Photos courtesy Tory Virdell
THE HOUSE ON THE HILL
Approximately one hundred twenty-five years later – it still stands, perhaps grander today than when it was originally built. Consisting of over 3700 sq. ft. of space, 1800 sq. ft. of wrap-around porches, an observation deck on the roof, and a granite foundation; its outer beauty is only surpassed by that of its splendid interior. Imported cypress wood from Liverpool, England, custom pressed 12 ft. high tin ceilings, chandeliers, and antique furnishings from around the world – these are but a few of the finer things within the walls of this old house. For therein also lie history, mystery, death and deceit. If only the walls could talk – the walls from within the house on the hill.
For Llano County the years between 1880 and 1900 were called the “boom days”, especially the years of 1888 to 1892. It was during this time period that many speculators, or wildcatters as they were called by most, came to this area. These were business men – generally from northern states, who had grand ideas of making it rich quick, some were unscrupulous, some were legitimate. From Iowa came one such speculator, a man with big dreams, his name was Frank R. Malone.
Malone was considered to be one of the most outstanding new citizens of Llano. He had invested in new businesses and built a lavish new hotel in town, all the while he was also pouring money into the property and construction of his own house; having everything imported from England or hand-crafted. This house on a hill just east of Llano on Highway 29, then dubbed the Malone Mansion, would never be finished by Frank Malone. Apparently F.R. Malone had ideas on a much grander scale than his wallet – that and the combined fact that the iron ore “boom days” had by 1892 gone bust. His lavish hotel had burned, his investments had soured, and his mansion on the hilltop was far from being completed; even though he had started construction in the early to mid 1880’s. The history of F.R. Malone after his decline and fall from grandeur in Llano is rather vague. It is believed he possibly moved on to the Dallas area and continued his real estate ventures there. However, the history of his house on the hill is very vivid. This magnificent mansion still had many more decades of history to make, more lives to touch.
A number of years would pass and the year would now be 1900. The Malone Mansion would be sold to a group of doctors, who like Malone, had ambitious ideas. Construction on the fine old manor would once again take place, and by 1904 the Texas Sanitarium Center for Treatment of Tuberculosis would be open for business.
The home itself was used as the headquarters for the facility. Around it were built white tents where the patients were housed. The patients would sit out on the vast windswept porch that surrounded the house – sit, relax and enjoy the panoramic views while breathing in the fresh clean air that the Texas Hill Country provided. At that time it was believed that fresh air was a “must” in treating tuberculosis patients.
However, in less time that it took to remodel the structure – it was once again closed due to a funding shortage. Some say it closed after only two years of service, some say it lasted four. In 1911 another final attempt was made to reopen the sanitarium, but again the lack of funds brought the venture to a halt – this time permanently. Once again the house on the hill stood empty, waiting – waiting for a family to claim it, the family by whose name would make it recognizable forever in the annals of Llano history; the Norton Family.
Thomas W. Norton was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1866. Mary Agnes Seggersen was born in 1879 in the territory that would eventually become New Mexico. Both were from well-to-do families. Tom had followed in his family business, stone cutting. Mary’s family was involved in the building of railroads across the Southwest. Tom and Mary would meet and marry in San Antonio, Texas in 1900 and then move to Llano shortly thereafter. Together they would build a family business that would last for decades, and along the way once again give new life to the old house on the hill and to the town of Llano itself.
After marrying, and moving to Llano in 1900, in was reported that Tom and Mary Norton had stood below the summit of a hill outside of town where “the construction of an imposing mansion was at a standstill”. Mary reportedly said, “If I’m going to live in Llano, I’m going to live in this house!” The years passed, Tom put the skills he had learned from his family’s granite business into use. It was here he owned a very valuable gray granite quarry. Llano was famous for its granite, so it was here Norton established his business the Llano Granite Works – which he wisely placed along the railroad line to the east of town. He was both a wholesaler and retailer in the granite business until his death in 1948. He furnished high quality granite to be used in numerous monuments, State buildings and universities in Texas throughout his career. By the year 1915 Tom Norton and his family, which now included five daughters, had amassed a sizeable fortune – even by today’s standards. The time was right, the house on the hill would now have the owners it was waiting for – the Norton’s.
Upon the purchase of the property in 1915 renovations on the house began immediately and by the end of 1916 Mary Agnes Norton had moved into her dream home. Here in grand style the five Norton girls would be raised, Polly (Mary), Cordelia, Eleanor, Margaruite, and Catherine aka “Girlie”. It seemed like a dream come true for anyone who lived it – Chinese urns, one of a kind Venetian items, furniture from the Vatican, tapestries from India, gardeners, cooks, cleaning people; all at the beck and call of the family. This seemingly glamorous lifestyle was however not without its pitfalls, for even though the community respected the family, they were not well liked. To start with the Norton’s were Catholic – unheard of in that time for Llano County! They were all hot-headed, crude, and spoke their own mind – all of them, no matter what anyone else thought about it. However in spite of the personality and cultural conflicts between the community and the Norton’s, the Norton Family would always be remembered for their generous contributions to the community and anyone who fell upon hard times. But because they were “different” they spent much of their time alone in the Norton House.
In 1948 another side of the Norton’s life began to unfold – the tragic side. On Feb.3, 1948 the iconic granite king of Llano, Thomas W. Norton died. His death certificate says cause of death was cirrhosis but many believe that cancer also played a part in his death – a disease that would haunt other members of his family as well. It should be noted that the death of Tom Norton had an unusual effect on his daughters. Whether it was per their father’s request, or of their own doing, the five Norton girls made a pact never to marry – a pact they would all keep.
It would be only 6 years after the death of her father that Eleanor Norton would also die. She died March 2, 1954 from ovarian cancer – few even knew she was ill. The following month on April 12, 1954 sister Polly died from breast cancer. October 20, 1962 rectal cancer brought about the death of the matriarch head of the household Mary Agnes Norton. As for Margaruite, she suffered greatly from her illness. On Feb.10, 1965 after four and half years from diagnosis, she died from metastasized breast cancer. Now the big house on the hill had only 2 Norton sisters left to manage it – Catherine and Cordelia.
The years would pass; Catherine and Cordelia Norton would continue to live the lifestyle they had been raised in. They would also invest in new businesses ventures and do philanthropic work for various causes along the way (local schools, hospital, City Park, etc). They would also make a special new friend. His name was Timothy Glen Scoggin.
Catherine and Cordelia Norton could generally be found socializing with couples, or other women of their own age, so how Tim Scoggin managed to become friends with them was never clear, but he did. The sisters were already into their 60’s and 70’s – Tim was in his 20’s. They were the proverbial “odd couple”, except in this case they were an odd threesome. Wherever Catherine and Cordelia went, so did Tim.
Scoggin lived vicariously through the Norton sisters. He felt important when he escorted the sisters to social events – events that afforded him the opportunity of meeting and befriending other wealthy people. Scoggin, though “feeling” important because of his associations knew that to actually be important he had to have money, and lots of it. He did not have lots of money; in fact he was deeply in debt. However sometime around the time frame of 1980 he began bragging about a large inheritance he would be getting in the near future. Where would this windfall come from? Certainly not from his family, they were only of average means. He was a man who had developed great plans and grand ideas – little did anyone realize that it would be at the expense of the Norton sisters. Timothy Scoggin had a plan – a plan to die for.
As the years passed and the sisters aged, they slowed down. The daily chores of maintaining the Norton House became more of a strain on them. They required more help in and around the house, more than what the normal staff could do. In stepped their friend of almost 15 years, Tim Scoggin. Whether it was shopping, chauffeuring them back and forth to high society events, or friends homes, taking them to their doctors appointments, or getting their medications – Tim did it all for them. Tim now had unlimited / unrestricted access to Catherine and Cordelia, the Norton House, and all that was in it. He now had the perfect opportunity to set his plan into motion – the plan he had no doubt been conjuring up as far back as 1980; for it was around this same time when he had admittedly read a book on how to kill people using rat poison.
By the year 1987 Catherine and Cordelia Norton had developed many of the same illnesses that had plagued other members of their family. Cordelia had escaped the cancer that was so rampant in her family but she did have a heart problem. Catherine had heart disease but she also had the dreaded cancer that plagued her family. She had both breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. But oddly both sisters complained of rather mysterious stomach pains accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, and at times hallucinations. Though having had these symptoms for at least six months, they became more severe in the later part of 1987, and were always most apparent when Scoggin was present in the house.
On Feb. 18, 1988 Catherine S. Norton had gotten a clean bill of health from doctors. Scoggin had driven her to the appointment and then brought her home. The next morning Feb.19, 1988 she was found dead – “official” cause of death was heart failure ... she was 75. The following day Feb.20, 1988 sister Cordelia D. Norton also died in the local hospital … she was 83, “official” cause of death was heart failure caused by pneumonia. It had been more than 70 years since the Norton’s had moved into their home, but once again the house on the hill was empty – the family legacy had now ended. And since the Norton sisters had made a pact never to marry, all five of them, there were no family heirs to pass the Norton estate onto.
Scoggin moved fast. He handled all the funeral arrangements, having the sisters cremated and their ashes buried in the family plot at Llano City Cemetery. He wrote checks to pay the staff and other household bills – he also forged himself a handsome size check while he was at it too! Something he had apparently been doing all along; a little here, a little there – telling anyone who inquired that the sisters were paying for his services. He even called the Norton Family attorneys and made arrangements for the Will to be read. Timothy Glen Scoggin was about to be set for life – or, was he about to be sentenced to life?
The Norton Family estate was rumored to have been valued at more than five million dollars – to which there were no heirs. At the reading of the Will it was revealed that the estate was to be split and placed into trust. The Norton’s would once again – and for the final time, be giving back to the community that they called home for so many decades. Their sizeable fortune would be split between the Cemetery Association and Llano City Park. Timothy Scoggin got nothing. It was time for him to leave the house on the hill as well – he had other victims to deceive now. But in the process he only tightened the noose around his neck.
While Scoggin had been catering, embezzling, and systematically poisoning the Norton sisters he was also befriending the Nobles, acquaintances of Catherine and Cordelia in San Angelo. The Nobles couple like the Norton sisters, developed mysterious stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Five weeks after the Norton sister’s deaths, Mr. Nobles also died. Mrs. Nobles on the other hand was hospitalized and numerous tests were run – the tests showed conclusive evidence of slow subjection to arsenic poisoning. It was while Mrs. Nobles was in the hospital that her bank called to inquire about checks being written in large amounts on her account; they also wanted to know if she had been getting her bank statements from the past several months – she had not of course, because Scoggin had always been “so helpful” to them and made the trip to get the mail so they didn’t have to. He was of course destroying their bank statements so they could not see how much or how long he had been helping himself to their funds. But he could at this point no longer hide what he had been up to.
At this point suspicions were high and like pieces to a puzzle, things began to fit together. And for the sake of shortening this story: Texas Rangers were brought in, investigations were started, bodies and ashes exhumed. It was determined that both Mr. Nobles and Cordelia Norton died from arsenic poisoning. Catherine Norton’s ashes however showed no trace of arsenic. It has been speculated that since her death was so sudden, it could have been caused by a dose of strychnine administered by Scroggin after he brought her back from the doctor’s visit where she was given a clean bill of health just the day before – but only Scoggin would know that. He would also be the only one who would know the whereabouts of all the money he embezzled from the Norton’s and Nobles. Some believe the total to be in excess of $1 million dollars.
As for Timothy Glen Scoggin, he was sentenced to life in prison at the Huntsville State Prison. His first hearing for possible parole was 2003, it was denied. He currently resides in the Wynn Unit of the Huntsville State Prison and his next parole hearing is scheduled for this year - November 2009.
As for the house on the hill – the Norton House, well it has seen several owners since the death of the Norton Family, but apparently none have lived there very long. It is reported that the current occupants may possibly be the fourth to have owned it since its auction in 1990. The grand old mansion was again neglected for a period of time and “had fallen into a sad state and needed tremendous repair once the current owners purchased the home”…. This is the statement according to the real estate company now offering it for sale – again.
So there is sits – the house on the hill just outside of Llano, waiting for another family, one that will call it home and appreciate it the way the Norton family did. It is a special place, a piece of Llano history – it will take equally special people to live there.
~End of Story – please see below~
*Please note: this is an abbreviated version of the Norton / Scoggin saga. It is not intended to tell their story. It is intended to tell the story of the “house on the hill” – a Llano landmark, the Norton House as it was deemed. But the story of the house cannot be told without telling a portion of the saga. To get the full story and the details therein, please refer to the sources I used to compile this story. The resource material will also have photos of interest. I believe anyone who reads the material will find the story quite intriguing. Also to see photos of the Norton House as it stands for sale today, please check the links below for the real estate company’s current data. Permission to use photos for story by Tory Virdell of Virdell Real Estate.
Cobwebs and Cornerstones, by Phyllis Whitt Almond & coauthored by Sarah Oatman Franklin, published by Herring Printing, Kerrville, Texas. Researched by Winnie Tate-Morgan.
Llano County, Texas: Family Album – A History, by Llano County Historical Society, Inc., Copyright 1989, published by Taylor Publishing Co.
Llano: Gem of the Hill Country, by Wilburn Oatman. Copyright 1970, Pioneer Book Publishers Inc., Hereford, Texas.
Poison For Profit, by Mac B. McKinnon. Copyright 1992, First Edition, Nortex Press, Austin Texas.