Over the Edge

Already dogged by mental illness, Paul Bear ended his life after a mean-spirited outing by a small-town newspaperman

The sun hung in the sky behind the 400-year-old oak trees that surround Thee Hubbell House. Tim Carmichael, round and bearded, paced the front lawn of the historic bed and breakfast in Winnsboro, mowing the grass. It had been six weeks since he'd seen Paul, and his hope hadn't run out yet. Paul had done this before, hadn't he? Run away from a high-stress situation, taking the credit cards with him. Stopped calling. Disappeared.

Carmichael looked up and down the street. It was the last day in May. The early summer heat settled in around the aging homes on West Elm Street, some fully restored and majestic, like the Restoration-era Hubbell House, and some empty, looking forlorn with sagging windows and flaking paint. "For Rent" signs called out in vain from front lawns.

Carmichael was thinking of selling the two-story mansion. Business wasn't great, and, more important, the house held too many memories of his three-and-a-half-year love affair with Paul Bear. The handsome Australian had wooed Carmichael within a matter of days after their first meeting, and his charm and vibrant personality made Bear the perfect host at the B&B. The couple had once looked forward to Bear's graduation from nursing school and the opportunity to run the business together.

Paul Bear (left) and Tim Carmichael pose for a photo in 2002, the year before the Winnsboro News editorial that would change their lives.
Paul Bear (left) and Tim Carmichael pose for a photo in 2002, the year before the Winnsboro News editorial that would change their lives.
Bear in December 2004, seven months before he killed himself.
Bear in December 2004, seven months before he killed himself.

With dozens of churches serving its 3,500 residents, Winnsboro is a religious, strongly conservative town, like many of its East Texas neighbors. But the handful of gays who'd established homes and families there had been peacefully assimilated into the community, with several becoming prominent businesspeople, like Bear and Carmichael, and even city government officials. If some disapproved of the bed and breakfast owners' relationship, they kept it to themselves.

Except for one man. Tom Pendergast, the editor and publisher of the local newspaper with a penchant for picking public fights. On August 21, 2003, Pendergast published a scathing editorial in the Winnsboro News titled "About Fully Informing the Citizens." The 500-word article condemned the couple's homosexual lifestyle as "despicable" and "disgusting." It would change everything for Bear and Carmichael, even Winnsboro itself; the days of peaceful coexistence were past.

Bear fell into deep depression soon after the editorial ran, a result of the bipolar disorder he kept hidden from his partner. Obscene phone calls, almost always from men, came in at all hours of the day at the Hubbell House, and the two began finding dead animals in various states of decay tossed in their yard or stuffed in their mailbox. Bear, seriously troubled beneath his charming exterior, took it especially hard, while Carmichael, older and more familiar with the complications of small-town life, was better able to cope.

When he got depressed, Bear's entire demeanor could change from bubbly to moody and reclusive, with loud, angry outbursts. Three weeks after Pendergast's screed ran in the weekly paper, Bear cut out of town one day without warning and went on a cross-country gambling spree, racking up more than $60,000 in debt. That was the first time--but he'd come back after only two weeks, and he and Carmichael tried to get things back to normal. The obscene phone calls continued, though less frequently, and the debt loomed over their relationship, making the ordeal hard to forget.

But now, in 2005, more than a year after the editorial, he'd done it again. Bear had been gone for six weeks.

A white Jeep appeared at the end of the street, barely disrupting the quiet of the neighborhood, and crept along Elm. Carmichael stopped mowing and followed its progress to the front of the house, and he couldn't believe his eyes. The windows were tinted, but Carmichael was sure he could make out Bear in the driver's seat. The car rounded the corner and turned back. This time, there wasn't any doubt.

Carmichael was overcome. After weeks of begging Bear to come home, of heart-breaking phone calls and e-mails and assurances that everything would be fine if Bear would just return, here was his lover, yards away.

Bear raised his hand in a wave. He was close enough that Carmichael could see tears streaming down his face.

Carmichael called out to him. "Bear!" he shouted, using the name that doubled as both Paul's adopted surname and Carmichael's pet name for him. But he drove on.

"Bear!" Carmichael repeated, his voice breaking as he watched the Jeep round the corner and disappear. Gone again. Just like that.

If his daughter hadn't also seen Bear, driving past him on her way to the mansion, Carmichael says he would never have believed it was him.

Tim Carmichael had heard Bear threaten suicide before, but he'd always thought it was just Bear being dramatic, another part of his fiery personality. Anyone who talked about it so much, Carmichael thought, wouldn't really do it. And as far as he knew, Bear had never attempted to follow through in any serious way.

The news came in a phone call on June 2, 2005. That afternoon, Sergeant Kyle Henson of the Wood County Sheriff's department knocked on the door of the Hubbell House and delivered the proof. Bear had hanged himself, and here was his final letter, sealed in an envelope, addressed to Carmichael. Two pages torn from a lined legal pad, written in ballpoint pen.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help