Clyde Wilson…the name has special meaning to the citizens of Houston, Texas. So many remember him with fondness…and to many, many others, the name strikes fear in their hearts. A very colorful and storied private investigator, Clyde Wilson spent more than 30 years making history and cracking some of Houston’s toughest cases.
Clyde Wilson started making a name for himself early in life. Born in Houston in 1923, he moved to Austin as a young child after his father passed away. Only making it to the 9th grade, he was drafted into the military in the early 1940’s and fought in World War II. Exhibiting his strength of character even then, Wilson was awarded two Purple Hearts for his heroic efforts. In 1942, he met his wife, Agnes, and they married in early 1943. Together, they had 7 children.
Wilson opened his first office as a private investigator in Houston in 1957. Working from a makeshift office in a funeral parlor and using an overturned coffin as his desk, he began his illustrious career exposing corruption within the Lufkin “cities finest” police and justice departments. Wilson investigated and uncovered evidence that payoffs were being accepted, resulting in the arrest of the chief, the assistant chief and a local judge. A year later he uncovered similar activities taking place in Polk County, resulting in a grand jury indictment against the county judge and all 4 county commissioners.
The persona that Wilson fashioned for himself, “a character shaped by westerns, TV detectives, and boys’ adventure stories” served him well. Favoring cowboy boots and jeans, Wilson never pretended to be anything he wasn’t. His world was based on friendships (with friends in high and low places) and helping out those friends when they needed help, as much as it was based on fear. Once upon a time, his business card supposedly read: “Dirt can’t hide from Electrified Clyde” and that much proved to be true. In the 60’s, the trustees of the University of Houston suspected their school was being corrupted by homosexuals and student radicals so they hired Wilson to find the dirt. He found it. In the 70’s, Wilson was hired by Tenneco’s chief of security to find and rescue 5 of the companies employees held hostage in Ethiopia. Check. Ash Robinson wanted to find the ‘dirt’ on his son-in-law, John Hill, and Wilson was his guy. (This was the case that ended in Houston society matron Joan Robinson Hill’s murder, and later was immortalized in Thompsons’ book Blood and Money.)
It wasn’t always roses for Clyde Wilson. It’s been said that sometimes he went too far, that sometimes, he played by his own rules, and sometimes he made up those rules as he went along. In 1973, Wilson had his own tte–tte with the other side of the law when he was charged in Federal Court with wiretapping six Hunt Oil Company employees while working undercover for Dallas oilmen Nelson and Herbert Hunt. He pleaded ‘No Contest’ and was given a two year suspended sentence. In 1977, President Ford granted Wilson a formal pardon on his last day in office. Talk about friends in high places…
Even though Wilson sometimes bent the rules, he did it with a pure and good heart, and he did it to get his bad guy. In the early 1980’s, after bragging that he could crack the Hermann Estate case in one day, he “ambushed theprime suspect in a lunch meeting at the Warwick Hotel and then extracted a confession by bluffing about the scope of his investigation.” When the board of directors of the Hermann Estates asked Wilson to find the ‘dirt’ on who was stealing money from them, he did just that. When he traced the corruption and fraud all the way up to the top, some members of the board told him to back off. Instead, he took the case to the DA, and had those members investigated and exposed. A few years later the mishandling of the Moody Foundation funds became newsworthy, and Wilson found that someone was stealing from within. Shern Moody Jr. was found to be the guilty party and was turned over by Wilson to be investigated by Galveston and Houston prosecutors as well as the state and US Attorney Generals. “One of Wilson’s true gifts was his ability to track down information and build a profile on the subject he was investigating,” said Houston attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.
A few years after a high-profile Houston murder case had gone cold, Wilson used a female PI to go undercover and lure the suspect into confession. One of Clyde Wilson’s most highly publicized cases ever was won by tracking down and befriending a maid in a Hotel – Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza. Wilson’s ferreting skills found Marla Maples’ love nest, proving that not even Donald Trump was immune to Wilson and his tracking capabilities.
These are but a few of Clyde Wilson’s moments as Houston’s finest and most public Private Eye, but with 7 children and 25 grandchildren, you can bet he was as much the family man as colorful investigator. More than one son has followed in his footsteps, and has walked the same path for their profession. We can all rest assured that Clyde passed along his PI gifts, his talents and I’m willing to bet some of Houston’s best kept secrets, to his successor — his youngest son, Tim Wilson who now runs the investigation agency and has even expanded with offices across the countries and concerns overseas.