Sunday, March 27, 2011

From Candy Barr to Maureen Dean, and lots of gambling in between

In a previous edition of this blog it was mentioned that Lyndon Johnson's longtime mistress, Madeleine Duncan Brown had stated that a friend of hers (she called him George Owens) had been at the social event thrown by Clint W. Murchison, Jr. on the night of November 21, 1963, and that George had admitted to her that he had actually driven to the airport and picked up J. Edgar Hoover that afternoon. 



If that is true (and George can't say since he dropped dead on the spot, Madeleine said, just as he was about to make his public confession), then that would just possibly connect Lyndon Johnson's mob-loving friends not only to the killing of JFK, but also to the plot that triggered Watergate. Madeleine was actually making reference to George Washington Owen, Jr., the subject of 
Doug Bedell's 1986 story below:
SMU BOOSTER HAS LIVED ON EDGE OF LIMELIGHT
(Copyright 1986) By Doug Bedell
The Dallas Morning News 7 December 1986
George Washington Owen Jr. has escaped unscathed from more than his share of scrapes in the course of his 61 years. In the late 1950s, Owen was the mysterious boyfriend of Candy Barr and narrowly avoided going to jail when Dallas police arrested the famed stripper for possession of marijuana. 

In the '60s, the former SMU athlete survived the acrimonious crash of his marriage to a stewardess named Maureen Kane, who would later become Maureen Dean, wife of Watergate defendant John Dean. "Mo' would essentially come to accuse Owen of bigamy. 
 
And in the '70s, there was an inconclusive federal grand jury investigation into a Dallas-Las Vegas gambling link about which Owen was questioned. In August 1985, George Owen was banned by the NCAA from any involvement with SMU athletics. Last month, The Dallas Morning News reported that Owen had provided a rent-free apartment
to Albert Reese, a current SMU football player. 

"I guess I've had a pretty interesting life," Owen says in typical understatement. But today, George Owen doesn't want to discuss too many of those parts of that "pretty interesting life." Fidgeting incessantly with a sterling silver letter opener, he sits behind a desk in his Addison office and gazes around the dark-paneled room at the symbols of his latest journey into the limelight: 
  • SMU game balls meticulously arranged in a glass display case; 
  • a proud Pony helmet, mounted and framed; 
  • autographed photographs from players.
"I just don't want to do anything that would cause SMU any embarrassment or any problems," he says in low tones. "I've done enough of that already."

"He's so, so enthusiastic about sports," says one of Owen's former wives, Dallas nightclub singer Diane Wisdom. "He's a booster in the truest sense of the word."

Owen professes to feel pain at having been forever banned from associating with his alma mater's athletic programs. Owen, a real-estate developer, was one of nine SMU boosters singled out by the NCAA last year for suspect recruiting activities. 

But along with the November reports in The News that linked him to a rent-free apartment provided for starting tight end Albert Reese has come even more discomfort for Owen and his beloved institution. Should NCAA investigators find Owen was involved with Reese, SMU's football team could be disbanded for up to two years for repeated violations. 

"I understand you got to have free press and all, but this kid Reese, what they did to him was just terrible," he says. "Wait until it all comes out. We got a backup on all that."

His voice rises with a trace of anger. "The thing I really do hate is that everybody picks on SMU," he says. "Everybody's guilty of something. I've been out there recruiting, hoss, I know what I'm talking about. But they always come back to SMU."

That Owen finds himself once again in a defensive posture is, many of his friends say, the product of a pair of Owen traits:
First and foremost, Owen -- a former SMU and Crozier Tech basketball player of limited distinction -- always has been a sports fanatic who loved associating with athletes. That part of the Owen personality could be seen in the late '50s as he became a confidant of Dallas Cowboys co-founders Clint Murchison Jr. and Bedford S. Wynne. 

Owen's boyish face and dark, wavy locks became a common sight at the social functions of the Murchison coterie, known around the NFL as "The Rover Boys." And to this day, the affable Owen counts among his dearest friends former Washington Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer and former Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung
Says a longtime acquaintance who asked to remain anonymous: "George has always wanted to be in the limelight while existing on the fringes. He's really always longed to be of higher profile."

The second trait -- common to his friend, car dealer W.O. Bankston -- is that Owen prides himself on being quick to help any acquaintance in need. 

"He'd give you the shirt off his back," says Henry Lee Parker, SMU football recruiting coordinator, who came to know Owen 20 years ago while both worked for the New Orleans Saints. "He's a very, very generous person. To a fault, I'd have to say."

Those characteristics may provide some insight into what has been the motivating force behind Owen's activities the past five years. But to fully understand George Owen, one must go back much, much further, back to the pre-World War II days when he was growing up in East Dallas, an only child being raised by his divorced mother. Back to when Owen -- a youngster of slight stature and admittedly sluggish academic drive -- yearned for his own share of athletic stardom. 

At Crozier Tech during the '40s, coach Doc Hayes was building a reputation as he was building tough, aggressive basketball teams. His teams won easily and with regularity. And one of Hayes' scrappiest guards during the latter stages of that decade was Owen. Under 6 feet, quick and muscular, Owen showed himself to be a floor leader although never a prominent scorer. 

After high school and a stint in the service during World War II, Owen returned to Dallas with hopes of entering Southern Methodist University, where Hayes had become varsity coach. "My grades just weren't good enough," he recalls. "At Crozier Tech, I had taken basket-weaving and auto shop and things of that nature. I never did really apply myself."

Disappointed but undaunted, Owen entered what was then Arlington State, a junior college that is now the University of Texas at Arlington. His grade average improved, and soon his old high school coach summoned him to SMU, where he was offered a basketball scholarship. 

For Owen, life at SMU from 1948 to 1951 was heaven. On the football field, Doak Walker, Kyle Rote and former Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom were dominant. SMU school spirit may never have run higher than in those post-war days. 

"It was just like Mardi Gras every day," he says. "Great school. Great fun."

If he was admired for his basketball skills, Owen -- a physical education major -- also was recognized off the court for his penchant for partying and fraternity life. But it was through his socializing that Owen would cement tight friendships with the likes of Murchison and Bankston. And those men would have a profound influence on the future of Owen the businessman. In many ways, Owen says he has tried to emulate his friends -- especially Bankston.

"I was kind of raised up by W.O.," Owen says as he leans back at his desk, which is flanked by portraits of his two friends/mentors. 

"He helped me when I was in school. And he helped me out of school by putting me in business . . . W.O. is the kind of guy who gets people out of trouble. Ninety percent of his day is taken up with other people and their problems. I try to take after him in some small way."

Like many college athletes today, Owen faced trouble upon graduation. "When I finished my last day of eligibility and the basketball season was over, I realized that I didn't have any formal educational tools to trade on at all," he says. 

Owen and a friend opened a maintenance supply company, Mustang Chemical. Meanwhile, his social contacts broadened at downtown night spots such as Benny Bickers University Club on Commerce Street

Owen ingratiated himself with nearly everyone he met. "He knew the entire spectrum of people in those days," says Wisdom, his ex-wife. "He knew the janitor in every building and the president of the company. He was chums with and knew everybody."

In social settings, Owen has always been a marvel. Friends say his memory for faces, names and events is nothing short of remarkable.
Many of his acquaintances were of the opposite sex. "Yes, he has always been a ladies man because he's charming and fun to be with," says Wisdom. "Certainly, ladies like that in him."

One of the females attracted to Owen nearly proved to be his downfall. Owen declines to discuss any of his previous marriages or his relationship with stripper Candy Barr. "That's all behind me," he says. 

But certainly the events of Oct. 27, 1957, would be hard to forget. That night, Dallas police had staked out Barr's apartment. Officers burst in and, they testified, they found a marijuana cigarette on the floor. They also found George Washington Owen. 

"If you'll let George Owen go, I'll give you the rest of the marijuana," one of the detectives quoted Barr as saying. The officers freed Owen. Then, from her cleavage, Barr pulled a bottle filled with the illegal substance, an act that would ultimately land her in prison.

In 1960, three years after the incident in Barr's room, Murchison and Wynne negotiated the birth of the Dallas Cowboys. And when they needed someone to help sign players, Owen was their man.

By 1963, Owen had two sons with one wife, then divorced and married Wisdom, a Highland Park woman who scooted around Dallas on a motorbike when she wasn't in Las Vegas for singing engagements.

This was the era when the Rover Boys were in full swing. At NFL games both home and away, Murchison, Owen, Gordon McLendon, Mitch Lewis, Bob Thompson and others made names for themselves with raucous, late-night carousing, practical joking, and fabulous spending sprees. 

Owen's marriage to Wisdom deteriorated into separation during that period, although she says she has no regrets. "He's an extremely nice man," says Wisdom, who still sings at Dallas clubs. " . . . I have no ill words for him."

During the mid-'60s, as Owen approached 40, another friendly association resulted in a new, full-time sports job. Oilman John Mecom had acquired a pro football franchise for New Orleans. He invited Owen to work in his front office, signing players. Running back Paul Hornung, finishing out his career with the fledgling team, became Owen's roommate.
About the same time [early to mid 1960's], a new woman entered Owen's life: a blonde American Airlines stewardess named Maureen Kane, a woman whose face would eventually become familiar to millions of Americans as that of the wife of embattled White House counsel John Dean. 

Click to enlarge.
Writes Mrs. Dean in her book, 'Mo': Woman's View of Watergate: "He (Owen) was great fun and we got along famously. And then we got very serious -- very serious . . . We had no major problems for six weeks, and then we had a really major problem: I learned that George was still married to singer Diane Wisdom . . . I moved out immediately and flew back to mother."

Actually, court records indicate Owen and Wisdom had obtained a Mexican divorce by that time. The particular type of divorce proceeding, however, was not recognized as legal within the United States. Mrs. Dean eventually succeeded in having her marriage to Owen annulled.
Owen stayed on with the Saints until 1969. During his last year, he was joined in the front office by a new director of player personnel, Henry Lee Parker. Parker is now SMU's football recruiting coordinator, an aide to athletic director Bob Hitch until the latter's resignation on Friday. It is Parker whom former SMU player David Stanley said mailed cash to his family, even after SMU was put on probation in 1985.
Dallas, 1974. Owen ran into more trouble, but once again he wriggled free with little more than a brief mention in local newspapers. A federal grand jury subpoenaed Owen -- along with restaurant owner Joseph Campisi, millionaire builder James L. Williams and two police officers -- during an investigation of local bookmaking operations. 

The grand jury had been looking into the Las Vegas-to-Dallas transmission of wagering information. In part, the investigation was prompted by the 1972 discovery of an envelope containing $10,000 during a raid on the home of a known gambler, Bobby Joe Chapman. 

The envelope had the words "Dallas Cowboys Football Club" written on it. But nothing ever became of the grand jury investigation, and the cash -- all in $100 bills -- was eventually returned to Chapman. 

During that period, Owen says his friend W.O. Bankston was busy helping him set up in several ill-fated businesses. Owen gradually began gaining a big hand in the building of office and residential projects across northern Dallas and southern Denton counties. Sometimes, county records show, his partners have been fellow SMU boosters like Sherwood Blount, who has acted as an agent for numerous athletes.

[Note: This article was written in 1986. In 1991, Blount would be tried and found not guilty on criminal fraud charges involving a Kansas savings and loan that failed in 1989 as part of the savings and loan scandal.]

Over the years, Owen has managed to accumulate a sumptuous, deep-red brick home that backs up to the golf course at Bent Tree Country Club, where he is a member. And the paneled offices of Owen's First Dallas Realty firm occupy prime land hard by the Addison Airport control tower.

SMU, 1976. With the arrival of Ron Meyer as head football coach, Owen said he became more and more involved in recruiting and booster activity. Meyer knew Blount. Blount knew Owen. And the three would work together with other boosters and coaches to bring the best talent to SMU's campus. 

Owen's workplace became a regular stop for SMU's top football players, says a woman who used to work for one of Owen's companies. "Football players came in all the time," she says. "It just seemed to be a big part of his life."

Large amounts of cash were also a common sight in the office. Sometimes, workers would be ordered to deliver "huge rolls of bills" to Owen or other associates. 

Meyer left SMU in 1981, but Owen continued to recruit under the new administration, headed by athletic director Bob Hitch and coach Bobby Collins, who both resigned Friday. Sometimes, the telephone work Owen did as part of his recruiting efforts was alleged to have involved more than innocent booster pitches. In 1982, Owen's involvement in the recruitment of Angleton linebacker David Stanley came under scrutiny. Published reports linked Owen to a trip to Lake Tahoe that Stanley supposedly made before turning down the University of Texas in favor of SMU.

"I was supposed to have sent him to Billy Kilmer's hotel in Lake Tahoe and then fixed the wheels so that he could win money," Owen says. "Now, how ridiculous is that?"

In fall 1983, Henry Lee Parker arrived at SMU to take over as recruiting coordinator. As a result, the two men renewed a friendship that had been born in New Orleans during the '60s. Meanwhile, the NCAA began looking into SMU's recruitment of the entire freshman football crop of 1983, a class that included an unprecedented four Parade magazine high school All-Americas and six All-State selections. 

Finally, in August 1985, the NCAA announced it was ordering one of the toughest set of sanctions ever for SMU recruiting violations. The banning of Owen from contact with athletes for life was included. 

"Why, certainly, it hurt me," he says. "I got some good friends out there. Great friends. Henry Lee is one of my best friends. Bobby Collins, and his wife, Lynn . . . "

Owen maintains that there are explanations for Albert Reese's living in what leasing agents remember as a "comp" apartment provided by Owen. Reese, however, was suspended for the last two games of his college career, even after SMU officials heard Owen's explanation.

Owen does acknowledge giving Stanley a rent-free deal at the same Surrey Highlands complex in Carrollton. Stanley had already left SMU at the time, but Owen says he was trying to help the troubled linebacker get into North Texas State University's program. And, because of that, Owen says he may have unintentionally violated the NCAA's prohibition against extra benefits for athletes.

"Everybody bends the rules a little," he says. "I was trying to help him. I wasn't trying to hurt him." 

And, for all the trouble that he seems to have created, Owen today takes solace in supportive messages from acquaintances. "I know there's going to be a lot of SMU people possibly down because of all this," he says. "But I've had maybe 200 calls -- all positive calls. Maybe I've had two negative calls. And I'm in sympathy with those two. All I can tell them is, 'Wait until the judges give you a decision. It'll be a little more clarified.' But for me to get ridiculed and get pounded on for what I've done . . . "

The strong voice of George Washington Owen trails off. He clears his throat, as if he is swallowing back any trace of self-pity. "I like to think about one call I've gotten since this happened. It's what I really appreciate. The guy said, 'George, you've helped a thousand kids. One football player's not going to get in front of you. Is there anything I can do for you?' "

"That makes me feel good. That's what I like to think I'm all about."


PHOTOS IN ORIGINAL (not available) 1.George Owen (No credit given) 2.George Owen ... here in a 1951 yearbook photo, says his years at SMU were "just like Mardi Gras every day. (No credit given) 3.Real-estate developer George Owen says he feels pain at having been forever banned from associating with his alma mater's athletic programs. (Credit: DMN-Clint Grant) 4.- 
5.Stripper Candy Barr (left) and Maureen "Mo" Kane, later Mrs. John Dean, were two of the women in Owen's life. (No credits given); LOCATION: 1. Owen, George Washington Jr. (ran color, bw filed). 2. - 3. Owen, George Washington Jr. 4. Barr, Candy. 5. Dean, John.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and quite true. I was with Heidi in Antigua. Charles Tourine was my ex-boyfriend. Joseph Nesline was my husband and Heidi was my girlfriend.....Josephine Nesline Alvarez author of Lucky 325, Everything is Predestined, Nothing is by Chance. Lucky325.com

Linda Minor said...

I appreciate the comment from Josephine Nesline Alvarez. I wish she'd comment on whether she met George Owen and was aware of his connection to both the 1963 assassination through Bedford Wynne and the Watergate scandal through Mo Biner Dean.

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Linda Minor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Minor said...

For anyone interested in this topic: Phil Stanford's book, White House Call Girl was published this year, which explains how the Heidi Rikan ring is connected to Watergate. See http://www.amazon.com/White-House-Call-Girl-Watergate-ebook/dp/B00E257UFM.

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