By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
As Sheri Crowder lay wide-awake in bed in her Frisco home, she wondered what her husband was doing. He had gotten up suddenly, unable to sleep. Just hadn't been the same over the past few months. She worried about his depression, about his drinking, about his recent arrest for DWI. Don Crowder was a prominent Collin County lawyer, the city attorney for the town of Allen for the last 22 years, and the Allen police department arrested him. Somehow he couldn't get over the shame of it.
He had always been so strong-willed and fearless, so downright tenacious in every aspect of his life. That's why she couldn't accept that he really wanted to kill himself, though he'd been talking about it calmly, openly, as though it were a topic of dinner conversation. There had been that one time when he took an overdose of prescription drugs, but it seemed more like a plea for help. Always argumentative, he convinced the doctors at Columbia Medical Hospital in McKinney to release him after just one day in Intensive Care.
He was just going through some hard times, Sheri thought. Her daughter, Brooke, was about to have a baby, and Don loved children. Whatever the problem, it would blow over soon enough.
"What are you doing?" she called out to him from bed. No answer. Then she noticed he was not in the bathroom, as she had thought; he had veered into his workout room and shut the door. That seemed strange. He had already exercised that day, for the same three hours that he did every day, obsessed as he was with staying fit, trim, forever young. Then she remembered: Don, who had never owned a gun, had brought one home two weeks ago. He kept it in the workout room.
She quickly tossed off the covers and hurried to the workout-room door.
"Don't touch the door, Sheri," said Don.
His erratic behavior lately had left her edgy; she panicked easily. "Donnie, what are you doing?"
"If you touch that door, I'll do it."
Sheri didn't argue; she never could win an argument with him. Instead, she just sank into the carpeting by the door, terrified of what her husband might do next. "Donnie, just let me call someone to talk to you. If you'll just let me call your father, or your son."
"No. Everyone is better off without me."
For half an hour, Sheri kept him talking. After they prayed together, he became strangely levelheaded, told her he wanted to be cremated. "And publish my book," he reminded her, referring to the 645-page courtroom mystery he had written over the past three years that, in places, seemed autobiographical.
Suddenly he changed the subject, telling Sheri to get dressed.
She refused to budge until he promised he wouldn't do anything foolish while she was gone. Then she slipped on sweatpants and a T-shirt, quickly taking her place on the floor, crying into a wad of crumpled toilet paper.
"I love you," he said, as if trying to console her. "No one will ever love you like I have; remember that."
"And I love you, Donnie."
"God forgive me for this..."
A single shot rang out and echoed through the house. In the daze of those first moments, she grew mad at him, thinking he had shot the gun in the air and put a hole in the roof. Then she saw the hole in the door--a bullet had broken through the wood just two inches above her head.
"Donnie," she called uncertainly. "Donnie?"
When he didn't answer, she nudged the door open slightly. Something was blocking it. Her husband's bleeding body was slouched against the door, cross-legged, naked, his fingers wrapped around the barrel of the revolver. Blood gushed from his sagging head. "Oh my God, oh my God," she murmured as she pushed her way into the room. "He shot himself."
She ran down the stairs and out the front door. On her way, she grabbed the phone and called 911.
"Go back in there and give your husband CPR," said the operator.
"But you don't know what I've just seen!" Sheri cried. "The blood was just running and running...I can't go back in there!"
"Don't you want your husband to live?" the operator asked, but Sheri no longer listened. When the police arrived, she says, they found her unconscious on her front lawn and Don Crowder dead upstairs.
Within an hour, Don's parents and family had gathered at the home of Carol Crowder, Don's first wife. Don and Carol had been married for almost 30 years, and the 17-room house in Lucas, a country hamlet on the outskirts of Allen, seemed the natural place to grieve.
It was in the stately Lucas home that Crowder's four children grew up, along with scores of other kids Don coached in sports and in life. There, on those 40 acres of wide-open prairie, Don Crowder held Democratic Party fundraisers for hundreds of guests as treasurer for the campaigns of his friend and law partner Jim Mattox. From his upstairs office, still decorated with autographed pictures of Jimmy Carter and Senator Edmund Muskie, he managed his own 1986 candidacy for governor, making a respectable primary showing for a virtual political unknown. In his bedroom, he lost sleep over his defense of Candace Montgomery, accused of murdering schoolteacher Betty Gore with 41 whacks of an ax, in a 1980 trial that became as notorious for its scandal as for its verdict. And it was now in this Lucas home that Don Crowder's family reflected on his life and puzzled over his death, wondering how a man who had striven for perfection and believed in a life without limits could die by his own hand.