George Knapp: Dallas Augustine’s sad story

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The twists and turns of Dallas Augustine’s short, troubled life could not only fill a movie screenplay, they were more than enough to fill a few seasons of a TV soap opera, though anyone hoping for a happy ending would be sorely disappointed.

Dallas was only 32 when she met a bloody end at her home in Arizona earlier this week. Her wife, Jessie McCaskill, was found dead as well. At the time I am writing this, Arizona police are not certain who killed whom, but they are pretty sure one of the women had decided to move out but was stopped by the other in an apparent murder-suicide scenario. McCaskill was 18 years older than Augustine, but friends who were present when the two were married not long ago during a romantic ceremony in San Diego say they were madly in love and very happy — at times, anyway. I’ve also been told that Dallas was overly possessive and extremely jealous at times.

It’s not even clear to me whether her tragic end is ironic or not because the path she followed was so convoluted. Her mother, Kathy Augustine, served two terms in the state Senate and two terms as Nevada’s state controller before being impeached for misusing her authority. Kathy Augustine died of an apparent accidental drug overdose, but police subsequently determined it was a murder. The man convicted of killing Kathy was her much younger husband, Chaz Higgs, who had also been the nurse caring for Dallas’ father, Charles Augustine, at the time Charles died.

Dallas initially believed Higgs was innocent of murdering her mother (and her father), until the day she had to kick in a door at her home to rescue Higgs from a bloody attempted suicide. There were some who wondered whether Dallas had conspired with Chaz to kill Kathy and take over her estate, but it was a ridiculous assumption.

Are you still with me?

Dallas hated the spotlight that shone on her in the wake of her mother’s death, which is when I got to know her. A family friend, Mark Fierro, arranged for Dallas to sit with me for a couple of exclusive interviews in which she expressed grief over the loss of her mom and opinions about who did it, without having to submit to the same questions, over and over, from every reporter in town. She worked very hard to appear tough as nails on the outside, but that was largely a front. She was a frightened young woman, it seemed to me, still grieving over the death of her mother and still struggling to figure out who she was. Later, she worked up the courage to run for elected office herself but was probably relieved when she didn’t win. More recently, she had finished training to become a corrections officer and was on her way to a new career.

For one brief period of her life, Dallas was happy, and happily married. I’m sure somewhere out there, moral crusaders are warming up their tonsils to tell us all how these two women were an abomination before God and that their end is only fitting. But anyone who knew them knows they had the same hopes as any couple, along with the same weaknesses that challenge all marriages.

Soon enough, we will hear the police theory about which one was preparing to leave the other, and who pulled the trigger. (I don’t think it is a hard call to make.)

Finally, though, after 32 tumultuous and painful years, Dallas Augustine is at peace.

STEVE AND SHELDON — PURVEYORS OF PORN?

And speaking of moral crusaders, I see the official platform of the GOP, as adopted this week in Tampa, calls for an intense crackdown on that scourge of society known as pornography. Oh, the lives that have been ruined by adult pornography, a problem so terrible, so immediate, so pressing that few other issues warrant as much attention. “Current laws need to be vigorously enforced,” the platform declares, and it demands a nationwide crackdown, including increased prosecutions for all sexually explicit material. We’re not talking about child porn or women frolicking with donkeys. Just old fashioned, in-out sexual activity involving consenting adults.

Seriously? Porn? Do the Republicans even realize how hard it is to define what porn is? Would online ads for gay sex, the kind of ads that have ensnared a few conservative religious leaders over the years, qualify as porn? How about the strip clubs and nudie joints of Tampa, which are undoubtedly packed to the rafters this week during the GOP convention? I remember when the Bush administration pushed its U.S. attorneys to step up the pressure on the porn industry. The response from prosecutors was largely: Are you kidding? Nevada’s Dan Bogden made it clear that he had much more important stuff on his plate than adult porn and found himself fired, a decision reversed by a new administration.

The diehard conservatives who pushed for this platform plank say they want the government — you know, the hands-off, less intrusive, stay-out-of-my-life, smaller government supposedly favored by the GOP — to descend with a vengeance on pay-per-view adult channels that beam into hotel rooms.

I am not making this up.

Apparently, the naughty diversions that are seen only by adults in the privacy of their rooms are a threat to moral decency and the very fabric of society.

I wonder if this is what Las Vegas hotel big shots Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson had in mind when they plowed millions of dollars into GOP coffers? Did they know that in the eyes of the Republican rank and file, they are not much better than the pimps and panderers who prowl the tawdry sidewalks of the Strip?

Fact is, the porn industry generates billions of dollars a year because so many Americans want to see this material. It is more profitable than the NFL. Hotels, including the Venetian and Wynn, earn millions every year from overcharging their guests to rent watered-down, simulated sex scenes that could barely arouse most network censors.

GOP leaders have no trouble accepting huge piles of dough from porn-selling gambling men like Wynn and Adelson, whose pleasure palaces were built to satisfy all desires in a town that openly advertises the delivery of college coeds direct to your hotel room. No trouble at all. And the casino magnates from Sin Central have no trouble climbing into bed with moralizing prudes who still haven’t recovered from Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction

Somewhere, there’s a disconnect, wouldn’t you say? The Republican honchos are all about business, the economy, jobs, etc., but the party base, the heart and soul of the Republican voting bloc, is all about sex and sin, abortion and porn, masturbation, homosexuality, and all the icky stuff that is suitable only for out behind the barn. The folks who inserted the anti-porn plank into the platform can’t wait to get back into power so they can set this country right.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at gknapp@klastv.com.