At The Hockaday School, an equally rigorous and exclusive program for girls, Dealey graduated in 1968 with other daughters of Texas’ elite. Before she made her debut in Dallas, she embarked on a tour that whisked her to Europe with a dozen other debutantes and their own photographer.

She married Dallas Morning News scion Joe Dealey Jr., of the prominent Dallas family for whom Dealey Plaza is named, when she was 22. They divorced six years later.

Dealey still resembles the young woman she was then. She is model-thin, with light hair cut fashionably short. She carries herself as she might have as a debutante — erectly, shoulders back, chin high, a heel-toe stride. She wears designer eyeglasses and the labels of haute couture.

She lives in Pemberton Heights, a coveted neighborhood in old Central Austin populated by lawyers, surgeons, investors, judges, Internet millionaires and a country-music singer for the Dixie Chicks.

“I do consider myself lucky, ” Dealey says one late-spring morning in her kitchen.

But with that luck came some measure of sadness. Her mother drank too much, something Dealey discusses openly. She believes alcoholism contributed to her mother’s death in 1987. Audrey Mayhew had been drinking since her children were born, Dealey says.

The late 1980s were hard on the Mayhews of Sunnyvale. The jury will hear about that.

By then, Charles and Chuck Mayhew, a man approaching his 40s, were in business together. And they were suing the town of Sunnyvale.

Chuck Mayhew was married and had a place of his own at the time his father died. But he still kept a room in the house where he was raised.

Father and son launched their land-development partnership in the mid-1980s, and everything changed. They found themselves in an uneasy relationship, as charged as lightning. Disagreements over money, power and control soon would strain the father-son bond.

Their plan was to develop neighborhoods on the valuable land surrounding the family home. By that time, metropolitan Dallas had nearly surrounded Sunnyvale. But the town resisted becoming just another bland suburb. Hemmed in by the blooming city of Mesquite and the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard, Sunnyvale fought to preserve its back-country character by requiring that houses be built on large lots.

But the Mayhews wanted to develop smaller lots. They sought to build 5,000 houses on their land; the city said they could build 1,200. Claiming the law discriminated against middle-class families who wanted to live in Sunnyvale, the Mayhews sued the city in 1987.

And so began a sequence of events that many veterans of the dispute wish never had happened.

To some of them, the lawsuit cast the elder Mayhew, a mayor of the town in the early 1970s, as an enemy of Sunnyvale. The protracted legal battle, which cost both sides in excess of a million dollars, even led to talk that it somehow might be related to his death. But “his intention was never to hurt the town, ” Dealey says.

Jim Wade was mayor as the lawsuit against Sunnyvale wound its way through the courts.

He remembers Mayhew as “cordial” in his dealings with the town’s government, that Mayhew was the “nice old mayor” who took such an intense interest in the future of Sunnyvale that he brought a personal assistant and a tape recorder to city meetings.

“We had that disagreement, but that was the only disagreement we had, ” says Wade, a financial planner who still lives in the 19.5-square-mile town.

The Mayhews won the first court decision, which granted them $9 million in damages and permission to develop as they pleased. Sunnyvale appealed. A state court reversed the lower court’s decision. The Mayhews then requested a rehearing.

The reversal was upheld, so the Mayhews took their case to the Texas Supreme Court. They lost there, too. The ordeal lasted more than a decade, until the U.S. Supreme Court refused in 1999 to review the suit.

“Ultimately, it wore him down, ” Dealey says of her father.

By the mid-1990s, Chuck Mayhew had resigned from the partnership with his father. He had resigned before, but this time his father granted the resignation, potentially excluding his son from income resulting from future development. “I never intended my resignation to be accepted, ” Mayhew said in depositions after his father’s death.

A month after the younger Mayhew resigned, the two spoke on the telephone. Chuck Mayhew wanted his resignation rescinded. He argued he was entitled to a certain amount of money, but his father disagreed.

The transcript of that conversation is among more than 590 pages of deposition testimony and exhibits at the Dallas law offices of Sumner, Schick & Hamilton, a law firm representing Dealey in the lawsuit. On April 25 of this year, lawyer Steve Sumner questioned Mayhew about the call.

“I was ballistic, ” said Mayhew, who now lives in Longview.

“I’m not sure what that means, ” Sumner said. “What does ‘ballistic’ mean?”

“Absolutely through the roof.”

“All right. Were you screaming at him?”

“Yes.”

“Were you cussing at him?”

“Yes.”

“Did you call him every name in the book?”

“Everything I could think of and things I couldn’t think of.”

“Did you threaten to kill him?”

“Yes.”

Police reports, depositions and tapes reveal what happened shortly after noon on March 1, 1998.

A young man and his girlfriend turned onto Nance Road and drove to its end. There, Christopher Dealey pulled into his grandfather’s driveway.

“Of all the people who shouldn’t have been there, ” Mandy Dealey says of her only son, for whom she kept the last name of her first marriage. “Christopher is the one who should’ve been spared.”

Christopher and his girlfriend were in Dallas that weekend to see the symphony. He wanted her to meet his grandfather before they returned that afternoon to Austin. They entered the house through the unlocked back door.

From the Dallas County sheriff’s department report:

Thinking that his grandfather was still asleep, they walked around the house for a few minutes. Mr. Dealey looked in his grandfather’s room and saw him in the bed with the covers up over his head.

Christopher Dealey showed his girlfriend the pond outside. He showed her the game mounts in the trophy room. Nearby, in a gun case, was Chuck Mayhew’s collection of firearms — various shotguns, rifles and handguns. The gun case was unlocked, Mayhew testified. But no weapons were missing.

Before leaving he went to wake up his grandfather to tell him goodbye. He noticed blood on the pillow and he placed two fingers under deceased (sic) nose to see if he was breathing and got blood on his fingers.

Mr. Dealey then called his uncle.

Chuck Mayhew answered the telephone. He lived with his wife in Forney, a small town not far from his father’s house.

Christopher told his uncle what he had found in the bedroom.

Mayhew arrived 10 to 15 minutes later. He asked his nephew if he had called anyone else. He drank a beer in the house and walked outside.

He went back inside and called his wife and drank another beer.

In more than a dozen hours of depositions, Chuck Mayhew, now 49, admitted he was an alcoholic. He said he had used cocaine, and he said he had gambled on football games. He said he suffered from depression and bipolar disorder and was under the care of a psychiatrist. He said he took antidepressants.

Mayhew pleaded guilty to a driving-while-intoxicated charge in 1978 and paid a $500 fine. He spent his 31st birthday in an alcohol treatment center. He was in rehabilitation programs in 1994 and 2000.

“I couldn’t live without alcohol. Literally, ” he testified.

Mayhew said he quit drinking for periods but lapsed. He said he recently earned his one-year sobriety chip.

Dealey’s lawyers asked if he had been drinking about the time his father was killed.

He said, “Yes.”

They asked Mayhew if he was drinking heavily.

“More than I should, ” he said.

Reportee then went through bathroom door that leads to (his father’s) bedroom. Reportee observed deceased lying in the bed with the covers pulled up over his head. Reportee pulled covers back and saw the gaping wound below the left ear. He then exited the room and called 911.

The operator told Mayhew an ambulance would be sent.

Calmly, Mayhew said no ambulance would be needed.

He ended the conversation by calling the 911 operator “darlin’.”

Later, Dealey thought about the events of that day. She also thought about events leading up to it.

In deposition testimony she gave last summer to her brother’s lawyer, Bill Hommel of Tyler, Dealey said she thought her brother killed their father.

“I have very strong reasons to believe he did, ” she testified. “There is an incredible amount of circumstantial evidence, and I very strongly believe he did.”

She said she knew about the development project and the lawsuit. She knew that her brother killed animals for reasons other than sport. In 1996, when he was 44, an acquaintance’s two dogs were found dead on the Mayhew property. Chuck had shot them in the head with a .357 handgun. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals, paid a $200 fine and spent a year on probation.

Dealey knew some of the other things he told people. Mayhew told his friends he once was a contract assassin and, as a mercenary, killed people in Africa. He later said he made it all up. “It sounded like a good story, ” he testified.

Dealey testified that she knew her brother had threatened her father. She knew her brother was angry about the resignation in 1995. She knew her father had changed his will in 1997, granting less of his estate to his son and more to her, but says she did not know the details of that until his death.

All the while, her father was relying more on her and less on her brother for his day-to-day affairs.

Dealey says her father began to appreciate what she had done with her life. In Austin, she was involved in a variety of organizations — Planned Parenthood, the Junior League, the Girl Scouts and the classical radio station KMFA, the Community Action Network and the City of Austin Arts Commission, the Austin Lyric Opera, the Austin Museum of Art and the Austin Symphony Orchestra. She was the executive director of Leadership Texas in 1989 and 1990.

In 1992, her father took out a page of his stationery and wrote a note to Speck, Dealey’s third husband: “I could never be more proud of Mandy for the devotion she has given to me and the personal and civic accomplishments she has achieved.”

There was a time when Dealey’s father seemed to favor his son. But not anymore. By the time Dealey and her father spent that last Saturday together boxing books and talking about Mexico, the two of them were as close as they ever had been, she says.

“At least, when he died, things were in a really good place.”

The Dallas County sheriff’s department is in charge of the investigation but declined to speak at length about it.

What is known is this: Detectives interviewed Chuck Mayhew at his father’s house on the day the body was found. They requested a second interview and Mayhew granted it, but “it took awhile for him to come in” because he wanted a lawyer present, says department spokesman Don Peritz. There were no suspects then and none now, Peritz says. “No one has ever been named or cleared.”

Two detectives were assigned to the Mayhew homicide. Although the case has not been closed, no one is actively working on it, Peritz says. “It remains an open investigation.”

In Austin, Dealey grew frustrated when the case grew colder by the month.

“I want to know the truth, ” she says. “That’s the closure I’m looking for. That’s the last piece.” When the investigation stalled, “I realized that I might be the only one who could make that (closure) happen.”

So in the middle of her ultimately unsuccessful campaign for state representative in the Democratic primary, she decided to take her only brother to court.

“I know this seems like something you wouldn’t do to someone you love. On the other hand, I loved my father.” She recites something she remembers from Sunday school in Dallas at First Community Church: “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.”

Dealey wants to exclude her brother from her father’s estate, which is worth about $8 million. The court required her to specify damages, so she listed $5 million. But, according to Dealey, her lawsuit is about more than money.

“It’s the part that’s least important to me, ” Dealey says.

She says she would like to think the trial is about truth. But the truth of what happened on Nance Road is likely something only the killer knows. “I want Chuck to be tried in a court of law, ” Dealey says.

She figured he never would be charged. Two years had passed, after all.

“When it’s over, it’s over, ” she says. “I have prepared for either outcome.”

Dealey could not prepare for those moments at the law offices, after she filed the suit, when she and her brother were giving their depositions. Sometimes, Dealey says, she would see an expression in her brother’s face, and it would remind her of slumber parties and long walks in the woods with the dogs and playing “Gunsmoke” at the ranch. Then, as quick as a sigh, the expression would vanish, leaving her with the face of a brother she says she no longer knows.

Mandy Dealey says she loves her brother. No jury verdict can change that. “Which, of course, makes this all the harder.”

But: “I would rather have questions answered than unanswered. It’s the not knowing that’s so hard to live with.”

On the evening of Friday, Feb. 27, 1998, “I had an argument with my father, ” Chuck Mayhew said in depositions.

They quarreled often. “We would argue like cats and dogs. I did most of the screaming, ” he testified.

The quarrel ended amicably, Chuck Mayhew said. “And we agreed that I would cook lunch for him (at) 2 o’clock Sunday.”

On Saturday night, Mayhew and his wife had an “argument, ” he explained. He packed his pillows and his shaving kit in his Nissan truck and told his wife he was spending the night with his father.

It was 10:30 p.m.

Mayhew said he drove to the VFW bar nearby. It was closed.

Wondering why the VFW was closed so early on a Saturday night, Mayhew glanced at his watch.

It was 10:50.

He then drove to a different bar called The County Line. That bar was open. Other people were there and saw him at the bar. “I drank one beer, ” he said. Halfway through his second one, some men there taunted him about the dog shootings. So Mayhew left.

It was 11:30, he testified.

Mayhew said he went home to his wife. Asked why he decided to go back home instead of going to his father’s as he had planned, Mayhew said he was tired of running away from his problems with his wife. He wanted to make up with her, he said.

“We just drank one or two beers, continued the argument, then went to bed.”

Asked if he was at the family home at all on Saturday, Feb. 28, Mayhew replied: “I didn’t see my father’s property that day. Didn’t see the man. Didn’t talk to the man.”

Other than the killer, Gene Brown was the last person to see Charles Mayhew alive.

An old rodeo cowboy and horse trainer from Oklahoma, Brown lives with his two Dobermans in a converted barn on three acres of prime Sunnyvale real estate along a bending road. Brown hand-built the long garage outside, where he keeps an assortment of tractors and the drill press Charles Mayhew gave him.

The tool was a token of a long friendship. The two had known each other since the earliest days of the town.

Brown tended the Mayhew cattle until the Mayhews sold their cows to help to pay for the development lawsuit. But Brown and the elder Mayhew maintained their longstanding tradition: On Saturdays, they ate lunch together.

The elder Mayhew also had used Brown’s house in 1995 to record telephone conversations with his son. Those tapes, which were found after the murder of Charles Mayhew, demonstrated the animosity the son felt toward his father over the accepted resignation letter.

“Boy, they argued, ” says Brown. “You’d a thought they hated each other. But that was the way it was all their lives.”

On their way to lunch, Brown says, Charles Mayhew was so nervous he trembled. Mayhew mentioned no one in particular but spoke of threats, of being frightened by someone.

“He said, ‘Gene, he threatened me.’ And I said, ‘Who?’ And he just went to pointing up the road. He couldn’t even talk. So I didn’t ask him nothing else, ” Brown said in depositions taken last fall.

“Who was he talking about?” Dealey’s lawyer asked.

“I don’t know.”

Charles Mayhew ate only part of his hamburger that day, Brown testified. Brown remembered telling his old friend on the drive home that he ought to move to the Mayhew family ranch in San Saba.

“He was worrying hisself to death about this old lawsuit, and he didn’t have no friends no more in Sunnyvale because of the lawsuit. They all got crazy, and he was just kind of by hisself, ” Brown testified.

The night before his body was found, Charles Mayhew spoke with Brown on the telephone. He told his old cattlehand he was in for the evening. They swapped their goodnights.

Now, Brown avoids that part of town. “I don’t even go down that road anymore, ” he says.

On April 25, 2001, Steve Sumner, one of Dealey’s lawyers, interrogated Chuck Mayhew about his relationship with his father. In those depositions, Mayhew testified he was most angry with his father after his resignation from the partnership.

Sumner: “So you’re saying in the spring of 1995 was the first time that you recall that you threatened to harm your father in any fashion?”

Mayhew: “No.”

Sumner: “When was it prior to that?”

Mayhew: “Not in a serious tone I had said a thousand times, as I have stated before, he made me so mad I could kill him or I’d just like to shake him.”

Sumner: “All right.”

Mayhew: “But it was not meant threatening.”

Sumner: “Did you ever threaten to kill him prior to the spring of 1995?”

Mayhew: “The statement has been made.”

Sumner: “By you?”

Mayhew: “Yes.”

Sumner: “And did you threaten to harm him in any other way besides killing him? Beat him up, for example, or do anything — threaten to injure him in any way?”

Mayhew: “No, sir, I’ve never — never laid a hand on my father.”

In a telephone conversation recorded at Brown’s house three years before Charles Mayhew died, he described the cost exacted by the lawsuit against Sunnyvale. “. . . the court has torn us up, ” he told his son. Then they quarreled again over the recent resignation.

Then:  “I couldn’t hate anybody more than I hate you, Charlie, ” the son said to his father.

“I know, ” said Charles Mayhew. “You’ve told me that.”

“I’ll tell you again: I have never hated Sunnyvale, the lawsuit, or any (expletive) as much as I do you right now.”

“OK.”

“Never . . .”

“All right.”

“. . . in my life.”

Then:

“What are you afraid of?” the son asked. “Because you don’t have the (expletive) to look me in the eye, do you?”

“Chuck, ” his father said. “I’m sorry.”

Chuck Mayhew replied, “You’re not sorry enough.”

Then the line went dead.

On the afternoon Charles Mayhew’s body was found, a neighbor saw cars at the Mayhew house.

Linda White picked up the telephone. She had known the Mayhews since 1986, when she went to work for their development company as an office manager. White dialed the number and heard Chuck Mayhew answer.

“At first he was very calm, ” White testified.

When she asked that day to speak to Charles Mayhew, White said, Chuck Mayhew replied: “He’s dead. He can’t come to the phone.”

White asked Mayhew what he meant. “He just screamed, ‘He has a (expletive) hole in his throat.’ ”

The medical examiner was called at 3:50 p.m. and arrived at 4:32. Death was pronounced eight minutes later.

About 10 p.m., Christopher Dealey called his mother and told her the news. She had flown in from Chiapas less than an hour earlier.

The next morning, there was an article about the murder on the front page of The Dallas Morning News. Years before, when she was married to Joe Dealey Jr. and her father was mayor of Sunnyvale, Mandy Dealey was the subject of a story of her own. She was kidnapped, held for $250,000 and freed three days later when the Dealeys and the Mayhews paid the ransom. Unlike her father’s killer, the kidnappers — two brothers — were caught, tried, convicted and sent to prison.

A week after his death, there was a memorial service for Dealey’s father in Dallas.

The body of Charles Mayhew was cremated.

Mandy Dealey arranged the memorial service for her father. She expected about 40 people at the Dallas Petroleum Club, an ultra-exclusive, members-only retreat on the 39th and 40th floors of Texas Commerce Tower. More than twice that number came. It was like a reception, Dealey says, in honor of her father’s life.

Earlier that day, Dealey saw her brother at her father’s house. He came to pick up some clothes, she testified in depositions.

“What was his demeanor when you first saw him that day, ” a lawyer asked her.

“He was drunk, ” Dealey said.

“And you’re sure about that?”

“Yes.”

For as long as Dealey could remember, her father cherished the Petroleum Club, where he often took his family for dinner and dances on Saturday nights. When he was alive, Charles Mayhew sipped red Dubonnet there and snacked on pecan pralines and visited with old friends from the oil and gas industry, people who had nothing to do with land development in Sunnyvale.

“It all just seemed to be the right place” for the reception, Dealey says.

Dealey planned the event for the Saturday afternoon after her father’s body was found.

She bought Tropicana roses — her father’s favorite flower — and created a montage of pictures of her father through the years. The people who came enjoyed Dubonnet and pecan pralines. Many of them got up and told stories to the gathering, like slivers of a eulogy on a sad afternoon in Dallas.

Chuck Mayhew came. He spoke, too.

“He was still drunk, ” his sister testified.

By the time the trial begins, her father’s birthday and her parents’ anniversary — both in October — will have passed. So will the first day of September: opening day of dove season in Central Texas.

Charles Mayhew spent many opening days on his 1,600-acre ranch in San Saba, many of them with his son. Her father planned to move there someday, Dealey says. His eyes were going. So was his health. The house in Sunnyvale was too much work for a man his age who lived alone.

On Sept. 1, 1998, Dealey and her son sat at the ranch he loved, and waited.

Dusk came. Then they set out.

They climbed Bluebonnet Hill, a cedar-scented ridge with views of a yawning river valley, a place of solace and certitude for the family from Sunnyvale. “My one sanctuary in the world, ” Dealey says. The spring of 1998 had been a good one for bluebonnets. When the wind came up, the hill had rippled in rows of azure.

The flowers were gone that evening in September. In their place, Mandy Dealey and her son sprinkled the slope with ashes.

You may contact Kevin Robbins at krobbins@statesman.com or (512) 445-3602.