THEY WERE NOT RUN-OF-THE-MILL WHORES. Anybody in Odessa would tell you that. Clients and investigators agree that you could have been in church and not have realized that you were sitting next to one of the Healing Touch massage parlor girls—they looked that wholesome.
And from the day the parlor’s doors opened in July 2003, it was a discreet operation. The madams, a lesbian couple named Kathy and Sharon Joyner, were experienced professionals. They chose a location between a revivalist ministry and a carpentry shop in a plain-as-toast strip mall, and they hired only three employees at a time, girls who worked steady hours and arrived on the job wearing conservative outfits. Among the first girls to work at the Healing Touch were “Melinda,” a subdued 37-year-old with long brown hair and a taste for wild men, and “Paige,” a sophisticated 33-year-old blonde who bore a striking resemblance to Samantha on Sex and the City . (All the prostitutes requested that I use their “working” names.) Nobody who saw these girls walk in and out of the parlor could have guessed what was really going on inside, which was attracting a steady flow of satisfied customers.
But the Healing Touch could never have set off the giant sex scandal that Odessans are still sorting out today without the arrival of “Lexus,” a petite former cheerleader and homecoming queen from Big Spring. The 22-year-old had walked in as a novice, like the other girls. But what she lacked in experience she made up for with a bubbly personality and the kind of girlish looks that made her irresistible to the grown men of Odessa. A consummate businesswoman, she treated clients with an unrestrained smile and animated charm, and unlike her colleagues, she could remember personal details that made each of them feel special. “She had brains, a body, a personality, and the ability to make men love her,” her former boss Sharon told me. And many did. After only a few weeks with Lexus in their ranks, Sharon and Kathy didn’t need any advertising beyond their one ad in the Thrifty Nickel. By the spring of 2004 Lexus had clients flying in from Europe just to see her for an hour and dozens of the most prominent men in town competing for her attention. Her personality may have been the polar opposite of the icy Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, but she attracted the same kinds of high-profile clients and kept the same kinds of secrets that could bring them all to their knees.
On May 27, 2004, as part of one of the biggest vice operations in recent West Texas history, more than a dozen Odessa officers raided the Healing Touch and accomplished just that. In the months following Sharon’s and Kathy’s arrests on drug charges, as rumors were leaked to the media about a prostitution investigation and the parlor’s voluminous client roster, Odessa’s 91,000 citizens were consumed by a controversy known simply as “the list.” Everybody wanted to know who was on it. Husbands tiptoed around their wives, who in turn eyed them with suspicion. And in July, with Lexus and her co-workers having named names in exchange for lighter sentences, 68 men were in handcuffs. The roundup of former Healing Touch clients included an assistant district attorney, a city planner, the owner of an insurance company, several teachers, and a well-known rancher. One could practically hear the champagne corks popping in the homes of local divorce lawyers. The hullabaloo made even the 1973 La Grange Chicken Ranch bust seem quaint.
As of December, Sharon and Kathy had already begun to serve prison time, and the remaining men and women were awaiting trials that should be wrapped up by the end of January. Odessa seems ready to put the whole affair behind it. But prostitution has long been a part of life in West Texas; it was only the number of otherwise upstanding citizens involved that made the Healing Touch any different. In fact, if one of the parlor’s prostitutes hadn’t recognized her church pastor one morning when he walked in and slapped down a wad of cash, the place might still be in business today.
SITTING IN HER ONE-BEDROOM apartment in September, surrounded by framed pictures of her two small children, Lexus wore a royal-blue Bazooka Bubble Gum T-shirt and her smooth, shiny brown hair in two ponytails at the nape of her neck. She was no longer working as a prostitute, but she was hardly ashamed of her past. She looked and acted like an excited kid, her ponytails bobbing as she nodded and laughed at almost everything we discussed.
She was never a likely candidate for a job at the Healing Touch. A young, cheery wife and mother, Lexus was a born nurturer who had taken college classes after high school graduation in hopes of working in some form of physical therapy or nursing. As recently as the fall of 2003, she was giving legitimate massages at an Odessa physical therapy center while her husband worked on an oil rig. But then her company downsized; she lost her job at the same time her husband, who became ill, was forced to quit his. They found themselves with $8,000 of debt and two car payments. For a while they relied on his parents for money, but Lexus wanted to prove her financial independence. She teased him to no end for being a mama’s boy. “You want your momma to pump some milk,” she’d ask him, “so I can make some Popsicles out of it?” One day when her husband’s friend mentioned that he knew a way she could make some fast cash, Lexus gladly accompanied him to the Healing Touch.
They parked right outside a strip mall bearing signs for the Higher Realm Ministries and the Trophy Den and stepped into the massage parlor, which had a small storefront and a shaded front window. Inside was a spare waiting room with a gray couch, a love seat,