From its early days, Texas Monthly has proved a pioneer in the true-crime genre, and former editor in chief Greg Curtis’s massive feature “The Girl, the Con Man, and the Massage Parlor King” remains both an icon and a staple of the Texan true-crime story—which is to say, the story is absurd, folksy, and horrifying.
For Texas Monthly, it’s also an origin story. When Greg Curtis first met Sam Corey, the massage parlor king, Curtis had not yet become editor in chief of the magazine—and Sam Corey had not yet become a murderer. This was the beginning of the seventies, and Curtis was brand spanking new to reporting. Before starting as a staff writer at Texas Monthly, Curtis had never held a journalism job. “I had never published a word in a real publication,” he told me recently (and he was hardly the only journalism newcomer among TM’s founders). It was in these early years of his career that Curtis went to San Antonio to interview Corey, a boisterous massage parlor owner running for mayor—that is, running a creative PR stunt. Curtis interviewed the candidate as a team of masseuses gave him a massage. What Curtis didn’t know, as he worked on his colorful human interest piece, was that Corey was about to meet his future coconspirator. In a room next door, Claudius James Giesick—the con man—waited to meet Corey, to try to sell him on a credit card scam.
When, years later, after Corey and Giesick were convicted for their roles in a heinous murder, Curtis had the haunting realization that he had been there the day the two men first met. When he traveled to Angola State Prison in Louisiana to interview Corey, Corey burst into a beaming good mood when he recognized Curtis from their interview back in San Antonio. Curtis—as he records in the feature, and as he told me—felt a sense of unease and even dirtiness as Corey spoke to him as if he were a friend, assuring him of his innocence. What Curtis knew to be true is what Corey had been convicted of months before. In a plot that captivated the national press, Corey and Giesick had plotted a heinous and bumbling murder. Giesick seduced a vulnerable and lonely young masseuse named Patricia Ann Albanowski, badgered her into marrying him, then took out a huge life insurance policy on her and drove to a “honeymoon” in a motel off a highway to New Orleans. There, he and Corey had coordinated a poorly disguised murder: Giesick pushed her onto the highway, under the wheels of a car driven by Corey.
The night Curtis finished the feature, in 1976, was also the last time he ever pulled an all-nighter. As his wife and daughters slept, Curtis, deep into what would become a 15,000-word feature, came to the realization that would let him finish the feature. As the sun rose over Texas, he discovered his conclusion at the same time he wrote it down: “The crime itself, of course, reveals certain dark streams of the mind that lead directly into a psychological thicket. . . . I can do nothing more with that thicket than to say it’s there.”
Today, Curtis chuckles at the fact that the article ballooned to 15,000 words. He says that in those early days, writing for a Texas flush with oil money, Texas Monthly needed to fill as many pages as possible to keep up with all the column inches advertisers were buying. By the time he became EIC after the oil crash, advertising—and the entire style of Texas letters—had changed. “We had to learn to write shorter,” he says.