Rich Man, Poor Man

Dallas architect Tom Stanley crafted buildings that endure on city skylines across the country, but his fortune and family wouldn't survive their own shaky foundations

As Mamie grew more desperate to feed her addiction ("I was living in an opiate cloud," she says), she would pillage these boxes, looking for items she could pawn. Again she rationalized her behavior, deceiving both her parents and herself. "I didn't consider it stealing, not exactly. I convinced myself some of the things were mine. And other things I was just borrowing as collateral for a loan." As soon as she got straight, she would repay the loan and return the property to her parents. Only she never did.

Instead, Mamie says she brought her sister into her scheme. "Jill was family. I thought she would loan me the money and keep the property safe. I never wanted to hurt my parents. When I came up with the money, I trusted her to give me the property back." Only Jill never did.

"She knew what we were doing was wrong. We both did," Mamie says.

Tom Stanley, shown here in a photo from 1962, was known less for his architectural drawings than his architectural drawing power. At one point in the late '60s, his Dallas practice was recognized as one of the largest architectural firms in the country.
Tom Stanley, shown here in a photo from 1962, was known less for his architectural drawings than his architectural drawing power. At one point in the late '60s, his Dallas practice was recognized as one of the largest architectural firms in the country.

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In her deposition, Jill tells a different story, describing her feelings after she learned at 37 she was adopted. "I was very upset that I was deceived...It was natural that I was somewhat angry and disturbed." She felt her father had always treated her differently than Mamie and Hutch. "I know he loved me. He just loved his two natural children too much." That is why it was clear to her that the items she "purchased" from Mamie were not taken without her parents' permission. "Anything that was my parents' was Mamie's...That's the way it has always been." Her parents never actually told her that anything they owned was Mamie's; it was just something Jill concluded from their behavior. "Their behavior was apparent to everyone."

Everyone but Tom and Lillian.

Lillian had in her possession two letters written by her husband, where he demanded that Jill and Larry return his property. "My dear Jill," he wrote on May 6, 1997, "I am enclosing an incomplete list of items which were stolen from my home...When you acquired these items, you must have realized that Mamie did not own these items...I plan to have all items in your possession returned to my home... Love, Dad."

Stanley's June 26, 1999, letter to Larry Meletio took a more forceful tone: "I am delivering this letter to you personally and demanding you return our many lovely things and all of LILLIAN's jewelry, now!! When 'B' [a friend] and I stopped by Jill's for a visit I was 'shocked' to see all of our lovely antiques and furnishings!! We believed these items to still be in storage and you have taken these from us without our knowledge or permission and moved them into your home."

At their depositions, Jill and Larry claimed they never received these letters; and Larry testified that any property he stored for his father-in-law was long gone, removed by Mamie, her parents or other family members. Jill said she received a hand-delivered letter from her father in 1998, demanding the return of a few items of property. They walked into her sitting room, she said, and chatted. "He was embarrassed that his daughter Mamie was selling items...But he was happy that they were not pawned or sold somewhere else other than to me..." He left without referring to the letter, she said, or taking any property with him.

Jill claimed that she had written hundreds of checks to and for Mamie, realizing that by purchasing the property (at pawnshop prices) she might be financing Mamie's heroin habit. She said that her parents also borrowed money from her; they were "in need and at my doorstep." Finally she had to put a stop to it. "They [including Mamie] were constantly coming to me. It was an everyday ordeal." Other than visiting her father at the hospital before his death, she did not see her parents for the last year and a half of his life, she said, and admitted making little effort to be with them.

Lillian denies ever borrowing money from her children; her husband was just too proud. He would rather live off his Social Security check than pester his wealthy friends or family. He had no car. Mamie wrecked one; Edward borrowed the other. He let go of his social connections; he couldn't afford them. "He joked that he had more money coming out of college than he did now," recalls Hutch. Eventually he and Lillian, in love as always, were forced to move into one rundown apartment and then another.

Although Stanley's heart was failing him--pumping at 20 percent of its capacity--his spirits seldom sagged. Unlike his children, he had risen out of poverty on the strength of his personal genius. Despite his age, he believed he could do it again. Hutch, who took a daily interest in his parents' well-being, encouraged his father to sculpt or paint, but Stanley had one last architectural dream--L'Elyse'e--a high-rise condominium he designed and hoped to develop in Turtle Creek. "He wanted the penthouse for him and Mom," Hutch says. "He planned on furnishing it with all the antiques and property that Jill had taken from them." Hutch would drive his father to meetings with developers, bankers, former employees--anyone who would listen.

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