The Ice Man
Most con men flourish in anonymity and forever seek fresh territory. Roll into town, filch bingo money from a few grandmothers, then split before the heat comes down. Never stand still. That's the hustler's way.
But Bryan Wilson Taylor is no ordinary hustler. He's more of a hometown boy who started business in Dallas 25 years ago and stayed put. Since then, the 62-year-old portly son of a preacher has scammed people out of an estimated $2 million in cash and jewels.
Posing as a diamond broker, he has taken doctors, bankers, even lawyers. But he does his best work on senior citizens and widows. Quoting Scripture and singing praises to the Lord, he has befriended priests to gain access to their flocks.
He has talked elderly couples out of their nest eggs with promises to double their money. He has fed widows steaks and promises of romance just to get his hands on the insurance money paid out on their dead husbands.
Taylor likes to dazzle his marks by flashing wads of cash or reaching into one of his cowboy boots and pulling out diamonds wrapped in paper. He lives in apartments and works out of motels and rented executive suites, preferably in the impressive glass towers that line North Central Expressway.
He has gone to prison twice, been sued at least two dozen times, and filed for bankruptcy. But for Taylor, that's just the cost of doing business.
Taylor just keeps on conning and conning, the Energizer Bunny of the swindles.
In Dallas County alone, Taylor's victims have won damages in at least two dozen civil cases since 1973; almost all the cases claim Taylor ripped off cash or jewels. When Taylor filed for bankruptcy in 1993, he listed debts of $1.6 million to more than four dozen creditors, scattered across Texas, Oklahoma, New York, and California. Most of the debts were owed to clients who successfully sued.
But none of that has stopped Taylor. In fact, he's waiting for your call right now.
Taylor runs a daily ad in the classified section of The Dallas Morning News encouraging diamond buyers to contact his company anytime, from anywhere, for prices "far, far below retail."
Taylor also pays Howard Stern to pitch his diamond company weekday mornings on KEGL-FM 97.1. On the AM dial, recordings of Taylor singing church songs can be heard on Champlain Ray's International Prison Ministry on KPBC 770. Taylor's rendition of "How Great Thou Art" is particularly fetching.
If you miss those advertisements, Taylor has postcards to hand out. They feature a picture of Taylor, leaning on his elbow, his jowl resting on thick fingers. His fine, receding hair is cut short and shaped like a bowl. He stares through a pair of round lenses almost as if he were looking right into your soul.
Looking for diamonds? Call "Your Diamond Man" for prices "FAR, FAR, FAR below retail!" the postcards read. These days, Taylor calls his company A Diamond is Forever, and he is eagerly awaiting your business.
"ADIF. This is Amy. May I help you?" says a receptionist, answering Taylor's 1-800 number recently. Taylor is in the midst of a private showing and can't come to the phone, says the woman. No, she cannot give out the company's address, she says.
Reached on his car phone days later, Taylor at first says he'd be glad to talk to a reporter. But he backs off at the mention of his criminal and civil records.
"I'm not running a sham operation here," says Taylor. He says he has turned his life around and doesn't believe that a discussion of the past is warranted. Besides, he adds, nobody would believe him anyway.
"I've gone through enough in life that, even if I was in the wrong...I have a right to live the rest of my life as a legitimate businessman," he says. "You can't ruin me. I've already been through enough that I know God will be enough to take me through."
Taylor's clients say it's a miracle Taylor has lasted this long. They wonder what he has done with the estimated $2 million he has walked away with during the past 20 years, but their biggest surprise is that someone hasn't killed him by now.
"If he tried to pull that with five people in the Bronx, he'd probably be dead after the third one," says Martin Godfrey, a former FBI agent, now a private investigator, who is helping two former clients pursue a civil lawsuit against Taylor.
Taylor may say he has shed his criminal past and reconciled himself with God, but, judging by court records, he's still up to his old tricks.
"Trying to believe the best in somebody, that's part of a minister's job," the Reverend John Calhoun says from his New York office, which is located just off Times Square near the city's bustling diamond district.
Calhoun says he met Bryan Wilson Taylor in the late 1970s, when Calhoun was pastor at the Central Church of the Nazarene in North Dallas. Today, the preacher is deeply saddened that he allowed Taylor to gain his trust.
In Dallas, Calhoun's parishioners included Bryan Taylor's parents--retired Reverend Boston Bryan Taylor and his wife, Omega--who by all accounts were a genuine, God-fearing couple. Bryan Taylor used to accompany his parents to church, where he could enthrall the congregation with his magnificent voice.
"He used to sing," says Calhoun. "In fact, he used to pastor. I think he was dynamic as a younger man. He's a very charming, winsome, charismatic personality."
Calhoun says he remembers being sought out by Taylor. Admitting that he had served time in prison because his spiritual weakness had caused him to steal, Taylor told Calhoun he wanted to turn his life around. He was looking for forgiveness.
"I was trying to show confidence in him, encourage him, and be a friend to him," Calhoun says. "He comes across as so sincere, very friendly, and likable."
Calhoun says that, after services and during church functions, he introduced Taylor to parishioners. In no time, Taylor was selling them diamond rings and fur coats at prices far, far below retail.
Taylor didn't miss an opportunity to express his appreciation for Calhoun's faith.
"We had lunch together from time to time back in Dallas. That's why I knew he had a lot of money," Calhoun says. "He would always go to real expensive restaurants. He always had a lot of cash on him. He'd pull it out of his boot and flash it around."
In 1980, Calhoun buried Taylor's brother, Calvin, who died of cancer. The same year, Calhoun's wife gave birth to the couple's third child. Somehow, Calhoun says, Taylor found out that the church didn't provide health insurance for its ministers, so Taylor paid Calhoun's hospital bill.
Bound by matters of life and death, Calhoun couldn't see that he was unleashing a lion on his flock.
"I feel terrible about it all. I grieve over it. That's the word. I grieve over it," Calhoun says. "It's obvious now that he knows how to work it so well that he could do this the rest of his life and probably get by with it."
In 1984, Calhoun relocated to Long Beach, California, where he continued to minister for the Church of the Nazarene. The pastor didn't suspect a thing when Taylor showed up on his doorstep.
During the next 10 years in Long Beach, Calhoun introduced Taylor to several friends in the church. Among them were James and Susan Skeen, two psychologists with doctorates. Calhoun and the Skeens were so impressed with Taylor, they decided to go into business with him. Susan Skeen agreed that Calhoun could use her office to sell diamonds that Taylor would provide from Dallas.
"I met [Taylor] at church. He wears a gold cross around his neck. He puts on his minister's hat, and he can recite Scripture and everything," says Susan Skeen, her voice laced with anger. "Then he gets close to Christians and takes their money."
In time, Taylor started telling the Skeens about a "Texas Instruments pension fund plan" that he wanted his new friends to invest in. The Skeens say that by 1994 they had given Taylor more than $140,000--their life's savings--according to a complaint the couple filed in Orange County, California, in June.
When the Skeens called Taylor in January 1994 to inquire about their investment, they say, Taylor told them not to worry because "I would never ever think of touching your money without your permission."
The unsolicited reassurance made the Skeens suspicious, and they demanded their money back. But Taylor could only offer them excuses.
"He didn't have the money until a friend came back in the country. He was going to a diamond show in New York to raise the diamonds. Then he called and said he was robbed," Susan Skeen says. "I've been after him for about three years. The guy is unbelievable."
Eventually the Skeens hired private investigator Martin Godfrey to look into Taylor's background and serve him with the Skeens' civil complaint. Godfrey says his partners had to call Taylor posing as potential clients just to get the court document into Taylor's hands.
"He's kind of unique in his own way," says the retired FBI agent. "Schmoozing up to the pastor there the way he did, that was pretty slick. It's obvious that you're dealing with a pretty good crook here."
Calhoun says he didn't realize Taylor was using him until after the Reverend moved to New York in 1994. The Skeens telephoned Calhoun and explained their troubles.
"[Taylor] had the audacity to look me up during one of his trips here back in early '95," Calhoun says. "He was trying to make me feel guilty for not calling him after I tried to get him to pay his money back. He said, 'It looks like our friendship is about money.' I said, 'No, it's about trust, and you have broken that trust.'"
Calhoun has not spoken with Taylor since. The Skeens are still trying to get their money back.
"He'll get old one of these days, mother, and he'll have to quit," Ken Earman tells his wife, Betty, who's wrestling with a frozen can of Coke in the kitchen of the couple's tidy Mesquite home.
Ken and Betty Earman each stand about 5 feet tall, have cinnamon-red hair, and wear large, thick glasses. After 51 years of marriage, they have learned to talk in shifts; one finishes sentences started by the other. They could be anyone's grandparents.
Betty Earman recalls when she and Ken met Taylor in 1982 at the Central Church of the Nazarene, where Calhoun was the pastor. It was the same year Ken retired from his supervisor's job at Texas Utilities.
"We had a Wednesday night meal, for fellowship, and he brought his mom and dad. He was very sociable," Betty Earman says. "Other than being overweight, he made a good impression."
In church, Taylor was very emotional, always clapping his hands and singing. The Earmans say they were wowed by his ability to quote Scripture from memory, a talent that only burnished his reputation as a successful salesman.
Apparently, times were good for Taylor.
Taylor and his mother shared a luxurious two-story home in the Preston Hollow neighborhood, while Boston Taylor lived in an East Dallas nursing home. The Earmans recall that Bryan Taylor was the first person they knew who owned a large-screen television. He also drove a Cadillac Eldorado, painted gold and equipped with a sunroof.
The Taylors and the Earmans occasionally had dinner together and once, Betty recalls, Bryan Taylor asked the Earmans to attend a birthday party he was throwing for his mom. It was a potluck. "He had us bring a covered dish. I brought a relish tray--dill pickles that were homemade," Betty says. "His mother was a very classy lady. Bryan always wanted Mother to get her hair fixed every week. She always wore a fur cape."
In hindsight, Ken Earman says, Taylor perfectly cultivated the image of a wealthy, family-oriented man.
"He has a silver tongue, and his pattern in Dallas was, 'If you'll introduce me to your church members, I'll double-tithe,'" Ken Earman says, adding that Taylor often mentioned his desire to "find a nice widow to marry."
One of the widows Taylor noticed was Karen Heflin, the Earmans' daughter. In 1981, Heflin's husband was killed by a drunk driver, and consequently she received a large insurance settlement. (Heflin declined to be interviewed for this story.)
"He told me, 'I'm going to marry your daughter,'" says Betty Earman. First, though, Taylor won Ken and Betty over with his charm and his tales about investment opportunities.
Specifically, Taylor told the Earmans he wanted to buy a batch of uncut diamonds in New York City, cut them, and resell them at a profit. If the Earmans would invest in the deal, Taylor promised to double their money. As part of the sales pitch, Taylor gave the Earmans a private showing inside their home.
"He had a big old black velvet cloth. He laid it out on the table and poured [the diamonds] out," says Betty Earman. The couple marveled at the shiny gems Taylor laid on their dining table. "By that time we believed him," Betty says.
On April 4, 1982, the Earmans gave Taylor $10,000. He was to repay it, with 20 percent interest, in one year. Taylor gave the Earmans a promissory note.
With Mom and Dad in his pocket, Taylor went to work on Karen Heflin. The Earmans say Taylor took their daughter on several dates, usually to fine restaurants where steak was the main course. Once Taylor and Heflin went to The Mansion on Turtle Creek. Taylor did not ask Heflin for her hand in marriage. But he did ask her for money.
In the fall of 1982, Heflin wrote Taylor two checks totaling $15,000, which he was to pay back in monthly installments of $1,000, plus 12 percent interest. Taylor made one payment, but Heflin stopped seeing him after he showed up drunk for a date.
"Our daughter got wise to him because of his drinking," says Betty Earman, who adds that her daughter was especially upset by Taylor's drinking given the nature of her husband's death.
As the months rolled by, Taylor began avoiding the family and stopped returning phone calls. Only after constant nagging did Taylor agree to pay back any of the money, the Earmans say, and they were stunned when it was Taylor's mother who showed up at the house one day with $2,000 in cash.
"We finally gave up," says Betty Earman. "We knew we had been taken."
While the Earmans ate their loss, Heflin sued Taylor in the summer of 1983. Like dozens of Taylor's victims, Heflin soon discovered that beating Taylor in court isn't much of a victory.
On the day of a key hearing, Taylor stood up Heflin in court. He was ordered to pay $14,000, plus interest and attorney fees. Despite the order, the Earmans say, Taylor never paid back the money in full. Of the family's combined $25,000 investment, Ken and Betty Earman say, they wound up losing about $12,000.
"We were stupid, you know, looking back. We just didn't think. We trusted him. He was a Christian, we thought," Ken Earman says.
Taylor was wanted in many courtrooms in the early 1980s. In 1983 alone, Taylor was sued seven times and ordered to appear in court about once every two weeks. And Heflin wasn't the only lady Taylor was sweet-talking.
Elaine MacIntire was a divorcee raising two young children when she met Taylor at a church party in the summer of 1982. After introducing himself as a diamond and fur salesman, Taylor told MacIntire he would pay her $1,200 a month plus commission if she were to work for him.
The catch was that MacIntire had to pay to play.
"He told me that he wanted only financially responsible, Christian employees working for him and his company, and in order to assure the financial part, he always required his employees, who handled the diamonds, jewelry, and furs, to put up $10,000 in cash with the company," MacIntire wrote in a July 1983 affidavit.
On August 6, 1982, MacIntire gave Taylor two cashier's checks, together worth $10,000, and got a promissory note in return. MacIntire soon realized she had made a mistake: She only earned $500 before quitting the job four months later, according to a lawsuit she filed the following February.
Seven months after MacIntire sued, Taylor finally agreed to pay her more than $13,000 to settle the case.
A month later, Smithfield resident Carol Ann Coolidge sued Taylor on behalf of all widows in the Church of the Nazarene whom Taylor allegedly defrauded. Coolidge was a member of the Church of the Nazarene in Grapevine, Texas.
"Bryan Taylor has a propensity for seeking out widows through the Church of the Nazarene claiming he is a Nazarene minister sent by God to assist them in investing those insurance proceeds they received on the death of their husbands," Coolidge alleged in her lawsuit. "Such actions have become a systematic plot, scheme, and plan of Bryan Taylor to defraud, steal, cheat, and swindle money from bereaved church widows in time of grief."
According to her suit, Coolidge gave Taylor more than $183,000 after he promised to "teach her the diamond business." In a sworn deposition, Taylor stated that he dated Coolidge and that the couple went into business together. Taylor also stated that he knew Coolidge was pursuing an insurance claim after the death of her husband, who was killed in a train accident.
"She said she was going to...get millions and millions in settlement. And I didn't date her but just a few times because of some personal problems that arose," Taylor stated in the deposition, which was taken in 1993 as part of his bankruptcy proceedings.
A judge would later rule that Coolidge's attempts to sue Taylor on behalf of the Nazarene widows was too broad; the ruling forced Coolidge to narrow her complaint. After seven months of litigation, Taylor was finally ordered to pay Coolidge more than $210,000.
When Taylor filed for bankruptcy in 1993, he still hadn't paid Coolidge a dime.
Doug and Audrey Westbrook's tiny, brown-and-white RV stands at the entrance of Hickory Creek Park on the shores of Lewisville Lake. Although they still own a North Dallas home, the Westbrooks earn extra money by staying at the lake about four days a week.
The Westbrooks agreed to meet with the Dallas Observer on a Wednesday morning in October to discuss how Taylor walked away with Doug Westbrook's pension and peace of mind. But on the scheduled day, only Audrey Westbrook is home. The day before, she explains, Doug was admitted to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital for overnight observation.
Seated on the trailer's tiny couch, Audrey is preoccupied with styling her hair; she meticulously twirls the fine white strands in a curling iron. She gazes into a book-sized mirror tacked to the wall and says she is trying to forget all about Bryan Wilson Taylor.
In the past few years, her husband's mental and physical condition has deteriorated. In 1991, he suffered a massive heart attack, and he is still struggling to regain his strength. More recently he has undergone intensive psychiatric counseling.
Audrey Westbrook says she no longer wants to give an interview as she is afraid that any publicity will further aggravate her husband's condition.
In 1986, however, Doug Westbrook sat down and typed out an essay detailing the family's relationship with Taylor. It is a rambling, disorderly treatise entitled "Bryan--a friend, a business associate, a contradiction."
In September 1980, the essay explains, the Westbrooks had a little extra cash they wanted to invest. They contacted Taylor after seeing an ad for Taylor's diamond business in The Dallas Morning News. An education teacher at North Texas State University (now University of North Texas), Doug Westbrook bought two diamonds from Taylor. The couple already owned a third stone, which was recut. Together the three stones were worth $16,000.
Five years later, the Westbrooks needed cash for home repairs and decided to call Taylor to see about selling their three diamonds.
On January 14, 1986, Taylor took the diamonds. He claimed he knew a rancher in West Texas who was willing to buy the gems for $20,000. Taylor said he'd give the couple the money by February 1.
"Then the rancher decided he couldn't pay for them until March 15, then, not until April 15th, and so on," Doug wrote. "As of this writing, December 9, 1986, we still have no money for the three diamonds."
By then, Taylor had worked his way into the Westbrooks' hearts as well as their wallets.
"Every time Bryan visited Audrey and I, we had great fun. He was a charmer: [He had] a sinful sense of humor, and a quick smile and a laugh, a need to be hugged, and an urgent need for friends," Westbrook wrote. "He loved it, and the family loved him in return. He would insist that everyone hold hands to say grace before we ate."
Taylor treated the family to dinner at fancy restaurants and even traveled to Louisiana to attend Audrey Westbrook's family reunion. On those occasions, Westbrook wrote, Taylor constantly talked about a parcel of diamonds that was for sale in Brazil. He also talked about how he needed a good business partner.
"Audrey and I discussed it and put in $500. [Taylor] was ashamed of this amount and urged us to dig deeper," wrote Westbrook. Westbrook also wrote that, at age 58, he was burnt out on teaching and had been thinking about retiring, and that the diamond investment sounded intriguing.
Taylor turned up the heat. He claimed that the "Brazilian Consulate" had secretly selected him to buy and distribute uncut diamonds because he would not "bow to the DeBeer Cartel," Westbrook wrote.
Westbrook wrote that in the spring of 1986 he sent his letter of retirement to NTSU and prepared to go into business with Taylor full time. On March 25, 1986, Westbrook cut Taylor a personal check for $10,500, according to a copy of the check Westbrook included with his essay.
In return, Taylor helped Westbrook set up a rented office in Denton. Taylor donated a collection of wicker furniture, a filing cabinet, a desk, tables, lamps, and nine cartons of jewelry cleaner. The two men established a new company--called A Cut Above Enterprises--whose letterhead listed Taylor as president and Westbrook as executive vice president.
Westbrook was under the impression that Taylor would get the diamonds from Brazil and that Westbrook would sell them out of the new office. As the months passed, however, no diamonds appeared. Instead, Taylor kept encouraging Westbrook to invest more money in the Brazilian parcel.
That summer, Westbrook borrowed $7,500 from the Denton Area Teachers Credit Union. He and Audrey also surrendered their tax-sheltered annuities, while Doug withdrew his NTSU pension in one lump sum. In July, they wrote Taylor two checks totaling $145,000, according to Westbrook's essay.
That month, Taylor took the Westbrooks to New York for a four-day, all-expense-paid vacation. By day, Taylor gave the couple a tour of the city's diamond district. At night, he wined and dined them in fine restaurants. Westbrook wrote that he and his wife had the time of their life.
On the day they got back to Dallas, however, the Westbrooks were visited by a Denton police investigator, who told them Taylor had been indicted by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office for felony theft and for violating the Texas Securities Act.
It seems an Austin man, Robert Walker, had given Taylor $50,000 to invest in a bogus parcel of diamonds in Brazil. The indictment had been handed down in January--the same month Taylor took the three diamonds from the Westbrooks and began bending their ears about investment opportunities.
The police officer even produced Taylor's mug shot, but the Earmans didn't want to believe their money was gone. Westbrook continued to report to his Denton office. He waited by the phone for months with hopes that Taylor would show up with diamonds to sell.
Taylor never did. Instead of beginning his twilight years with a new partner, new business, and the promise of riches, Westbrook realized he had thrown away $153,000--all of his savings.
"I have a good teacher's retirement, so we're making it, but it's nothing compared to what it would have been if we hadn't met Mr. Taylor," Audrey Westbrook says. "There is no free meal, we discovered."
In November 1986, Westbrook typed a plaintive letter to Taylor on A Cut Above stationery. "I need to know what you visualize my role to be," Westbrook wrote. "God brought us together in the beginning and I feel very strongly that He wants us to stick together. You are very special to me and Audrey. I love you. Doug."
While the Westbrooks were living in a world of suspended belief, and criminal charges from the Robert Walker case were pending, Taylor got busted again. He was indicted for selling another bogus investment. In October 1986, he convinced Denton resident David Floyd to invest $10,000 in the same Brazilian diamond parcel he had previously peddled to Walker and the Westbrooks.
On June 18, 1987, Taylor was finally thrown in jail, not for the indictments, but for a pair of drunk driving convictions.
In the meantime, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office received more complaints about Taylor and filed more charges against him.
In July, all the pending criminal charges against Taylor were settled when he agreed to plead guilty to felony charges of theft, violating the Texas Securities Act, and misapplication of fiduciary property. He was sentenced to eight years in state prison.
It was not the first time Taylor had done hard time. In 1975, Taylor had pleaded guilty to violating the Texas Securities Act, according to Dallas County court records. (The records show that Taylor also was convictedon related charges of theft of more than $50 and of federal mail fraud, though the records contain no details about the charges.)
According to case records, Taylor bilked a client named R.C. Cole out of $10,000. Taylor promised to invest it and return 14 percent interest.
Taylor was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $25 in court costs, but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has no record of how much time he actually served.
After leaving prison the first time, Taylor apparently learned to be more careful. He developed new approaches to swindling that he used for almost a decade.
In the years since Taylor's first conviction, his clients sued him more than two dozen times in Dallas County. Viewed as a whole, the litigation exposes the work of a tightrope walker who is able to balance the weight of civil liability without falling into the hands of police and prosecutors.
After his first jail term, Taylor lost the word "investment" from his business name, which was shortened to Brylor's Inc. when the business was incorporated in 1980. Under Brylor's, Taylor assumed the name "Diamonds Ltd." and adopted a new logo: a sparkling diamond placed over the outline of a fish, a worldwide symbol for Christianity.
(Although Taylor's only son, Bryan Wilson Taylor Jr., is listed as a corporate officer in several lawsuits, the extent of his involvement in the company is unknown.)
Taylor also learned how to make his deals look like legitimate investments by signing promissory notes in exchange for his clients' cash or jewels.
When the notes came due, Taylor strung his clients along with excuses for why he couldn't return their money.
When clients sued--which was often--Taylor would let the cases snake through the system for months and wait until the last moment before signing settlement agreements. Often he simply failed to show up in court, and the plaintiffs were awarded default judgments.
But civil judgments have not always meant a payback for Taylor's victims. Instead, by often ignoring the court orders, Taylor forced his victims to ask sheriff's deputies to seize his property. The process took months and usually revealed that Taylor had few assets of any value. Many clients threw up their hands in defeat and wrote off their losses to stupidity.
Although the Dallas County District Attorney's Office received a string of complaints about Taylor, prosecuting him turned out to be a low priority in an office more interested in nabbing drug dealers, rapists, and murderers.
When Taylor was finally brought to justice for a second time in the late 1980s, it was largely through the efforts of the State Securities Board and investigator Jay Oman.
Oman recalls that his office "got wind" of Taylor's schemes and learned that the Dallas County District Attorney's Office was not vigorously pursuing the case.
"It was just getting passed from one investigator to another, but nothing was getting done," says Oman. "The district attorney would look at one case and say, 'We can't prove intent to defraud.' [Taylor] almost did not get prosecuted."
The securities board, stepping in and pushing the charges, ultimately forced Taylor into a plea bargain, Oman says. "It was an easy case to prove," Oman says. "We had so many people complaining."
Under the plea agreement, Taylor received eight years in the Texas Department of Corrections, but was not ordered to pay any fines or make restitution. After serving just more than a year in jail, Taylor was paroled on August 1, 1988. At least two of Taylor's clients filed new complaints with the District Attorney's Office after Taylor's parole, but the office took no action. On June 15, 1995, Taylor successfully completed his parole.
But Oman says that for the past two years he has been hearing Taylor's ads on The Howard Stern Show.
"He will be under our surveillance more or less. We'll be keeping our ears open for him as long as he's selling diamonds in Texas," says Oman.
If Oman or anyone else in law enforcement is monitoring Taylor, they aren't doing a very good job.
"I called the DA's office, and they said they couldn't do anything," says Janet Chubb, seated with her husband, Gary, inside the den of the couple's Mesquite home.
The Chubbs had no idea Taylor was on parole when Janet Chubb saw his ad in the fall of 1988 and called to buy a diamond.
"He's anything but stupid. He's a very bright guy," says Gary Chubb, glancing at his wife for help in describing Taylor. Janet Chubb pulls the lever on her reclining chair and eases back while contemplating Taylor for a moment.
"You know, he just kind of reminded me of the Awesome Blossom at Chili's," she says, looking at her husband and scratching her chin. "He's kind of a fat little guy."
Six months after his release from prison, Taylor started a new company called Awesome--Diamonds, Furs, & Fine Jewelry, according to a copy of his certificate of ownership, which shows that Taylor listed a post office box for an address. At the same time, his ads reappeared in The Dallas Morning News.
Taylor was back in business, and he got a call from Janet Chubb.
The Chubbs say Taylor sold them a good diamond, but the trouble started after he convinced them to invest in a parcel of diamonds in New York that he said he was going to buy for $100,000, cut, and sell for $200,000.
Taylor guaranteed to double their money in 90 days if they invested $10,000, say the Chubbs, who went into semiretirement when they sold their jewelry distribution business earlier this year.
On April 11, 1989, the Chubbs handed Taylor a personal check for $10,000. Unlike many of Taylor's clients, who trusted his word, the Chubbs demanded collateral. Taylor reached into his boot and pulled out a pouch full of diamonds, which the couple took and locked in their safe. He also gave them one of his notorious promissory notes.
"Greed got to me," Gary Chubb says. "I thought, gee, I'd like to double my money. When I had the note and the gems, I thought I was secure."
"He professed to be a Christian," Janet Chubb adds. "Then he gave us a legitimate diamond. You just get hooked in."
Shortly after they completed the deal, the Chubbs say, Taylor showed up at their store when Gary was out of town. Swayed by Taylor's charm, Janet Chubb let Taylor borrow the diamonds for a few hours to supposedly show to a client.
The Chubbs never got the diamonds back. And after retrieving his collateral, Taylor cleaned out the couple's investment as well. At the end of 90 days, there was no 100 percent profit on the couple's $10,000 investment. Instead, Gary Chubb says, Taylor responded to their demands for payment with a never-ending string of excuses.
"He had one for everything, boy, I'll tell you," Gary Chubb says. "I got so tired of calling Bryan Taylor. I hated the name. It just reminds you of something stupid you've done."
"First of all he said he and an associate were robbed in Houston," Janet Chubb adds. "Then he said he was coming into a large inheritance from his mother." (Taylor's mother died in 1985, a year after his father died.)
The Chubbs sued Taylor in 1990, and he was subsequently ordered to return the money, plus interest, in monthly payments of $250 beginning December 1, 1992, according to Dallas County court records.
Two years later, Taylor hadn't made any payments. The Chubbs asked a judge to find Taylor in contempt of court and order him to pay the entire sum immediately. They also asked that Taylor be punished with 30 days in jail. The threat worked, and the Chubbs got $8,500 back, though a third of it went to their attorney.
"I hated that [Taylor] used the Christian angle," Janet Chubb says. "I'm a really strong Christian. I think he's part of the reason why Christians, like Jim and Tammy Bakker, have bad reputations. Most Christians are really nice people. They're a little stupid, but they're nice people."
A painting of a lamb, curled up inside the arms of a lion under a cloudy sky, hangs behind the desk of G. H. Lampley. On the opposite wall another painting depicts a rancher prodding a line of sheep along a tattered wooden fence.
"It was theft. Out-and-out theft," says Lampley, a towering, white-haired attorney who practices civil law in San Angelo, a town four hours southwest of Fort Worth.
In February 1991, Lampley married a widow who had owned a jewelry store with her late husband. When she sold the store, Amy Lampley decided to keep several of the stones she had taken a liking to, particularly a 4.6 carat heart-shaped diamond.
After Amy Lampley closed her store, Taylor twice contacted her about selling the stone. But he returned the diamond each time and said he couldn't find any buyers.
But not long after the Lampleys married, Taylor called from Dallas claiming that he had three "sealed bids" and felt he could get at least $25,000, if not $30,000 or more, for the gem. The stone had been independently appraised at $26,000.
"I felt like he was a con artist the first time I ever met him," Amy Lampley says. "He talked about his father, who was a pastor. He knew we were Christians. He had all the right lingo."
G. H. Lampley says that against his wife's better judgment he decided to give Taylor a chance. On October 5, 1991, the Lampleys drove north to Abilene and met Taylor at the Embassy Suites hotel. G. H. Lampley and Taylor signed an agreement that Taylor would sell the stone by November 15, 1991, or return it. Taylor also agreed to keep the stone in his possession at all times, a condition Amy Lampley demanded because Taylor had mentioned that he was going to Las Vegas.
G.H. Lampley didn't think Taylor would try to rip off an attorney. But the day they were in Abilene was the last time the Lampleys ever saw their diamond.
A day before the agreement expired, the excuses began. On November 14, Taylor called Lampley and asked for an extension until December 10, 1991.
"His explanation was that he was dealing with a large Oriental group, and the stone was part of a much larger package," Amy Lampley stated in a sworn affidavit.
On December 10, Taylor left the Lampleys a message, implying that he had sold their diamond, and even hinting that the Lampleys should buy him a "size 16 shirt" as a present. When the Lampleys tried to return the call, however, they couldn't reach Taylor.
"From then on it went from bad to worse," G. H. Lampley says. "For the next 20 days we made about 15 calls to his home, business, 1-800 number, and couldn't locate him. I was just burning up the telephone lines. I knew something was going on."
In January, Taylor called the Lampleys to say that he had deposited the stone with Isaac "Rocky" Goldstein, the former owner of an East Dallas pawnshop. Taylor claimed he couldn't get the diamond back because Rocky had stopped speaking to him. G.H. Lampley didn't buy it.
"I went to Dallas," Lampley says. "I talked to Isaac Goldstein. He said he didn't even know Bryan Taylor. Never heard of him. Never had the diamond." (Goldstein, who is now deceased, later admitted in a deposition that he had done business with Taylor, but denied ever receiving the stone.)
During his trip, Lampley also filed a complaint with the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, a move he calls a total waste of time.
"Their deal was, 'Well, if he's a con man, you shouldn't have been dealing with him in the first place,'" Lampley says. "They were like, 'You're down in San Angelo; why are you bothering us? If we get around to it, we'll look into it.' Nothing ever came of it."
In a letter dated February 26, 1992, former Assistant District Attorney Theodore Steinke informed Lampley that there wasn't enough evidence to prove that Taylor gave Goldstein the gem, and the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, therefore, did not have jurisdiction.
"I suggest that you pursue this matter civilly," wrote Steinke, who was then chief of the Specialized Crime Division. Steinke, who has since left the District Attorney's Office and gone into private practice, now says Taylor's name doesn't ring a bell.
The district attorneys in San Angelo and Abilene also told Lampley that they didn't have jurisdiction in the case. Lampley's frustration grew when he learned that Taylor was on probation when he took the diamond from the Lampleys.
Months later, Taylor was still giving Lampley excuses. Taylor said he got mugged and that the thieves got away with the gem. A copy of a Dallas police report shows that Taylor reported being robbed on July 23, 1992. Taylor told the police that he was jumped outside a Red Coleman liquor store in South Dallas, according to the report, which indicates that the suspect knew exactly what he was looking for.
After punching Taylor in the face and knocking him to the ground three times, the suspect ripped off Taylor's left pants pocket and removed four $100 bills, according to the report. He then took a pouch that Taylor had hidden in the back waistband of his pants. Taylor claimed the pouch was filled with two diamond rings, three gold chains, and two sets of earrings--items with a combined value of more than $55,000.
Faced with uninterested district attorneys and Taylor's inventive excuses, Lampley finally abandoned his efforts to press criminal charges against Taylor. Lampley says he was so disgusted with the legal system that he even considered turning in his law license.
"I have to admit, I've had thoughts of getting rough with [Taylor], but we also believe if the devil steals from you, you must return sevenfold," says Lampley, referring to Scripture. "It's not just the man; it's the spirit behind the man."
Lampley says he thought Taylor a demon from the past until he got a notice in 1993 that Taylor had voluntarily filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In his July 1993 petition, Taylor listed $1.6 million in unsecured debt owed to 49 creditors. His assets totaled a mere $4,855 and included a 1983 Oldsmobile Cierra, a desk, a chair, and miscellaneous household items.
If he were granted bankruptcy, Taylor would have been protected from any attempts by his creditors to recover their money. Lampley began preparing for an August 24, 1993, hearing that all of Taylor's creditors were invited to attend.
On that morning, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert McGuire's courtroom was especially crowded. Lampley was there, along with Gary and Janet Chubb. Even Doug Westbrook managed to make it, despite his weakened heart and deteriorating mental condition.
Lampley recalls how Taylor strutted into the courtroom with an attorney, the pair taking a seat on the cramped wooden benches.
"I said to the person with me, 'Watch the sweat,'" says Lampley, who was seated directly behind Taylor.
After a few intense moments, Lampley says, Taylor abruptly stood up and bolted out of the courtroom.
"I walked over to his attorney and said, 'Where's your client?' and he said, 'I don't know,'" says Lampley, who chuckles at the memory. "I scared him. He thought I was going to spill the beans on him, which I wanted to do."
When Taylor failed to return to the room, Lampley says, Taylor's attorney was forced to make a most unusual announcement: "Your honor, my client has fled."
Vanishing in the face of his adversaries is nothing new for Bryan Wilson Taylor, but he always manages to resurface.
The last known address for Taylor's A Diamond is Forever corporation was inside the Bank United building on North Central Expressway. Taylor was renting a tiny suite on the third floor that had bare gray walls and rose-colored carpet. But a building manager confirms that Taylor moved out in September.
When asked if he knew where the Lampleys' heart-shaped diamond is, Taylor says it was stolen. When asked why he hasn't given the Westbrooks their money back, he says their allegation is a lie.
"Sometimes I guess I do take the approach that, if two people can't settle things between themselves, that's why we have the civil courts," Taylor says. "I don't enjoy being sued, but I don't threaten very easily."
Taylor says he has plenty of new clients who would vouch for his character, but he declines to name any. He then hangs up the telephone.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- Amid K2 Crisis, Dallas Might Regulate Head Shops Like Strip Clubs
Sat., Feb. 13, 2:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 7:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 7:00pm
Sat., Feb. 13, 9:00pm
- Mayor's Campaign Against Convention Center's Exxxotica Expo Is Like Salem Witch Trials
- Details Emerge in Johnny Manziel Domestic Violence Incident