The thought first crossed Jackee Taylor’s mind when she heard her father and his family were dead.
Did the Hells Angels finally find him? Did someone track down the 73-year-old former motorcycle club member to his rural Texas home to make good on a threat uttered inside a Lucas County Courtroom almost 30 years earlier?
The death of a man identified by Marion County, Texas, officials as Paul Dome is being investigated as a suicide; the deaths of his wife, Vivian Dome, 85, and stepson, Willard Landry, 61, are considered homicides.
Ms. Taylor, a Cleveland native now living in Billings, Mont., said Dome is her father, a man whose given name was Clarence Addie Crouch.
In 1982, Crouch, a 15-year member of the Hells Angels Cleveland chapter, sat on the witness stand testifying against Jack Gentry, a fellow club member accused of shooting and killing Ralph Tanner, a 25-year-old member of Toledo’s Outlaws Motorcycle Club.
Testifying against his former “brothers” granted the Crouch family placement in the federal Witness Security Program, which Ms. Taylor said worsened her family’s living conditions and, ultimately, she now believes, led her father to turn a gun on his family, set their house on fire, and then turn the gun on himself.
Crouch suffered from arthritis and other painful bone diseases, but could not get medication or afford to see a doctor without assistance, she said.
“He was in a lot of pain,” Ms. Taylor said. “In a lot of physical pain.”
It was a clear, quiet night in Mims, Texas, a small community in Marion County, when a trash collector spotted a house burning behind One Eyed Jack’s liquor store just before 2 a.m. July 8.
He told a 911 operator he spoke briefly to a man sitting in a Jaguar in front of the burning house; the man said he knew the house was on fire but he was “more worried about the bullets that may start flying,” according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.
When the Mims Fire Department arrived at the home, they found the man in the Jaguar — identified as Dome — dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Sheriff David McKnight said during a phone interview.
Firefighters battling the blaze found two more bodies inside, later identified as Mrs. Dome and Mr. Landry. They were shot dead before the fire started, autopsies showed.
When asked about Dome’s alternate identity, the sheriff said, “We’re not addressing any of that. We’re not talking about any of the past history of the person we have identified as Paul Dome.”
Sheriff McKnight said there is no indication of a motive and no notes were left.
Ms. Taylor called the deaths of Mrs. Dome and Mr. Landry possible “mercy killings.” Mrs. Dome was legally blind and Mr. Landry suffered from terminal brain cancer, Ms. Taylor said.
In a March 23 letter to federal authorities — signed as both Paul Dome and Clarence Crouch — Crouch wrote he was denied disability because he could not provide any paperwork on his medical history.
He didn’t have any — Paul Dome didn’t exist until 1992 or ’93 (his first assumed name was Paul Allen Verns, which he was assigned in 1990).
“He was probably down to less than 100 pounds and very sick. There was all the stress and his physical pain,” Ms. Taylor said about her father. “... The Witness Security Program failed us; it failed my family.”
Nikki Cedric, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Office in Washington, said officials could not answer specific questions about Crouch.
In an emailed statement, Ms. Cedric said, “The Witness Security Program is a vital and effective prosecution tool in the U.S. government’s battle against organized crime, drug trafficking organizations, terrorism, and other major criminal enterprises.”
She said more than 18,000 people — witnesses and their families — have been in the program since its 1971 inception.
“The public has good reason to have continued confidence in the Witness Security Program due to its crucial role in the Security of witnesses, and enabling law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors to bring to justice some of the world’s most dangerous criminals,” Ms. Cedric said.
A dangerous trial
In 1982, the Hells Angels came to Toledo.
Once a large group of members rode past then-assistant county Prosecutor James Bates’ home as if to say, “We know where you live,” he recalled.
“War wagons” — black vans with “Hells Angels” painted on the side — circled the county courthouse. Members wore large Hells Angels belt buckles and, with a list of prospective jurors in the Gentry case, visited their neighbors.
“I never felt threatened,” said Mr. Bates, now a Lucas County Common Pleas Judge. “Maybe I was young and naive at the time, but I never felt threatened.”
During the four-day trial in October, 1982, Crouch, a convicted killer, testified that Gentry brought a newspaper story clipped from The Blade to a Hells Angels meeting in Cleveland.
He testified that Gentry killed Mr. Tanner to “roll his bones,” slang for killing someone to become a full-fledged member of the club.
Mr. Tanner was shot dead Nov. 30, 1980, behind the Outlaws clubhouse at 36 N. Hawley St., in South Toledo. In a Blade story about the killing, then-Coroner Dr. Harry Mignerey said Mr. Tanner was shot twice with bullets that “may have been dipped in mercury to cause blood poisoning.”
Judge Bates recalled that the courtroom was full of Hells Angels members, including Ralph “Sonny” Barger, who founded the Oakland chapter.
“It was probably the highest-security case I’ve ever been involved in in the 40 years I’ve worked down here, and rightfully so,” Judge Bates said.
After nine hours of jury deliberations, Gentry was acquitted of aggravated murder and released from the county jail.
Ms. Taylor, then only 7, and her family were placed in the Witness Security Program.
They were “dumped” in Billings and put up in “the most flea-infested, dirt-bag motel you can imagine” with about $1,000 and a “good luck” farewell, Ms. Taylor recalled.
In the three decades that followed, the family has struggled to do basic things, Ms. Taylor said.
Without a birth certificate, Ms. Taylor’s mother had to beg so Ms. Taylor could play softball and sign up for Girl Scouts. To get into college, Ms. Taylor had to plead her case to a special admissions board.
Her sister had to go to another county to get a marriage license, her brother can’t get work without documentation, and none can obtain a passport, she said. The family has tried numerous times — in writing, on the phone, in emails — to get identifying documents.
In 2010, Ms. Taylor outed herself as a participant in the program in a newspaper article, hoping for help in obtaining a birth certificate. Since then, she said she’s heard from countless people — also in Witness Security — with similar problems.
When asked about governmental responsibilities and policies regarding Witness Security, Ms. Cedric referred The Blade to an online fact sheet, which states that witnesses and their families often get new identities with documentation. They also are to receive financial backing for such things as basic living expenses and medical care.
Witness Security, Ms. Taylor says, must be overhauled or dismantled.
“I don’t want monetary compensation, I just want my identity,” Ms. Taylor said. “My life is actually pretty darn good. I have great children, I have a great job, I have great friends. This is the one hang-up in my life that needs to be solved.”