Posted: Nov 13, 2012 11:31 AM
Updated: Nov 13, 2012 11:32 AM
SAN ANTONIO (AP) For years, stories about madam Theresa Brown and her cringe-inducing "trick list" of 3,000 customers dominated local and national headlines.
But the woman whose classy North Side brothel attracted politicians, athletes and lawyers until it was raided in 1981 had faded from the public spotlight, and her recent death went unnoticed, save for an obituary and a story in a local magazine.
Brown, who once ran against one alleged client for the City Council, died Sept. 18 of natural causes at a San Antonio hospital. She was 78, and according to the short obituary, had the last name Burquette.
She'll "always be remembered for her adventurous nature and love of travel," it read.
San Antonio police, acting under a court order in 1985, torched the client list they confiscated from her bordello at 315 Northtrail Drive, but the whereabouts of her back-up list, which was the subject of a First Amendment court battle, remains unknown.
Rick Casey, who hosts KLRN's Texas Week and covered the story for the San Antonio Express and News, said Brown was a character who would stand up to anybody.
"Years later, she called me," he said, but Casey didn't remember why. "She had become a Christian."
Brown, born in San Antonio, had moved to Kyle and was an advocate for women in need, her obituary said. Her relatives declined to comment.
According to an interview published in Texas Country magazine in May 1981, Brown had two children then and worked as a bookkeeper and clerk before opening her brothel, next to her home, in the 1960s.
"I was getting $50 a month for both kids, and we lived in a project," she said. "I decided to better myself in the grand tradition of free enterprise. ... I'm a woman who has come up the hard way."
Word of Brown's bordello spread quickly through the local nightlife scene, friend Sam Kindrick said.
"We met in the 1960s. I saw this good-looking woman and asked someone who she was, and was told, 'That's Theresa Brown, the biggest whore in town,'" Kindrick said. "She told me that I couldn't afford her, and she was right."
But Brown wasn't for hire and she left that work to her girls, some 800 over the 16 years she was in operation, she told Texas Country.
Brown's bordello had strict rules, confiscated along with her client list when she and two girls were arrested Oct. 2, 1980: The girls had to be healthy and off drugs, they had to keep the house clean and they made their own appointments.
Four girls lived at the brothel at any given time for up to one week, Brown said in an interview.
"I think she was very proud of the women who worked with her," said Jan Jarboe Russell, a former Express-News columnist who scored the first interview with Brown while working for the San Antonio Light. "The house was immaculate, and she was well-dressed. There were all of these Cosmopolitan magazines around the living room that's what all of her girls read."
Brown's story needed no sensationalism; the true day-to-day twists and turns captivated audiences. At some point after her arrest for aggravated promotion of prostitution, she reportedly gave the index card list of clients to Armandina Saldivar, who wrote for El Pueblo, a West Side leftist newspaper, and gave the cards to the paper's editorial board.
But in February 1981, Brown won a temporary restraining order in state court to keep El Pueblo from releasing the list.
After the 10-day order expired, the newspaper's attorney discontinued the case there and filed it in federal court instead. Meanwhile, the newspaper and lawyer Jesse Botello were bombarded by threats, media requests and women desperate to know if their husbands were on Brown's list.
"It was pretty big. I wasn't looked upon very well at the courthouse, because allegedly, some of the judges were on her list. But I intentionally never looked at it," Botello said.
Then-Chief U.S. District Judge William S. Sessions, later the director of the FBI, did not renew the order.
In late February, El Pueblo printed the names of 19 of Brown's clients, "the high and mighty of San Antonio, who in the past have constantly accused the blacks, the Mexicans, the poor and working people of being immoral, corrupt and law breakers," the story said.
A column by Saldivar published with the list said she worried about some of the clients, whose sexual preferences were noted next to their names on the index cards.
"One of the customers satisfied his sexual urges by calling the girls vulgar names but did not participate in physical activity," Saldivar wrote. "Another prominent politician had written the word 'dangerous' on his card."
Other details were "too indecent to print," she said, adding it was her opinion that "some of the customers need psychological counseling before they cause serious harm to themselves or others."
One alleged customer, Dr. William Elizondo, then-president of the San Antonio School District, told attendees at a PTA dinner that his name was on the list. A second accused client, then-City Councilman Gene Canavan, denied he was involved and threatened to sue.
Others on the 19-person list, including two state representatives and a well-known developer, never confirmed they were patrons.
Brown reportedly was livid that the incomplete list had been printed.
"She is terribly, terribly worried about the families of these poor men," Brown's attorney, Pat Maloney, told the Associated Press. "Theresa Brown is not a kiss-and-tell person. This is viciously and tragically unfair."
The same month, she was found guilty of the felony crime and sentenced to five years of probation.
All along, Brown told reporters she only wanted her clientele to be treated the same way she was the crime was a felony for her, but a misdemeanor for johns, who never were punished.
At Botello's office and with Casey as a witness, the index cards were returned to Brown, who threatened to destroy them.
"She said she was going to burn them in front of City Hall," Botello said. "She was going to have a weenie roast."
Instead, Sessions issued a restraining order to protect the historic list. Brown ran against Canavan but lost and sold the remnants of her brothel the next year at a garage sale.
In 1984, she registered "Madame T's Panache," a bric-a-brac store that she ran temporarily and held on to three homes she owned on Northtrail for another decade.
Brown sold the bordello last, in 1998, for $67,065, and then disappeared from public records.
"She wasn't too happy with her past life in recent years, and she was trying to, more or less, change her life around," Kindrick said. "One of her sons wouldn't talk to her. But she always had a heart of gold."
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com