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Saturday, January 16, 2021

InMarket: Mysterious happenings

When someone suggested I write about Leo Fikes, 85, who died on June 25, 2014, I thought I would probably get a nifty column out of it. I admit I traveled down a few more trails than I expected. Fikes founded Grapevine-based Fikes Services and became known as the “Potty Czar” for his company’s mastery of providing clean and fresh-smelling bathrooms. If that name rings a bell, look no further than the nearest toilet and, likely as not, you’ll find some device or a sign indicating Fikes’ company is involved in cleaning, deodorizing or maintaining that most essential of rooms. Fikes himself was an accomplished fellow. Known as “Dutch” and born in 1928 in Dallas, he graduated from Highland Park High School and played football at Southern Methodist University as part of Heisman Trophy winner’s Doak Walker’s undefeated team. Over here in Fort Worth, people may know him as a member of the National Cutting Horse Association.

By all accounts, Fikes was a thoroughly decent guy. Friends and family celebrated his life at Joe T. Garcia’s patio. Doesn’t that say plenty about the guy? But while doing some research on Fikes, the masters at Google kept pointing to the former Great Southwest Wax Museum in Grand Prairie. Since I had visited the place several times as a young reporter at the Grand Prairie Daily News, I couldn’t help but check out the connection. The Wax Museum was one of Grand Prairie’s pride and joys, along with a water park and the International Wildlife Park ($2 off with a free coupon from Pizza Hut!). Grand Prairie suffered from a serious case of red-headed stepchild syndrome with its next-door neighbor, Arlington, which won the suburban, small-town lottery by landing a General Motors plant and Six Flags Over Texas. After I left the never-a-dull-moment police beat at the Daily News for greener pastures, there was a murder at the Wax Museum that remains one of the more mysterious unsolved cases in North Texas. In 1987, Patsy Wright, co-owner of the Wax Museum that had been founded by her father, took her traditional sip of NyQuil to help her sleep. But that night, somebody slipped strychnine into the NyQuil. Wright, like Fikes also involved in the world of cutting horses, died quickly, but painfully. If her brother-in-law had not thought to check the NyQuil bottle, the crime probably would have been chalked up to natural causes.

It wasn’t. It was murder. But why? No one is sure. There were some issues with her former husband, but nothing has come of it. Because of the macabre nature of some of the exhibits at the Wax Museum (Jack the Ripper, etc.), the case held a special allure for people interested in ghost stories and the like. Adding to the mystery, in 1988 a fire that destroyed the museum was ruled an arson. It, too, remains, unsolved. Fikes’ connection? He had dated and been dumped by the vivacious Wright a few years earlier. Fikes was briefly considered a suspect since his business dealt with chemicals, and strychnine is not easy to obtain. Fikes was quickly ruled out and in fact, Fikes, ever a community player, participated in several programs seeking information on the crime, most notably Unsolved Mysteries. Texas private investigator William Dear raised awareness of the crime for a few years, but so far all that has produced is more mystery. I placed a call to Dear’s office seeking some information on the case, but haven’t heard back. Cases like this are frustrating. They are unsolved, but many of the pieces look to be in place to solve it. If anyone has information on the case, let the authorities know. I’m sure Leo Fikes would appreciate it.  

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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