Friday, May 31, 2013

Hell on Earth

If I were to ever write a book about any case I ever tried as a prosecutor, it would be about a murder that happened at the Roadrunner Inn around 2002 or 2003.

It wasn't a headline grabbing case by any stretch of the imagination.  It wasn't particularly shocking or gruesome, either.  It just always fascinated me because of the people and circumstances involved in the case -- the victim, the defendants, and the witnesses were all so unique and the lifestyle that went on around the Roadrunner was like watching an episode of HBO's The Wire.

The victim in the case was an unusual man named Lonnie, who went by the name of Bonsai.  He was a Jewish man from the Northeast.  His sister told me that he had worked for Motown Records back in the 1950s.  As he grew older, he disconnected from society and became virtually homeless.  He drifted from town to town and fleabag motel to fleabag motel.  He made money for rent and drugs by selling bonsai trees -- hence the nickname.  A few months before his untimely death, he took up residence at the Roadrunner.

The two killers were Gary "Boo" Edwards and Anthony "No No" Gibson, who were also an interesting dynamic.  Gary was a self-proclaimed pimp and drug dealer who could talk the paint off the walls.  He was a bullsh*t artist if I ever met one, and he always liked to talk to me, for some reason -- not about the case -- just about life at the Roadrunner.  He would even have his father come by and visit me at the D.A.'s Office.  Gibson was the opposite of his friend, Gary.  He rarely spoke but he liked to shoot people with very little provocation.

On the night of the murder, an unidentified acquaintance of Bonsai's had loaned Gibson his truck as part of a crack rental.  When Gibson was late returning the vehicle, the acquaintance cut Edwards with a box cutter and then left the premises.  When Gibson returned to the hotel, he and Gary went to Bonsai's room to interrogate him about the whereabouts of the mystery acquaintance.  The interrogation did not go well.  After roughing up Bonsai, Gibson shot him multiple times and killed him.

A few weeks later, Gibson went to the Red Carpet Inn, which was right next door to the Roadrunner.  He kicked the door in and shot a man who went by the street name of "Dillinger" multiple times as Dillinger lay sleeping in his bed.  Gibson's motivation was jealousy over a girl that Dillinger happened to be lying in bed with at the time of his death.  Gibson and Edwards more or less kidnapped that girl and kept her locked in their room at the Roadrunner for the next week until they were convinced she wasn't going to snitch on them.

HPD Homicide Sergeant Paul Motard and Clemente Abbondandolo (AKA Detective Abbey) worked up the cases and ultimately filed murder and kidnapping charges on Edwards and Gibson.  In working the case up for trial, my investigator Mike Connor and I spent quite a few afternoons walking around the Roadrunner and the neighboring Red Carpet Inn.  We interviewed prostitutes, gang leaders, and drug dealers.  My star witness was a prostitute named Rolanda who had more guts and character than probably any other witness I ever had testify.

But going to the Roadrunner and the Red Carpet was like going to hell on earth.  The Roadrunner was a courtyard-type hotel that was virtually deserted during daylight hours.  At night, the place swarmed with people who lived there permanently and they all had their own economic system of trading sex, drugs, money and violence as a means of existence.  The Red Carpet was no better.  It had interior rooms and hallways where the residents would leave the doors open as they smoked crack and had sex.  The fact that a prosecutor and investigator were walking down the halls in broad daylight didn't seem to bother them much.

I know this post already seems long, but trust me, I'm skimming on a lot of the details.

Anthony Gibson got 70 years for Bonsai's murder and Gary Edwards got 35.  Right before I went to trial, then-prosecutor-now-Judge Denise Bradley pointed out to me what a terrible place the Roadrunner Inn was.  She had been the prosecutor of Jeffery Williams, who had murdered Houston Police Officer Troy Blando at the Roadrunner back in 1999.  Motard and Abbey told me they had worked other cases where murders had happened at the Roadrunner and that homicide wasn't an unusual occurrence there at all.

Some time after the trials of Gibson and Edwards, Bonsai's sister and I went to a condemnation hearing on the property.  It was the only time I ever participated in such a thing during my tenure as a prosecutor.  We told the people of the City of Houston what a nightmare and death trap it was.  A representative of the owner said they were making improvements there.  I heard through the grapevine that the property owner was a relative of a City Council member.

For whatever reason, the Roadrunner Inn never shut down.

It did change names, though.

Several years ago, I was driving down Highway 59 and saw that it had changed its name to the Southwest Inn.

Today, four City of Houston Firefighters lost their lives battling a massive fire there.

My thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, and fellow firefighters.

And I hope that this Hell on Earth is finally gone for good.


Anonymous said...

Great post.

Absolute tragedy today.

And for some reason I find murder cases of those in the fringes of society fascinating.

Unknown said...

Thank you Murray for honoring our fallen brothers and sisters.

Unknown said...

Thank you Murray for honoring our fallen brothers and sisters risking their precious lives to save people that quite possibly otherwise have blatant disregard for life.

Leah Borg said...

Oh my gosh, Murray, I didn't realize that was the same motel from the Gary Edwards case. I drove past it one time- there was no way I was getting out of my car, even to take photos. It was a hell-hole. I wish they had torn the place down back when. Maybe four heroes would still be with us today. ...... God bless and keep their souls...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I knew a little about the checkered past of the hotel and the freaks that came out at night there.

Anonymous said...

My dad was a harris county sheriff deputy major and was involved in a shoot out there many years ago after I came out of the military he took me to that motel and the bullet holes were still in the wall a he took me step by step scene by scene of the gruesome incident and even then he dubbed it the pit of hell. Said it shiuld have been bull dozed down long ago god bless those who lost theor lives and may oeace come for their families.

Anonymous said...

Well written and timely post Murray! BTW, did Mike offer to buy you lunch for plugging his name?

Anonymous said...

Murray - I absolutely agree with the previous comments on this Post. A masterfully written sentimental and somber article, tactfully weaving Time, Place and Events of different tragedies occurring at the same location at different times. Almost like a Time machine - wondering what happened or WILL happen in the place and space we inhabit now.

On a personal note I'll share:
In the mid 1990's I was assigned to the Auto Theft Prevention Authority Prosecutorial Grant Position with the Office. As such, I had the honor of working with Officer Troy Blando. As a matter of regular everyday S.O.P. in the world of a professional experienced Auto Theft investigator - on the day he was killed he was doing the most basic tools of his trade – trolling for license plate hits.

They would routinely go to one of many “Dirty Reef” hot spots and "Throw the Net" - IE: simply drive these parking lots run license plates on their vehicle MDT’s in hopes of getting a stolen hit or a mismatch. If so, then wait to see who claims the vehicle. This was done hundreds of times through the years without a hitch. Obviously this time was – in 1999 was tragically different.

In the same light - To the Firemen who gave their lives trying to save not just a possible prostitute, Car Jacker, Drug dealer, addict, or homeless person - THEY were likewise at the same location as Blando as 14 years earlier. Doing their job, to save any human being's life, regardless of social status. It all points to a higher calling of good people going into a volatile location to do the right thing and getting killed for doing it. Officer Blando was shot and killed by a PERSON. The 4 Firemen were killed by CONCRETE – FIRE and PEOPLE!

Question: Who owned this property and what City Counsel person had an interest in this. This "Reef" should have been destroyed long before now. And so many still exist today! Why wasn’t the property condemned? Questions that need to be answered. This is fertile ground for any “substitute” Wayne Dolcefino type to make their mark!

God Bless the Professional Fire Fighters who gave their lives to this higher calling and to Officer Blando and all their families. And to you Murray for bringing such a unique light to this matter!


Larry Standley

Anonymous said...

One of your best, albeit tragic, posts to date.

Anonymous said...

This is also the motel where former baseball player, Ken Caminiti was arrested for smoking crack. This eventually led to his downfall and enventual death.

Unknown said...

What a well written post, Murry.