Bad Company

They had guns. They were after drugs and cash. What they got was trouble.

In the summer of 1991, Baxendale's second wife threw him out and changed the locks on their house. He bounced between rehab and relapse, between flophouses and the street. It was during one of his brief clean periods, when he was making plans to take classes at the University of Texas at Arlington, that he struck up a conversation with the tall stranger at the shelter.

The man introduced himself as Robert Yanko. But he soon let Baxendale know that Yanko was just a temporary alias; his real name was Ken Hilton. He hinted that he was related to the folks behind the Hilton hotel chain and that he would be coming into a pile of money soon. When that day came, he said, he would open up a bar on a beach in Belize. Before long, he was urging Baxendale to go there with him.

Sure thing, Baxendale said. Mr. Hilton was clearly crazy--and a drunk to boot. He'd start off the day with a couple of bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 for breakfast, then swill beer or whiskey, if he could get it, throughout the day, and finish it off with a quart of schnapps. He was three years younger than Baxendale but looked much older.

"This guy drank more than anyone I'd ever seen," Baxendale recalls. "At the same time, he had this ability to charm people. He was very good at manipulation. He had this aversion to people knowing who he really was, but at the same time, he wanted to be flamboyant and show off."

Baxendale liked Ken Hilton, or whatever his name was. He liked the idea of sitting on a beach doing nothing. He had been through one crack binge after another, maniacal episodes of going days or weeks without sleep and obsessing about the next hit and the next one. He figured the only way he was ever going to lose the monkey was to get out of Dallas and its armpit accessories, Arlington and Fort Worth. Why not Belize?

When he landed low-rent campus housing and began school, he invited Hilton to move in with him. Hilton told him he wouldn't regret it. He kept talking about the pile of money that was headed his way.

Right, Baxendale said.
Then one day in October, there was a knock at the door. A Federal Express courier handed Hilton an envelope containing a certified cashier's check for $55,000. The check was made out to someone named Dean Roundy.

Hilton explained that Roundy was his real name. His father was an executive for Northwest Airlines who had died in a plane crash, he said, and the check was the initial payment on a $1.7 million "annuity settlement" he was to receive as a result of the death.

They were on their way to Belize, Hilton--or was it Roundy?--said. But first they had to take care of a few details. They would need passports, supplies and a much bigger stake than fifty grand. For weeks Roundy had been yammering about another pile of money, a Confederate gold shipment that had been lost somewhere in Texas during the Civil War. An uncle of his had traced the gold to the bottom of a well at an old farmhouse outside of Abilene, but for some reason he had never claimed it.

"The story was that somehow the gold got left and everyone got shot," Baxendale recalls. "He'd been going to the library every day, researching it, and he had so many details about it that I began to believe the story."

Roundy wanted to visit his family in Utah and then hunt for the gold. He converted the check into some cash and a deck of 52 thousand-dollar money orders, put the money orders in a briefcase and handed some of the cash to Baxendale, directing him to lease a brand-new Lincoln. He filled up the car with newly purchased firearms, all registered in Baxendale's name: nine-millimeter and .357 Magnum automatics, a shotgun, plenty of ammo. The plan was that Roundy would dole out $1,000 a week for expenses; he would sit in the back of the Lincoln and drink and Baxendale would act as driver, bodyguard and scout.

Before they left, they rented a room at the Arlington Hilton and had a party--one last fling, Baxendale told himself. They stayed up for days, snorting coke and smoking crack. Roundy was no stranger to cocaine, but the drug, combined with his incessant drinking, seemed to transform him. He became very loud, aggressive, even violent. Then he would black out, remembering little of what he'd said or done.

Baxendale wasn't too worried. Maybe the dream--gold, the inheritance, Belize, all of it--was cracked. But the money in Roundy's briefcase was real.

The trip almost ended before it began. Roundy decided they should do some target shooting outside of Cedar Hill, Texas, and the pair were promptly arrested for illegal discharge of firearms. The cops checked out the gun registrations and let them go two days later with a misdemeanor plea and a fine.

They drove to Oklahoma City, where Baxendale picked up a copy of his birth certificate for the journey to Belize. Then it was on to Utah, where Baxendale discovered that Roundy really did have a family, a pack of conservative Mormon cousins who called him Dean and seemed to have no inkling of his dark side.

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