Feature: Wednesday, June 01, 2005
A Long and Twisted Road (Part Two)

Wirt Norris’ guilty plea left much untold in a case that scarred Fort Worth society.


Andy, Bob, and Cliff were ciphers in the Norris case. Levy recalls a meeting in his office in which Cliff, armed with a tape recorder, appeared and informed the prosecutor that “Nothing happened’’ and that Norris “was the greatest guy on earth.’’
Levy said Norris formed a “very complex relationship’’ with some of the boys he knew. There was, he said, a “façade of genuine friendship’’ that was tempered with “an element of fear of what he [Norris] could disclose.
“His whole relationship is based on his perversion, but he was very helpful’’ later in life to some of the men he had abused, Levy said. He helped them in business, attended their weddings, even testified at a criminal trial on behalf of a man who later accused him of abuse. “He kept doing them favors,” he said. A handful of men told prosecutors that they still liked Norris even though he had molested them.
If Norris had been purely exploitative and wanted nothing but sex from his victims, “it might have been different,’’ Levy said. “But when a guy maintains a 20-year-relationship, it’s a little hard to convince these guys that they were actually victims”

Four different Fort Worth families went to law enforcement with their concerns about Norris before the Hallmans and the Kaastads, but none apparently was able to produce what was needed to make a case — a victim willing to break the silence.
One such attempt in the 1980s is documented in a letter sent to Nancy Hallman by a family friend, after news of her fliers began to circulate. A copy of the letter was released under the public information act by the district attorney’s office; the writer, who asked not to be identified, elaborated on what she knew in an interview with the Weekly.
The letter said a family friend, the son of another well-known Fort Worth lawyer, had confided that Norris had molested him “along with five other Country Day [school] boys out at Eagle Mountain Lake.’’ In an interview, the writer said one of her own relatives, who went on to abuse drugs and alcohol, had told his mother that Norris also had attempted to molest him during the 1970s.
Though none of those boys was willing to file a complaint, the letter-writer’s family decided to publicly air the allegations just as the Hallmans and the Kaastads did. In the 1980s, family members put fliers in the mailboxes of Norris’ neighbors accusing him of molestation. They called his office and told his secretary. And they went to the police with their suspicions.
“They [police] said they could do nothing unless charges were brought,’’ the letter to Nancy Hallman said. “No one would listen.’’
Previous accounts published by the Weekly of other families who went to law enforcement with their suspicions about Norris are also documented in records released by the district attorney’s office.
Outside the courtroom where Norris finally pleaded guilty, Levy told reporters the outcome was the “tragic result’’ of people keeping silent about the abuse for so many years. But Richard Chowning, Norris’ oldest accuser, who says he was repeatedly molested in the late 1950s, told reporters that coming forward with such painful memories is difficult no matter how much time has passed. Chowning was one of the few accusers of Norris who agreed to let his name be used.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,’’ he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t [come forward earlier], but I don’t know if anyone would have listened 50 years ago.’’
Others said that no one who heard the rumors all those years ago is blameless. “I think Levy needs to add a phrase to his, ‘it’s the tragic result of not speaking,’” said another accuser. “It’s the tragic result of not listening, of not taking action by the people in Fort Worth who could have done something about it 50 years ago.
“Law enforcement failed, the district attorney failed, church leaders, the top of society failed, the people who have the most power in Fort Worth, who are the wealthiest, who let him into their homes — the whole community failed,” the man said.
“They failed to recognize it or when they did recognize it, they failed to take action to stop it. They just whispered about [it], and all the while, young lives were being permanently scarred. He wove himself into the fabric of the community to such an extent that he was the head of the crime commission ... . It speaks to how good he was at his craft.
“To me, it was a systemic failure,’’ he said. “He damn near made it his entire life without getting caught.’’

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