By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Most con men flourish in anonymity and forever seek fresh territory. Roll into town, filch bingo money from a few grandmothers, then split before the heat comes down. Never stand still. That's the hustler's way.
But Bryan Wilson Taylor is no ordinary hustler. He's more of a hometown boy who started business in Dallas 25 years ago and stayed put. Since then, the 62-year-old portly son of a preacher has scammed people out of an estimated $2 million in cash and jewels.
Posing as a diamond broker, he has taken doctors, bankers, even lawyers. But he does his best work on senior citizens and widows. Quoting Scripture and singing praises to the Lord, he has befriended priests to gain access to their flocks.
He has talked elderly couples out of their nest eggs with promises to double their money. He has fed widows steaks and promises of romance just to get his hands on the insurance money paid out on their dead husbands.
Taylor likes to dazzle his marks by flashing wads of cash or reaching into one of his cowboy boots and pulling out diamonds wrapped in paper. He lives in apartments and works out of motels and rented executive suites, preferably in the impressive glass towers that line North Central Expressway.
He has gone to prison twice, been sued at least two dozen times, and filed for bankruptcy. But for Taylor, that's just the cost of doing business.
Taylor just keeps on conning and conning, the Energizer Bunny of the swindles.
In Dallas County alone, Taylor's victims have won damages in at least two dozen civil cases since 1973; almost all the cases claim Taylor ripped off cash or jewels. When Taylor filed for bankruptcy in 1993, he listed debts of $1.6 million to more than four dozen creditors, scattered across Texas, Oklahoma, New York, and California. Most of the debts were owed to clients who successfully sued.
But none of that has stopped Taylor. In fact, he's waiting for your call right now.
Taylor runs a daily ad in the classified section of The Dallas Morning News encouraging diamond buyers to contact his company anytime, from anywhere, for prices "far, far below retail."
Taylor also pays Howard Stern to pitch his diamond company weekday mornings on KEGL-FM 97.1. On the AM dial, recordings of Taylor singing church songs can be heard on Champlain Ray's International Prison Ministry on KPBC 770. Taylor's rendition of "How Great Thou Art" is particularly fetching.
If you miss those advertisements, Taylor has postcards to hand out. They feature a picture of Taylor, leaning on his elbow, his jowl resting on thick fingers. His fine, receding hair is cut short and shaped like a bowl. He stares through a pair of round lenses almost as if he were looking right into your soul.
Looking for diamonds? Call "Your Diamond Man" for prices "FAR, FAR, FAR below retail!" the postcards read. These days, Taylor calls his company A Diamond is Forever, and he is eagerly awaiting your business.
"ADIF. This is Amy. May I help you?" says a receptionist, answering Taylor's 1-800 number recently. Taylor is in the midst of a private showing and can't come to the phone, says the woman. No, she cannot give out the company's address, she says.
Reached on his car phone days later, Taylor at first says he'd be glad to talk to a reporter. But he backs off at the mention of his criminal and civil records.
"I'm not running a sham operation here," says Taylor. He says he has turned his life around and doesn't believe that a discussion of the past is warranted. Besides, he adds, nobody would believe him anyway.
"I've gone through enough in life that, even if I was in the wrong...I have a right to live the rest of my life as a legitimate businessman," he says. "You can't ruin me. I've already been through enough that I know God will be enough to take me through."
Taylor's clients say it's a miracle Taylor has lasted this long. They wonder what he has done with the estimated $2 million he has walked away with during the past 20 years, but their biggest surprise is that someone hasn't killed him by now.
"If he tried to pull that with five people in the Bronx, he'd probably be dead after the third one," says Martin Godfrey, a former FBI agent, now a private investigator, who is helping two former clients pursue a civil lawsuit against Taylor.
Taylor may say he has shed his criminal past and reconciled himself with God, but, judging by court records, he's still up to his old tricks.
"Trying to believe the best in somebody, that's part of a minister's job," the Reverend John Calhoun says from his New York office, which is located just off Times Square near the city's bustling diamond district.
Calhoun says he met Bryan Wilson Taylor in the late 1970s, when Calhoun was pastor at the Central Church of the Nazarene in North Dallas. Today, the preacher is deeply saddened that he allowed Taylor to gain his trust.
In Dallas, Calhoun's parishioners included Bryan Taylor's parents--retired Reverend Boston Bryan Taylor and his wife, Omega--who by all accounts were a genuine, God-fearing couple. Bryan Taylor used to accompany his parents to church, where he could enthrall the congregation with his magnificent voice.