Whiteside, known for his jewelry, shot to death in apparent robbery
A prominent gay artist and former Dallas resident who operated a small resort in East Texas for 10 years was found slain in his bedroom on Nov. 1.
Robert Whiteside, 56, a goldsmith and silversmith whose work was purchased by the Reagan Administration for heads-of-state gifts, was found shot to death by his partner, Warren Butler.
Butler, who works for Tower Records on a part-time, on-call basis, was in Dallas on business at the time of Whiteside’s death.
Two men are in the Franklin County Jail in Mt. Vernon charged with capital murder in connection with Whiteside’s homicide. Aaron Rains, 21, and Jose Chavez, both of East Texas, are being held on $500,000 bond each.
Franklin County Sheriff Charles White said he believes Whiteside was murdered during a robbery by suspects looking for money to buy drugs.
Rains also has a $10,000 bond in connection with a charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Rains and another man were arrested on Nov. 2 in Dallas after policemen found them driving Whiteside’s pickup.
A search by police for Whiteside’s truck began in Dallas after his credit card companies reported their use in Northeast Dallas after Whiteside’s body was discovered.
The third man, Ladarion Dion Gentry, 19, was originally misidentified because he failed to give officers his real name, said Franklin County Deputy Chief Ricky Jones. Gentry was rearrested on Wednesday and charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and failure to identify himself, he said.
Gentry also is wanted on outstanding warrants for violation of probation, Jones said. He has not yet been arraigned on the new charges, the deputy said.
Butler said in a telephone interview that a search of business records revealed that Rains was once employed to help in the kitchen of the resort’s restaurant. Sheriff’s deputies are trying to determine if Chavez was ever an employee, he said.
The resort is located on 68 acres outside of Mt. Vernon. Whiteside opened the resort in March of 1997, and Butler moved there in 2001.
Butler said he made an emergency trip home to the resort after several attempts to reach Whiteside by phone failed. The last time he spoke to him was on Oct. 30 when he arrived in Dallas late in the evening, he said.
The last time he saw his partner was when he left to drive to Dallas, Butler said. Whiteside was visiting with a friend who lives in the area as he drove away.
Whiteside and Butler maintained a small apartment in Dallas for use on business and pleasure trips.
Butler said when he arrived at the resort on Nov. 1 he found Whiteside’s truck missing, their dog outside whimpering and the back door open. He found Whiteside in the upstairs bedroom. A rifle was lying on the bed, and beside it was a bowl of cereal, he said.
“He was lying face down in a pool of blood,” Butler said. “I didn’t go over to the body. I could tell by the discoloration of the blood it had been there for a while.”
Butler said the couple had never experienced any trouble at the resort.
“There had not been any lifestyle issues out here,” Butler said. “The majority of our customers were all people from Dallas who owned lake homes out here. They were all warm and accepting. It wasn’t even an issue.”
The restaurant was upscale so people from the local area who dined there tended to be professionals, he said.
Butler said the sheriff assured him that the murder was not related to a hate crime. The last homicide in the county occurred five years ago, and it involved family members.
“He’s 90 percent sure these people were out here to rob him,” Butler said. “And they probably weren’t even intending to kill him. They were probably thinking they were going to force him to go out and open up the safe, tie him up and knock him out. Something happened that it didn’t even get that far.
Things went wrong.”
Whiteside’s studio in a separate building outside of the house was undisturbed, Butler said.
Whiteside had continued his jewelry designing at the resort since his move to East Texas, but Butler said the artist’s collection has been moved to a secure location in Dallas for safety reasons. An auction may be held at some point in the future to sell the remainder of the collection, he said.
“The safety issue of being out here in the country like this is very disturbing to me,” Butler said. “This thing has affected the whole Mt. Vernon community.
Right now, nobody feels safe.”
Jones said he is not looking for any additional suspects, but the case is still under investigation.
“We’re still looking at and checking out leads,” Jones said.
Butler said he and Whiteside had enjoyed their life together in the country.
“We loved each other dearly,” said Butler, who began weeping several times during the interview.
Jon Alston, of Dallas, said he knew Whiteside for 11 years, and he considered him to be one off his best friends. The two met through their involvement in the Rainbow Pilots Flyers Association
“Robert was hugely influential in my life because he was such an artistic and creative person,” Alston said. “He was also very big into discovering himself. He kind of got me on that road as well. I owe a lot of my personal growth to Robert. I’m just in total shock over this.”
Alston said he remembers seeing Rains working in the kitchen of the restaurant several years ago.
“He was kind of quiet and stuff, but there was nothing to indicate that he would come back and kill him,” Alston said. “He only worked there for a few months. I don’t think they’d had any contact for three or four years.”
Fred Blue, another member of the gay pilots association, said the group’s members would fly their planes out to Mt. Vernon for the day, spending it at the resort.
“Robert was a super guy,” Blue said. “He was just so talented with everything he did.”
Martha Tiller, a public relations advisor who lives in Dallas, said she had known Whiteside since the 1980s. She arranged for his work to be viewed by Nancy Reagan,
“She loved his work,” Tiller said.
Tiller said Whiteside was also a painter, musician and decorator. He excelled in everything he tried, she said.
Butler said Whiteside designed a jacket for the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS fundraiser that sold for an impressive amount.
Tiller said Whiteside produced Faberge-style eggs that were better than the Russian originals.
“I’m totally devastated,” Tiller said. “I have been crying big crocodile tears everyday for a week. I’ve never known a more talented individual.”
Butler said he is unsure if he will continue to live at the resort and operate it now that he has lost Whiteside.
“It’s too early for me to make those kind of decisions,” Butler said. “There are so many things going through my mind right now.”
Celebration of life services for Whiteside will be held at the resort on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friends and family are invited. Call 903-588-2402 for information.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 10, 2006.