A South Montgomery County woman is almost too upset to speak about her ordeal three months ago, when her former coworker and the man now charged with torching Gallery Furniture is accused of terrorizing her and her children by forcing entry when she refused to open the door.
Robert Carroll Gillham, 66, of Houston was arrested on July 23 by members of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office on burglary charges stemming from that incident. On Tuesday the Houston Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms held a press conference with Gallery Furniture owner Jim “Mac” McIngvale to announce that Gillham is now charged with first-degree arson.
The victim, who asked only to be called by her first name – Eva, told Montgomery County News on Tuesday evening that she felt it would be irresponsible to answer any questions that might affect the prosecution of the case. However, she did comment on the arrest itself.
“Like all of my Gallery Furniture colleagues, I am relieved to know the suspect has been taken into custody and I want to commend the investigators for their work,” Eva said.
She apologized repeatedly for becoming emotional, but said the incident was still difficult to think about.
According to the warrant affidavit, or complaint, MCSO investigators believe Gillham went into the home with the intention of assaulting Eva over money he claimed she owed him.
Despite the typical clinical language of an official document, the picture it paints is a frightening one. It states:
“Robert began screaming and yelling from outside the residence. When Eva would not respond, Robert started beating on the doors and windows in an attempt to get inside the residence. Eva had locked herself and children inside the residence because she was scared of Robert and she knew that he had a history of violence.”
“Robert kicked in a door and entered the residence. He started screaming and yelling at Eva. His arms were raised and his face was red as he was yelling at her. She felt that he was going to hit her. Robert left the residence as Eva was on the phone giving his description to the 911 operator.”
Eva’s home is a two-story with outside stairs leading to a second story porch with an entrance to the home. The complaint states that she and her son were cleaning when Gillham arrived and was exhibiting behavior that frightened them. They ran upstairs to hide from Gillham, but then he ran upstairs and began beating on the door, so they went back downstairs where he allegedly returned and kicked his way inside. One of Eva’s other two children was asleep and the other was still at school, the complaint states. Eva said her husband was also away from home at the time.
The investigator, Don Gay with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, wrote that he spoke with Eva about the money issue and she stated she had borrowed money from him about three years earlier and paid it all back within about a year. However, she told the investigator Gillham would loan money to other Gallery Furniture employees, then demand more money after he was already repaid. Eva said Gillham, a white man, only victimized Hispanic employees and especially women.
She further told the investigator that Gillham was fired from the store because he was causing problems with other employees.
The investigator stated he contacted Gallery Furniture and verified what Eva said about why Gillham was terminated.
“I was advised that after he was fired, Robert started calling other employees and even showing up at some of their residences. Gallery Furniture ended up getting a Permanent Injunction against Robert preventing him from entering the premises of Gallery Furniture, from harassing and/or threatening Gallery Furniture, its employees and customers, and from telephoning, e-mailing or sending written correspondence to Gallery Furniture, its employees and customers while they were at work.”
Gay wrote about going to Eva’s home in South Montgomery County where he interviewed her 10-year-old son. The third-grader witnessed the incident and the report indicates he was able to recount the incident in detail for the officer.
“He said that his mom’s friend, Bob, came over and started knocking on the doors and then kicked on them. He started on the door by the driveway (North side) then went to the door in the yard (East side) then he went to the upstairs door (North side). After trying the upstairs door, he went back to the down stairs and kicked in the door by the driveway (North side) and entered the house.”
Gay showed the boy a photo lineup that included Gillham, and the child identified Gillham as the suspect. Eva did likewise.
According to the complaint, she told the investigator Gillham did something similar to a female co-worker. She also discussed her fears that Gillham would return.
“She said that they were cleaning when Robert showed up. When he started beating on the doors, they went up stairs. When Robert went up stairs, they went down stairs. Then he went down stairs and kicked open the door. She called 911 and he left.”
Eva told Gay that Gillham harassed her repeatedly by phone as well, even after he knew she filed a complaint.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Houston Fire Department Chief Investigator Allison Stein explained that the charge would have been second-degree arson, but was enhanced to first-degree because an investigator was injured.
ATF Houston Special Agent in Charge Rob Elder said the agency has an arson task force comprised of members of the Houston Fire Department who worked with a national response team of arson and explosives experts to solve the crime.
Little of the information was provided by tips, Elder said, he credited their success to “good old fashioned police work.”
Elder said without the assistance of the MCSO, it was “quite possible” they would not have been announcing an arrest on Tuesday.
McIngvale thanked all involved and said he never doubted the crime would be solved.