By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
When they got the tip, Chris and Joanne Webb looked at each other in panic.
The couple had learned that police in Burleson--a town of 25,000 in Johnson County, 14 miles south of downtown Fort Worth--had issued a warrant for Joanne's arrest. But while a lawyer negotiated Joanne's surrender, the Webbs got wind there might be a raid on their home.
Frantic, the Webbs began pulling items from trunks where Joanne held her product samples, tossing into a box the Chocolate Thriller, the Love Wand, the Nubby G--as well as Pink Passion, Bathing Buddy, Magic Monarch and Jelly Gumdrop. And last but not least, Glow Boy.
Ten minutes later, Chris was racing in the family van for the Johnson County line, heading for a friend's house on the other side. "I used to be an officer in the U.S. Army," he thought. "Now I'm a dildo runner."
His transformation was complete. Last fall, Chris and Joanne Webb morphed from stalwart Southern Baptists and popular civic leaders into the couple at the red-hot center of a town scandal that pulled into its orbit virtually everybody who was anybody in Burleson. Burning up phone lines with the latest gossip about Joanne and Chris, people took sides and plotted schemes. The pressure built slowly, then climaxed in a paroxysm of blame that left the town reeling--and the butt of international jokes.
Now all involved are retreating, trying to cover their own butts. But how did it really start? Like sex scandals always do, with a tiny flame of passion.
On the morning of November 11, Joanne Webb sat in her husband's office and chatted on the phone with a fellow "ambassador" for the Burleson Chamber of Commerce about the ongoing campaign to protect the city from Joanne's miniskirts.
Joanne had gotten involved with the chamber in the late '90s after quitting her job as a teacher. Chris' home-building business had taken off with such gusto that he needed her help with phones and paperwork.
After years of moving, first as a military brat and then as a military wife, Joanne loved Burleson. Both 43 and married for 20 years, the Webbs donated their time and money to their Baptist church and the Burleson Chamber. Both sat on the chamber's board. As a volunteer ambassador, Joanne attended networking events and ribbon-cuttings, slipping the required navy blazer over whatever she wore that day.
In warm weather, it was always a miniskirt. A very short miniskirt. Though her legs were pale and she's now on the other side of 40, Joanne loved wearing short skirts. And Chris loved looking at her legs.
No one ever had a negative comment about Joanne's devotion to the chamber. Says fellow ambassador Kelli Spears, "I have not found one person who has said Joanne has been anything but kind and helpful."
But last fall, resentment of Joanne within the ranks erupted, led by Shanda Perkins, a mother of six with deep roots in Burleson. A bank employee and vice president of the Burleson Area Republican Women, Perkins and a handful of other city leaders had had enough of Joanne, Chris and their sexy ways.
His "Daisy Duke" shorts.
Her long, curly blond hair.
His flirtatious remarks.
Her augmented bosom.
His collection of 1940s advertising trinkets featuring voluptuous girls.
Her red convertible.
Rumors swirled that under all that sensual smoke there must be immoral sexual fire. People whispered that the Webbs were "swingers." It all seemed indecent, especially for "The City of Character," as Burleson styles itself.
The first spark flew in August--at a chamber ribbon-cutting--this time for Joanne's new venture. Chris' business had slowed down, so Joanne turned to a time-honored method for cash-strapped moms everywhere: multilevel marketing at home gatherings. She joined Passion Parties, a 10-year-old San Francisco-based company that markets massage oils, naughty clothing and erotic devices. Demonstrating a feather tickler and edible white chocolate powder seemed more fun than burping plastic tubs.
Naturally, Joanne wanted her company to join the chamber. She cleared it with the director and president of the board. Of course she could, they said. It was a legitimate business.
On ribbon-cutting day, most of the ambassadors showed up for another company's photo. When Joanne wielded the giant scissors for Passion Parties by Joanne, all but a few had disappeared. Soon after, though, Shanda Perkins proposed a dress code targeted at Joanne.
Over the phone, Spears and Joanne laughed at the silliness. Perkins wasn't exactly a fashion maven. Though beautiful, with alabaster skin and blue eyes, Perkins wore lots of makeup, flashy costume jewelry and kept her long brunette hair teased high. One ambassador thought someone should tell Perkins that "1985 called and it wants its dress back."
Several people with the chamber warned Joanne that Perkins was circulating a 1988 city ordinance banning sexually oriented businesses to see if it could be used to shut her down; Joanne just brushed it off. She wasn't doing anything wrong.
But Perkins wasn't an adversary to be taken lightly. She was a Gillaspie, the daughter of prominent Pentecostal preacher Gloria Gillaspie and sister of Burleson City Council member Stuart Gillaspie, now running for mayor. (He "feels strongly about the moral issues" of the city, says his page on Burleson's Web site. That "goes hand in hand with his strong faith and his involvement with the Steppingstone Family Church, where his mother is pastor and he is on the board of directors.") Perkins was either related to or had gone to school with everyone in town.