Dallas attorney Stan Turner gets an unexpected appointment as the attorney-ad-litem for a teenager who is caught in the middle of an ugly divorce suit. Melody Monroe, who lost her parents in a tragic auto accident, is thrilled when she is finally adopted by a wealthy middle-aged couple Frank and Marjorie Monroe until she discovers they have ulterior motives for the adoption. When Frank is later found dead, Melody is accused of his murder and insists Stan defend her. Stan reluctantly takes the case but soon finds himself entangled in a web of lies, deception, and deceit.
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In the late afternoon on Friday, I was going over some mortgage finance agreements for a client when the phone rang. It was Assistant District Attorney Steve Parsons. He said Paula Waters had asked him to call me.
"Yes. Thanks for calling."
"Paula said you represent the decedent's daughter?"
"Yes. Melody Monroe. Frank and his wife adopted her a few years ago."
"Well, I'm on my way over to Frank's condo. If you want to meet me there, I'll tell you what I know. The medical examiner hasn't determined the cause of death yet, but it looks like suicide."
"Really. Huh. Okay. I'll meet you there," I said and stood up. He gave me the address and then hung up. After grabbing a legal pad, I rushed out to my Corvette and took off. It had been a gift from a grateful client, Gina Lombardy, who I'd gotten off of a mail fraud charge. I'd gone way out on a limb for her by guaranteeing her bail bond, so when her fortunes turned around she gave me her Corvette and bought a BMW for herself.
Frank's condo was off Custer Road in Richardson, just north of the Collin County line. When I found the unit, there was a Richardson Police Officer guarding the front door.
"This area is restricted," the officer said as I approached.
"Right. I'm Stan Turner. I'm here to meet Mr. Parsons."
"Oh. All right, Mr. Turner. He's expecting you. Go ahead and go inside."
I ducked under a police tape and went inside. At first, the unit seemed to be unoccupied, then I heard voices coming from the end of a hallway. Following the sounds, I walked down the hallway into a bedroom. A tall, heavy-set man in khaki slacks and a royal blue golf shirt was digging through a closet. A much shorter and thinner man in a grey suit and red tie watched.
I assumed the man in the suit was ADA Parsons. "Hello," I said. "Steve?"
"Yes. Mr. Turner, I presume," Parsons replied evenly.
"Right. Call me Stan. Thanks for letting me come by."
"No problem, Stan. Maybe you can help us figure this out. After all, you are the notorious Stan Turner."
I laughed. "You've been talking to Paula, I guess."
"Yes, but I was in the DA's office when you represented Sarah Winters up in Sherman. All I heard about was your sneaky tricks and courtroom antics."
I shrugged. "Well, I just did what I had to do."
"Of course. I don't blame you for what you did. In fact, I learned a lot from you."
I laughed, not knowing if Parsons was joking or serious. "So, the medical examiner doesn't think Frank died from natural causes?" "I'll let Detective Watson speak to that," Parsons said.
The man in the khaki pants came out of the closet. Steve introduced him as Detective Mark Watson. We shook hands.
"So, how can we help you, Mr. Turner?" Detective Watson asked.
"Oh, call me Stan," I said.
"Well, Stan I want to let you know that we don't usually let defense attorneys on the crime scene, but on account of the fact that you are friends with Sheriff Hill up in Grayson County we are making an exception."
"Oh. How do you know the Sheriff?" I asked.
"I used to be one of his deputies. He was always telling that story about how he furnished your cell with a Lay-z-boy chair and a TV to show his gratitude for what you had done."
I laughed. "Yeah. That definitely made my stay much more pleasant."
The detective was referring to the assistance I had given a couple of his officers who were under fire at a trailer park. It was one of those things where I was at the right place at the right time to help, so I did it instinctively. There hadn't been time to think about it.
"Oh. How is the Sheriff these days?" I asked.
"He's busy as ever, of course, with the county growing as fast as it is."
"Do you see him much?"
"Yeah, we go hunting every fall."
"Right. Say hi to him for me," I said.
"I will," Detective Watson promised.
"Well, as I mentioned, I was appointed by the court two days ago to represent the decedent's daughter, Melody Monroe. There was some testimony that he had physically abused her and his wife, Marjorie. That was the main reason for the hearing, to get a TRO prohibiting Frank from going near his wife or daughter. So, when I heard that Frank had suddenly died, it was a shock. Has the medical examiner made a final determination on the cause of death? I know you mentioned it looked like a suicide."
"No, he hasn't made a determination yet. There are some things that don't add up, like the fact he lost a lot of blood."
"Really? Huh. What caused that?"
"The medical examiner isn't sure yet. He's conferring with Frank's personal physician to try to figure it out."
"But, no evidence of foul play?" I asked.
"Not yet, but it's early in the game."
Frank's death was unsettling, to say the least. It seemed rather convenient timing for Marjorie right when she was filing for a divorce and seeking a TRO. By Frank dying while they were still married, she not only got rid of him but would be able to cash in on his life insurance as well as his half of their community estate. I had worked my way through law school selling life insurance, so I knew something about how this worked. If Frank had committed suicide, as long as the policies were more than two years old, Marjorie could still collect on them, but if she had killed Frank she wouldn't get a dime.
"So, what do you know about Frank?" I asked.
Detective Watson took out his notebook and began filling me in on Frank Monroe. "He grew up in Plano, went to Texas A&M University in College Station where he got a bachelor's degree in finance and then went on to get his MBA. After graduation, he moved to Dallas and got a job with an architectural firm in their accounting department. That lasted for about five years and then he took a job with one of the firm's clients, Innovative Retail Marketing. They are a shopping mall developer. After three years he started his own company called North Texas Contractors. That's about all I know, so far."
I nodded. "Thank you. That's a good start. Can you show me the garage where he died?"
"If you like but there's not much to see. The crime lab crew took away all the evidence," Detective Watson said. "The garage is directly below the condo unit. Follow me."
Detective Watson led us through the kitchen to a staircase leading down to the garage. He turned on the light and we followed him down the stairs. At the bottom was a 11/2 car garage where a 1983 Ford Ranger Pickup was parked. The garage still smelled of exhaust fumes. I stepped inside, looked around and then peered into the driver's side window. Other than the blood-stained seat, everything looked normal.
"So, the garage opens to the front?"
"Yes. I'd open the garage door, but it's sealed with crime scene tape."
"That's fine. I got the picture."
"Well, is there anything else we can help you with?" Detective Watson asked. "We are getting ready to wrap this up and get back to the precinct."
I thought for a moment. "No. I guess that's it."
After thanking them for showing me around Frank's place, I decided to see if I could find someone in the building who knew Frank, Of his three closest neighbors, only one claimed to have known him and their relationship only amounted to a nod or a few words when they passed each other on the common walkway that connected the units. Frustrated, I went to the management office to see if the manager knew anything about Frank. Unfortunately, he knew nothing other than what was in his file, and that was mainly accounting and maintenance records on his unit. But his application did list someone to contact in case of an emergency, and it wasn't his wife. It was a woman named Natalie Stone who lived in Plano. I decided to pay her a visit. I called ahead, and she agreed to meet me after work at 4:30 p.m. That meant I was going to be late getting home again, but what else was new?
Natalie Stone turned out to be Frank's sister. She was a widow and kept her husband's name when he had died ten years earlier. She lived in Plano in an undeveloped area west of Preston Road. Her Victorian style home was over a 100 years old and came with a lot of acreage. Even though it was in the city limits, for tax purposes, it was still being farmed. I noted some cows, horses, and sheep grazing in one of the pastures as I drove by. As I approached the house, I noticed it was in dire need of repair and a new coat of paint.
When I rang the bell, an attractive middle-aged woman opened the front door and introduced herself as Natalie Stone. I introduced myself, and she invited me in. A white cat scampered away when I stepped inside. The spacious front room, decorated in Colonial American furniture, was very clean and neat. The hardwood floor creaked as I walked. I told her I was sorry for her loss. She thanked me and then offered me a cup of tea which I accepted. A few minutes later we were sitting around the kitchen table looking out over a well-kept garden.
"So, I'm Melody's attorney. The court just appointed me a couple of days ago."
"Why would Melody need an attorney?" Natalie asked.
"Did you know Marjorie filed for divorce?"
"No. I knew they were having problems, but the last time I talked to Frank he didn't mention anything."
"When was that?"
"A few weeks ago," Natalie said.
"Marjorie claimed Frank had physically abused her and accidentally hit Melody during one of their fights."
She rolled her eyes. "Well, that's possible. Frank did have a temper."
"Marjorie filed for a temporary restraining order to keep Frank away from her and Melody."
Natalie shook her head.
"Can you tell me how Frank's first marriage ended? Was it a divorce?"
"No. Mildred died in a car accident about ten years ago. It was a hit and run."
"Wow. How did Frank take it?"
"He was devastated. He went on a drinking binge after it happened and had to go into rehab to get back on track."
"Huh. Do you know anything about Frank's business? It's shopping center construction and management, right?" I asked.
"Ah. Yeah. NT Contractors. I didn't know much about it, but it paid him well, I can tell you that. Frank bought a new BMW every year and loved to travel. Of course, he had a membership at the Bent Tree Country Club and liked to hob nob with a lot of important people. He liked to brag about that. He played a lot of golf, too, and then there was poker. He loved to gamble; horses and dogs, you name it."
"So, how did he become a high-roller? Were your parents wealthy?"
She laughed. "Hell, no. They were farmers. The only thing they left us was this ranch. They wanted us to continue to run it, so they gave it to us in trust with a stipulation that we couldn't sell the land for twenty years. When we graduated from Plano High School and went off to college, our parents wished us well and thanked Uncle Sam for guaranteed student loans. Now I have to hold down two jobs to make ends meet."
I laughed. "What kind of work do you do?"
"I'm a legal secretary by day and do contract typing in the evenings."
"Oh. I might need to hire you one of these days. I do a lot of estate planning and the complex wills and trusts I draft for clients are very long. My secretary doesn't have time to do them with her day to day chores."
"Well, I'll give you my card. I have a network of girls, so we can turn things around pretty fast."
She got up, went to a small desk and picked up a business card. She brought it back and handed it to me. I noticed her typing service was called A+ Typing. I put the card in my pocket and smiled.
"Okay. So, you got stuck with a bunch of student loans, huh? That's kind of what my parents did too, but they were good to me while I was growing up, so I can't complain."
"Well, I wish I could say the same thing, but our parents were overbearing and hateful. My father was expecting a big inheritance, but just before Grandfather died he married a woman who was thirty years younger than he was, and she convinced him to change his will so she'd get everything. My father and mother were livid and became very bitter and resentful. Our childhood was pretty miserable as a result."
"Oh. I'm sorry," I said.
Mrs. Stone's openness and brutal honesty surprised me. Her resentment and bitterness had obviously been festering for years for her to blurt out such emotions to a perfect stranger.
"Oh, don't be. It's water under the bridge."
"So, were you surprised about your brother's death?" I asked.
She shook her head. "Yes and no. Frank was an unhappy man and his health took a dive on account of it. He smoked, drank too much and loved to party."
"Why was he so unhappy? Didn't he love Marjorie?" I asked.
"Marjorie was okay, but Frank didn't love her like he did Mildred. Mildred was his soul mate. Marjorie was more of a partner. They were both into real estate, you know. So, they were compatible, but it was more business than love if you know what I mean."
"So, he had trouble getting over Mildred?"
"Yes. He never got over her death."
"What about Melody?"
"Well, Frank didn't love her. They needed an heir, you know. What's the point of accumulating a lot of money and wealth if you don't have someone to give it to when you die? At least that's the excuse they gave when they decided to adopt her. That's why they picked an older child, neither one wanted a baby who would be a lot of trouble."
We continued to talk until it started to get late, so I thanked Natalie and left. My visit had been very informative but hadn't made me feel any better about Frank's death. It was just too convenient. I wondered if Detective Watson had misgivings too. I wished I had more time to investigate, but I was pretty sure my ad-litem appointment would be terminated very soon, and my job as Melody's attorney ad-litem would be over.CHAPTER 2
Cause of Death
Monday, September 20, 1982
When I got to the office on the following Monday, the temperature was already 101°. Dark, ominous clouds hovered over North Dallas promising afternoon thunderstorms. I smiled when I saw Jodie working hard at her desk. Jodie Marshall was one of those women who were so beautiful it took your breath away. A tall brunette with the figure of a model, Jodie technically was my secretary but performed as well as any paralegal. She looked up and returned my smile.
"Has it started raining yet?" she asked.
I shook my head. "No. But it's getting ready to, I think."
"We're under a flash flood watch."
"I can believe that."
"There's coffee made."
"Good. I could use a cup."
"You want me to get it for you?"
"No. That's all right. I need to make a few phone calls first."
I settled in and started looking through my messages. One of them was from Detective Watson. Wondering what he wanted, I dialed his number.
"Stan. Thanks for calling me back."
"Sure. What's up?"
"I wanted to alert you to a new development in the Frank Monroe investigation."
"Okay. Did the medical examiner make a final decision on the cause of death?"
"Yes. He's ruled it as a suicide."
"Okay. So, what about all the blood?"
"He didn't bleed out. The autopsy indicated he actually died of carbon monoxide poisoning. That's consistent with the vehicle being out of gas and the strong odor in the garage. The crime scene team also found a suicide note in a desk drawer."
"A suicide note? Really?"
"I haven't seen it," Detective Watson admitted, "but apparently, he said he was depressed about the divorce and felt guilty about abusing his wife and Melody."
"Huh. That's interesting," I said. "Thanks for the head's up."
"No problem. I promised I'd let you know, and I'm a man of my word."
I laughed. "Paula said you were one of the good guys."
"I am, as long as we're on the same side, of course."
"Right. Well, I promised my wife I wouldn't take on any more murder trials, so I doubt we'll ever be adversaries."
"Really? Well, we'll see if you are a man of your word," Detective Watson laughed.
I didn't know what to make of the detective. He seemed a little too friendly. For the next thirty minutes, I continued to return phone calls. Then, Jodie advised me that Monty Dozier, my eleven o'clock appointment, had arrived.
Over the phone, Monty had told me he was a police officer in a suburb of Dallas known as Lancaster. He said he wanted a simple, uncontested divorce. That was about the only kind of a divorce I handled, so I had Jodie set up an appointment.
When Jodie showed him in, he wasn't the man I had pictured in my mind. Monty was short and stout but appeared physically fit. We talked for a few minutes and I found him to be outgoing, charming and extremely intelligent. He warned me though, that he had a short temper which often got him in trouble at home and at work.
"So, the way this works is you fill out a worksheet with all your personal information now, so we can get started drafting the petition. Eventually, we'll need a list of all of your assets like cars, cash, bank accounts, stocks, your 401K, furniture and any other personal property you own to put in the property settlement agreement. If you own a home or other real estate I need to know about that as well. I'll give you a checklist and inventory sheet to make it easy for you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deadly Blood"
Copyright © 2018 William Manchee.
Excerpted by permission of Top Publications, Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Ad Litem 3
Crime Scene 21
Cause of Death 31
The Arraignment 47
Dirty Trick 55
Alternative Suspects 75
Status Conference 83
State of Texas vs. Melody Monroe 91
Cause of Death 107
Melody’s Story 125
Winter Storm 147
Taking the Fifth 153
Exhibit 13 189
Round Two 245
Alleged Conspiracy 255
Media Frenzy 265
Grand Jury 277
Desperate Search 293
The State's Case 323
Damning Videos 339
Shocking Verdict 391
Press Conference 403