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PAYING HOMAGE TO THE WEALTHY

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

A LITTLE DRINK BETWEEN FRIENDS

I would not call it the perfect murder, but surely 42 year old Tammy Jean Warner came close enough to qualify for the annual “O.J. Simpson Getting Away With Murder, Murderer of the Year” award. Or maybe she’s telling the truth and Michael Warner, her 58 year old husband of just 18 months, actually committed suicide by ‘drinking’ himself to death, albeit not in the usual way. However there was little mystery about what first attracted the alcoholic in Michael to the bartender in Tammy Jean. Call it kismet or addiction attraction, but whatever you call it, who are you to question whether or not two middle aged gin soaked Texans truly loved each other when they married in October of 2002? Even if a grand jury had no doubt that a year and a half later Tammy Jean bought two bottles of sherry with malice aforethought and intent to kill, in part because she must have known her husband had a long history of abusing alcohol in particularly dangerous ways. Still, Tammy Jean could assure the police that, as the French might say, “Les l’evres qui touchent le liquior, ne toucheront jamais le mein”, or, as they translate it down in South Texas, “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine”.
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It was on the morning of May 21st,, 2004 that the 911 call to the Lake Jackson paramedics came in. What they found was Michael Warner, in bed and unresponsive. They could not revive him. An autopsy would reveal that he had died from an alcohol over-dose, with a blood alcohol level of 0.47, six times the legal limit to drive in Texas. And within a week a judge had ruled that Michael had died intestate, meaning he left no will. So his machine shop and his new quarter of a million dollar life insurance policy, total value of $317,691.00, went to his widow, Tammy Jean Warner.
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But Michael had a daughter from a previous marriage, and she told the cops that her father had left a will. She had seen it barely a month before his death. She also told Lake Jackson detective Robert Turner that her father had ulcers and acid reflex condition, which would have made saying “bottoms up” very painful and difficult for him. True, the toxicology screen was pretty conclusive, but it was so high that it puzzled Detective Turner. At that level, as he knew, “You’re either going to the hospital or the funeral home”. But why didn’t Michael pass out before he reached a lethal limit? How, Detective Turner wondered, could such a sick man ingest that much alcohol? But Tammy Jean refused to talk to the police. There didn’t seem to be much choice but to exhume Michael’s body and do a second autopsy.
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What they found, as they used to say in East Texas, blew the door right off the outhouse. Michael’s large intestines were badly inflamed and it was the opinion of the coroner that Michael was the victim of an enema overdose. Detective Turner was shocked. This case gave a new meaning to the term, “high colonic”. Up until this moment, Detective Turner must have thought that Sherry Enema was a porn star, not a homicidal device. He admitted, “I heard of this kind of thing in Mortuary school in 1970, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of someone actually doing it”. It was a development that raised a number of questions, not the least of which was what the hell kind of training is Lake Jackson giving their police detectives?
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The Grand Jury suspected that something was up, but exactly what and where it was up was unclear. And the story Tammy Jean had to tell them only made things murkier. ? Tammy Jean explained she had destroyed the ‘missing’ will a month before Michael’s death, at his request. She insisted she had not bought the two bottles of Sherry. She had only accompanied Michael when he had bought them. And she insisted she had not administered the enemy enema. “There’s no way I could have gave my husband that enema, no way.” However, she claimed, Michael was addicted to them. “His mother used to give him enemas all the time, and he started to depend on them. He did coffee enemas, he did Castile soap, Ivory soap…He had enema recipes."
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I sense the approach of a new warning label on every bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and a whole new plot twist to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cast of the Amontillado”. Consider it further proof that you never truly know what goes on behind your neighbor’s bathroom door, and you never truly want to know. Of course you might choose to view Tammy Jean’s testimony as an indictment of the saying that all happy families are happy in the same way, but what Tolstoy actually said was that “All happy families resemble one another, while unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways” and that word ‘resemble’ leaves enough wiggle room to define even the rectally obsessed, the physic-ally flushed and the rearward-ly fixated as a ‘happy’ family. Or not: in May of 2005 the Grand Jury indicted Tammy Jean on a charge of Criminal Negligence and attempt to defraud by destroying her husband’s will. Detective Turner contended that “She knew that if he continued to absorb alcohol…it would kill him. We are going to prove that she gave him the Sherry and that she knew he wasn’t supposed to have any, and that it could be detrimental to his health, and she gave it to him anyway.” Tammy Jean faced up to 2 years in jail and a $50,000 fine. She surrendered to the police and was released on $30,000 bail.
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But the prosecutors now faced a difficult judgment call. As Brazoria County D.A. Jeri Yenne, saw things, “It is as if I were dying of lung cancer and you bought me cigarettes”, which is a fair analogy if you consider constipation the equivalent of lung cancer. And did the Texas legal authorities really want to begin arresting every juvenile making a cigarette and beer run to the 7-11 for their parents? Texas jails would explode every weekend.
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Six times the trial date approached and each time the trial was postponed. At first Tammy Jean insisted she had not administered the fatal flushing, but eventually she bent under the weight of evidence. But, she insisted, it had been consensual constipation. “He’d open the clamp and take in want he wants, how much he wanted, and then he’d close the clamp and lay there until he wanted more and then he’d open his clamp back up.” And this is what passed for social drinking in the Warner household? When he said “pucker up” she must have been motivated to consult a divorce attorney and/or a plumber. Did they ever invite friends over for drinks?...No, don't tell me.

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Clearly prosecutors felt that Tammy Jean’s version of events didn’t pass the smell test. But they could never find proof that the missing will had ever been signed or executed. Ms. Yenne contended that, “I honestly felt there was a causation issue.” But finally, on August 31st of 2007, the D.A. could no longer stand the pressure and pulled the plug. All charges against Tammy Jean Warner were dropped. The relieved widow described her late husband to the Houston Chronicle, "That's the way he went out and I'm sure that's the way he wanted to go out, because he loved his enemas." Or, as Alphonse Allas put it, “Mourir, c'est partir un peu” (To leave is to die a little, but to die is to leave way too much).
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All in all, I'd say it felt rather anti-climatic.
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