The murder of Anita Fox
Since early on, Al Fox III believed that his older sister and brother-in-law were behind the 2014 murder of his mother, Anita Fox.
And though Mark and Virginia Buckland were not charged criminally in the high-profile case involving the Irish Travellers, Al Fox waged war against them in the civil courts.
The Bucklands had taken out multiple life insurance polices worth more than $4 million on Anita Fox and had filed lawsuits to try to force insurance companies to pay up.
But Al Fox filed motions to intervene, alleging that the Bucklands were “negligently responsible” for Anita Fox’s death and thus prohibited by law from receiving the benefits.
On Thursday, a civil jury unanimously agreed that the Bucklands willfully — and with malice — were part of a conspiracy that led to the murder of Anita Fox.
"How I feel overall is hard to put into words," Al Fox said in a phone interview Friday morning. "It's almost like an incredible triumph with sorrow."
The decision essentially blocks the Bucklands from collecting on Anita Fox's insurance policies.
"That was our main objective," said Matthew McCarley, one of Al Fox's attorneys. "That they didn't ever see one dime of this money."
The jury also awarded Anita Fox’s estate — of which Al Fox is the executor — more than $166 million in exemplary damages and for the pain and mental anguish caused to Anita Fox in the last few minutes of her life.
"If you have questions of what she went through, go look at the pictures in Exhibit 11," said Dan Packard, lead counsel for Al Fox during the four-day trial. "I've seen a lot, and I've never seen worse."
Mark Humphreys, the Bucklands' attorney, said he will appeal but declined further comment.
"We'll fight it in the courts, not in the press," he said.
A 'trick or treat' visit
Anita Fox, 69, who lived in Alvarado, was found fatally stabbed Sept. 23, 2014, inside a Colleyville house where she worked as a housekeeper.
Police later accused Bernard “Little Joe” Gorman and his father, Bernard "Big Joe" Gorman (who also went by Gerard), of stalking and killing Fox in hopes of collecting on a $1 million insurance policy.
Both men are members of a nomadic ethnic group known as Irish Travellers.
Court documents have identified Anita Fox as being part of the English Travellers.
An insurance fraud investigation had been ongoing since July 2014 — two months before Fox’s slaying — into an Irish Travellers community in North Augusta, S.C.
The investigation involved alleged scams regarding lying on policy applications about income, net worth, health, identifying information and whether other policies had been issued.
Among the findings was that Charles Mercier, an insurance agent whose family writes life insurance policies almost exclusively for Travellers, had written five policies on Anita Fox in 2007 and 2008 — including the policy that was later a catalyst for her death.
Humphreys had previously told the Star-Telegram it was Mercier who had recommended to Mark Buckland that he allow a third party to invest in that policy, after Buckland complained about the cost of converting it from term to whole-life.
Humphreys said the Bucklands never knew who that third-party investor was and had never met or had contact with the Gormans.
The attorney also claimed that Anita Fox knew about the multiple policies and had even suggested their purchase.
“Her attitude was, ‘I’m getting older. You guys need to get some money and benefit from my death,’” Humphreys previously told the Star-Telegram.
McCarley said evidence presented during the trial indicated that Anita Fox didn't know about the multiple policies on her life and that her signature had been forged on documents, including those pertaining to changes in ownership and beneficiaries.
The one insurance policy Anita Fox knew about — the one that would ultimately lead to her murder— she had called to cancel, McCarley said.
"The Bucklands kept that alive and then transferred it, without her knowledge, to the murderer," McCarley said.
Officials alleged the investor was Pat Gorman, the brother of Big Joe Gorman. The change of beneficiary form falsely indicated that Pat Gorman was a partner with Anita Fox in a mobile home park.
They say Patrick Gorman, Big Joe Gorman and two other relatives were paying $700 each to maintain the policy with plans to split the payout once Anita Fox died.
Unhappy about the wait, officials say Big Joe Gorman and his son then plotted to hasten her demise.
Mercier served as the go-between for the Bucklands and the Gormans, Al Fox's civil attorneys say.
The attorneys say Mercier admitted in an interview that he had a 31-minute phone conversation with Big Joe Gorman the day before the elder Gorman came to North Texas from Houston to start stalking Anita Fox.
During that interview, which was played for jurors, Big Joe Gorman inquired about Fox's health and said he wanted to pay a "trick or treat" visit to the woman and needed her address.
"He said, 'I didn't have her address so I got it from the Bucklands and gave it to him,'" Packard said.
Insurance fraud Investigation
McCarley credited an investigation by the Texas Department of Insurance and one of the investigators, Sgt. Randy Waters, as key in the civil case. He said a 112-page report summarizing that investigation has been presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Carolina for possible federal charges in the case.
A grand jury is expected to convene this summer to determine what charges, if any, are sought in the case, including against the Bucklands.
Packard said in addition to insurance fraud, federal charges could also include criminal responsibility for the conduct of Big Joe Gorman under the conspiracy theory.
"Nobody should buy a life insurance policy on their aging mother and then sell it to a stranger," Packard said.
Big Joe Gorman, believed to have been the one who actually stabbed Anita Fox, died of apparent natural causes before he could be arrested in the case.
Little Joe Gorman, initially charged with murder, pleaded guilty in January 2017 to a lesser included count of conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for a 14-year prison sentence.
Little Joe Gorman turned 30 on Thursday. He is serving his sentence at the Fort Stockton prison unit and will become eligible for parole in July.
'I still miss her'
McCarley said he believes the civil jury's verdict sends a powerful message to the Traveller community.
“We told them if they get away with this, the Traveller community is really tight and word is going to get out that this worked and other people are going to try this,” McCarley said. ”I think that was part of their motivation in doing what they did. They want to send a message to the community that this type of scheme will not be tolerated.”
The roughly $4.5 million from Anita Fox's life insurance policies currently sits in a trust account, accruing interest. On Friday, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina filed their intention to seize the assets.
Al Fox said through the civil trial he was amazed to learn the staggering amount of manpower that has gone into the insurance fraud and murder investigations.
"These people should never be allowed to write another insurance policy on another human being again," he said.
He said that while he's happy about the jury's verdict, it doesn't take away the fact that his mom is no longer here.
"Those are big numbers. I think they could fill the pickup bed full of money; nothing will bring her back," Al Fox said. "She's still gone. I almost feel more sorrow. ... I just miss her. I still miss her."