- Palm Royale Boulevard is not the kind of street where
you expect to see fancy sedans parked up at two in the morning.
- The tree-lined road runs through Sugar Land, one of
snazzier suburbs. Everyone has off-street parking here, especially if they
own a brand-new Mercedes like the one the patrolling officer could see
by the kerb with its lights out. As he got closer he could make out a
in the driver's seat. He tried the door, but it was locked. It was only
when he broke the window that he discovered the body of J Clifford Baxter,
graduate of Columbia Business School, former Enron executive, and now the
very recently dead repository of knowledge about what really happened in
the biggest corporate scandal in history.
- He had been shot in the head. Once. Beside him lay a
gun and a note. We now know the gun was a .38 calibre revolver. What we
don't yet know is precisely what the note said, but ABC television, quoting
sources close to the investigation into this apparent suicide, say it
to Enron and the pressures that were piling up on this happily married,
43-year-old father of two and which built up in his mind until the one
way he could see out of it all was to put a bullet in his head.
- And the pressures were considerable. The company he used
to work for had become the biggest ever corporate bankruptcy, and
were coming daily about how its directors, Baxter among them, had hidden
losses offshore while selling shares for hundreds of millions of pounds.
When the share price collapsed, the staff's pensions were practically
There was politics, too. Enron threw money at politicians like confetti
at a wedding. Baxter, concerned about all this, had spoken out in the Enron
offices, and then left the firm suddenly last May. And congressional
were under way. Officials wanted to speak to Baxter and see documents still
in his possession. He knew an awful lot.
- That is why, according to colleagues, he was worried.
He had briefed lawyers, and, according to Jerry V Mutchlen, president of
the charity Junior Achievement of Texas, where Baxter sat on the board,
"was depressed and disappointed about all that had happened".
Another former business associate went further. Baxter, he said, broke
down in tears during a phone call two days ago. He was even, the
added, "talking about perhaps needing a bodyguard". After all,
he knew a lot. Maybe more than anyone imagined. Until Enron imploded in
the autumn, Clifford Baxter seemed to be a man who had it made; more than
£20m made, in fact, from selling Enron shares alone. He lived with
his wife, Carol L Whalen, in a half-a-million-dollar colonial-style home
in Sweetwater, much the toniest part of Sugar Land, had a son of 16 and
an 11-year-old daughter, and was wealthy enough to fund a charitable
named after him and his wife. It gave to causes such as a local Catholic
church and the Republican Party. He also had a 72-ft yacht, Tranquility
Base, on which he had spent much time since leaving Enron. He seemed,
to Ross Tuckwiller, general manager of the Houston Yacht Club, happy there.
But he also knew a lot. Maybe that was why, according to friends, he was
planning to buy a faster boat and use it to travel.
- It must have all seemed a far cry from the day in 1991
when the Columbia MBA (top of the class of '87), then aged 32, joined a
small energy company called Enron. As it grew into one of the largest
in America, Baxter rose quickly, becoming chairman and chief executive
of Enron North America before being named chief strategy officer for Enron
Corporation in June 2000 and then vice-president the following October.
He was an aggressive and sometimes successful deal-maker, but he also led
the acquisitions that became two of Enron's costliest errors: the purchases
of Portland General Electric and Wessex Water. According to colleagues,
he worked hard and played hard, taking his family to Disney World every
year. Enron president Jeff Skilling said he was well liked for "his
sense of humour and straightforward manner". Skilling was an expert
on Baxter's straight-talking. After all, according to a memo sent to
Lay, the company boss and buddy of President Bush, by Enron whistleblower
Sherron Watkins, Baxter "complained mightily to Skilling and all who
would listen about the inappropriateness of our transactions". She
knew that he knew a lot.
- By the time Watkins wrote this memo Baxter was three
months into his post-executive role with Enron. But although it was now
his yacht and family that saw most of him, he had not left Enron
Contrary to initial reports, Baxter had been retained as a consultant and
his Enron pass was found on his body on Friday. His death was relayed to
Enron employees in a four-line email that made no mention of
- His lawyers were also informed. On the morning of his
death they had been negotiating with congressional officials over their
request to speak to Baxter, see his documents and, possibly, have him
give evidence to the hearings now under way. Representative James C
Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
said on Friday: "It seemed to us that he was a pretty highly placed
insider at Enron who had understood exactly what was wrong there."
A lot of people, you see, knew that he knew a lot.
- But we won't know what he knew now. Along with the
shredded by the auditors from Andersen, the testimony of J Clifford Baxter
will remain one of the untold mysteries of the Enron affair, however far
into the recesses of George W Bush's administration and corporate America
it eventually reaches.
- But Baxter's documents may yet speak for him, and the
FBI is now investigating his death. The real smoking gun on the seat of
the Mercedes parked on Palm Royale Boulevard may yet prove to be Baxter
himself. After all, he knew an awful lot.
- The Wakeham link -
The Tory Who May Have to Talk
By Jo Dillon
- As the Tory minister who presided over the privatisation
of the electricity industry in the Eighties, Lord Wakeham was an obvious
choice as a director of Enron.
- He has been far removed from Houston as the scandal has
unfolded, but may yet have to break his silence on the case and, as a
and board member, give evidence to a US Senate committee.
- There is a particular desire to hear what he may say
as a member of Enron's audit and compliance committee, whose role was to
see that proper procedures were in place, including legal advice and
The committee relied upon expert advice, but its role in the affair has
yet to be fully explored.
- Lord Wakeham was the political fixer of the Thatcher
years whose wily acumen earned him a cabinet post as secretary of state
- Like many top politicians, Lord Wakeham of Maldon in
the County of Essex - as John Wakeham became in 1992 - used his contacts
and the expertise acquired in office to secure a very full
- After leaving front-line politics in 1994, the man
for co-ordinating the presentation of government policies in John Major's
fledging years as PM quit spinning to become the £156,000-a-year
chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. His time at the PCC,
with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the schooling of her two
sons, gave Lord Wakeham, now 69, a higher public profile.
- The clubbable peer, a member of the Garrick, the Carlton,
Buck's, St Stephen's Constitutional and the Royal Yacht Squadron (Cowes),
was chairman of the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords and
sits on the boards of no fewer than 19 companies. He is non-executive
of Vosper-Thorneycroft, Genner Holdings and Kalon, and a director of
& West and N M Rothschild, to name a few.