The Sugarland Sanction
" Like Chinatown, but set in Texas. "
MadCow Morning news
by Daniel Hopsicker
February 11, 2002
Houston Texas -- An investigation in Houston Texas by the MadCowMorning News has uncovered significant discrepancies in the official version of the death of former Enron Vice Chairman Cliff Baxter. While Texas officials have been willing to share only a few facts about the case, much of what they have revealed, we have learned, is puzzling, misleading, or, amazingly, wrong.
Even more amazing is that —with billions at stake—the very real possibility that Baxter might have been murdered has been completely ignored in the press.
Early wire reports quoted Sugar Land Police Department spokeswoman Patricia Whitty saying that Baxter was found inside his Mercedes early on Friday with a gunshot wound to the head, a suicide note, and a revolver at his side.
It was an impressive litany. Police appeared to have all of their ducks in a row.
" A gunshot wound, a suicide note, and a revolver at his side. "
A statement released by the Sugar Land Police Department that morning broke the news...
" At 2.23 a.m. this morning (January 25) Sugar Land police officers on routine patrol discovered John. C. Baxter, a Sugar Land resident, inside a vehicle parked between two medians on Palm Royale Boulevard of an apparent self-inflicted wound to the head. "
" Baxter was dead at the scene and the sole occupant of the vehicle. "
Sugar Land Police Sgt Truman Body told assembled reporters that the discovery of Baxter's body happened during a " routine patrol. It's my understanding that a deputy had seen (Baxter's) vehicle a few minutes earlier and through his routine patrol had doubled back to see if he could offer any assistance. "
Even a cursory examination of the facts reveals that very little of this is true.
We uncovered this startling fact: Baxter's body had not been found by the Sugar Land police, as they have been insisting...
And rather than being " dead at the scene " when authorities 'found' him, Clifford Baxter had been still alive.
" Tell us one more time: which one of you found the body? "
S. H. " Hal " Werlein is the Constable for the county precinct encompassing the posh Sweetwater development where Baxter lived. The Constable's Office functions much like County Sheriffs’ in many parts of the country, he explained.
Contrary to the statements of the Sugar Land Police Department, it was not two Sugar Land police officers but one of Hal Werlein's Deputy Constables who discovered the former Enron executive slumped behind the wheel of his new Mercedes sedan, parked just inside the Sweetwater development where Baxter and his family lived, in much the poshest part of town.
" Our Constable’s office has a contract deputy program which provides private security guards for the Sweetwater homeowner’s association, and it was one of these men who discovered Mr. Baxter, " Werlein told us.
" The report I got from my Deputy Constable there on the scene stated he had come upon a Mercedes sitting parked in a turnout. He became suspicious and approached the vehicle, where he found Baxter still alive. He then immediately called for EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians). "
Why such critical discrepancies about the most crucial of details? We've all watched enough TV cop shows to grill detectives with a simple question that usually calls for a yes or no answer...
" Was the victim alive when you found him? "
On the day we visited the crime scene, there were no gawkers at the turnout on Palm Royale Boulevard. But there is, nearby, a security kiosk that has a sign across the front reading ‘Constable Precinct Four.’
" I don’t know why the Sugar Land Police Department is saying they found Baxter, because it isn’t true, " continued Constable Werlein. " My Deputy Constable found him. "
Confronted with Constable Werlein’s statement, Sugar Land Police spokesperson Patricia Whitty admitted that Werlein was correct. The police statement contained inaccuracies, she stated. But she offered no explanation for how or why these critical errors or mis-statements had occurred, nor why they hadn't been corrected earlier.
" Trust us. We're really really sure that he took his own life. "
There was one thing the Sugar Land Police Department was absolutely sure of: Baxter was a " definite suicide, " which they had already proclaimed by 10:00 that morning.
Sugar Land police spokesmen didn't know the caliber of the gun, were unsure of the make of the car, or if a bullet was found, or where the gun was. But--and thank god!--they DID know that there were " no apparent signs of foul play. "
The police captain in charge of the immediate investigation concluded that it was clear Baxter had taken his own life. He then ordered Baxter's corpse taken to a local mortuary without an autopsy.
Incredulous, Cliff Baxter's family then reportedly called on a local judge, who intervened with a counter order insisting that the body instead be taken to the county morgue for an official autopsy.
When the results of the autopsy were released last Thursday Clifford Baxter became the second American so far this year to perish through ‘suicide by zit.’
These days, explanations for mysterious suicides can apparently be found as needed, as close at hand as the nearest medicine cabinet.
Take for example the lead from the Associated Press report on the Cliff Baxter autopsy, calling attention to the fact that the former Enron Corp. executive had taken " a pain reliever, an anti-depressant and a sleeping aid " before " he shot himself to death after the company's collapse. "
If you parse this sentence a bit—looking for a hint of an official explanation for the death of the most important witness in what some are calling the biggest scandal since Watergate—you end up with some pretty twisted pretzel logic.
No mention in the AP story about the possibility Baxter may have been murdered to prevent him from divulging incriminating information to Congressional committees investigating the Enron scandal, even though one such committee had been negotiating a deal with Baxter's lawyer's to get him to testify on the very day he 'killed' himself.
This is probably just coincidence.
" A pain reliever, an anti-depressant and a sleeping aid "
All things considered, this sounds like a pretty typical day in Mayberry circa 2002. But maybe the AP is intimating that under certain circumstances—like just before testifying to Congress, for example—mixing Prozac and Advil can lead abruptly and with no warning to a heavenly choir serenading you with the final chorus to " Goodbye Cruel World. "
This sounds like logic that could have been conceived, in point of fact, by the very same people who brought us the word of Tampa teen Charles' Bishops' acne-induced self-immolation.
" Suicide by Zit. "
If it had been our last night in town before heading out for that Great Roundup in the Sky, we don't think that just before falling on our sword we would be making sure that we'd taken all our evening pills.
Instead we might 'ingest' a little Jack Daniels to steel our nerve, or a few shots of Stolichnaya to ward off the chill of cold gunmetal pressing against our clammy forehead.
Because one thing we are not going to need, on this final night, is a sleeping pill. Taking a sleeping pill just before committing suicide only makes sense if you're going to have trouble nodding off even in the Afterlife... It’s redundant, right?
" You’re already covered on that front. "
In the wake of September 11th we think they need to run some kind of disclaimer before the news. At least warn viewers of sticky wickets up ahead.
" You are entering the Twilight Zone. "
The 'news' of Baxter’s List came hard on the heels of new developments in the other currently-suspicious suicide, that of the Kamikazie Kid pilot in Tampa.
Charles Bishop, the first American suicide bomber in history, committed the only authentic terrorist attack in America since 9/11. Yet authorities have still offered no explanation for his bizarre attack.
They were however forced to admit that young Charles Bishop showed no traces of accutane, the previously little-known acne medication with recently discovered suicide-inducing properties.
Clearly a steep price must be paid for a clear complexion in America today.
Or a clear conscience.
Was this misdirection? Disinformation?
Regardless, it helped forestall any closer examination of whether this 15-year-old boy—whose father is a mysterious half-Lebanese half-Sicilian organized crime figure from Boston—might have overheard anything he shouldn’t have.
Instead, the young pilot was adjudged to be troubled, but not a terrorist, a strange conclusion to reach about someone who has just flown a plane into a skyscraper at 160 miles per hour.
Authorities seemed unconcerned that something similar had--and just recently--occurred.
" Nothing to see here. Move along… "
" Unconcerned " is also a good way to describe Texas law enforcement officials after the Enron Scandal had claimed its first victim, even though Cliff Baxter was an insider who was fixin’ to talk.
Little wonder then that today even the relatively non-paranoid are entertaining suspicions that when they make the movie of the Cliff Baxter story, it won’t play like a Lifetime Original about ‘a Dad who couldn’t cope,’ but like a high tech spy thriller:
" The Sugarland Sanction. "
Like " Chinatown, " only set in Texas.
Whatever the ultimate truth of how he came to die in the middle of a chilly late January night in Texas, the most immediate consequence of Cliff Baxter's death is that Americans are now going to learn a lot less about the Enron Scandal than if Baxter had managed to hang around long enough to enter Witness Protection and get fitted for a bulletproof vest.
Baxter was talking of needing a bodyguard just 36 hours before he committed suicide.
And here we thought you only need a bodyguard when you're trying to stay alive.
Despite the blasé approach of the home-town Houston Chronicle to the shocking death of the most important witness in the biggest scandal since Watergate few in Houston we spoke to believe the former Enron Vice Chairman took his own life.
After going, decisively, off the record, one long-time friend of Baxter’s explained it to us this way:
" What if, for example, they had 'gotten to' John Dean before his testimony before the Watergate Committee made him a world-wide celebrity? "
" I'll tell you what would have happened. Nothing. The ‘cancer on the Presidency’ gets covered with a big gauze bandage, and we’d have all been none the wiser. "
" Nobody would have seriously investigated the suicide of an obscure mid-level Nixon staffer said to be despondent over having been called to testify about misconduct in the Oval Office. "
If you're talking cost-effective damage control, its hard to beat assassination.
At the Houston Yacht Club, where Baxter had taken to virtually living aboard his 72-foot yacht Tranquility Base, one club executive told us:
" Cliff Baxter was not a person who I could ever believe would kill himself. He had boundless energy, a positive attitude, and everything to live for: a wife, kids, and the time and money to enjoy them. He was anxiously awaiting, for example, the delivery of his sleek new boat, which he was going to call Tranquility Base II. "
This yacht club skipper, a man with relatively extensive business dealings with Cliff Baxter, stared for a long time at the slate-gray water of Galveston Bay on a dreary February afternoon. Then he shrugged...
" Maybe Cliff just knew too much, " he said. " That’s what everyone around here thinks, anyway. "
An incredibly explosive political murder—if that’s what it was—would seem to be the very definition of Hard Ball.’ You would think it would be the the ideal topic for a special edition of the show of the same name.
It seems as if Mr. Matthews, along with most of his brethren in the mainstream press, find themselves otherwise engaged.
What's going on right now in Houston Texas may eventually come to be seen as the most blatant media clampdown since the death of Vince Foster.
Last word goes to Lily Tomlin, who said it best:
" No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up. "