Funny girl

On this cold January morning, patches of steam rise from the ground that separates the homes of Charlotte Parkhurst and Mike Rhoads, two Pleasant Grove neighbors who are in the most unfortunate predicament of being stuck with each other.

Their homes sit atop the second-highest point in Dallas, a hill six miles east of downtown that rises 493 feet above sea level. On a clear day, you can see forever from the hill. Miles upon miles of treetops, White Rock bluffs, and only the occasional rooftop create the illusion of being isolated from the ninth-largest city in the nation.

Their acre lots are wedded by a property line that runs between their homes and trails back across the top of the hill before plunging several stories down its backside. They surround a cul-de-sac whose center holds a garden filled with blue, yellow, and purple pansies.

When Rhoads moved into his home on the 7200 block of Eccles Drive in 1994, he was thrilled at the privacy and silence the hill offered. And, in no time, he befriended Parkhurst.

Early on, the relationship between Parkhurst and Rhoads was a splendid affair. The two neighbors, with their friends and families, would gather around Parkhurst's player piano or take dips in Rhoads' bean-shaped pool. There were nights on the town, joint shopping trips to the market, the exchange of recipes, even a Tupperware party.

But last summer, their 1970s-sitcom-like lives were shattered, and the once-peaceful hilltop has turned into a battleground. All because of a pile of mulch.

The steam rising between their yards is an eerie indication of the anger now raging between the two neighbors and a warning of the real danger cooking on Eccles Drive. The gray, ghost-like patches are the result of near-freezing rain hitting a pile of dead tree limbs, chipped wood, leaves, dirt, and rock that Parkhurst has been dumping on her property by the truckload since last May.

To Rhoads' amazement, Parkhurst also has been dumping the discarded earthly crap on his property, ruining his fence and destroying a row of cedar trees that once acted as a natural barrier between the two homes.

Rhoads has tried everything he can think of to stop Parkhurst, including standing in the road to block mulch deliveries, but the more he pushes, the more Parkhurst grows convinced that he and his allies are part of a conspiracy. A homosexual conspiracy, to be precise.

From atop her hill in East Dallas, Parkhurst sees a pansy division of homeowners and city employees closing in on her, intent to take her mulch, kick her out of her house, and turn the entire neighborhood into a gated, gay complex.

In the meantime, the mulch pile continues to compost--a natural decaying process that generates heat--and Dallas fire inspectors fear that it could soon combust. Or, possibly worse, city code inspectors believe a heavy rain could wash the pile over the hill and send it crashing down on the houses below.

Whatever the danger to the property, the decaying pile has already ignited a scorching battle between the two once-friendly neighbors. In the process, they have ensnared the city's police, fire, and code enforcement employees in a vicious little spat that isn't likely to be resolved anytime soon.

The bad news is, situations like this are all too common in Dallas--a city where a lone, stubborn individual can tie the entire code enforcement department in knots. No matter what regulations the city passes to police its residents, the convoluted bureaucracy is unfit to deal with the Charlotte Parkhursts of the world.

Since August, dozens of city employees have been dispatched to Eccles Drive, conducting inspections of the mulch pile and writing citations for violations of city ordinances. Parkhurst's pile, they say, is an illegal dump that constitutes a fire hazard.

But no matter how many citations they issue, they have been unable to curb Parkhurst's dumping or take any concrete action to remove the pile. Instead, their sometimes daily visits to her property are only making matters worse. Because the pile is on Rhoads' property too, city inspectors have had no choice but to issue him tickets for illegal dumping.

The infuriating situation has increased tension between Rhoads and Parkhurst, who together have dialed 911 at least a dozen times since May. The corresponding police visits have spawned accusations of theft, assault, and disorderly conduct--the last of which prompted police to toss Parkhurst's behind in the slammer for a night.

To document their mutual cases, which the neighbors expect to argue before a municipal judge, the pair have resorted to taking photos of the seething mulch pile and of each other--at all hours of the day and night. The showdown has produced mirror-like snapshots of Parkhurst aiming her camera at Rhoads and more pictures of Rhoads and his friends aiming their cameras at Parkhurst.

Although city officials have ordered Parkhurst to cease dumping, she defiantly continues to unload mulch on her property. There is no way, Parkhurst says, that she's going to let her neighbors push her around.

"This is real, real. They want my house," says Parkhurst, who adds that she doesn't have anything against gays. "I'm just sick of those faggots next door."

The kicker is, unless Parkhurst stops dumping mulch and removes the pile for good, city officials say that her house is exactly what they're going to get.

At 47, Charlotte Parkhurst is remarkably fit, especially for a woman who said she had won a handsome workers compensation settlement from the state of New York because of a back injury she suffered while employed as a construction worker.

Her petite frame is well toned. A subtle indication of her age are the bags underneath her blue eyes, which light up when she forces an occasional tight smile.

On a recent afternoon, Parkhurst hovers around an island in the center of her sparkling kitchen. The position now serves as a bunker of sorts. From here, she can see out a window, past the garden of pansies in the middle of the cul-de-sac, and directly into Mike Rhoads' living-room window.

Parkhurst is clutching a trio of blue office files that contain dozens of police reports, city citations, correspondence with various city officials, and other papers that document her six-month fiasco with City Hall.

The files also contain a collection of color photographs, which she spreads out on the kitchen island. There are photos of city cars parked outside her house, lurking code inspectors, a blurry shot of a neighbor flipping her the bird, and a picture of a young cedar tree held upright by a rope.

The documents and photos, Parkhurst says, are evidence of the months of harassment she has endured from jeering neighbors, harassing code inspectors, and police officers who are united against her.

Parkhurst began the mulch project after she noticed a crack in her house's foundation and, relying solely on her experience as a construction worker, concluded that erosion was the culprit.

In researching the project, Parkhurst was happy to discover that nearby Holcomb Tree Service would deliver the mulch for free. Holcomb gives away the stuff because it's cheaper to deliver it to people like Parkhurst than to pay the city to dispose of it in a landfill.

"I was planning on bringing in 20 loads to save my trees and stop the erosion," Parkhurst says.

She concedes that she had some additional plans for her acre lot. First, Parkhurst was going to fill in a gap underneath Rhoads' chain-link fence, which extends from his house and dips down several stories as it divides the two properties. Once the fence was secured, Parkhurst was going to pile mulch on her side of the hill and create a yard.

"We were gonna have a yard between us. We were going to go as far as the corner of the house and make that level," she says. "We were going to have a fountain. We were going to put a pond down there with goldfish."

In May, when Parkhurst began the project, she and Rhoads were getting along just swell. The only weird thing, she says, is that Rhoads kept calling her "Gladys." The nickname, it turns out, was inspired by Gladys Kravitz--the nosy neighbor of Bewitched fame.

"I didn't know what in the hell he was talking about," Parkhurst says. "Once he got to know me, everything was cool. We'd go out to eat. He loves to bake and cook. I like to bake and cook. We would share recipes. Whenever he'd go somewhere, like to the market, he'd call and see if I wanted to go."

Parkhurst says she never suspected anything unusual about Rhoads. "Every time we went to a party at his house, he always had a woman hanging on him.

"We've always had a gay couple that lives in the valley, and we've always had a lesbian couple on the other side of the valley," Parkhurst says. "But we've never had any problems."

From the beginning, Parkhurst contends, her plan was a joint venture done with Rhoads' cooperation. And, she says, the project was going along just fine until one neighbor stuck his nose into their business.

The neighbor is Bill McCord, president of the Piedmont-Scyene Neighborhood Association, who is best known in Dallas for leading a fight to save 65 acres of virgin forest from the bulldozers of Tri-City Hospital.

To Parkhurst, McCord is a conniving brute whose ultimate goal is to turn the neighborhood into a gay complex. She believes he has friends in high places who are helping him, namely City Council member Larry Duncan. McCord and Duncan, she believes, were "an item" before Duncan was elected to the council.

And how does she know this? The question causes Parkhurst to cast her eyes downward and pick at an invisible piece of dirt underneath a manicured fingernail.

"Well, I was told they lived together by one of the neighbors," Parkhurst says. "If you see Larry Duncan in a meeting, Bill McCord isn't far behind."

What's more, she continues, after Duncan got elected, he appointed Betty Wadkins to the City Plan Commission--the agency responsible for drafting an ordinance that Parkhurst believes was aimed at her mulch pile and designed to get her in trouble with the law. Just recently, she says, she learned that Wadkins just happens to be McCord's aunt, "either through incest or marriage."

In a nutshell, Parkhurst is convinced that as part of McCord's plot to turn the neighborhood gay, he got Aunt Betty to draft an anti-Parkhurst ordinance. Wadkins then ensured that the ordinance sailed through the zoning board, past the plan commission, and onto the City Council, where McCord's former lover, Larry Duncan, ensured its final passage.

It would be a great scandal--if only it were true. Regardless, Parkhurst has managed to spin her belief in this conspiracy into a full-fledged bureaucratic nightmare.

Parkhurst was indeed cited for operating an illegal landfill on August 28--exactly one day after Dallas City Council approved a new mulch ordinance. Parkhurst says the timing is no coincidence.

"It [the ordinance] was changed due to me, and because of that, they have caused all this shit for the city because of two people in the neighborhood that want to get rid of Charlotte," she says. "I don't have no problem if everyone's gay as long as they leave me alone."

Parkhurst says she doesn't have anything against gays and lesbians, or any other minority, for that matter. In fact, she welcomes diversity.

"If we sell this house, we've already decided we're gonna sell it to blacks or Mexicans, 'cause they're the only ones who have families big enough for this house," Parkhurst adds. "Gays don't need to be living in a house like this; it's too big for us."

Within moments of closing his front door, Mike Rhoads quickly describes his roller-coaster experience with Parkhurst.

"It's like that Barbra Streisand movie where she has five characters," he says. "This woman's character changed."

Rhoads concedes that he was the one who started calling Parkhurst "Gladys," a jibe that no longer seems fitting now that he must defend himself against allegations of theft, assault, and illegal dumping.

"If you go the distance to patronize her, you got it made," he says. "If you don't, she's a total bitch."

"That," chimes in Bill McCord, "is with a capital B."
On this evening, McCord and his next-door neighbor Larry Peterson are sitting around a pink, black, and white marble table inside Rhoads' elaborately adorned living room.

The table is complemented by two floor-to-ceiling pink marble columns and a marble fireplace-cover, on which a white marble horse head sits. The setting overlooks a romantically lit pool in the back yard, where a narrow path zigzags down the hill, leading visitors through an intricate web of lighted bushes that give way to trees and, theoretically at least, peace and quiet.

"Do you know, when I moved in here it looked very peaceful?" Rhoads says in between sips of a bourbon and cola. "This woman has caused a nightmare for me every day."

Inside and out, Rhoads' home is the ideal place to entertain. The only problem, he says, is that none of his friends want to stay for long because their visits are interrupted by police, code inspectors, and other officials who have been ringing his doorbell for six months.

Clearly distraught by the events, Rhoads' gestures grow more animated as he explains how Parkhurst killed 18 cedar trees that used to serve as a barrier between his and Parkhurst's home.

Rhoads bounces from room to room, illustrating how each window provides a glorious view of trees and sky. Which they do, until he comes to a stop in his living room and dramatically pulls open heavy green drapes. The once-wooded view is now wide open, providing an uninhibited vision of the steaming mulch and, behind it, Parkhurst's kitchen window.

"If you're sitting here, you can see between the big tree and the bush," Rhoads says. "She stands there and videos me inside my house. And when I called the police, do you know what they said? 'Close the drapes.'"

Like Parkhurst, Rhoads has his own collection of documents and color photographs, several of them featuring shots of Parkhurst aiming her camera at Rhoads. This photographic feud, he says, has gone beyond ridiculous.

"I'm sitting here eating my dinner, taking pictures of her videotaping inside my living room and bedroom," he says. "I didn't think this woman would be that big of a disaster."

McCord and Peterson add that Parkhurst has set her sights on them as well.
"I can't walk my dog without her taking pictures. Of course, we're photographing her, but she's doing damage," Peterson argues.

"This block is predominately a gay block, and she does not like gay people," says McCord, who is not surprised by questions involving his relationship with Duncan. McCord, a longtime supporter of Duncan who says he's not related to Betty Wadkins, has already caught wind of Parkhurst's conspiracy theory, and it continues to amaze him.

"She claims she saw Larry Duncan and I holding hands. I am not having an affair with council member Duncan," McCord says, then pauses. "He's not my type."

McCord glances downward as Rhoads explains how he rejected McCord's initial warnings to stay away from Parkhurst when Rhoads first moved into the home in 1993.

"I was forewarned by two or three different people in this neighborhood: 'Don't even try to be friends.' But I went there," Rhoads says. "She's had dinner here. She's been on my porch. She even showed me her breast where there was a lump of cancer."

And when nobody recently showed up at Parkhurst's house for a Tupperware party, Rhoads says, he and his two sons tried to salvage the gathering. "I had to spend $300 in order for her to get this $65 bowl."

When Parkhurst began talking about mulch last summer, Rhoads says, he was initially open to her idea of filling in a small hole around his chain-link fence. "When she had first started, it was fine," Rhoads says. "She just got carried away."

Rhoads contends that he responded to Parkhurst's mulch project by asking her to put her plan in writing so he could assess how much it would cost and whether it would work. Protecting their property from erosion, he adds, was not an issue because the hill is underlain by white rock.

Rhoads says Parkhurst never gave him any written proposals and, instead, began hauling in mulch last August and dumping it on his property. Within days, Rhoads says, his fence was buried in mulch and trees were falling left and right.

"My fence. My trees. This woman has screwed with me so much, it's disrupted my life. How do you replace a 50-year-old tree?" Rhoads asks. "I can't stop her. I called the city. I called the attorneys, but I can't stop her. But in the long run, you know what? I'll stop her."

Evidently, the first time Rhoads tried to stop Parkhurst occurred on the afternoon of August 18, when he watched in horror as Parkhurst knocked over a young cedar tree that he contends was on his property.

Shortly before 5 p.m. that day, Dallas police responded to a 911 call from Parkhurst, in which she complained that Rhoads was threatening a man who was working in her yard. When officers arrived, Parkhurst told them that she and Rhoads had "entered into a civil agreement about filling in a hole on their property lines," a police report states.

Rhoads told the officers that the worker, Holcomb Tree Service employee Pete Sistus, had damaged a tree on his property. According to their report, the officers told Parkhurst and Rhoads that the problem was a civil matter, one they could take before a judge.

That visit was the first of many Dallas police officers and city employees would soon make to the 7200 block of Eccles Drive. And that single phone call set in motion the creaky machinery of a cumbersome city bureaucracy, which continues to spin its wheels on Parkhurst's mulch pile today.

While Rhoads and Parkhurst argued over the damaged tree, a new city ordinance relating to illegal dumping and fill operations was slowly making its way through City Hall, and this is where the heart of Parkhurst's conspiracy theory lies.

On July 31, the City Plan Commission considered a proposal to change a city ordinance that would limit the amount of fill a person could dump at one location to five truckloads or 50 cubic yards of material each year.

Anyone hoping to dump more than that would have to first obtain a specific use permit from the city and gain the approval of the City Council by showing, in part, that the filling won't "alter drainage" of the property or "adversely affect" adjacent properties and surrounding uses.

The new rule also provides that any illegally deposited fill material must be removed within 60 days after the property owner is notified by the city's code enforcement department. If not, the owner can be fined up to $2,000.

Just as Parkhurst claims, Plan Commissioner Betty Wadkins made the motion on the July 31 vote, which passed unanimously and was sent to the City Council for final action.

Wadkins, who lives in Parkhurst's Piedmont-Scyene neighborhood, declined to comment on Parkhurst's conspiracy theory--except to say that she was unaware of the mulch pile situation until after the Plan Commission's July vote.

"I really don't want to get into this mess," Wadkins says. "This is a lady that, well, she and the neighbors don't agree."

Like Wadkins, council member Larry Duncan says he, too, was unaware of Parkhurst's mulch pile when he brought the ordinance up for consideration by the council on August 27.

"Parkhurst's situation wasn't a factor. Had I known of it at the time, sure, it would have been," Duncan says. "It is an example of the type of thing we're trying to prevent with the ordinance."

Contrary to Parkhurst's conspiracy theory, Duncan says the ordinance change is part of a continuing effort to combat illegal dumping throughout the city and improve enforcement of codes and ordinances.

"We spend more time trying to get code enforcement to do their job than everything else combined," Duncan says. "The bottom line is, when what you do on your property starts affecting surrounding property owners, that's where the line is drawn."

Duncan, who complains that he's still working on code enforcement cases that he started in 1991 when he first was elected to the council, is frustrated that the code enforcement department hasn't forced Parkhurst to clean up her pile.

"The city hasn't taken the action necessary to simply go there, pick it up and haul it out, and bill her. If she doesn't pay the bill, slap a lien on her house," Duncan says. "There's been due process. The city needs to go out now, in fact yesterday, last month, the month before that, and haul it away."

Duncan, who can be a good sport about criticism, drags heavily on a cigarette and exhales when asked if he ever had a homosexual affair with Bill McCord.

"Happy new year," says Duncan, who married his high school sweetheart, Susan. "I had heard her say that. I did not hear the spin on gays taking over the neighborhood."

Parkhurst complains that Duncan ignores her telephone calls and requests to meet with her. On that point, Duncan says, his Pleasant Grove neighbor is right.

"It is not prudent, because who knows what accusations would grow out of that?" Duncan says. "Anybody who's involved in the situation, whether it's me or anyone else, is considered self-serving."

For his part, McCord says he is happy to use the new ordinance as a weapon in the battle with Parkhurst.

"Everybody on the block has been upset about what she's done, but it's her property, and we can't do anything," he says. "But with the illegal dumping [ordinance], now we can."

Coincidence or not, a day after Duncan's new ordinance took effect, the code enforcement department set its sights on Parkhurst.

The next round of the battle kicked off at 11:20 a.m. August 28, when Parkhurst called the police to complain, once again, that Rhoads was attempting to prevent Holcomb's Pete Sistus from dumping mulch on the property by parking his car in front of Parkhurst's property.

"I knew I wasn't breaking the law, because I parked on the street," says Rhoads, who confirms that he stood in the street in an attempt to keep Sistus off his property until police told him to move. "It just got really ridiculous."

Later that day, a squadron of code enforcement, illegal dump, and drainage inspectors descended upon Parkhurst's house for an inspection. As the day dragged on, they were joined by city marshals, the city's arborist, and other bureaucrats whose cars continually circled about the garden of pansies.

By nightfall, city inspectors cited Parkhurst and Rhoads for operating an illegal landfill, ordering both to cease dumping. They also issued Holcomb Tree Service a citation for the "unlawful placement of bulky items."

Sistus, who recently appeared with Parkhurst at a municipal court hearing for Parkhurst's illegal dump citation, says he has dumped about 14 loads on Eccles Drive since May--seven loads for Parkhurst and seven loads for Rhoads.

"It was only chips, the mulch, logs and all of that, but it didn't have no dirt or nothing like that," says Sistus, his bloodshot eyes squinting in the glaring lights of the courthouse.

Although Rhoads denies ever authorizing mulch-dumping on his property by Holcomb, in a letter dated September 15, 1997, Johnson stated that Rhoads asked his company to unload mulch on his property then later became hostile. "Mr. Rhodes [sic] started harassing our driver," Johnson wrote. "This incident is on file with the Dallas police."

Johnson was apparently referring to the complaint Sistus filed on August 28, claiming Rhoads assaulted him back on August 18 when Rhoads poked him on the forearm and told him to stop dumping fill on his property. The city issued Rhoads a citation for assault, which he considers, along with the letter, to be part of an orchestrated attempt by Holcomb to "cover their ass."

For the next two weeks, city employees, led by code enforcement inspector John Crowley, continued to make routine visits to Parkhurst's home--a situation Parkhurst says amounts to harassment.

"He came over every day. He would stalk me," Parkhurst says of Crowley. "He would back his car on my yard and rev up his engine. He'd drive around the circle drive and take pictures."

If Parkhurst wasn't already paranoid, she certainly had reason to become so on September 11, when code enforcement boss Ramiro Lopez took the unusual step of writing Parkhurst in person and ordering her to level the material on her property.

"The city of Dallas code enforcement staff gave you legal notice to cease what is known as illegal operation," Lopez wrote. "Since that time, staff has been monitoring your address to ensure continued compliance."

Crowley, who is handling the case for the city, says he is not allowed to comment on it in detail, and his boss, Lopez, declined to discuss the issue. However, Crowley's personal case notes suggest that Parkhurst did not respond well to the surveillance, which occurred on at least five occasions between August 29 and September 22.

On September 3, Crowley wrote that he was marking a pile of dirt on Parkhurst's driveway when Parkhurst wheeled into the drive, nearly running him over. Parkhurst then screamed at him before ripping up the citation he had taped on her door and retrieving a camera from her house.

"She took photos of me and continued this irrational obsessive behavior," Crowley wrote in his notes. "She then added that I should attend one of her neighbor's parties. She then called me a name that has to do with one's sexual preference."

The incident was repeated the next day, when Crowley and inspector Artie McDaniel returned to Parkhurst's home.

"As we were looking at the site, Mrs. Parkhurst came out of her house with a camera and started taking photos...Artie waved at the owner and she became hostile. She verbally abused Artie, the neighbor, and myself."

There is a good explanation for Parkhurst's strong reaction to the city inspectors who kept appearing outside her kitchen window. With each new day, it seemed, she was given a new citation for some new violation that she couldn't understand.

The day Parkhurst allegedly tried to run Crowley over in her driveway, Crowley gave her a citation for dumping 200 loads of dirt on her driveway. Crowley wrote the citation based on a statement he claims Parkhurst made, according to court records. Parkhurst denies making the statement and, though she concedes that there was a pile of dirt on her driveway, she says it wasn't 200 loads.

Two weeks later, Crowley issued Parkhurst another citation, in which he accused her of "vending services" without a certificate of occupancy. Crowley says he issued the citation based on a tip from a marshal that Parkhurst was getting paid to receive the mulch.

Both of those citations were later dismissed, but Parkhurst and Rhoads must still deal with a citation that fire inspector James Brown issued October 13 after he determined that the mulch pile posed a fire hazard.

"Spontaneous combustion creates deep-seated fires within the pile that are difficult to extinguish," Brown wrote. "Control and extinguishment of these fires require extensive resources from a manpower and equipment standpoint, resulting in a lengthy and expensive operation."

In addition, Crowley says he is going to issue Rhoads and Parkhurst a new citation each for operating an illegal dump without a permit with the hope that they appear together before the same judge, who will finally put the matter to rest.

"Once we get a judge to uphold our position, then that will give us more power to pursue a heavy clear," he says.

In city lingo, a heavy clear means that a team of city employees will remove the mulch pile from Parkhurst's yard.

"The taxpayers would have to front the money, and a lien would have to be put on the property," Crowley says. "Whoever the judge decides is responsible [for the dumping], gets the lien."

Needless to say, the bureaucratic runaround didn't make life on the 7200 block of Eccles Drive any easier. Tension between Parkhurst and Rhoads continued to mount daily.

On September 5, Parkhurst called the police to report that Rhoads had allegedly stolen a no trespassing sign from her yard. Although neither Parkhurst nor the police saw Rhoads take the sign, the police issued Rhoads a misdemeanor citation for theft.

At least four additional police calls were made from the Parkhurst residence during October, two of them from Heather King, Parkhurst's 22-year-old daughter.

During a recent interview, Parkhurst presented a picture of her smiling, blonde daughter and volunteered that she and King had recently got into a fight over the daughter's boyfriend. Anticipating that her enemies will use information about the confrontation against her, Parkhurst concedes that she gave her daughter a black eye.

"I did hit her," says Parkhurst, who displays a picture of bruises on her own arm. "But she hit me worse."

The day Charlotte Parkhurst got hauled off to jail began innocently enough. But it quickly turned into a nightmare, which was perhaps appropriate considering the next day was Halloween.

Tim Smith, a friend of Rhoads, agreed to spend the day planting pansies in the Eccles Drive cul-de-sac, right in the middle of Parkhurst's line of sight.

According to Parkhurst, she was at her kitchen island baking cookies all day in anticipation of the trick-or-treaters who would arrive the next day.

Except for taking her car to Precision Tune for a lube job, Parkhurst says, she never left the house. At dusk, she was about to feed her dogs when a police officer arrived and told her that the neighbors were complaining that she had been yelling at them all day.

Parkhurst says that she tried to explain the ongoing problem with her neighbors, but that the officers wouldn't listen. Instead, they suggested that she go downtown to speak to a judge. Parkhurst left for the jail, with no shoes on her feet and high hopes of bending a judge's ear.

"I was never told I was arrested," says Parkhurst, who spent the night in jail after being arrested on a Class C misdemeanor charge for disorderly conduct and profanity.

But, like her conspiracy theory, Parkhurst's version of events is just a little too weird to believe.

Although he could not produce a full report on the arrest, Dallas police spokesman Miguel Sarmiento confirms that the officers made the arrests after repeated attempts to calm Parkhurst.

"She began screaming at the officers after they arrived, and they warned her about staying calm," Sarmiento says. "She refused a couple of warnings."

When told that Parkhurst contends that she was baking cookies all day before her arrest, those gathered at Rhoads' home break into laughter.

At about 5:15 p.m., Rhoads dialed 911 and reported that a woman was screaming at people in his yard.

After enduring comments from Parkhurst throughout the day, Rhoads says, Tim Smith finally lost his patience when Parkhurst approached him and asked him if he was going inside Rhoads' house for his payoff.

"'You worked all day, and now you're going over to get your reward. Kissy, kissy, kissy, faggots,'" Rhoads says, recalling the words that Parkhurst allegedly told Smith. When the police stuck Parkhurst in the car and carted her off to jail, Rhoads concedes there was an air of celebration about his house.

"Tim is screaming, 'Woo hoo!' and pumping his fists," Rhoads says. "Tim was happy. I said, 'I'm glad she's going to jail, but we won't break out the champagne.'"

"Not everyone who comes here is gay," McCord says, his words barely rising above the laughter.

"We have to see the humor in this," neighbor Peterson adds. "Or else we'd all have a nervous breakdown."

The muted, candy-cane refrain of the Angels singing My Boyfriend's Back plays over and over again from a closed room inside the Parkhurst home. A pair of mimicking cockatoos squawk "rock and roll," and each takes turns commanding the other to "be quiet, please be quiet."

The spacious living room is impeccably neat. A row of Jesus and Mary figurines is carefully placed atop a player piano. Pictures of Charlotte and Duane Parkhurst's wedding fill a bookshelf, accompanied by glossy photos of their daughter Heather, who resides in New York with her grandmother.

None of the room's decorative bric-a-brac appears out of place, except for a single bottle of After Shock liquor that's camouflaged by an arrangement of red and white poinsettia plants.

The telephone rings, and Charlotte asks Duane Parkhurst if he's going to answer it. The question is more of a command, and he obediently retrieves the call, which turns out to be a banker calling her about a late house payment.

"I didn't even hear it ring," he says, humbly explaining that his life-long job as a construction worker has damaged his hearing. "I don't hear her half the time she's talking to me."

Although Dallas County Court records show that Charlotte divorced Duane in 1994, he still lives in this house, and Charlotte refers to him as her husband. Assuming a perch in a recliner, Charlotte eagerly talks about her mulch pile.

The monologue bounces to and from various anecdotes, which she seldom completes or links together in any logical fashion. If not interrupted, it's possible that Parkhurst would continue talking for hours.

"Mike used to come over and play piano," Parkhurst says. "He's a good piano player."

Unfortunately, those days are over, and Parkhurst says her goal now is to complete her landscaping project--the city and her neighbors be damned.

Despite the city's orders, Parkhurst continues to receive mulch. In all, she says she's dumped maybe 14 loads on her and Rhoads' property, though that number is disputed.

"I did exactly what they told me to do," Parkhurst says, adding that she did indeed stop dumping, on Rhoads' side of the house. "They didn't tell me to stop landscaping completely."

Pulling on a pair of boots, Parkhurst treks outside to display the work she's done on her pile. A few blades of grass are beginning to pop through the mulch, the green streaks standing out amid the patches of steam rising into the air.

"Right there's the tree I cut," Parkhurst says, stomping on a tree stump that's poking out of the pile. Behind her, a pair of leafless trees lean out of the mulch pile.

A rare moment of silence is broken by what could be the sound of a branch breaking or, as Parkhurst believes, Mike Rhoads spying on her.

"He's opening his window so he can hear," she whispers. "Did you hear it crack?

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley