North Texas’ favorite-son writer Skip Hollandsworth thought he was just going to give a talk for 30 ladies of The Senior Source’s Charles C. Sprague Sage Society on Wednesday, May 1. But the day before his scheduled presentation at the society’s 20th annual dinner at the Dallas Country Club, he checked out the guest list, with names on it like Bobby Lyle, Alina and Ruben Esquivel, Sally and Forrest Hoglund, Tucker and Rich Enthoven, Carolyn and David Miller, Margo and Bill Goodwin, Barbara and John Stuart, Sandra Estess, Dee Collins Torbert, Beverly and Don Freeman, Kim and Terry Quinn, Ann and Bob Dyer, Susan Wells Jenevein and Bob Jenevein, Elizabeth and Eric Gamrebll, Marilyn and Ben Weber and Connie and Chris O’Neill.
Immediately, Skip decided to call his friend Debbie Oates, who was co-chairing the dinner with her husband Nickey Oates. Skip wanted to switch the topic of his talk, he told Debbie. Instead of the subject being his book about an Austin serial killer called “The Midnight Assassin” — which asks the question whether Jack the Ripper actually came from Texas — Skip wanted to give a talk about how an unassuming computer nerd and his sweetheart had stolen jewelry from Dallas’ rich and famous back in the 1990s.
Debbie said he couldn’t do that because the invitations, which had already been printed, said the talk would be about the Ripper. But when he took his place at the dinner, Skip pulled a Skip and announced the change in plans. It turned out to be the right move.
Before making the big switcherooo, though, the longtime Texas Monthly scribe was the center of attention at a reception in the DCC lobby. Well-heeled society types were almost giddy to shake his hand. When old friend Beth Thoele reported about her kids getting married, the youthful-looking Skip countered, saying he was already a grandfather. Another guest added, “He’s a step-grandfather.” But Skip as usual had the last word, adding, “They call me ‘grandpa.’”
Across the room, Pam Perella was having a “coming-out” party after months of being MIA. The reason: the 10-month-long project of redoing the Perellas’ Highland Park home. The former CCB Chair said that while presiding over the year-long Ball had been a snap, the house re-do had been tougher. Just moving back into the place took a month.
Another guest reemerging was Pete Kline, who was walking with the help of a cane. Only a week before, he’d had knee surgery. … Christie Carter was back from the East Coast, where, along with Debbie Oates and Pam Busbee, she had attended the funeral of Christie’s 90-year-old aunt. … Scott Chase was excited about having recently joined The Senior Source board of directors. … Max Post, an Honorary Lifetime Director for the nonprofit, was telling how the Texas Instruments Alumni Association — Max is a retired TI’er — had helped raise tens of thousands of dollars over the years for The Senior Source.
Then it was time for the roughly 175 guests to gather for the Sage Society dinner — Eddie’s Salad, Filet Mignon, and Creme Brulee were on the menu — and the evening’s formal program. Following a welcome by Michael Massad Jr., chairman of The Senior Source board of directors, Debbie and Nickey took the mic. Quipped Debbie: “Many of us started with Junior League. Now we’re in Senior Source.”
Also speaking were Stacey Malcolmson, president and CEO of The Senior Source, and board member Carter Tolleson, who noted that the floral centerpieces on the various tables could be purchased for $50 each. “Well, I was promised that those flowers would last until Mother’s Day,” Carter said. “What do you think, honey?”
When it came to capturing the audience, though, Skip proved to be in a class by himself. “When I realized all the VIPs and muckety-mucks in the audience, I changed my speech,” he began behind the lectern. Instead of the announced topic, he said, he was going to talk instead about the 1998 “jewel heist of Annette and [the late] Harold Simmons.” He was well-qualified to do so, having written about the burglary in the February 2000 issue of Texas Monthly.
As Skip told it, the tale focused on an unassuming young computer nerd named Mitch Shaw, who was the burglar, and his big-haired girlfriend, Jennifer Dolan, who served as Mitch’s getaway driver. Skip had stumbled onto their story thanks to a tip from Alan Peppard, who’d heard about the heist at the Simmons’ 12,000-square-foot estate.
“So I called Annette,” Skip told the audience. “She said, ‘Skip, I admire your work … but I just can’t talk about it.’ Well, you know she never read Texas Monthly!” Turned out, Skip went on, that nearly 200 pieces of jewelry worth more than $1 million had been pilfered from the Simmons place. A police officer told Annette, “Mrs. Simmons, for all we know your jewels are at First Monday in Canton.”
Mitch and Jennifer, whom Skip described as living in some “ratty-ass apartments” on Alpha Road, had not only robbed the Simmonses. They’d also snatched jewels from the homes of Nancy Brinker (twice), Clarice Tinsley, and Sharon McCutchin. Mitch fancied himself a Cary Grant figure from To Catch A Thief, using his skills to impress and keep his good-looking girlfriend, who assisted in the jobs behind the wheel of a turquoise Toyota Tercel.
Mitch eventually hooked up with a “fence” named Gerald, Skip went on, and Jennifer became addicted to crack cocaine, trading the jewels — including Annette’s — for bags of dope. It was only when the dope dealers pawned the jewels for cash on Greenville Avenue that the cops were finally able to bust Jennifer and Mitch. During their trial, one jewelry expert testified that Annette’s jewels were fake — the very thought scandalized the Simmonses and their friends, Skip said — but Bill Noble was brought in to counter the expert and attest that the jewels indeed were real.
“So ladies and gentlemen, when you go home tonight, make sure you turn on your burglar alarms!” Skip advised the crowd at the conclusion of his talk. Then he added: “Oh, and I’ve got books to sell you about the Austin serial killer.”