Working Girls

In this month’s feature “‘She Had Brains, a Body, and the Ability to Make Men Love Her,’” associate editor Katy Vine delves into the events in Odessa that led to one of the most notorious prostitution-ring busts in Texas history. Here, she discusses getting prostitutes, madams, and police investigators to open up to her.

texasmonthly.com: When and how did you first learn of the events in Odessa?

Katy Vine: I read about the events in one of the bigger papers—the Dallas Morning News, I think—right after the madams were arrested.

texasmonthly.com: How long did you work on this assignment? Did you spend a lot of time in Odessa? How did the residents react to your presence?

KV: Beginning in August, I took a few short trips to Odessa to interview subjects and talk to local folks. Odessans were all very welcoming. I’d been to the city a few times before, and I always found the people to be frank, nonjudgmental, and incredibly friendly.

texasmonthly.com: The prostitution bust seems like it would be a very sore subject for the accused to talk about, as well as a sensitive one for the police. How did you get your sources to speak so candidly with you?

KV: The prostitutes and madams felt misunderstood, and they resented some of the hypocrisy of those who considered them scum. They wanted people to know that they were not bad people and that they didn’t mean to hurt anybody. We talked about that a lot. I think each woman from the Healing Touch parlor wanted to explain her role and the situation as she saw it. The police officers wanted to be sure their side was heard because they received some heat from the press. Some critics said the police department was too slow and overly selective with the list of johns.

texasmonthly.com: Were there any sources, such as clients or wives, you wanted to talk to who wouldn’t agree to go on the record? If so, where did you turn for the information you wanted?

KV: I called a few of the johns when I started working on the story, but the phone calls to their homes had too much potential to hurt people who were already having difficulties. What if a wife or a child picked up the phone? What would I say? I finally decided that I didn’t have to speak to the men. I had spoken to almost everyone who had ever worked at Healing Touch, and I had the information I needed.

texasmonthly.com: Prostitution-ring busts by the police are common occurrences. What sets this case apart from the rest? Is it because drugs were involved, or was there something else that made this case special?

KV: According to the police, Crime Stoppers was overwhelmed with calls about the suspicious activities taking place at the massage parlor.

texasmonthly.com: Executive editor Skip Hollandsworth received some angry feedback from readers after “Good Vibrations,” a story about a woman who sold sex toys in Burleson, was published in the October 2004 issue. Are you worried about readers’ reactions to your story? What are your thoughts on publishing stories in Texas Monthly that deal with sexual issues—are they just like covering other subjects, or do they require special care?

KV: Well, my story does involve sex, but I wouldn’t describe it as racy. I may be wrong, but I think people would be more upset to learn about a woman selling vibrators in a conservative community than they would be to learn about the Healing Touch’s prostitutes playing Yahtzee while they waited for johns. I tried to remain as sensitive to the issues in this story as I would any other.

texasmonthly.com: Have you been keeping up with the trial proceedings? What’s the latest update on the outcomes and the sentencing considerations?

KV: Kathy and Sharon Joyner received a year and a day for the federal drug offenses and two years for the state prostitution charges. Janet Elaine Lietz (the owner of Middessa Therapy) is set for trial December 14. The women and men facing the class B misdemeanor for prostitution ought to have wrapped up their cases by the end of January.

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