When San Antonio madam Theresa Brown was sitting on her infamous trick list, there were newspaper headlines from Texas to New York and Florida and no telling how many states in between.
More than 3,000 names were on the bordello client list, and both police and Brown herself said they included high-ranking municipal officials, politicians, nationally-known sports figures, religious “pillars of the community,” and at least one district judge.
Theresa died with only one small obituary headline last month. I remained her unrepentant friend until the end. She was a true San Antonio character who defied duplication.
Vice cops raided Brown’s San Antonio whorehouse, confiscating the little black book and a set of printed house rules Theresa kept posted for her working girls. That was October 3, 1980, a rollicking, hard-to-curry era in San Antonio’s outlaw history. Jack Hanratty was running his Castle Hills sports book, much to the chagrin and frustration of several DAs. And shotgun-toting Arthur Harry (Bunny) Eckert was blasting fellow pimps into eternity with his trusty sawed-off 12-guage.
What seemed like the eyes of the world were on Theresa Brown when vice cops confiscated and burned her little black book.
The cops and the DA’s office were unprepared for the aftermath. Madam Brown, it seems, had a duplicate list, complete with a rolodex card file which listed names, addresses, sexual preferences, and standings in the community. Incensed at the burning of what she called part of “San Antonio history,” Theresa was threatening to turn her complete trick list over to a small West San Antonio bilingual newspaper for publication.
That set the time bomb ticking. A potential explosion that could literally ruin hundreds of big shots and political panjandrums who couldn’t keep their peckers in their pants. The angst was all but palpable. The collective sweat was so real you could all but smell it running through courthouse corridors and dripping in the church pews.
Theresa never did release the list for publication, settling instead for a 5-year probated sentence for aggravated promotion of prostitution. In later years, she made an unsuccessful run for city council, opened and operated a gift shop, and continued to fleer and jape at what she considered the hypocrites who would dare judge her.
Theresa was a champion of battered women. She had a heart of gold, an uproarious sense of humor, and a soft side which probably turned her from publication of the trick list, mindful of the wives and children who would have suffered right along with the unmasked lotharios.
When asked why she didn’t turn the trick list over to Action Magazine, Brown fairly cackled: “I should have thought of that.”
With a couple of her working girls in tow, Theresa showed up at the World Championship Menudo Cookoff I promoted In a mobile trailer with a huge sign proclaiming:
Hot Pants Menudo
Theresa had a hand in getting me and golfing great Lee Trevino kicked out of the San Francisco Steak House. But the true villain in that little caper was notorious sports bookmaker Jack Hanratty, who took a perverse delight in walking bar and restaurant tabs, the bigger the bills the better.
Golfing great Trevino was here for the Texas Open. Larry Trader, who had caddied for Lee the Flea, was there at the San Francisco Steak House with me, bookie Hanratty, Theresa Brown, and a few others from the skull orchard scene.
With an expansive wave of his hand, Hanratty ordered Porterhouse Steaks for our party, then excused himself for a break in the men’s room. In predictable Hanratty fashion, Jack never returned, and when the steak house maître d’ tried to present Trevino the bill, Theresa blew a fuse, chastising the waitperson for bringing embarrassment to the “world’s greatest golfer.”
I didn’t have any money, and “the world’s greatest golfer” had left his in his hotel room. Jack Hanratty had disappeared, along with Larry Trader, and when security kicked us out of the restaurant, Theresa Brown left in a cab, probably with more money in her purse than the rest of us combined.
Trevino was on foot. I don’t even know how he got to the restaurant. But I gave him a ride to his hotel, where he fished a roll of $100 bills from under a mattress. We returned to the San Francisco Steak House where Lee paid the bill.
I first met Theresa Brown in Phil Sfair’s Navy Club, one of several downtown after-hours saloons. She was beautiful (and she remained beautiful for years), stylishly dressed, well coiffed, and with a twinkle in her eye that simply said Watch your step, dude!
I will never forget what she told Phil Sfair, the club owner.
“This little newspaper reporter could never afford me,” Theresa said. “So just give him whatever he wants and put the drinks on my tab.”
She then flounced out of the bar with not another word. And I never once tried to find out what that cost would have been.
T-Brown, as I called her, was a true hoot and a stickler for order. In her house rules booklet which was confiscated with the trick list, Theresa admonished her working girls not to wear religious symbols or wedding rings during working hours, to never use drugs, to bathe daily, and to have shoes on when clients were arriving or leaving.
I could easily have missed the little obit in the Express and News last month. The headline read Theresa Brown Burquette. With a beautiful head shot of a young Theresa Brown, it asked that donations go to the San Antonio Womens Shelter. No cause of death was listed, but I recall Theresa telling me by phone several years ago that her health was failing.
I recall Theresa saying that she had found God and was on a spiritual path. We exchanged Christmas cards until only a few years ago when I lost touch with her. She was 78 when she died, and had been living for a time in the Kyle and San Marcos area.
One line in T-Brown’s obit did make me smile. It said she will be remembered for her “adventurous nature.”