Cowtown Babylon

One day in June 1995, Mary Ellen Lloyd called in sick to work, citing a variety of ailments.

Then she vanished.
She would later recount how she packed a few personal effects from her modest home in suburban Fort Worth--such as her collection of gold and porcelain swans--stowed them in her Dodge Stealth, then drove away from her 19-year job as personal secretary to one of Texas' richest men, multimillionaire oilman W. A. "Tex" Moncrief Jr.

Her disappearance was followed by the filing of a criminal complaint, and 18 months later, police tracked down the divorced mother of one to Barstow, California. She wasn't exactly hard to find. Local officers picked her up at a condo she'd rented in her own name.

Lloyd's disappearance somehow escaped media attention at a time when the papers were fairly well focused on the 78-year-old Moncrief and his family. The mantle of privacy surrounding him and his closely held business had been yanked aside six months earlier, when federal agents raided his three-story office building in downtown Fort Worth and carted away a computer system and more than a million pages of financial documents.

The raid, carried out as part of an investigation into allegations of massive tax fraud, set into motion various legal, personal, and political battles that are still reverberating. Most important for Mary Ellen Lloyd, the IRS blitz prompted Tex Moncrief's team of lawyers to begin combing through his financial records--including the personal checkbooks Lloyd had kept on her desk.

In several sloppily maintained ledgers, they discovered that between 200 and 300 checks--about five or six checks a month going back to the 1980s--had been written on Tex's or his deceased father's accounts and paid to Lloyd or her credit cards. The criminal investigation that followed showed Lloyd's MasterCards had been used for gambling trips to Las Vegas, and for more than $205,000 in clothes purchased at a single west Fort Worth boutique.

An accountant brought in by Moncrief's tax defense team discovered the payments just before Lloyd left town. In what appeared at first blush to be a clear case of embezzlement, Moncrief filed a criminal complaint, and the Tarrant County District Attorney's office obtained a two-count indictment accusing Lloyd of second-degree felony theft.

Once she was arrested and extradited to Tarrant County, though, her trial became one of the most extraordinary courtroom tales in the city since millionaire Cullen Davis was tried and acquitted of killing two people in a shooting spree at his west Fort Worth mansion in 1976.

During the four-day trial, which took place in late April this year and gained not a single mention in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Lloyd took the stand and conceded she took every penny of the $400,000 she was accused of taking, and more--all with Tex's blessing.

In a proceeding in which both Lloyd and Moncrief testified, she said she was his mistress and had carried on a sexual affair with him for the past 16 years, going back to the late 1970s.

Although the silver-haired Moncrief denied it, Lloyd testified she would often run bets for Tex to Las Vegas, which accounted for her many trips to the MGM Grand, the Golden Nugget, and other casino hotels.

"It's not something I'm really proud of, that I had an affair with a married man," Lloyd, now 55, told the jury. "I had true feelings for him. He told me that he did love me [on] many occasions over the years." With that relationship came Tex's approval to spend freely on clothing, travel, home repairs, and such, as long as the tab didn't outdo the $25,000-a-month allowance Moncrief set for his wife of five decades, Deborah.

Jurors were treated to testimony that was part overcooked soap opera, part Shakespearean formula. There was a low plot--Lloyd and her office friends drinking away the nights at a Fort Worth dart bar; and a high plot--Tex's alleged indifference toward his ailing mother and his harsh malediction of a son who chose a penniless wife. All this was told against a backdrop of life at the Shady Oaks Country Club, a privileged and somewhat archaic world of golf, gin rummy with Ben Hogan in the men-only grill room, and affairs so prevalent that when one woman testified about one of Lloyd's supposed assignations with another married man at the club, she was forced to confess an affair of her own.

Juror Susan Totty recalls being disappointed when she was picked to sit through the Lloyd trial, but her thoughts changed once the witnesses began taking the stand. "When the testimony started, I could not believe it. This is the best kind of trial you could be on," the 50-year-old special education teacher from Arlington says. "It wasn't child abuse or murder. This was just sex and money and embezzlement. It couldn't have been anything more fun."

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec