Fool's Gold

Our intrepid correspondent follows a scheming ex-con to Mexico in search of treasure. They find bupkus.

In the dream, Reeder saw a girl in a plaid dress. Near her were a bull's-eye and a huge crowd. Just like that, Reeder says, snapping his fingers, he realized the meaning of the dream.

The girl, it turned out, was someone he knew at 9, when his friend Ricky asked him if he wanted to go behind a grapevine patch with the girl and fool around. "Yeah, fool around fool around," Reeder says to me.

Now this lass was no beauty. By adorning the homely girl in a wholesome plaid dress in his dream, "I made the girl better than she was," Reeder says. "I added value."

Here's one of the gold mines. These are the would-be investors. We're talking serious money here.
Here's one of the gold mines. These are the would-be investors. We're talking serious money here.
Why did they rent that stupid car anyway? It got stuck in the sand on our way to the mine.
Why did they rent that stupid car anyway? It got stuck in the sand on our way to the mine.

He enhanced her, he ennobled her, even though he and his friend had, in fact, used her.

This dream, mind you, was a few years before Reeder thought of adding value in another way, with something he'd soon call Cornerstone.

Psychology, he says, fascinates him.

Why? I ask.

"You understand flaws in yourself," he says.

When I ask him which of his flaws he needs to understand better, he falls silent, then finally speaks: "Let me think about that for a while before I answer. That's kind of sensitive." His thoughts instantly turn to his wife, Sandra, and the fact that her name means "Helper of Mankind."

"Oh, Sandra," he says, sighing. "She's just incredible." I soon learn that he's been struck by pangs of guilt. He told me that months before the seizure, the pressures of running a business became so great that he went to a topless club one night and met a dancer. They began spending time together. "And everyone thought that I was this righteous man," says Reeder, softly, "but here I was with a topless dancer, smoking pot...I had a criminal record."

Sometimes, the temptations at Cornerstone were just too great. "There was quite a bit of money," he says. "I could have paid myself $20,000, $30,000 a week, and it wouldn't have hurt the company a bit. Not a bit."

He had tried to keep his temptations in check, paying himself only $110,000 a year, while his wife took in $10,000. He also tried "prayer. Sandra. You know, my conscience, my self-control, and sometimes I just lost it...There was a lot of guilt there. And to try to deal with the pain, alcohol became a problem."

He says he never consummated the relationship with the dancer. "But you set standards for yourself," he says. "One person can live with all kinds of junk in their life and not feel any guilt. Another person can't live with a scratch."

By his own admission, Reeder's that rare, introspective soul who has spent his life "examining the details of what is real and what is not." How many others, he asks, have read 3,000 books and, as he puts it, pursued life as thoroughly as Herman Hesse's Siddhartha?

After our Mexico trip, I would speak to Reeder's son, the only one of his family members whom I contacted who was willing to talk about Reeder.

Did he ever get the feeling that Reeder was unusual? "Very much so," said Chris Nowell, sitting in his office at a video production company, which he declined to name. Like his brother and sister, Nowell has been estranged from Reeder most of his life and has taken the last name of a stepfather, his real "Dad."

"Believe it or not," he said, "I really don't know him really, really well."

That's because while Nowell and his siblings were growing up, his father spent most of those years behind bars.

Reeder spent a decade in jail for a variety of crimes and misdemeanors, which included auto theft, burglary, forgery, writing bad checks, and brandishing a knife at his second of three wives in the late 1980s. And he was due in court for a DWI charge.

"It's almost like when you meet a genius they don't make sense to you," said Nowell. "Either they're an idiot or they're a genius. I don't know," he said, getting back to the matter at hand: Reeder.

When pressed to elaborate, he pleaded ignorance.

"Honestly, I don't know," he said, sounding befuddled, "because he's so..."

"I mean," I interjected, "you wouldn't call him an..."

"...An idiot." Nowell laughed awkwardly. "No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't, but I really don't know."

It turns out that Reeder left prison only a decade ago. Homeless for several months, he took a job doing sheetrock for a church in Fort Worth. There he met a divorced mother of two named Sandra Marks who had recently lost her clothing warehouse and had taken an office in the church to tide her over.

"Sandra was like the cheerleader for the church," says Reeder. "She wore cowboy hats and boots, she'd come in clapping her hands and said 'hallelujah,' this little shy lady. One morning she wasn't there, and this guy said, 'We can't start church without Sandra.' That really made an impression on me."

One Saturday, three weeks before they married in 1993, Reeder had a brilliant idea for a business: selling wares at inflated prices. He soon anointed himself the "father of value-added economics" and found a biblical name for his venture: Cornerstone.

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