By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
According to one former deputy, the van is in excellent condition. It surprised him to hear it had been in a wreck. The 1995 Kelly Blue Book values a van of that year, make, model, and mileage at $16,600 retail, $12,500 wholesale. It's value as a salvaged vehicle is unknown.
"What would you say to someone who says this looks like a gift, a favor?" Max was asked.
He turned to Byrd, and asked, "What would I say to that?"
Byrd said, "I guess with your property, you can do with it what you want."
Thus a used-car-parts dealer gave a hell of deal on a used car to someone whom he had never met before he became a candidate for sheriff. It happened just two years after Max's cash snatched a young man from complete obscurity, someone inexperienced in law-enforcement management, and propelled him into the $89,000-a-year job.
Born in Norman, Oklahoma, the son of a service-station owner and a homemaker, Williams recalled in a 1992 interview that he comes from "conservative family origins." He dropped out of Norman High School in his junior year to go to work at his father's Sinclair station, then enlisted in the Army because, as he recalls in a 1996 deposition, "it was my desire to obtain my G.E.D."
During two tours of duty in the Army, where he was a specialist in military police work, Williams rose a single rank--to corporal.
While in the service, he married Rhonda Kimble and they had a son, but the marriage lasted only six months, Williams told Fort Worth attorney Michael Ware in a deposition for a case involving a deputy's firing.
Honorably discharged, Williams earned his G.E.D. from the University of Oklahoma in 1976.
After working for less than a year as the sole town marshal in Washington, Oklahoma, population 500, he moved to the 12-member force in nearby Purcell, where he stayed two years.
In Purcell he met Ruth Seiter on a blind date, and they married that year. In 1980, the couple moved to Fort Worth, and they both went to work for Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
In the 1960s, Copeland had been a singer at The Cellar, a notorious Fort Worth club where waitresses wore only bras and panties and where more than a dozen U.S. Secret Service agents partied until dawn the day President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.
Once Copeland found Jesus, he began building his multi-million dollar TV empire, a ministry rooted in "prosperity theology," the belief that if you come to Jesus and "plant a seed," i.e. send Copeland your money, you, too, will be rewarded with earthly riches. Some estimate that Copeland's followers contribute nearly $100 million a year, and his headquarters sprawl over a rolling 1,200-acre ranch at the edge of Eagle Mountain Lake, a site that was once a military base. Its runways and huge hangars are used for various Copeland aircraft--and it is here that the sheriff's department helicopter crashed last year.
At the outset of the Williamses' work for the preacher, Ruth worked as a mailroom clerk and David worked as a packaging clerk, bundling up Bibles and Copeland's taped teachings.
During his five years with Copeland, Williams became head of security, but left in 1986 and took a $10,000-a-year pay cut to become a patrolman in the suburban Haltom City Police Department.
After a year on patrol, Williams moved to overseeing the city's neighborhood crime watches, then to police chaplain, personnel officer, and finally director of a DARE anti-drug education program.
Through his involvement in that, and in the local Lions Club and other community organizations, Williams began making political contacts, he related in a 1992 interview.
With Wilder's expert campaign advice, and time to shake the hands of 75,000 voters, Williams emerged from the GOP primary in a runoff with one other candidate. His church backers got to the polls in the runoff, and he went on to edge suburban River Oaks Police Chief Dub Bransom in the general election.
Once elected, he moved to restore the office to its long-lost stature as a crime-fighting agency.
While the vast majority of the sheriff's department's money and personnel is devoted to guarding prisoners, Williams made it clear from the start he wasn't very interested in the jail. A longstanding complaint among jailers is that they had never even seen Williams until late in his first term.
Instead, he concentrated on the department's law enforcement duties--its obligation to patrol the 130-square-mile portion of unincorporated Tarrant County not served by municipal police.
He bought three high-powered "interceptor" Camaros to chase speeders, and installed Max's K-9 unit to sniff out drugs. In 1994, after his department put on its application that it had 60 people devoted to anti-drug efforts, it picked up from the federal government two Vietnam-era military surplus helicopters. Williams installed a SWAT team (which made Tarrant County the only sheriff's department in the state to duplicate a unit typically operated by urban police departments) and armed them with machine guns.
"He's a toy guy," says a former deputy. "At one time Williams considered asking the commissioners for an armored personnel carrier. Max talked him out of it."