When Evan Smith, Texas Monthly‘s editor, first asked me this past May to write about the Sarofim family, all I knew was that Fayez Sarofim was a genius of an investor, described by Forbes magazine as Houston’s richest man, and that his ex-wife Linda had died recently on a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. I had no idea that those bare details would lead me into a story that was at once a soap opera, a comedy of manners, a mystery, and a Shakespearian tragedy. The saga of the Sarofim family was not just a rare glimpse into the life of the immensely wealthy. It was a story of love and heartbreak, filled with unforgettable characters, and so many narrative surprises, from sudden marriages to just as sudden divorces and then to a sudden death, that I sometimes thought the whole thing was invented by a Hollywood screenwriter.

The challenge, of course, was to find out what had really happened to Sarofim, his elegant first wife Louisa, and then his erratic and unpredictable mistress Linda Hicks, with whom he secretly started a second family. (He later married Hicks after his record-setting divorce settlement with Louisa was finalized.) When I came to Houston to work on the story, it seemed everybody had a piece of gossip about Sarofim, Louisa, Linda, and the young man Linda suddenly married after she obtained her own divorce from Fayez. His name was Mason Lowe, and he had been convicted of felony theft for stealing more than $300,000 worth of computer parts from a Compaq computer plant. The two of them first met at a psychiatric treatment center—she was there for her alcoholism, he was there for undisclosed reasons—and two months later, they were married. Lowe, who was almost half Linda’s age, was with her on the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro when she died.

The reporting was difficult. Sarofim would not be interviewed. His lawyer even refused to speak on the record. Members of Sarofim’s family would not talk. Lowe did not talk. There were many who were willing to talk who were close to the family, but they didn’t want their names used. What got me started was a large number of court records, volumes and volumes of legal filings and trial transcripts about Sarofim and Linda, along with criminal records that detailed Mason’s life prior to meeting Linda. It was after perusing that information that I was able to go back to sources familiar with the story and begin filling in details. I spent hours at the courthouse, sitting at a table, leafing through old records that were pulled for me out of storage.

I always tend to do far more interviews than I need. In fact, when I finished the reporting of this story, which went off and on from May until early September (during that time, I also worked on other stories), I cherry-picked the most interesting quotes and details from all the research and court records that I thought could go in the story—and put all that into one computer file. The printout of that file came to about 100 single-spaced pages, and the story I wrote was only about 18 single-spaced pages.

I actually began writing in late July while still reporting—trying out various introductions, theme sentences, and so on—and then intensely put the story together in the first half of August. But as usual I continued to tinker with it—changing phrases, updating information, double-checking facts—up until the day the story went to the printer in the second week of September.