There is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered, nothing hidden that won’t be made known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an ear in private rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.–Jesus Christ; Luke 12:2-3
Back in the early 80s Nashville wasn’t nearly as cosmopolitan, or as expensive, as it is today. With a stable economy and a relatively low cost of living, it attracted many of the disenfranchised looking for a more glamorous place that, like the lyrics of a Country song, was sympathetic to their hardscrabble life.
Debra Murphree fit the bill to a T. A high school drop out at the age of sixteen, married at seventeen, giving birth to three children in the span of five years, she was all of twenty-two years old when she wound up in Music City.
Of course, only she knows why she came here. Perhaps it was because she wanted to break into the music business; or, possibly, she was traveling and found herself at the intersection of I-40, I-65 and I-24 and felt it was as good a place as any. Then again, maybe she was afraid if she didn’t get out of Podunk Indiana she never would and Nashville was the place on the map she settled on.
For whatever reason she was low on funds and in need of a job when she arrived. A “friend” told her about an escort service. It was way better money than waiting tables or running a drive thru window. With a whole life ahead of her, she could make some quick cash and then get out. That’s what she thought, anyway.
That’s how she got into “the life”.
One of the main signatures of Bob Guccione’s Penthouse magazine was its sexually explicit, soft focus photography of the nude and near nude female form–that and its superb in-depth journalism. Guccione was very particular about his models. He wanted them young and beautiful. And glamorous. The sex in Penthouse had a mysterious voyeuristic theme. It was gauzy, upscale porn for the sophisticated peeping tom.
Ninety percent of the July 1988 issue of Penthouse was within its distinctive perimeters, the remaining ten percent was dedicated to an article and photo spread of Debra Murphree. The article, full of salacious details of her encounters with a john who called himself “Billy” yielded to the photo spread, a collage of replicated “poses” that “Billy” liked to direct. There was nothing gauzy or soft focus about them.
While Murphree was a reasonably good looking young woman–unremarkable facial features with a hint of Native American ancestry, black wavy hair and long slender legs–street walking is hard on the mind, body and spirit. Guccione could have made her look attractive and alluring. He choose to do the opposite. He used her to shame “Billy”.
At one time, Reed Scott Bailey was a police officer. That was before he got fed up with all the red tape and politics involved in law enforcement and became a P.I. instead. As a private investigator Bailey worked for lawyers from time to time. One of those was Marvin Gorman’s lawyer Hunter Lundy.
Reverend Marvin Gorman’s son Randy was also a police officer. He interjected himself into his father’s private investigation whenever he could. It was only natural that he would. He loved his dad who had adopted him and reared him as a son when he married the boy’s mother, Virginia, some thirty years before. Randy called the elder Gorman, “the most compassionate, tender-hearted minister I’ve ever met.”
Likewise, it was only natural that Reed Scott Bailey and Randy Gorman got along and worked together. As cops, they both worked and knew Airline Highway well. Then again, everybody in the New Orleans area knew/knows Airline Highway.
As the name implies, Airline Drive–as it is known today–is a gateway to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. A chunk of it, the Metairie Parish blocks 3000 to 5000, respectively, comprises a notorious hookers stroll. Though the Parish has worked hard over the last decade to clean it up, razing many of the decaying motels that served as brothels and replacing them with new development, the area is still seedy. It is still a stroll.
One of those razed brothel motels was the Travel Inn. In 1987, Debra Murphree was living and working there. That’s how she came to know Officer Randy Gorman. According to Murphree, during an encounter with the police officer, he became one of her clients.
But Gorman was interested in more than just sex. He liked to quiz Murphree about her clientele. At the time she thought nothing of it. He was a cop after all. Her perception of his inquisitive nature changed considerably after October 17, 1987.
Nervous because of police stings the week before, Murphree, who had just finished up a session with “Billy”, peeked out her room’s window. That’s when she caught sight of Officer Gorman running into Room 12.
“Looks like we’re about to get busted,” she warned “Billy”.
“Billy” hustled out the door and fired up his Lincoln Continental, only to find that he had a flat. As he hauled the jack and spare out of the trunk, Murphree stood in the open doorway watching him. “If they stop you on the way out, don’t say anything,” she pleaded. She was low on money and making bail would cut things perilously close.
Nervously she glanced across the way at Room 12. In the window a camera lens wrapped in a black towel was visible to only the most discerning eye. Six years on the street had made Debra Murphree’s eyesight especially keen. She slammed her door shut and locked it.
Immediately afterward a blue car raced into the parking lot and parked next to “Billy’s Lincoln. A tall, handsome man got out of the drivers side. Peering through the peephole, Debra Murphree didn’t recognize him.
As he walked around the front end of his car he said something to “Billy” that Murphree couldn’t make out. “Billy” didn’t look up. He kept fiddling with the jack and tire.
The handsome man stood over “Billy” his hands on the fine leather of his belt. “Jimmy, what in the world do you think you’re doin’?” he asked.
Behind the locked door of her twenty dollar a night motel room Debra Murphree smirked. All along she had known who “Billy” really was.
“Are you Jimmy Swaggart,” she asked him when he first picked her up on Airline Highway. “No,” he answered. “A lot of people ask me that.”
But of course he was Jimmy Swaggart. And of course she recognized him despite his pitiful attempt at a disguise ( he brushed his bangs forward, wore a headband and a sloppy jogging suite with a hole in the inseam.) How could she not? Swaggart’s face was all over TV where he preached from his mega church in Baton Rouge against the apostasy of Catholics, the evil allure of pornography and the wrongfulness of oral sex, even among married couples. Next to Billy Graham, her “Billy” was probably the most famous preacher in the whole United States, if not the world.
What she didn’t know was Jimmy Swaggart’s handsome inquisitor was none other than Reverand Marvin Gorman, a big time Pentecostal preacher in his own right with a six thousand member mega church that he pastored less than a mile from the very spot where he stood. At least he did before Jimmy Swaggart uncovered a sexual indiscretion and then blasted it across the Pentecostal Church hierarchy, effectively getting him kicked out of the denomination, casting him into the purgatory of bankruptcy and stressing his marriage of over thirty years.
Even more shocking for Murphree–or at least that is what she claimed–was the identity of the police officer who she had been seeing as a client about as long as she had been “dating” Swaggart. “I had no idea who Marvin Gorman was,” she insisted. “And I didn’t even know Randy Gorman’s name.”