Part 46: The Curated Letters of Riley Shepard, With Redactions.
Today is Sunday, October 4, 2020. It's strange to witness how people will stick with a person no matter what, blaming the people who bring information and cursing the light that's been shed on twisted situations. On September 27, The New York Times published a story about Donald Trump's taxes. The newspaper obtained more than two decades of Trump's taxes from an unknown source. During President Trump's first year in office, he paid only $750.00 in taxes, and eleven of the eighteen years he paid no taxes here in the United States. The president seems to be in deep-- more than 300 million in debt.
Mean while, wildfires continue in California, and more than 200,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, and cases are rising in 21 states. So much has happened in such a short span of time.
Tuesday night was the first Presidential debate. I watched the whole thing. It wasn't really a debate, it was a debacle. Many of my friends turned it off, they couldn't continue watching it, but I have a high tolerance for dysfunction. As I watched Trump shouting, I had a flash back to this time when I lost my financial aid and had to drop out of college for a semester. I found work at a Weiner Schnitzel, this hot dog fast food joint. The flash back involved me in the wiener joint, looking down at the hot dogs as they glistened in oil on the grill. That popped into my head because Donald Trump's complexion had a remarkable resemblance to those hot dogs; he was sweaty, almost greasy. I knew it was odd to think about something that seemed somewhat superficial at the time. After all, I was probably witnessing a national humiliation. During the spectacle, the moderator, Chris Wallace (he had no control over anything) called on the president to denounce white supremacists. Trump would not do that.
On October 1st, Trump tweeted that he and the first lady had tested positive for the virus.
"AHA!" I thought. That's why I had the Weiner Schnitzel flashback. I didn't remember ever seeing him sweat like that, his orange skin glistened under the lights.
POTUS and FLOTUS had mixed and mingled a lot (without masks) before and after the debates, and many of those people are also now infected with the virus. President Trump is hospitalized and receiving top notch medical care at Walter Reed Medical Center, but the state of his health is unknown. Conspiracy theories abound.
In this blog, I'm posting some of the letters and agreements that my dad had written back in the 1980s in Porterville, California. A few of the letters are from 1983, which was my senior year in high school. I knew things were going haywire for my dad back then, but I didn't know some of the details until now. My mother said that the encyclopedia would never be published, that there were simply too many investors to pay anyone back.
She said she told people, "you can learn a lot from Riley about show business, but never give him money. You'll never get it back."
The letters posted here were buried deep inside one of the boxes that the Ensslin family had stored for all those years, then stored again when the family gave the boxes to Larry Bastian. I doubt anyone dug that deep into these piles, maybe Riley even forgot he'd kept them.
I knew about my father... but I also didn't know, especially back then. My mother tried to tell me, but she was also a difficult person, a self-described recluse, someone who often thought the worst about other people. I didn't exactly know what he was up to. I would compare my "knowing" to how a smoker "knows" that smoking causes lung damage and even cancer, and yet if they really knew, they would quit smoking. As time went on, I knew more and on a deeper level. Back when Dad was writing these letters, my mother tried to tell me that he was selling investments for various songs, selling shares in the song's potential (that isn't how it works) and the encyclopedia, and that the whole thing was a scam, but I didn't want to believe it.
In1992 before my wedding, I went to New York to shop and see friends. I also sought out my father's older brother, Floyd, who lived in New York State. We'd never met. When I saw him, it was amazing how much he looked like Riley. "The last time your father stayed at my house, he left behind a shoe box," Floyd said. "I opened the box, and it had a pile of uncashed checks inside. He never came back to get it." Floyd said he could never figure out what that was about.
My mother also said when he left Porterville, he left behind a drawer full of uncashed checks.
"Can you cash them?" My nineteen year-old self asked.
"No. They're made out to him. These checks are from people Riley ripped off. They're lucky he never cashed them."
I guess Riley just wanted to see if he could get people to write out the checks? Why he cashed some and not others, who knows.
I've curated these selected letters, below. The letters tell a story, and they are in chronological order. There's an art form in the way my father handled people. Redactions were made to protect the identities of those involved. Thank you to Thomas Schworer for making the digital redactions.
Below: This page was loose (and in a pile of other unrelated papers) in one of the boxes that my sister and I were recently reunited with. I included it because my father had so many stories like this. This journal entry is Riley's memories about his New York songwriting days. His accomplishments in life gave him an allure that helped him to sell himself to people, gave people confidence in him.
The contract, below, was written up by Riley. He was doing some kind of "talent agent" angle. Please note that most agents and managers only take 10 percent or so. When my husband was an actor, his agent took ten percent.
Here, someone has purchased a "percent" of a song. Again, this kind of transactions isn't legal. You can't sell a percent of a copyright. Something made him offer to buy back the songs. He is giving this woman her money back, or offering to. Notice his language at the end of the letter which might make the woman feel like she's going to "miss out."
Here is another letter to a disgruntled "investor." May 25th 1983 was a busy day. There was never money to be made on "God's World" so he was selling something that was never going to do anything for this "Mike" person. Reading this letter makes me wonder if my father understood that in small towns word travels faster. People were talking. Riley's language in this letter is highly manipulative.
Something Riley had written up for some kind of reimbursement for an "investment" in songs.
Below, a spat with a partner the next day. Things are not going well, people are getting suspicious. This is a two page letter, the second photograph is part two.
Page two of the spat. "This is a business of hopes and dreams" Riley writes.
Five months later, someone in Porterville actually called the police on Riley. He accuses his main business partner in town (same person in two page letter) of being the one who called the cops, and "throwing a cloud over the product." I never knew anything about this at the time. After my father ran off without telling anyone, my mother told me that someone had called the police, and that he'd ripped off people in the area. Notice how he tries to explain publishing deals.
Somehow it wasn't his business partner, who he accused, so three days latter this apology. In this letter, he talks about "deals" he has going in Nashville and New York.
Years later, a former partner contacts an attorney nearby. My father was living in Ventura by that time. He had a rental house on the beach and was the talent manager for a singer. My then boyfriend and I stayed in the garage of the house for short time, and I worked at the Weiner Schnitzel place, the source of my hot dog flashback. I was astonished to come across this letter. How did my father get this note? Why did he keep it?
This collection of letters gives deeper insight into Riley Shepard's brain and what happened right before he "disappeared" from our lives in 1984.