Houston Babylon: Dean Goss, Houston's Jackie Gleason, Houston's Bluebeard or Both?

Categories: Longform

Houston Babylon, the feature coming out this week, dissects a few of the creepiest and most chilling events in Houston history. In coming up with four of those tales, we stumbled over many more -- too many to fit the print edition.

All this week we'll bring you some extra, online-only stories. Check out Part 1 about Avenging Angels: A Failed Revenge and Part II: Early Victorian Houston and Texas: Suicide City for the Elite. Without further ado, here is the third...

Circa 1970, Dean Goss was riding high on the hog. An enormous man -- Goss packed around 450 pounds on his six-foot-plus frame at his peak -- Goss was also a huge success.

Back when South Main was Houston's swanky mini-Vegas Strip, when the Shamrock was glowing green in the humid skies and the Astrodome was still the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Dean Goss Dinner Theater (2525 Murworth) was the place to see and be seen, laugh and be laughed at.

There, the hard-drinking, cigar-chomping Goss would hold court and crack jokes from the stage, often gags that would be considered wildly offensive today. One example cited in a lengthy 1993 Houston Chronicle remembrance of the man and his troubled life -- Goss loved to dispatch waitresses over to tables full of black patrons with trays of watermelon mai tais, but it was all more or less accepted, because as Texas Monthly noted in 1979, his insults spared no ethnicity.

The city loved him, so much so that he landed cameos in The Thief Who Came to Dinner and Brewster McCloud, director Robert Altman's murder mystery and portrait of Houston and the Dome. (Goss is the giant security guard attempting to run at 1:52 below)

His popularity did not, however, extend to the political arena: His 1979 city council bid failed, despite his ever-popular "law and order" platform.

Perhaps that failed attempt at a career change shows he knew that though he was only 46, Goss's comedic glory days were long past by 1980. That was when his landlady raised the rent on his supper club, causing the lights to go out for Goss on South Main. (The Chron article states Candace Mossler was his landlady, but the notorious River Oaks socialite and incestuous nephew-lover died in 1976.)

A far worse blow came on March 16, 1982, when Elaine Karen Goss, his wife of 22 years, was found dead in an upstairs bedroom of their faux-Tudor Meyerland-area home from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

Goss's son Craig was at home when it happened, and glass from a broken window was discovered both inside and outside the house at 9914 Balmforth.

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There were no signs of robbery and police suspicion fell squarely on Dean and Craig, but Dean was ruled out as a suspect because of that day's timeline, and Craig was never arrested. The murder has never been solved.

Dean Goss reportedly wandered lost for two years. He was also broke. His stab at a comeback -- a magic show in the old Bellaire Theater (now the Whole Foods) -- cratered.

And then what appeared to be salvation arrived in the form of Paula Brawley, a recently divorced real estate agent, piano player and mother of two. She told Goss she would help him get back in the game in the shadows of the Shamrock on South Main, and she put up $150,000 to back his move into what was once Valian's, Houston's much-beloved cowboy-themed Italian restaurant. (Spaghetti Western on Durham occupies much the same niche today.) The Goss-Brawley venture would be called Cattlemen's Cove.

Since Dean Goss was broke and had several judgments against him by then, Cattlemen's Cove was placed in the name of his eldest son, 22-year-old Dean Goss Jr.

In April 1984, Goss and Brawley were married in a ceremony that was typically far-too-lavish for his means.

Three months later, the restaurant was thoroughly vandalized. That crime was never solved. Nor was the murder of "J.J" Brown, the Cattlemen's Cove maitre d', who was found shot full of holes and stuffed in the trunk of a car not far from the club.

Goss collected a $45,000 insurance settlement on the vandalized club, but his attempt at improvements failed to impress city inspectors, who ordered the Cove permanently closed.

Meanwhile, Paula's life had become a living hell. She was getting threatening phone calls on her private line, some warning her that she would "end up like Elaine." Someone had burgled the home she shared with Goss twice over the course of a few weeks. She was working two jobs to try to keep the family afloat and still failing to do so.

Early in 1985, Goss shot himself under mysterious circumstances. He said it was an accident, and the wound was not too serious, but the medical bills were crushing, and more of them would come when doctors found a cyst on his jaw.

Paula had had enough by July of 1985. She was spending several days at a time at the homes of friends and had told some she was about to leave for good. She never got the chance.

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Hanabi-chan topcommenter

I remember going to the Dean Goss Dinner Theatre as a field trip with my Girl Scout troop. No really.  (Must have been a family friendly show, can't say I remember exactly what as in the show, but I do recall enjoying it. )  Wasn't there another dinner theatre in Houston at one time?


Keep it up with the Houston Babylon stories. What can i say, i enjoy macabre stuff.

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