By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"He was told to go on lithium and never come off it," Cross said. Bill, however, had had enough, treatment or not. "Bill said, 'Leave America now, or I'll bring charges against you,'" said Cross, who spoke with Bill about his time with Bear.
Bear had told Carmichael the truth about one thing, though: His next destination was the Mediterranean.
When Bill kicked him out, Bear called Cross, asking for even more money to help him out of the jam. He consented, giving Bear enough to get established in a small village in Greece. He hoped that with the new information about his mental illness, Bear would finally work out his problems and begin paying back everyone he'd borrowed or stolen from over the years. Cross even traveled to Greece for a few months, rekindling their romance.
"He was working," Cross said. "He seemed relatively on the level." Cross tried to convince Bear to pay back one friend in particular, a single mother who'd given Bear $180,000 years earlier to buy her an apartment when Bear was working in real estate in Sydney. He used about $30,000 to make a down payment. "He put the apartment down in his name," Cross said, "and then went berserk. He spent every cent of it."
According to Carmichael, Bear secluded himself in Greece. "He said he lived as a hermit on the top of a mountain for months," Carmichael says. Bear told him it was Cross who eventually convinced him to return to Australia, incognito, in 1998. Again, Cross would have to tell Carmichael a different story, that Bear was hardly on his own, receiving visits from friends and eventually embezzling yet again from his Greek employer. This time, he escaped to Melbourne only to have a foolish mistake send him packing once again.
He couldn't travel to Sydney because of the angry creditors and friends he'd left behind, Cross said. Bear fell back into the gay scene, making and dropping friends whenever he got in trouble. Lithium was still not an option as far as Bear was concerned, and he let the manic periods rule his life. During one of them, Bear decided to enter a Mr. Leather contest, one of the most popular in the Australian gay community. Handsome as ever in an outfit of leather straps and complete with a motorcycle cap, Bear was a shoo-in for the top prize. He should have known better.
"He had a full-page photo on the cover of the gay paper," Cross said. "Everybody in Sydney saw him." Bear had no choice but to take off once more, this time to Oklahoma. It was early spring of 1999. He'd met a 61-year-old man from Tulsa on the Internet. "Uncle Joe," as Bear told Carmichael, was a sick relative who needed care. Later, Carmichael would learn that Joe wasn't related to Bear at all but was a native of South Dakota with no connection at all to Australia or Greece. Whatever their actual relationship, Joe died in December 1999, leaving a substantial amount of money to Bear. While caring for Joe, Bear had become a certified nurse's assistant, and he decided to continue in that field at St. Xavier University in Chicago. He knew a man there named Bob, who declined to be interviewed for this article.
Bear and Bob had first met in Melbourne. "Bob had paid for Paul's service as a male escort for a week while he was vacationing," Carmichael says. Once again Bear turned on the charm, and Bob, said Carmichael, was "smitten." Their relationship lasted until November 2001, when Bear and Carmichael exchanged their first e-mails through an online dating site.
"We started talking on November 5," says Carmichael, reflecting on the relationship from the oversized wooden gazebo behind the Hubbell House. "He came down for a visit on November 17, and he moved down here the day after Thanksgiving."
The courtship was quick for two reasons. First, Carmichael suffers from a condition called Meniere's Disease, which has left him with 97 percent hearing loss. As a result, he needs help running the Hubbell House, and he had broken up with his most recent partner, leaving him without a long-term plan to manage the B&B. With 11 rooms, the mansion had space for many more guests than it usually hosted, but it was still a challenge for Carmichael. Second, Bear needed to stay enrolled in school in order to maintain his international student visa, and to do so, he needed an American sponsor. In Chicago, Bob had abruptly pulled his sponsorship after Bear took him "for a really big ride," says Carmichael, who had no idea at the time. The University of Texas at Tyler had a nursing program that Bear could join that spring. The arrangement seemed ideal.
Of all the things Bear was good at, running the Hubbell House appeared to suit him best. At past jobs, he could use his smooth talking to sell expensive real estate or his endless enthusiasm to boost gym memberships. Both of those skills, combined with his passionate nature and dedication to detail, made him the perfect host.
"Our guests absolutely fell in love with him," Carmichael says. Bear would hover in the period-themed dining room of Rebekah's Restaurant at the Hubbell House, attending to every table at dinner time. While Carmichael remained behind the scenes, baking his signature cheesecake and other home-cooked favorites, Bear was the face of the house. He could talk about anything, and his Australian accent and well-traveled sensibility charmed everyone who stayed with them in Winnsboro. "He made everybody feel really special."