The Ultimate Real Housewife of Houston
Socialite Theresa Roemer’s 3,000-square-foot, three-story closet made her the talk of the town. But that was only the beginning of the absurdity.
Are you ready?” asks Theresa Roemer, pointing toward the master bedroom. “I think the moment has come.”
It’s a sunny afternoon in January, and we’re standing in the gymnasium-size great room of the three-story, 17,315-square-foot mansion that the 53-year-old owns with her multi-millionaire oilman husband, Lamar, who’s 68. The mansion adjoins the eighth fairway of a golf course in the exclusive Carlton Woods neighborhood in the heart of The Woodlands, the master-planned community thirty miles north of Houston. For the past half hour, she’s been giving me a tour. We’ve walked through the dining room, the wine-tasting room, a couple of kitchens, a theater, a gym, and nine guest bedrooms. I’ve stared at a Chagall painting, a dozen or so giant amethyst geodes (each worth a quarter of a million dollars), a statue of a Chinese foo dog, a chandelier so massive I had to crane my head back to take in the whole thing, and a swimming pool big enough to float a yacht.
And now Theresa leads me into the master bedroom. She is, as one of her friends calls her, “the most statuesque of blondes,” five feet nine inches tall, dressed in a tight black turtleneck, a tight black leather Donna Karan vest, tight black leather-and-knit Chanel riding pants, and black Chanel boots.
“This way,” she says, taking a right turn into the master bathroom, and then another right turn toward a glass wall with two crystal-clear glass doors. She pulls them open. “Here we are,” she says. “Step inside my closet.”
I cannot believe what I’m seeing. The closet is three thousand square feet and three stories high, with the floors connected by a white spiral staircase. On the first floor, the walls are lined with bright white shelves to hold Theresa’s finest Chanel sunglasses, her 150 handbags (including 60 Hermès Birkins), and her collection of jewelry (at least 100 pieces). On the second floor are more white shelves to hold her 300 pairs of shoes (including 75 pairs of Louboutins, the famously expensive high heels with red-lacquered soles); other shelves to hold her belts, made by Hermès, Chanel, and Gucci; and a rack draped with Louis Vuitton and Chanel scarves. Hanging from one wall are dozens upon dozens of dresses and gowns, including a $6,000 Pucci and a $6,000 Badgley Mischka. On the third floor is her collection of furs: lynx, mink, chinchilla, beaver, white fox, raccoon, and rabbit.
The closet is adorned with a champagne bar, a salon area for hair and makeup, a sitting area with a banquette sofa, and a mannequin wearing a $10,000 Oscar de la Renta gown. On one wall is a photo of Theresa dressed in silk lingerie, staring steamily into the camera—a photo she presented to her husband on her fiftieth birthday. On another wall is a photo of Theresa wrapped in a terry-cloth robe.
“You realize, I assume, that this closet is bigger than most people’s homes,” I finally say to Theresa.
“Can I be honest with you?” she says. “I wish it was bigger.”
Just six months earlier, I had never heard of Theresa Roemer. Only a few people in Houston’s social circles knew anything about her. Dressed in one of her designer outfits and gargantuan high heels, she periodically drove herself to Houston charity events in either her white Rolls-Royce or her black Bentley. She sipped champagne and posed for photos taken by the society photographers. Stories circulated that she was an entrepreneur of sorts who had created her own line of scented candles, chocolate truffles, and women’s apparel. Rumor had it that she had once won a Mrs. Texas contest and had co-authored a self-help book for women.
As far as Houston society observers were concerned, she seemed to be one of those nouveaux riches from The Woodlands who were trying a little too hard to be noticed by the socialites of the 019 (the “oh-one-nine” is shorthand for 77019, the main zip code for River Oaks, where many older-money Houstonians reside). One high-profile partygoer told me that she viewed Theresa as the classic wannabe, destined to remain shunted to the back tables at Houston galas that raise money for debilitating diseases.
Then, this past June, Laura Acosta, a writer for Neiman Marcus’s the blog, ran a piece on Theresa and her closet, which had just been completed at a cost of $500,000. The story, which was accompanied by eleven photographs, quoted Theresa as saying, “My closet is my dressing room, but more importantly, it’s my retreat. I like to call it my ‘female man cave.’ ” Theresa also said that she planned to host champagne parties in the closet for charitable causes. “There’s no reason for me to have this amazing, gorgeous closet if I can’t do fundraisers in it too, right?” Theresa had told Acosta.
The Houston news media pounced. “Woodlands woman’s three-story closet is her half million dollar ‘she cave,’ ” announced the Houston Chronicle’s Heather Alexander. “Glam socialite shows off her three-story closet that’s bigger than a townhouse,” trumpeted Houston CultureMap’s Shelby Hodge, a veteran society columnist. Good Morning America arrived to interview Theresa, calling her a “Texas fashionista.” On its website, an impressed Harper’s Bazaar pronounced Theresa’s closet “the biggest” in all of America, and the Huffington Post described it as a “wonderland of shoes, clothes, and accessories.” Fashion and celebrity bloggers devoted seemingly endless Internet copy to Theresa’s creation. “Everything really is bigger in Texas!” gushed Hollywood’s Perez Hilton on his gossip site.
Suddenly Theresa had become the most-talked-about social climber in Texas—maybe the entire country. The chatter intensified in early August—just one month after Theresa and her closet had gone viral—when a burglar broke into the Roemers’ home while they were at the Carlton Woods country club, less than a mile away, having dinner. It just so happened that the Roemers had neglected to turn on their alarm system or lock the doors to Theresa’s closet that night. Grainy home surveillance video shows the burglar in a light-colored hooded jumpsuit and baseball cap casually picking through the jewelry and stuffing various pieces into one of Theresa’s most expensive Birkins, which had cost $60,000. It looked as if the burglar—there was no way of telling if the intruder was a man or a woman—was on a Saturday afternoon shopping trip to, well, Neiman Marcus.
Theresa claimed that close to $1 million worth of jewelry, watches, and handbags was stolen. But two weeks later, the burglar, using a burner phone and a voice modulator, called a reporter for the Houston Press, an alternative weekly newspaper, and declared that some of the stolen jewelry was fake. To prove his or her assertion, the burglar mailed the Press a few pieces of costume jewelry, which did indeed belong to Theresa. “I contacted Theresa Roemer and explained to her that her items were fake,” the burglar told the Press. “I requested over half a million dollars to return her items and not expose her to the news. . . . The deal never went through. I’m following through with my threat.”
The burglary was one of the strangest capers that the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, which oversees The Woodlands, had ever been called to investigate. Rumors were soon flying. Some Houston wags and bloggers speculated that Theresa had hired someone to “steal” her jewelry so she could file a large insurance claim to help finance her lifestyle. After the theft, the rumors posited, the burglar had decided that he or she deserved a bigger payday and tried to blackmail Theresa, who refused to give in to the demands, which spurred the burglar to go to the Houston Press.
There was also a rumor that sounded so preposterous that it made people laugh out loud: Theresa had been burgled by someone she knew, someone determined to humiliate her and expose her extravagant lifestyle. But in fact, the police didn’t find the rumor preposterous at all. One man whom detectives labeled a person of interest in the case was 32-year-old Maximillian Roemer, one of Lamar’s children from his previous marriage. Maximillian had made no secret of his dislike of Theresa and the money she spent. A few days before the burglary, with Lamar’s blessing, Theresa had sued Maximillian for defamation of character, alleging that he had been posting nasty comments about her on Neiman Marcus’s blog and on at least one other website, using different aliases. According to the lawsuit, he had called her “Satan’s hardest worker” and “nothing but an escort,” and he’d also written that Lamar wasn’t happy with her “crazy money spending and bragging.”
In interviews after the theft, Theresa didn’t directly mention her stepson—her lawsuit resulted in a hasty settlement, with both parties pledging not to speak publicly about each other—but she insisted that the break-in wasn’t staged. “I don’t need the insurance money,” she told People magazine. “I don’t care if you’re rich or poor. You deserve to be safe in your house, and you don’t deserve to have your things stolen. It’s not a joke.”
Unfortunately for Theresa, many people found the whole spectacle to be delicious summer entertainment. On his blog, the popular Los Angeles fashion historian and consultant Cameron Silver called Theresa “the ultimate Real Housewife of Houston without a Bravo hit show.” Silver even thought Theresa’s story could be a Lifetime movie starring Theresa Russell, best-known for her role in Black Widow, about a dazzling woman who marries rich men and then murders them for their money.
Although Maximillian, as part of the settlement, agreed to stop attacking Theresa online, dozens of other critics had no such constraints and posted their own comments lampooning Theresa and her closet on the Houston Chronicle, CultureMap, and Houston Press sites. One amateur pundit described her as “gluttony embodied,” and another called her “narcissism on crack.” A woman named Susan wrote, “Pride goeth before the fall. She brought this on herself by bragging to the world. I do not feel sorry for her one bit.” A commenter named E. Cortes described her as “the sign of a sick society. Greed & avarice at its worst. This is why they hate us.”
Many of the comments were so vicious—someone posted on the Chronicle’s website that Theresa could recoup the losses she suffered from the burglary “by suing the plastic surgeon that worked on her face”—that I could not help but wonder if she regretted ever building that closet. When I called her in December to request an interview, I assumed she would turn me down, tired of all the negative publicity. But without a second’s hesitation, she said she would be happy to see me.
And on the day I visited, she insisted more than once that she wasn’t remotely bothered by the criticism that had been leveled at her. “I’m not going to let the Theresa-haters win,” she said. “I’m always going to walk to the beat of my own drum and live my life my way and do things I want to do. And there are a lot of things that I want to do, by the way—a lot of things. When I’m done, I don’t think people will ever forget the name Theresa Roemer.”
After we finish the tour of the closet, she leads me back down to the wine-tasting room, where dozens of expensive reds and whites hang on a rack that covers an entire wall. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about wine,” she says. “And I don’t keep a particular bottle around for a special occasion. My philosophy is, we could all die tomorrow, so why not drink that bottle of wine right now? It’s like when people ask me about why I drive my Rolls-Royce everywhere, even to the grocery store. I say, ‘Hey, that’s why I have it!’ ”
Theresa isn’t exactly to the manner born. She was raised on a hardscrabble farm in Nebraska. For much of her childhood, she suffered from rheumatic fever. At school, kids laughed at her because she was so thin and lanky. They laughed even harder when she reached puberty and only her right breast managed to grow while her left breast remained flat. “They called me Big Boob, Little Boob,” she tells me. One summer, on a family vacation to California, Theresa looked out the window of her father’s 1972 Chevy Blazer and saw the mansions of Beverly Hills. She told her parents that she wanted to live in a mansion herself someday. “Well, honey, all things are possible,” her parents replied, doing their best to smile encouragingly at their one-breasted daughter. “No,” she said. “It’s going to happen.”
Her father later moved the family to Wyoming. After graduating from high school, she married a couple of times (the first husband drilled water wells; the second was a coal miner), gave birth to two children, went to a plastic surgeon to have her breasts fixed, and became a fitness instructor and bodybuilder, winning several contests. She bought a health club and grew it into a chain with five locations around the state; she sold them in 2000 for what she says was a large profit. In 2002 Bally Total Fitness hired her to be a regional manager in Dallas, and in 2004 it transferred her to Houston.
Theresa, who was then 42, rented a condo near the Galleria and bought a Mercedes. When she showed up at hot spots like Smith and Wollensky, the steak restaurant on West-heimer that’s filled with wealthy men on the prowl, she and her pneumatically curved body received lots of double takes. One man she met was Lamar Roemer, an easygoing, six-foot-seven former tennis pro (he had played in the U.S. Open and at Wimbledon) who, after working for Exxon and other big companies, had struck out on his own and found a lot of oil. Though he liked entertaining much younger women—his buddies called the women “beneficiaries of the Roemer Scholarship Fund”—he was utterly taken with Theresa. Eight months after their first date, Lamar asked her to move into his home in Houston’s Memorial neighborhood.
“She was a little over the top, but I liked that,” says Lamar, walking into the wine-tasting room, having just finished a round of golf. He’s a good-looking man, dressed in colorful golf attire. He gives Theresa a look and smiles happily. “She had all this energy, all this desire to do things. I guess you could say she was the yin to my yang.”
By 2008 Theresa and Lamar were married and living in a mansion in The Woodlands. (Lamar had wanted to move there, ironically enough, because his Memorial home had been burglarized.) Theresa simply loved the high life: she says she was spending between $200,000 and $300,000 a year on clothes and shoes at Neiman Marcus and between $50,000 to $100,000 a year at Saks. But Theresa adds that she wanted to be more than just another well-dressed, stay-at-home trophy wife. “I just think it’s bull crap when women don’t do anything with themselves. They are completely boring.” She entered and won a Mrs. Houston pageant and later a Mrs. Texas pageant put on by a small organization called United America. She began marketing her own lines of scented candles, chocolate truffles, and chic but casual women’s clothes. She also co-authored and self-published Nude: Unveiling Your Inner Beauty and Sensuality, which she says she wrote to “help women regain their confidence and get back in touch with the beautiful, sexy women they used to be.” At one point in the book, she wrote that she and Lamar make sure to have sex in every room of their house.
“That’s quite an effort,” I tell Lamar. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” he says cheerfully. “And at my age, I thank my medications.”
Theresa also supported numerous charitable causes. To raise money for Child Legacy International, she hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. She chaired the Montgomery County Heart Ball at a local hotel, she hosted other charity parties at her home, and she drove into Houston to mingle with the well-heeled socialites at their parties. “She’d show up dressed in something very skintight that showed off this cleavage that was like the Grand Canyon, and she’d be wearing a pair of very high heels that literally made her the tallest woman in the room,” says Lori Freese, a great-granddaughter of a former Houston mayor who runs a public relations business and who sometimes hits four or more social events a night. “Everyone would just look at her and say, ‘Oh, shit, who’s that?’ ”
In October 2012 Theresa attended a dinner at Saks for Christian Louboutin, who had flown in from France. A Saks executive mentioned to Louboutin that one of the women in the room owned 75 pairs of his shoes. Louboutin demanded that she be seated next to him. As the women of the 019 watched—“silent and seething,” recalled one person who was there—Theresa, wearing a formfitting Dolce and Gabbana black dress and six-inch Louboutins decorated with crystals, was escorted from the back of the room up to the head table. “It was like a Cinderella moment for me,” she says. “I think that crowd finally knew my name.”
Still, she felt she hadn’t yet made her mark. Then, in the spring of 2013, she and Lamar decided to move. They purchased the 17,315-square-foot Carlton Woods mansion for $3.64 million from famed Houston pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell. (It was just four doors down from the home where the Roemers had been living, which was a mere 12,000 square feet.) As part of a multimillion-dollar renovation project, she hired Houston designer Thom Anderson, telling him she wanted the closet to look like a miniature Neiman Marcus and she wanted it roomy enough to host parties. “Whenever we threw parties in our other homes, women would always end up squeezed into my closet because they wanted to see all my clothes and shoes,” Theresa says. “So I thought, why not go all the way with it? To me, the closet made perfect sense.”
Theresa’s closet did get plenty of good press. The Chronicle’s Alexander described it as “Aladdin’s Cave of Wonder” and a “mammoth homage to all things girlie.” Tiffany Ish and Jen Worman, trendy sisters who run a fashion blog from Chicago and Seattle, told readers they not only were impressed by “the obvious glamour . . . [of] this fabulous closet” but were “inspired by Theresa’s message and efforts to extend her sacred space for charity events.”
But most of the comments were simply merciless. Theresa was either a “selfish gold digger” or a “very insecure woman” who felt a need to show off her possessions to cover for her personal sense of inadequacy. She probably had some sort of “compulsive disorder” because she owned so many pairs of shoes. “And that ridiculous orange tan!” someone posted about Theresa. “Ughhh!”
Almost all the comments, says Anderson, the closet’s designer, were blatantly sexist. “You don’t hear anyone going after very wealthy men who collect Ferraris or who buy thoroughbred horses and yachts. Yes, Theresa has spent a very large amount of money on her clothes and her closet. But people from that world spend a lot of money on a lot of things. Her closet is her toy, a place to get away, just like a second home in Monte Carlo is another woman’s toy.”
As for Lamar, he tells me he has no complaints. “Okay, she slightly went over my AFE,” he says with a chuckle, referring to the oil industry’s abbreviation for “authorization for expenditure.” “I thought it would cost five-hundred-thousand dollars to renovate the whole house, not just the closet.” In the end, the cost of the renovations on the mansion added up to more than $2 million. “But we could afford it.”
Theresa says that of all the comments that were fired her way, the only ones that really hurt were those that allegedly came from Maximillian. “Theresa is a FRAUD,” he allegedly wrote. “Fake from head to toe. BEWARE.”
According to Theresa’s lawsuit, the real reason she was attacked by Maximillian was because she and Lamar had decided to evict him earlier in 2014 from another home in The Woodlands that they owned and had planned to sell. “[Maximillian] has never been gainfully employed other than for very short periods of time and has generally lived off of gifts of money and housing from his father and stepmother,” the lawsuit stated.
Obviously Maximillian’s eviction, along with the lawsuit itself, is a major reason police consider him a person of interest in the burglary. Detectives aren’t commenting on their investigation. Maximillian has also refrained from commenting about the matter except for a cryptic email he sent to the Houston Press that stated, “For the sake of my failing father, I pray this all ends well.” Nevertheless, Lamar and Theresa both tell me that they don’t think Maximillian was involved in the break-in and that it was pure coincidence that Theresa’s closet was ransacked just after she filed the lawsuit. They also roll their eyes over the rumor that Theresa staged the burglary to get insurance money. “It makes no sense,” Lamar says. “Insurance never pays the full value of the jewelry that’s been stolen.”
They say a professional thief must have read stories about the closet, staked out the house, and either by design or by luck decided to strike on a night when the alarm wasn’t armed and the closet was unlocked. Theresa says the thief took some costume jewelry and other pieces that were of sentimental value, including a silver necklace with a locket of hair that belonged to Theresa’s son, who died in a 2006 car accident in Wyoming. Some of the stolen jewelry was fake, but the thief also grabbed some very valuable items, including a ring set in diamonds that was worth $80,000 and a pair of 26-carat diamond earrings worth $50,000.
Theresa also says that the thief called her on a burner, using an altered voice, and demanded a $500,000 ransom, which she refused to pay. She says she is convinced that the thief went to the Houston Press to humiliate her. “I assume he was hoping to see a headline that read ‘Socialite’s Jewelry Is Fake!’ Please, give me a break.” But would a professional thief want to take the fake jewelry in the first place? And why take Theresa’s monetarily worthless necklace with the locket of her son’s hair? Didn’t the theft of that locket seem like an act of spite by someone who detested Theresa?
“All I can say is that the thief sent that locket back to the newspaper, which relieved me to no end,” Theresa says. “Anyway, the robbery is over. I’m ready to move on.”
Indeed, Theresa is moving on. She’s arranged for the Neiman’s at the Galleria to sell her candles and for Saks to sell her truffles. Her line of women’s apparel, which she is calling Theresa Roemer True and Real, is now for sale online, at a boutique in Houston, and at a showroom in The Woodlands. Theresa is also creating an iPhone app to help people donate to charitable organizations, and she is talking with investors about building a boutique hotel in The Woodlands. She tweets incessantly (after Christmas, she sent out a photo of an Hermès blanket and wrote, “So happy Santa remembered my love of Hermès”) and posts lots of photographs of herself on Instagram (one photo showed her in her Bentley, driving to a charity meeting). The New York public relations company she hired is taking her international: she has taped an interview with a German television crew and will soon be doing a segment for the British television travel series The Moaning of Life, which is produced by comedian Ricky Gervais. And she is talking to a Hollywood production company that wants to feature her on a reality-television series. Who knows? Maybe she someday will become the Real Housewife of Houston. Even if she doesn’t, she’s right about one thing: no one in Houston is going to forget her name.
“I have to say, I’m glad she’s around,” says Clifford Pugh, the editor in chief of CultureMap and a longtime Houston society watcher. “Houston has always been interesting because of its flashy women, and we just haven’t had that many in the last few years. They’ve become more subdued. Well, Theresa brings back all the old flash and pizzazz, and what really makes her fun is that she doesn’t care what people think. She’s going to do things her way, and you really do want to see what she’s going to do next.”
Before I leave, Theresa drops one more bombshell on me. She says that she and Lamar have decided to sell their mansion, at an asking price of $12.9 million.
“You really would walk away from this house?” I ask. “And walk away from the closet that has made you so famous?”
“Didn’t I tell you earlier that I wish the closet was bigger?”
“Well, I plan for the closet in our next house to be twice the size of the closet I’ve got now.”
“That would be six thousand square feet!” I say. “What are you going to do with that kind of closet?”
Theresa shrugs. “I’m going to throw parties in it, of course.”