A Carthage woman has won a battle in a Texas court to prove she is the biological daughter of an oil baron and a young woman from Baxter Springs, Kan.
A Houston, Tex. court has said that Judith Wright Patterson, Carthage, is the lovechild of the late Myron A. Wright, oil executive, one-time CEO of Exxon Mobile and president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and Ethel Harris, Baxter Springs.
Seth A. Nichamoff, a Houston attorney, is Patterson’s attorney in a suit Patterson filed in Texas against her biological mother and Harris’ son, Rick Harris, Joplin.
Nichamoff said the judge in the suit agrees that Patterson has a case, but there are still hurdles in Patterson receiving any sort of final settlement.
“There’s no denial, and there is no dispute, that Judith Wright Patterson is Myron A. Wright’s daughter,” Nichamoff said. “The issue has always been whether or not Ethel had committed a crime or committed a tort as to Judith or as to Myron A. Wright.”
A soap opera
Patterson’s life history, much of it she didn’t even know about until the past 20 years, reads like a soap opera script, complete with a clandestine liaison, a love child, a culture including some of the most famous people in industrial American history and alleged theft of an inheritance.
Patterson said her story begins in the 1955 when her biological mother, who was going through a divorce at the time and looking for work, traveled to Tulsa, Okla., and had a chance encounter with a well-dressed businessman on a bus.
“If you really go back to the actual meeting when Ethel and Myron met, it’s really compelling,” Nichamoff said. “Basically, Myron had come back from Venezuela where he was looking for oil wells and he had his briefcase full of oil and gas leases and he was riding on the same bus as Ethel, he got a little drunk and fell down and she took him to a hotel and put him in bed and went to a different hotel, propriety was observed at that time.
“Then later on, he moved hotels and they started a relationship. He showed her around town. Mr. (Howard) Hughes was there and so were the Phillips sisters, the Gettys. So there they were, in Tulsa and they’re just all having a blast. There are all these incredibly important people in oil history who were in Tulsa, Okla., having a blast.”
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Patterson said that encounter turned into an affair lasting three or four months. Harris became pregnant, but lost contact with Myron Wright by January 1956, before she gave birth to Judith Patterson.
Ethel Harris gave up Judith Wright Patterson for adoption to a couple in Joplin, where Patterson grew up.
In 1989, when her adoptive mother was dying, Patterson said Harris contacted her for the first time and told her who her biological father was.
Patterson said she didn’t believe it, but she contacted Myron Wright and he confirmed the story. The two kept in contact by phone but never met in person.
Patterson said depositions taken in court cases in 1993 and 2006 showed that Ethel Harris told attorneys that Myron Wright sent her money to support Judith. Wright was unaware that Judith Patterson had been put up for adoption and Ethel told the court her mother and other relatives took the money, at least $144,000, for themselves.
Patterson said she contacted Myron Wright and he confirmed to her that she was his daughter, but was apparently unaware that Ethel Wright’s family had intercepted all the money he intended for her care.
Patterson said Wright was unaware until Patterson contacted him that Harris had put Patterson up for adoption.
“He thought I was taken care of, that’s why he asked me about the money,” Patterson said. “Until he died, he thought I had the money. He said I want to ask you a question, is Ethel’s husband bothering you wanting money. The man my father was referring to going back into the time, was Robert Harris, because that was the time of the affair. That told me Robert Harris was blackmailing my father. I was like, money, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t even know what he was talking about.”
People of history
Patterson said in the past few years, she has gotten to know some of the families of the people Myron Wright ran around with.
She said she got to know Jean Phillips, niece of Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Petroleum.
“Jean Phillips knew my father, was very good friends with my father and she babysat my other sister, so I connected with Jean and Jean became like a mother to me,” Patterson said. “We had a very, very close relationship.”
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Patterson said her father was friends with the most historic names in the early American oil industry, including Howard Hughes, J. Paul Getty and the Phillips family.
Patterson said she believes that one reason her father didn’t want a closer relationship with her was that he feared for her safety.
“If you go to the Phillips Ranch, tour guides will take you and show you little cubby holes of places to hid their children any time that Frank got warning that there was someone coming in to do a kidnapping,” Patterson said. “People were always wanting to snatch an oilman’s child. This just isn’t an uncommon thing. My father couldn’t do what I did for him, He couldn’t do this without ruining himself. We talked all the time on the phone up until about the time he died. My father would always tell me, stay away from that circle of people. You do not belong around that circle of people.”
There’s a chance that Patterson may not see any money from these court settlements, but she’s not concerned about that.
Nichamoff, her attorney, said there’s a chance that the money is gone and there is nothing to collect.
Nichamoff said he still has to present documents to a Houston judge to support Patterson’s claim that she is the one who was wronged by the Harris family and that she is the right person to be the plaintiff.
“That legacy has been established,” Nichamoff said. “Sworn testimony has established that $144,000 was given to Ethel Williams by M.A. Wright and M.A. Wright believed he was giving that money to Ethel Williams for Judith.”
“My father was vindicated, this proved that they blackmailed my father, this is extortion, they extorted him, they committed this fraud against my father,” Patterson added. “Now we’ve got to get in there and prove that this money belonged to me.”