Saturday, April 16, 2011

Part 8 of Land and Loot

Tracing the Roots of General Homes in Houston

Eden Corporation was one of the names under which General Homes Consolidated Companies, Inc. did business after the public stock issue, even though the first land transaction involving Eden Corporation had occurred on June 29, 1976 when Eden bought a 127-acre tract near the present Barker-Cypress Reservoir from Candace Mossler, only a few months before her death the following November. Candace and her son, Norman Johnson, had offices just west of the Astrodome, at 2525 Murworth, Suite 200 (known as the International Trade Center building), on the same floor as Douglas Welker of Eden Corporation.
Accused murderers, Candy and Mel

Candace Mossler was not just anybody. She was notorious, and her sensational story had been splashed from coast to coast from the date of the murder of her husband, Jacques, in 1964 until her trial in 1966, with that of her nephew/lover, Melvin Lane Powers

As we learn from the New York Times, "Mr. Mossler was killed on June 30, 1964, stabbed 39 times and bludgeoned on the head. His wife found his body wrapped in an orange blanket when she returned from a hospital where prosecutors said she had gone to establish an alibi."

Mossler conveyed an adjoining tract of land to First Management Corporation, another subsidiary of First Mortgage Co., which was a partner with Eden Corporation in a joint venture in Stafford (southwest of Houston) called Keegans Wood. She first acquired the land in 1968 from Percy Selden and the J.T. Rather, Jr. Estate [C822661].

John Thomas (Tom) Rather, Jr. had been born in Copperas Cove adjacent to what is now Fort Hood in Bell and Coryell Counties, and but he had moved to Houston to work for the Houston Post at the time World War I began. Fort Hood was built up during the next world war as the tank battalion training area on land that surrounded Oveta Culp Hobby's stomping grounds in Bell County.

J. T. Rather and the Monteiths from Belton

Oveta worked for quite a few years as the parliamentarian in the Texas Legislature, having been trained by her father, Rep. I.W. Culp of Killeen, who also was acquainted with Edgar Monteith and his elder brother Walter E. Monteith; their family had created Monteith Abstract Co. in Belton.

After graduating from Belton High School in 1904, Edgar Monteith would move to Houston to work as an attorney for Herman Brown's corporate empire. Both Herman and his younger brother George were also born in Belton, but grew up in nearby Temple (Belton is county seat of Bell County, where both Temple and Killeen are also located). Walter Monteith--an 1894 Belton High graduate--would be appointed judge in Houston's 61st district in 1919 by Governor Hobby, and he was elected mayor of that city in 1928.

Edgar's one attempt at electoral politics was a disaster when he ran in 1916 for the Democratic nomination for District Attorney in a three-county district and polled last in his own county in a four-man competition. Thereafter, he would content himself for pulling strings for Lyndon Johnson, while hiding behind the Brown & Root curtain. Edgar married Grace Wilson from the same graduating class as Tom Rather, no doubt giving him an entrée into his future career as a architect for Houston's oilmen.

Oveta met and married Lt. Governor William P. Hobby, who replaced as governor the impeached Gov. James E. "Pa" Ferguson from Temple (in the same county she and her father were from). She also worked for the newspaper Hobby edited, the Houston Post, which also employed J. T. Rather, Jr. Oveta would later become the only woman member of the Suite 8F group that frequented Herman Brown's suite in Jesse Jones' Lamar Hotel. Years later it would be learned that Hobby's nominal ownership of the Post was merely a front for Jones' powerful control of the paper.

J.T. Rather's parents were living in the small town of Belton (county seat of Bell County, Texas), where both George and Herman Brown (founders of Brown & Root and Texas Eastern Transmission Co.) were born. Not only did the Rather siblings go to school in Belton with the Brown children before the Browns moved to Temple a few miles away, but also with the Monteith brothers mentioned previously.

The 1920 census reflects that the Rather family by then lived at 2610 Webster in Houston, where a brother, Nathaniel H. Rather, worked as an attorney; the senior Rather was a bookkeeper for an oil company; and daughter Vera, 28, an oil company clerk. J.T. (Tom) Jr. was also a member of the mostly adult household and listed his occupation as an architect. Herbert, the eldest at 31, was a teacher in public school. He married Mary Stokes in Lampasas in 1926.

J. T. Rather and W. H. Francis, Jr.

In 1953 the following announcement appeared in the news:
W.H. Francis [Jr.], a Houston attorney, and architect John Thomas Rather, have been appointed to four-year terms on the board of governors of Rice Institute. George R. Brown, chairman of the board, announced their appointments, succeeding Herbert Allen and Robert H. Ray. Both new governors are graduates of Rice.
Chairman Wiess, Humble Oil
William Howard Francis, Jr. was married to Caroline Keith Wiess, one of the three daughters of Humble Oil chairman, Harry Wiess. His father lived in Highland Park in Dallas and, according to his 1946 death certificate, had served as general attorney for Magnolia Petroleum Co.

Rather's contacts helped to get him appointed to various state boards as well, and, working for the firm of noted architect John F. Staub, he designed several of the homes in the private enclave of Shadyside, a highly exclusive neighborhood between Rice University and the museum district where W.S. Farish, Kate Neuhaus, R.L. Blaffer (W.S. Farish’s first partner in a number of oil companies created during their Spindletop beginnings which they later merged into Humble Oil) and Irishman J.S. Cullinan, founder of the Texas Company (now Texaco), lived.

The book, Monster in River Oaks by Michael Phillips, tells the story of one of the heirs to the oil millions--Joan Blaffer Johnson, who lived on 2933 Del Monte in the River Oaks section of Houston.
"Despite her wealth, Joan [Blaffer], born in 1952, was no stranger to tragedy. Her younger brother committed suicide in 1990. She "married the irresponsible, alcoholic Luke Johnson, Jr., and was sinking her money into his failing car dealership," according to the book....Johnson was found dead in 1995 at the family's second home at Morgan's Point. It was ruled a suicide by shooting, but a mystery remains involving a male prostitute Johnson had flown in. Johnson was HIV-positive. According to the book, it was in the devastating aftermath in 1996 that Joan Johnson met [Dinesh] Shah and his friend David Collie at a Bible study group at the River Oaks Boulevard mansion of Baron Ricky di Portanova [mentioned in George Crile's book and the subsequent movie, Charlie Wilson's War], who has since died. Johnson would become romantically interested in Collie, but it was Shah who, presenting himself as a financial wizard, would gain her trust and take over the role of father to her children, actually moving into her house."
Del Monte St. home of Joan Blaffer Johnson
Shadyside Addition was a gated enclave developed by the Texaco founder before 1930. The senior Cullinan that year resided at 2 Remington, while son Craig and his family were on Longfellow, one street away. Mayor Monteith had a residence on Sunset Boulevard, almost within shouting distance. In 1950,
55-year-old Craig Cullinan's pajama-clad body was discovered by his son Craig Jr. in a third-floor bedroom, dead from a gunshot wound to the heart, ruled to be suicide. His 1943 will, made shortly after his daughter, Barbara, divorced her husband J. H. Pittman, cut her from his estate and took custody of her only child. Barbara Cullinan Pittman Waller, by then a Baton Rouge waitress at the Black Lamp Lounge, sued the estate which was ably represented by Leon Jaworski, whose law partner John Crooker had also lived near the Cullinans. In 1964 the Black Lamp Lounge was called a gay bar and "rendezvous for minor police characters," which found a place in the Warren Report.

We can only wonder whether any neighbors heard the gunshot. W.S. and Libbie Farish lived a few doors away at 10 Remington, while Hugo and Kate Neuhaus lived at No. 9. The Blaffer and Wiess homes appear to have been side-by-side on Sunset Boulevard, but the numbers do not match today's street configuration.

Does it not seem strange that all these supposed competitors in the oil business would choose to isolate themselves together into such an exclusive residential area? Could it be that they were all--even then--mere fronts for secret investors who wanted to fool the public into believing that a monopoly did not exist? What a legacy they left to their children!
Of course Farish, Wiess, Blaffer and Cullinan became part of what we now call "Big Oil," but a similar situation existed for the "wildcatters" like H.L. Hunt, Hugh Cullen, R.E. Bob Smith, J.S. Abercrombie and Michel Halbouty, who called themselves "independent" oil men.

W.S. Farish's first partner, Robert L. Blaffer, was married to the daughter of Scotsman W.T. Campbell, who, ironically, was J. S. Cullinan's partner in the founding of the Texas Company, later changed to Texaco (now Chevron). The story was always told of Cullinan's flying of the pirates' flag atop his Petroleum Building in Houston (later called the Great Southwest Life Building) on St. Patrick's Day as a "warning to privilege and oppression, within or without the law--the latter including witch burners, fanatics, and the like, who fail to realize or ignore the fact that liberty is a right and not a privilege."[1] It was, more likely, symbolic of his membership in a secret society such as the Knights Templar, which was more accurately represented by the skull and bones. The truth will never be known.

Percy Selden

Selden was formerly known as Percy Straus, Jr., heir to his family’s interest in R.H. Macy’s Stores, founded by Nathan Straus in New York. In 1954 he set up a trust for his children—all named “Straus”. By 1968 the family members were using the name “Selden,” when he conveyed real estate to Mossler. At some point in between he had the name legally changed. All his children, some of whom were already married, also changed their names to “Selden.”

His wife was the former Lillian Marjorie Jester, daughter of Frank Godwin Jester, a real estate developer in Dallas (not the former governor of Texas Beauford Jester); they married at Highland Park Methodist Church in 1937 and had a reception at Brookhollow Country Club. Selden, an attorney, possessed a collection of armour and chivalric weaponry which he eventually donated to a Houston museum.

In 1978 Selden's name appears as grantor of 162 acres in Harris and Fort Bend Counties to Keegan’s Wood, a joint venture made up of Eden Corporation and First Management [Harris Co. File No. F531714]. Edgar Monteith of Monteith, Baring and Monteith (Brown & Root’s and Gibraltar Savings’ attorneys) were attorneys for Selden as well [C822663], possibly due to Monteith's knowing J. T. Rather back in Belton as children.
The founder of Eden Corporation, Douglas Welker, had worked for a number of years for El Paso Natural Gas Building Co. (a company affiliated with Clint Murchison), which had a Houston office in the Americana Building owned by Gulf Interstate, about which more will be said in other parts of the series. Welker was closely associated with Larry Johnson, who became Tom Masterson’s partner in Underwood Neuhaus investment bank in 1985. Masterson was also a limited partner in Wilcrest Apartments, Ltd. in 1975, in which Triangle Investment Co. (formerly Johnson-Loggins) was the general partner/ syndicator. Other limited partners were Philip R. Neuhaus (Hugo and Kate’s son) and Milton R. Underwood (a founding partner of Underwood, Neuhaus) [E642917]. Milton’s first wife was Catherine Fondren, whose father was one of the founders of Humble Oil.

Carroll Sterling, daughter of another Humble founder, Frank Sterling, was first married to Bert Winston (a relative of Ella Rice Winston’s husband) and later to Harris Masterson (a distant cousin of Tom). One of the unnamed partners of Underwood, Neuhaus was W.S. Farish III (stepson of Hugo O. Neuhaus, Jr.), who joined the firm in the 1960’s. Larry Johnson's office was, for a time, in the Exxon Building, constructed in 1972 in Houston a few blocks south of the original Humble Oil Building.

W.S. Farish III inherited half of his grandfather’s interest in Humble Oil in 1943 at the age of 4. His mother, the former Mary Wood, was from the Chicago family which owned much of Sears, Roebuck, her father being Robert E. Wood, a founder of America First. After her first husband died, Mary married Hugo V. Neuhaus, Jr., an architect, whose mother was Kate Rice Neuhaus--Libbie Rice Farish’s first cousin. They all lived in Shadyside Addition across from Rice University next to Texaco founder J.S. Cullinan.

And they say Arkansas natives are interbred?

Another family investment company was W.S. Farish & Co., founded by W.S. Sr., which was managed by J.O. Winston, Jr., husband of Ella Rice Winston, Libbie Farish’s sister. Ella, incidentally, had married another cousin, Howard Hughes, Jr. in 1924, a year after his father died, but divorced him in 1929. Howard’s mother’s sister, Annette Gano, married Dr. Fred Lummis, son of Frederick A. Rice’s daughter, Minnie Lummis, whose son, a partner at Andrews, Kurth, later became chairman of Summa Corporation after Howard, Jr. died. Lummis moved to Las Vegas where he supervised the operation of the Hughes companies, including the medical research foundation he had set up for his cousin before his withdrawal.

W.S. Farish Sr., one of the founders of Humble Oil in 1917, became a director of Jersey Standard (a secret owner of half of Humble Oil stock) in 1926, moved to New York in 1933, and became chairman in 1938. His office was at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, not surprisingly, since the Rockefellers had founded Standard Oil and were not allowed legally to invest in Texas oil companies. When W.S. died in 1942, followed by his son’s death the next year, his estate fell to his grandson, W.S. Farish III, who was then 4 years old. The guardian of the minor child’s estate was his uncle, Stephen Power Farish (married to his brother's wife's cousin, Lottie Rice), until 1960. The minor’s investments were managed by the investment banking firm, Underwood, Neuhaus.

According to a February 19, 1950 Houston newspaper article by George Fuermann, Steve Farish had formed a syndicate with an “accountant friend,” M.W. Mattison,[2] in 1925 to raise $800,000 to buy Reed Roller Bit Co. from stockholders J.H. Giesey and the Niels Esperson Estate. After Spindletop in 1901, Steve Farish worked at Humble Oil until he left to form Navarro Oil which was sold in 1945 to the Continental Oil Co. (later Conoco).[3]
One interesting fact concerning Farish is that he was apparently acquainted with George DeMohrenschildt, according to information put together from Jim Marrs and others.[4] Born in Russia in 1911, De Mohrenschildt was the son of a Czarist official who later became a wealthy landowner in Poland, and had an uncle, Ferdinand, who was secretary of the czarist embassy in Washington and was married to the daughter of William Gibbs McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.[5]

DeMohrenschildt immigrated to the U.S. in 1938, having been involved in espionage with the OSS and probably with the Nazis.[6] He had a doctorate in commerce from the University of Liege, Belgium, when he came to the United States at age 27, where his brother Dmitry was a professor at Dartmouth, having degrees from Columbia and Yale.[7]

Margaret Clark Williams

Visiting his brother and American sister-in-law (who, coincidentally was the mother of George Bush's prep school roommate, Edward Hooker, at Andover), DeMohrenschildt spent time at Bellport, near East Hampton, on the ocean tip of Long Island. There he met many influential people, including stockbroker Jack and Janet Bouvier (Jackie Kennedy’s parents). He was also a friend of Margaret Clark Williams, whose family had vast land holdings in Louisiana. She gave him a letter of introduction to Humble Oil.[8]

Jim Marrs said that DeMohrenschildt came to Texas by bus “where he got a job with Humble Oil Company in Houston, thanks to family connections,” and that “[d]espite being friends with the chairman of the board of Humble,” George worked as a roughneck in the Louisiana oil fields.[9]

George was married four times: first to Dorothy Pierson of Palm Beach, Florida in 1943 for seven months; then in the late 1940s to Phyllis Washington, “the daughter of a high State Department official”; then in 1951 to a Chestnut Hill socialite, Wynne (“Didi”) Sharples, a medical doctor from a wealthy Philadelphia family, with whom he had two children who died of cystic fibrosis. In 1959 he married Jeanne LeGon, whose Russian father had been director of the Far Eastern Railroad in China.[10] When his first marriage ended, George came to Texas in 1944 and got a master’s degree in petroleum geology at the University of Texas at Austin. For a time he worked overseas for the MurchisonsThree States Oil and Gas[11] and for Pantipec, an oil company owned by William F. Buckley, Jr.’s father.

Buckley Sr., a Texan, as an undergraduate lived in an upperclass dorm at the University of Texas at Austin which was also DeMohrenschildt's residence during his time at UT. The same dorm was also the home of brothers Rex G. Baker and Hines Baker (attorneys and top executives at Humble Oil with W.S. Farish, Sr.) and Jack R. Dougherty, who owned a ranch adjacent to the Farish ranch near Beeville.[12] In the 1960s, DeMohrenschildt was represented by attorney Morris Jaffe of San Antonio, who shared a mutual friend in John Mecom, Sr. of Houston.[13] Jaffe was in partnership with the Wynne family of Dallas, who were in investments with the Rockefellers, recipients of Teamster loans and members of the “Bobby Baker Set” in Washington.[14]

As we are often wont to say: "Small world!"

[1] Marguerite Johnston, Houston: The Unknown City, p. 279.

[2] Mattison's name appears a number of times in the Harris County property records as a signatory on behalf of the Scottish Rite Masonic Lodge in Houston.

[3] Steve Farish was born in Mayersville, Miss. but went to prep school and later to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, an Episcopal college.

[4] Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy (Carroll and Graf Publishers, Inc.: New York, 1989), p. 279.

[5] Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee (Harper and Row, 1976), p. 215. Does this mean he was Wilson's grandson-in-law? McAdoo was also Wilson's Treasury Secretary. In 1918 he founded McAdoo, Cotton and Franklin, a law firm located at 80 Pine--later called Cahill Gordon--which represented TWA against Howard Hughes. [Hoffman, p. 23]

[6] Marrs, Crossfire, p. 278-9. Gaeton Fonzi, The Last Investigation (New York: Thunder Mouth Press, 1993), p. 190.

[7] Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee (Harper and Row, 1976), p. 216.

[8] Ibid., p. 219.

[9] Ibid. The quoted passage does not identify which of the Humble Oil founders was DeMohrenschildt's friend, but it does state that he was also friendly with H. L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, John Mecom, Robert Kerr and Jean De Menil, and, according to Jim Marrs' interviews with Jeanne DeMohrenschildt after her husband's death, George was making regular trips to Houston from Dallas during 1962-63 on oil business with Mecom and De Menil. George's Russian friends in the Tolstoy Foundation told Marrs that he was going to Houston to see George and Herman Brown (p. 282.)

[10] Fonzi, The Last Investigation, p. 191.

[11] Peter Dale Scott, Crime and Cover-up, op. cit., p. 34

[12] Richard Bartholomew, Possible Discovery of an Automobile Used in the JFK Conspiracy (the Nash Rambler)--unpublished manuscript, pp. 63, 88-89. Also in the Dougherty family is J. Chrys Dougherty, a 1940 Harvard law graduate who also studied at the Inter-American Academy for International and Comparative Law in Havana, Cuba, in 1948. He was also a counter-intelligence officer in World War II and later a special assistant to the Texas Attorney General in charge of defending the State's interest in offshore oil. Committee on History and Tradition of the State Bar of Texas, Centennial History of the Texas Bar: 1882-1982, p. 140. Compare this information with the discussion of Phil Graham's residence while he was living in Washington, D.C. following his student years at Harvard. The atmosphere was reminiscent of that of the Cliveden Set and Astor Round Table, which had control of the Rhodes and Beit Trusts.

[13] Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Marina and Lee (Harper and Row, 1976), p. 216. Brewton, p. 317. See also Jonathan Kwitney's book, The Mullendore Murder Case, about the murder of the Mecoms' son-in-law in Oklahoma, and the connection with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and the Jaffe law firm.

[14] Peter Dale Scott, Crime and Cover-up.

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