Unsolved Murder in Houston’s Bayou City: Was Phillip Liase’s Death an Underworld Hit Among Houston’s Strip Club Competitors?

40-year-old nightclub owner and successful entrepreneur, Phillip Liase hadn’t too long moved to Houston, Texas, from Atlanta, Georgia. Liase’s goal was to open a second gentlemen’s club called NV, located at 6224 Richmond Avenue in Southwest Houston. The place was still three weeks from opening, and the progressive entrepreneur was excited about the venture.

Houston’s nightclub scene in the Southwest part of this sprawling city is filled to the brim with after-hours clubs oozing first-class entertainment, status, and notoriety following the revitalization of the Richmond Avenue Strip.

An outstanding entrepreneur with a college degree under his belt, Phillip “Phil” Liase already had ownership in a popular club in Atlanta called The Mansion Elan. On Sunday, October 20th, 2013, close friends of Phil’s were in Houston to visit him.

Earlier that day, Phil and his girlfriend ate a tasty fish meal at a restaurant on West Gray Street. Witnesses said Phil would later show his Atlanta friends around the Houston area known as H-town/Bayou City.

mansion elan banner
Mansion Elan banner.

Two of Phil’s business partners in the Mansion Elan club in Atlanta were staying in Houston at one of Phil’s homes in Katy, Texas, on the west side of the Bayou City. Both were also partners with Phil in the Houston-based club NV. The men were identified as Felix Murry and a second person named Nate. Felix and Nate didn’t hang out with Phil and the other guests from Atlanta during the get-together. They remained in Katy.

On this warm Sunday night, Phil Liase accompanied his special guests to after-hour clubs on the Richmond Strip. Phil and friends’ next-to-last stop was at Belvedere, a club located in the Uptown Park area. Liase’s security man named Clay was there. When Clay saw Liase, he provided security as usual. Phil told Clay he was about to leave for home in Katy, Texas, a suburb located outside Houston. Clay and Phil’s Atlanta guests followed Phil.

As Phil headed down Richmond Avenue alone in his Bentley, either on instinct, or he got a cell phone call, Phil made a quick U-turn and rushed to VLive club, the place he would soon compete with once his club opened. The security man named Clay and the Atlanta guests followed Phil in the car they were riding in. When Clay entered VLive he spotted Phil in the DJ booth. Clay later told Phil’s relatives that Phil had about 20 small shots of liquor. This peculiar behavior alarmed Phil’s relatives because he wasn’t a big drinker at all.

nv club opening banner
NV Club opening banner

Killers Hiding in Darkness

After Phil felt worn down by the effects of the liquor and needed to rest, he and his Atlanta guests decided to leave the nightclub scene. Investigators discovered that as Phil prepared to leave the club close to 5:AM, the manager of VLive known as “Chris” or “5th Ward Red” went up to Phil’s Bentley vehicle to talk. Investigators learned that Clay, the security bodyguard, thought the interaction was unusual since Phil had warned everyone working for him to avoid VLive to prevent problems.

When Clay prepared to follow Phil home, Phil’s guests implored Clay to act as their security because their security guy was intoxicated. Phil waved Clay off, and Clay followed the Atlanta guests and their security to the Sheraton Hotel in the Galleria where they were temporarily staying.

Driving Into a Trap

When Phil left to make it home on the north side in the Studewood-Yale area, he drove out of VLive’s parking lot in his Bentley and turned onto Richmond Avenue. Then he traveled a short distance and made a right at Greenridge Street. Phil turned right onto Beverly Hill Street where he spotted one or more vehicles in the middle of the street. Phil may have thought a vehicle had stalled or perhaps a knucklehead was smoking weed and stubbornly decided not to move until he was ready.

Or maybe Phil recognized the vehicle. It is unclear exactly what transpired at this time, but it appeared the trap was set.

The shooting started either when Phil exited his car and had words with the driver or others with the driver, or when he returned to his vehicle, to pull around the vehicle in the street. A fusillade of bullets hit Phil’s Bentley. Some of the bullets struck Phil, causing his body to jerk.

He had been shot!

Hoping to avoid any more shots from the assailants, Phil floored the Bentley to high speed. Unfortunately, the bullets struck vital parts of his body. Losing consciousness, Phil’s Bentley careened off the road into a ditch near the Beverly Hill Condos. The killers fired more shots into the vehicle. Phillip Liase died from his wounds.

crashed bentley philip liase
Crashed Bentley of Philip Liase.

Crime Scene

The residents living at Beverly Hill Condos heard the shots. Fearing the shooter(s) were nearby, residents peeped out their window and saw that a white luxury vehicle had nose-dived into the ditch with the motor running, and the rear wheels still spinning.

Someone was probably hurt. 911 emergency calls brought police patrol units to the scene. The loud sirens from the police vehicles pierced the early morning hours.

Once officers arrived, they observed a bloody, wounded, black male, positioned under the vehicle’s steering wheels. Paramedics and the fire department were summoned to the scene. The Houston Fire Department rescue team broke the window of the Bentley to shut off the engine because the pressure of the victim’s foot was still pressing the gas pedal which forced the rear wheels to smoke while spinning. Officers noted the vehicle driven by the victim was a white-colored, late-model, two-door, hardtop Bentley, an expensive vehicle made by Rolls Royce Corporation.

Officers suspected a criminal or criminals tried to carjack the victim to steal his Bentley. “There’s some bullet casings over there,” an officer said.

“Look here, there are at least two bullet holes in the driver’s side of the car,” another officer pointed out. The front wheels of the vehicle were stuck in the ditch between the outside of the Condos and the street.

houston police
Houston Police.

Police officially identified the dead man in the stalled Bentley as 40-year-old Phillip Liase, originally from Longview, Texas. Houston Police Homicide Sergeant Richard Rodriguez worked the scene. Relatives and close friends of Phillip Liase soon arrived at the scene. Liase’s sister, Pam Liase-Fuller spoke with uniformed officers. She said the officers insisted that her brother’s death could be gang-related.

“At the scene, teenagers were wearing red clothing and the officers thought they were gang members,” Pam Liase Fuller, recalled.

Sergeant Rodriguez learned from relatives that the victim Phillip Liase had been a successful entrepreneur in the club entertainment business and that he was in process of opening a large Vegas-style gentleman’s club at 6213 Richmond Avenue. Liase was pronounced dead at the scene. Harris County Forensic Institute investigators transported the body to the morgue for an autopsy. (Here is a link to the ABC News video of Sgt. Rodriguez talking at the scene).

People who heard the shots didn’t see any suspicious individuals running away from the scene.

Theresa Edmonds, a resident of Beverly Hill Condo, explained to the investigators when she heard a loud noise she looked outside and saw the vehicle in the ditch. “I heard a couple of ‘pops’ and never thought it was gunshots.”

Relatives and business associates of Phil Liase told investigators that whoever set up the hit on Phil had to know the color and type of vehicle he was driving and know the exact time he left VLive Club to alert the gunmen.

“Who were these people?” Pam Liase Fuller, sister of the murdered victim, would ask in a later interview with reporters. Fuller articulated her same suspicion to Houston Police Homicide investigators. “I think Phil knew them, but I didn’t. I think he was trying to keep us from knowing very much. He felt it was a challenge. He never thought his life was in danger.” Fuller and her husband said Phil Liase was very cautious when driving, particularly due to being robbed or carjacked. Since the initial attack occurred at a T-intersection on Richmond Avenue (Beverly Hill Street at the corner) the victim’s relatives said that would have made speeding away harder for Phil. That may be further evidence of a planned hit.

“Somebody put the killers on his trail,” Phil’s sister stated. “This couldn’t be organized this well in a matter of minutes.”

Phillip Liase
Phillip Liase during happier moment celebrating a birthday.

VLive Owner Questioned

VLive owner, Damon DC Cobbs, told investigators and the Chronicle news reporters that Phil Liase was an occasional customer at the club but was not there the night he died. Cobbs said Liase was known to frequent several other clubs including Onyx, another black strip club. Cobbs explained he didn’t know Phil Liase personally, and that he knew nothing of any business dispute involving VLive and the new club owned by Liase, which was to open less than a block away on Richmond Avenue. Cobb also denied knowing the business affairs of Liase.

Perhaps Cobbs hadn’t seen Phil Liase at his VLive Club. But he was there along with his Atlanta friends only a couple of hours before he was shot to death.

Phil’s security person, the man named Clay, and the Atlanta friends said someone from VLive called Phil back to the club because they followed him back there after he made a U-turn on Richmond. VLive’s manager, the fellow called “Red” or “Red from the 5th Ward” had walked Phil to his Bentley just as Phil told Clay to trail his Atlanta friends back to the Galleria area Hotel where they were staying.

So, the question persisted: was anyone untruthful about Phil Liase visiting VLive Club shortly before his murder? His friends and bodyguard had no reason to lie about where they’d been. The club manager identified as “Red” later admitted Phil had been there and that he had talked with him.

Police haven’t made public the call logs that were on Phil’s phone or the details of the call possibly from VLive.

Investigators developed extensive information from the victim’s relatives and associates about Phil Liase’s success in nightclub entertainment. Police also learned that he had an ownership percentage in one of Atlanta’s hottest strip clubs called The Mansion Elan. Felix Murry and a fellow named Nate were partners in the Mansion Club with Phil.

Investigators were also told about the magnificent, Vegas-style “NV” club that Phil and his partners were soon to open on Richmond Avenue, only a few blocks away from VLive. An interesting angle came into play when investigators were told someone tried to burn NV down twice and Phil had to bring in security to watch the place until the state granted the liquor license.

Was Narcotic Trafficking the Motive for Liase’s Death?

Police questioned whether Phil Liase was in the illegal drug business, did he owe a debt, and was he killed for not paying his debts.

Seal for the FBI Agency. Public Domain image.
Seal for the FBI Agency. Public Domain image.

Retired Houston Police Narcotic Officer Michael Burdick, assigned to an FBI Task Force Squad to work gangs and organized crime, told NewsBlaze that Liase had a partnership with the operator of the Ice Cream Castle Strip Club located off Crosstimbers in the Southwest corner of Fulton Street in Houston.

“Phil Liase’s partner said Liase was not a drug dealer, but that his associates were,” Burdick said.

Burdick said Liase cut ties with Ice Cream Castle when he began working on opening the club on Richmond near VLive. Police checked computer records belonging to the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Houston Police Department and neither agency showed any officer had previously charged or investigated Liase for narcotics trafficking.

Police admitted they were hitting wall after wall, and worse, they had no witnesses to the shooting, nor any description of the killers.

Street talk and crime stoppers tips indicated Phil Liase’s murder was nonetheless a strategic ‘hit’ by people in the adult nightclub business, those who didn’t want any competition. If Liase’s NV club had opened, his unique brand of entertainment would’ve siphoned off business from VLive, disrupting VLive’s large cash flow.

Phil Liase’s circle of friends and business associates didn’t help too much either. It appeared the people closest to Liase weren’t forthcoming about certain things that might produce a clue to make a break in the case.

Police department spokesman John Cannon said in a news media article that the people interviewed in the case could provide specific knowledge of what police wanted to know about Phil Liase and the people close to him. “Much of the information provided has been second or third-hand information such as ‘I heard from someone, but I forgot who,” Cannon said.

Threatening Text Message: Was Someone Playing Cat-and-Mouse Games?

A digital clue trickled into the picture when one of Phil’s friends identified as “TK” made an urgent call to Pam Liase Fuller, Phil’s sister. TK said a text message had been sent to a promoter named “Big Hommie.” Hommie had been hired by Phil to hold special events at NV club once the place opened. The message read, “If you play with that club it’s gonna be ‘rip,’ Big Hommie. RIP means, Rest in Peace.”

The text message sender mentioned Phil Liase hadn’t paid a debt.

“Phil owes us $400k, so if those doors open you are responsible for my money, and you will be ‘hit’ with that ‘choppa’ just like Phil. Play tuff if you want to. You’re an easy target. I know exactly where you are. You shouldn’t have gotten into the business.” Liase’s relatives gave the information to the police.

The NV manager Richard Williams contacted Liase’s sister Pam about what appeared to be an anti-climatic situation involving the threatening text message and shortly thereafter Williams said he got a call from a mysterious guy named Mario who kept on pressuring him to get Liase’s NV club. Since Liase had been murdered and someone sending killer messages and the character Mario appeared desperate to have the NV club, Williams feared for his life. He packed his belongings and headed back to Atlanta.

Mario’s name had come up before Liase died.

Liase’s sister commented on the threat.

“I felt at the time it was someone feeling us out. Maybe a money grab with the murder as a cover-up,” she said.

Following Phil’s death, lots of grabs happened.

Phil’s accountant and attorney confirmed that Phil had over two million dollars socked away. Phil’s sister recalled how he once had at least a million dollars stashed at a separate home that he owned. In another development when the accountant discovered Phil’s relatives didn’t know where to locate his wealth the accountant stopped answering their calls. Legal action could’ve been taken against the accountant and the attorney, but Phil’s mother ordered her daughter and son-in-law to walk away.

“My mother was afraid of losing someone else, so she just didn’t want to make any moves that would keep any of us in contact with any of Phil’s associates,” Pam Fuller explained to NewsBlaze CrimeBeat.

Richmond Avenue Adult Entertainment Industry Is a Competitive Force

Adult Strip clubs in Houston are the off-Broadway of the south. Strip clubs in this Bayou City are places where celebrities, wealthy rappers, famous sports athletes, and regular patrons make these clubs rain with money. So much money that the competition among operators is so tense a knife could slice straight through it.

Between 2004 and 2013, arson investigators noticed a string of fires at strip clubs in the city, especially in the Richmond and Westheimer area. A few years ago, Atlanta Georgia experienced similar crimes. In 2007, Atlanta’s nightspot called Onyx got attacked by rats and roaches. When Platinum 21 employees failed to make the rodents work, fire became their next choice. Club Onyx was severely burned when an arsonist set it afire causing $1.8 million in damage. The club had to stay closed for six long months. There is a Houston-based Club Onyx located on Bering Drive.

Federal authorities uncovered the plot and tracked down the culprits. Sandeo Dyson, Boyd Smith, and Harold “Bit” Thrower served prison time for conspiring to burn a commercial business.

“Setting afire a rival business to gain a competitive edge is not only a threat to free enterprise it is a crime of violence,” said Gregory Gant, then-head of the (ATF), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Celebrities Party-Hardy at VLive

There is never a boring moment when it comes to Houston’s nightlife scene. No matter if you’re looking for high-energy dance clubs, the jazz scene, Texas honky tonks, action-packed sports pubs, or low-key wine bars, there is always some action for everyone’s taste including adult strip clubs.

VLive attracts people from all walks of life. TMZ news show aired episodes showing mega-celebrities like rap stars Drake, Rihanna, Manaja, Wiz Khalifa, boxer Floyd Mayweather, Houston Rockets basketball star James Harden, and even pop singer Justin Bieber visited VLive to party with the overflowing ebullient crowd. (This link is a TV News Story Highlighting the Names of Popular Celebrities and Singers Who Visited VLive Club to Watch the Action: Agents shut down popular V-Live club over unpaid taxes (fox26houston.com)

A female stripper told news media outlets that Bieber dropped about $10,000 on the girls and that Mayweather threw out over $17,000 onto the stage where the scantily clad women danced, and for a nice price, pretty babes can give stimulating lap dances to customers. Strip clubs like VLive can easily earn over $100,000 in a single night and up to $350,000 or more within a week.

Whenever Cobbs opens a new VLive venture in another city he’s been known to boast, “I changed the strip club scene in that city.”

VLive’s reputation steadily grew to high-class status with prime locations in Dallas, Houston, Jackson Mississippi, New Orleans, Phoenix Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Lawsuits were filed against Cobbs either for injury on premises, or non-payment of city taxes. A plaintiff sued Cobbs for attempting to take full control of a sports lounge they were partners in.

What investigators learned after a few days, and many years later, is that with no eyewitnesses, or physical evidence pinpointing the killers responsible for Phil Liase’s mob-style hit there was no suspect(s) to arrest.

A subsequent autopsy proved Liase died as a result of gunshot wounds to his torso.

Phillip “Phil” Liase’s Background

Phillip Andrew Liase was born on April 15, 1973, in Longview, Texas. Relatives and close friends affectionately described Phil as a man of genuine love with the innate ability to make those around him feel special. Throughout his short life here on earth, Phillip lived life to its fullest. People who knew him well also called him either Phil, Doc, or Mr. Nice.

An avid golfer and international traveler, Phil played golf in faraway places as Asia, Europe, Central- and South America, and the Pacific and Caribbean.

Phil graduated from Longview High School in 1991. Reaching for higher ground in the world of education, Phil attended college. After graduating from the historic Prairie View A & M College in 1996, earning a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biology, Phil lived in the Houston area. Later he moved to Atlanta around 2010.

San Francisco, California was another exclusive place where Phil resided as well.

A Brilliant Businessman

Success in the business world starts with dreams. And Phil had plenty of them. He just needed to find the right niche to light a blaze toward making his dreams come true.

A Youtuber named “Immortalizedmindz” said Phil Liase had the burning desire early in life to become a successful entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship can bring many rewards or losing efforts. Phil’s motto was to win the game at whatever he was doing.

First, Liase ran a car wash business and a food truck in his hometown of Longview, Texas. He made some money. Not quite enough, though. While residing in Houston, Phil started Perfecto Window Tint on Bissonnet Street.

An inheritance from his grandfather’s properties gave him the capital he needed. Phil traveled to California and struck gold. He connected with “Red,” a veteran player in the legal marijuana growing business. Phil got hired as a broker and before long the Texan proceeded to achieve the goals he’d always dreamed about. He made tons of money in the marijuana business.

philip liase happy times
Phillip Liase (Wearing Dark Glasses) Partying at The Mansion Elan Club in Atlanta, Georgia.
Liaise and two other partners operated the hotspot. Source: Liaise’s Sister Pam Fuller

Houston Chronicle Front Page Story About Phil Liase’s Death

Houston Chronicle veteran newspaper reporters James Pinkerton and Mike Tolson wrote a large in-depth feature story about Phillip Liase’s unsolved death titled: “Deadly Ambush Cut Down New Competitor in City’s Strip Club Scene.

Pinkerton and Tolson wrote, “No one can say for sure what was on Phil Liase’s mind as he headed home in the predawn darkness that October morning, but there was no shortage of possibilities. He had renovations to finish, staff to hire, business partners to please, and, perhaps, the unnerving specter of someone who wanted to destroy the whole thing.”

But Phillip Liase also had enemies.

Someone tried to burn the place to prevent the club from opening.

Pinkerton and Tolson added, “Twice over the summer of 2013, as workers were turning the building on Richmond Avenue into a pleasure palace that he (Phil) hoped would prove unrivaled by any other strip club in Houston, two arson attempts threatened to bring his plans to ruin.”

“I told him, ‘You’ve got an enemy somewhere,” Phillip Liase’s mother, Betty Sentell, told the reporters.

David Greenberg, owner of a property management firm, according to the Chronicle’s article, shuffled the paperwork for Liase and a business partner to rent the 10,000-square-foot brick and stone building on Richmond Avenue to make the luxury venue happen. Greenberg said Liase and his business partners were competent businessmen who knew how to operate.

Greenberg told the Chronicle reporters he’d heard Liase had been killed because of his foray into the Houston Adult Entertainment industry, that for some reason someone wanted to stop him from opening.

“I’ve been in commercial real estate for 40 years,” Greenberg said, “and we see competitors come and go. I haven’t seen anybody strong-arm somebody out of a place.”

A Dream

In a lengthy written statement to Houston Police Homicide investigators, Phillip Liase’s relative Cathy Morris reiterated how Liase wanted to start a Vegas-style strip club in Houston

This same statement by Morris was later obtained by FBI Agents (Federal Bureau of Investigation).

“In August 2013, Phillip Liase met with two friends (who also were) business partners regarding the expansion of their club business from Atlanta to Houston,” Morris said Phil was getting ready to settle down and that he had brought his sister and her family to the Houston area to help take care of Phil’s cancer-stricken mother.

“At the end of August 2013, Phillip took his family to a location at 6224 Richmond Avenue which he thought might make a good spot for a premier gentleman’s club. His dream was to have a bevy of dancers from diverse ethnic backgrounds,” Morris said.

Phil Liase insisted to business partners they needed to have the best food and top-brand liquor in Houston. Liase’s grand vision was to offer a new and exciting experience for the eclectic wealthy of Houston and thus provide tourists with a ‘must-see’ destination. Phillip offered his sister the opportunity to not only assist in operating the club but to open a potential five-star restaurant inside the place.

Hard-driven, Phil’s end game was laser focused to fulfill his dreams in full color and made real. His vision for Club NV was to create a flow of energy unequaled among Houston’s entertainment industry.

Houston police investigator C.E. Cegielski and FBI investigators followed up on a large amount of information that came in throughout the investigation into Phillip Liase’s death.

The FBI probed the background of Liase’s Atlanta-based business partners Felix Murry and Nate (last name unknown). Both Murry and Nate chipped in with Liase to open Club NV on Richmond Avenue near another “hot” after-hours club called VLive. Felix Murry, the guy named Nate, and Liase were partners in a popular club in Atlanta called The Mansion Elan.

Bank records show on two separate occasions Felix Murry deposited a total of $130,000 into the NPF, LLC account. NPF stands for Nate, Phillip, and Felix. FBI and Houston Police discovered that Phillip, however, preferred to deal with cash. Phillip poured at least the same amount or more capital into the business venture as Felix and Nate had done. Supposedly ‘Nate’ forked over around $200,000 into the venture.

Richard Williams, the soon-to-be- manager for Phil’s NV club had previously managed ‘The Mansion Club’ in Atlanta, paid vendors, laborers, and contractors’ cash for their goods and services provided for the club project in Houston. Williams paid cash to buy supplies as well.

Cathy Morris recalled in her statement to investigators that around September 2013, the fire department was called to Liase’s NV Club because of an attempted arson due to someone throwing a Molotov cocktail at the club’s electrical box.

“The damage was all external, costing approximately $2000,” Morris told investigators.

Following the arson attempt, Phillip Liase and his business partners agreed to have security cameras installed and hire a private security firm to watch the building from dusk to dawn.

Second Attempt to Burn Down Club NV

Two weeks later the firebug struck the under-construction nightclub again, trying to burn it to ashes.

What raised even more suspicion, according to Cathy Morris, the security officer guarding the club was nowhere to be found when the second arson attempt took place.

This time around, the arsonist felt comfortable enough to bring a ladder onto the premises, and lean the ladder against the building. Then in a spiderman movement the arsonist trudged up the ladder step-by-step until he propelled himself onto the club rooftop where he punched through a wall. There, he discovered there was only a ledge to stand on, and nothing to burn but the ledge he was standing on.

Desperate to burn the place down, the arsonist lit the blaze in this area.

Fortunately, the fire department workers arrived timely and extinguished the powerful smoke and blaze sparks. An insurance company paid for the damage.

The controversy about the security officer’s absence from the club when the second fire started led to Liase’s crew and business partners making verbal threats towards the manager of the security firm. Houston Arson investigators retrieved the security footage of the arson attempt.

Phillip Liase’s relatives were worried. They smelled trouble.

Cathy Morris said when the menu was approved for the kitchen, Phillip Liase was elated, but he wanted more; for $75 a patron could buy hamburgers, lobster and crab dishes, and exotic wild game meat. Relatives also spoke with Liase about the large entourage hanging around during the construction of the club. Another person forewarned Phillip that extra liquor-drinking visitors on the premises could jeopardize the club’s liquor license.

Investigators discovered that on October 13, 2013, Richard Williams, the club manager from The Mansion Elan in Atlanta, said that a young Persian man visited the club with another man identified as “The President.” Williams said the men offered money to have a piece of the club’s proceeds whenever it opened. Refusing to operate with too many hands in the pot, Phil Liase wasn’t interested.

Did a Deadly Arson at Dallas Strip Club Expose Organized Crime Ring Operating in Houston? Were the Same Forces Responsible for Phillip Liase’s Murder?

Early one morning on or before March 15, 2016 while it was still dark, three men hunkered into a vehicle. The driver of the vehicle headed to Dallas, Texas from Houston. The distance was approximately 250 miles, beginning at the I-45 North Freeway. As springtime season rapidly approached, bright stars danced across the darkened skies while the men chatted about the plans they were soon to carry out. Once they arrived near their destination the driver headed to I-35 near Dallas Love Field Airport.

Their target? Black Diamonds Strip Club located at 9009 Sovereign Row.

Two of the masked men, clad in plastic hazmat suits, exited the vehicle carrying large gasoline containers.

Under the cover of darkness, the sounds of vehicles rumbling down the nearby freeway penetrated the otherwise serene atmosphere. One of the men, a state licensed locksmith, was there. His unique job was to “pop” the lock on the door without triggering the alarm servicing the club.

The scheming plan backfired!

Armed with lock-picking tools, the locksmith first tried using a rake and a tension wrench. That didn’t work. His other two accomplices grew increasingly impatient. “What’s the matter?” One of the crooks asked. “Come on man!” the youngest guy whispered. The elderly locksmith then tried a technique called bumping; bumping works on pin tumbler locks as the locksmith fidgeted with the door it became apparent the technique wouldn’t work.

Fearing the club’s alarm would trigger and bring the police heat, the men used a crowbar to pry open the front door. With stronger efforts, they finally busted in.

Once inside the men poured flammable liquid inside the place and like many crimes sometimes a plan doesn’t always happen as planned. Although the arsonists tossed volumes of gasoline throughout the large club, a tiny spark ignited a runaway “flash fire.” A flash fire ignites when oxygen and fuel mix together then it blends in with the heat source which sparks the fire. At this spurious moment, one of the men caught fire.

With flailing arms, unable to breathe freely, the arsonist tried crawling underneath the weight of heavy objects to escape the powerful overwhelming smoke, Unfortunately, a moment of fate, trapped the guy in the raging flames. However, the other participants fled to safety out the front door. Then as the flames dissipated, one of the crooks hurriedly returned into the club, fighting his way through the heavy, gray smoke. Next, he bent over to reach into the pocket of his partner-in-crime and grabbed the dead man’s cell phone.

Headed Back to “H-town Houston”

The two remaining arsonists headed back, realizing they’d made a terrible mess. Their extra hired hand got burned to death inside the club. As they hopped onto the freeway out of Dallas to return to Houston the nervous men hoped no surveillance camera near the property captured the license plate of their vehicle. Just when the pair left the pre-dawn hours gradually set in further down the road toward Buffalo, Texas.

Bright stars slowly faded against the black sky as the yellowish sun slowly rose upwards like a round dome on the horizon, scattering the existence of the darkness a few hours earlier. The locksmith and the arsonist weren’t sure what story they’d tell the club mogul who hired them, but they were relieved to return to their turf in Houston.

Nagging questions dominated their thoughts while reflecting on the crime they’d committed. What would they say when someone asked about their dead friend who’d been left alone in a burnt building in Dallas?

According to Dallas Fire-Rescue officials, the fire at Black Diamonds fizzled out on its own yet the flames caused terrible damage inside the club without any alarm sounding off nor did any concerned citizen make a 911 call.

Body Found

Around 2: 30 PM, later that afternoon. an employee arrived at Black Diamond Club and shockingly he found the building had been torched with fire and the nauseous smell of black soot filled the employee’s lungs. While inspecting the damage the employee spotted the lifeless body of a person lying face-down in the rear dressing room where female dancers normally changed into their topless outfits to entertain the men spending lots of money for a lap dance or two. The fire originated in this area as well.

Realizing an arson had occurred and that a person got burned to death in the process, the employee immediately called the club managers and the police. A fire engine soon arrived with firemen hopping off the truck to enter the club to prevent another blaze from starting.

Soon afterwards, Dallas Arson investigators arrived on the scene to start the process of investigating the reason behind the fire, and to try to identify the person found dead in the club.

What triggered numerous questions was the fact that the alarms at the club failed to go off.

Once the Dallas County M.E. (Medical Examiner) Officials retrieved the body from the club and transported it to the M.E. facility, a positive identification was made.

The man was identified as Desmond Haye, born March 20, 1978. Investigators determined Haye was from H-town in Houston, Texas.

Dallas Fire Rescue Photo by Corey Collins on Unsplash
Dallas Fire Rescue Photo by Corey Collins on Unsplash

The Feds Move in

FBI agents (Dallas FBI Bureau) and ATF agents, (Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) along with Dallas Arson Investigators began an immediate investigation into the suspicious fire. Evidence showed the fire at Black Diamond Club was intentionally set. Working backwards, Investigators worked in collaboration with Houston-based FBI Agents and Houston Police Department investigators.

The first focus was to question the relatives and friends of the deceased Desmond Haye. Investigators pressed hard against those reluctant to provide information. They needed to know did Desmond know anyone in Dallas, when was the last time he’d been seen, who was he with, who were the names of his associates, what was his telephone number etc.

vincent palmer photo by CWalker.
Vincent Palmer. photo by CWalker.

Details are sketchy to explain all the elements of incriminating evidence which led investigators to the players who’d been with the now deceased Desmond Haye in Dallas when the Strip Club was torched. Yet the persistent investigators finally arrested Vincent Palmer, age 64, and Matthew Allen three years later in 2019. By using cell phone records belonging to the men and talking with people among the circle of people that Desmond Haye rolled with, the investigators pieced together a clear picture of what happened and why.

During questioning by federal agents in Houston, Vincent Palmer lied to the “feds” about his involvement in the arson of the Black Diamond’s Club in Dallas. Palmer’s profession as a locksmith piqued the investigator’s interest to the extent, they were convinced Palmer not only used his locksmith skills to earn legitimate money, but he also made ‘thousands of dollars’ carrying out the crimes of arson of Houston-based nightclubs along the Richmond Avenue Strip.

Matthew Allen assisted His partners in crime to burn down Dallas Texas Strip Club. Photo by CWalker.
Matthew Allen assisted His partners in crime to burn down Dallas Texas Strip Club. Photo by CWalker.

Vincent Palmer lied to investigators about his involvement with Desmond Haye and Matthew Allen. When confronted with the hard evidence that he’d been in Dallas and in direct contact with Desmond Haye and Matthew Allen, Palmer realizied he may get a boatload of prison time in a situation where someone died.

He cracked wide open, and spilled his guts on the table. Vincent Palmer confessed that along with Allen and the decedent Desmond Haye, he had been hired by a wealthy strip club owner in Houston to burn down Black Diamond in Dallas to prevent Black Diamond from competing with another club in Dallas owned by the Houston club owner.

Desmond Haye Died in Fire At Dallas Strip Club. Photo by CWalker.
Desmond Haye Died in Fire At Dallas Strip Club. Photo by CWalker.

Who was this Houston club owner whose mission was to destroy and eliminate the hard-working rivals in the nightclub scene in the Lone Star State?

Vincent Palmer and Matthew Allen identified the behind-the-scenes mastermind as none other than Damon Cobbs.

Palmer said Cobbs paid them in cash to burn down the Dallas club where Cobbs owned another strip club, an after-hours entertainment venue like the one with the same name at 6213 Richmond Avenue. Palmer said Cobbs paid them in cash to burn down the Dallas strip joint to eliminate the competition with Cobb’s Dallas-based VLive nightspot.

Remember Damon Cobbs?

Cobbs owned VLive, an after-hours entertainment strip club located at 6213 Richmond Avenue where Phil Liase made his last stop before the killers ambushed him on Beverly Hills Street.

A background check on Cobbs showed he’d been questioned by Houston Police Homicide Detectives about the mob-style murder of Phillip Liase on October 22, 2013. Phillip Liase’s high-end Vegas-style nightclub had been scheduled to open within 2-3 weeks prior to his death. When Liase was murdered in 2013, Sergeant C.E. Cegielski documented information from various people including from underworld intelligence that Cobbs and his associates had some connections to the people responsible for Liase’s death.

Some tattlers even told homicide investigators that Cobb hired killers to murder Phil Liase to eliminate Liase’s soon-to-open club “NV” to keep it from competing with Cobb’s VLive establishment.

Damon Cobb has not been charged in connection with Phil Liase’s unsolved death nor has he been charged in the several arsons that he’s been implicated in.

The Black Diamonds arson, investigators discovered, was connected to a series of fires that occurred in the entertainment district in Southwest Houston’s Richmond Avenue Strip to eliminate Cobb’s competition in the industry beginning in January 2010.

A drive along Richmond Avenue.

NV location at 22:55 on the left side and V-Live location at 23:08 on the right in this clip.

The deceased Desmond Haye who lost his life in the Black Diamond Club fire was a felon with a laundry list of arrests which included a 2015 arrest for attempting to break into a building using a blowtorch to cut through a metal door. Vincent Palmer’s prior arrests included a gun charge dismissed in 2006.

Houston homicide investigators were determined to solve Liase’s death and arrest those involved yet they were unable to find evidence to make a case on the killers or anyone who hired the killers to murder him. The information that the Ziploc Taliban gang shot Liase as part of a murder for hire yielded no solid clues either. Homicide investigators and FBI agents discussed the arson attempts at Liase’s club before the place officially opened and before Liase’s tragic death in 2013  –  including Liase’s telling the people who worked for him not to visit VLive because of potential competition, warranted closer scrutiny of Damon Cobbs.

Whatever the investigators discovered about Cobbs behind the scenes hasn’t been revealed yet.

Yet it appeared to investigators that Damon Cobbs acted as a driving force behind suspicious arson of clubs competing with Cobbs’ VLive franchise.

Federal agents now have the intelligence that Damon Cobb’s mission is to eliminate rival strip clubs located near his VLive club brand.

vlive club. youtube image
vlive club. youtube image

When street talk trickled down the pipeline that Damon Cobbs would open a VLive in Miami Beach during 2016, Rapper Akinyele Adams better known by his “mononym” Akinyele, he almost went to war against Cobbs in the world of strip clubs, yet instead, according to AllHipHop News, Akinyele, the King of Diamonds owner decided to make peace with Cobbs and partner with him to open VLive Strip Club on Ocean Drive in Miami.

“In the real world, we were supposed to go to war, we were supposed to have that fight,” Akinyele told AllHipHop. Instead Akinyele and Cobb partnered up to take the business to the next level.

“VLive Miami, on South Beach, 13th and Ocean Drive. My man Akinyele called me and said, ‘we need to open this thing up to Miami. He said “DC, you ain’t made it yet until you come to Miami. I said, ‘you know what bro?’ You’re right!”

Based on the investigator’s hunch; if the two arsonists, Vincent Palmer and Matthew Allen, were truthful when they said they were paid by Cobbs to burn down clubs in the Houston area, and in Dallas, then it wasn’t a far stretch to believe Cobbs hired assailants to kill Phillip Liase on October 21, 2013.

Investigators also felt uneasy about Liase’s business partners from Atlanta who hadn’t been too cooperative with Liase’s homicide investigation. The FBI offices in Dallas and Houston and the Houston-based U.S. Attorney’s office both declined comment on the case as of this writing.

Arsonists Sentenced to Federal Prison

Both Vincent Palmer and Matthew Allen pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to the arson of the Black Diamond Club in Dallas. Last year in 2021, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade sentenced Allen to five years in prison while Vincent Palmer, then 66, was handed a lighter sentence of two years in federal prison for making false statements to ATF agents.

Dallas Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade. official photo.
Dallas Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade. official photo.

The Dallas indictment, according to Dallas Morning Newspaper, stated the unnamed Houston club owner who competed with Black Diamonds for patrons, paid the locksmith, Palmer, to open the doors of the club in 2016 to allow access into the club for Allen and the deceased Desmond Haye to saturate the place with flammable liquid to burn it down. Vincent Palmer’s attorney Katherine Reed, as reported in Dallas Morning News, said her client’s name had not come up in the Houston arson probe by the FBI and ATF.

AUSA (Assistant United States Attorney) Walt Junker disputed Reed’s assertion.

Junker explained to Judge Kinkeade how Palmer used his locksmith skills to unlock the Ace of Spades Club in Houston that burned down as well.

“Here he is up here, doing the same thing,” Junker told the judge.

“He shouldn’t get less punishment for being inept at picking the (Black Diamond) nightclub’s lock.” added Junker. Matthew Allen was facing 20 years in prison but his cooperation with federal agents reduced his sentence to the lower end of punishment. Allen’s court-appointed defense attorney Aaron Wiley, a former veteran federal prosecutor, argued his client’s previous convictions were only for minor drug possession.

“Mr. Allen will have to live with his friend’s (Desmond Haye) gruesome death for the rest of his life,” Wiley said.

AUSA Walt Junker called the crime a “planned and premeditated act.”

Wiley said after the hearing that investigators utilized the defendants’ mobile phones to place them at the scene of the crime. “The phones had pinged from towers in Houston hours earlier,” he said. “From there, agents were able to build a case against the men.”

Newsblaze Crime Beat Journalist Clarence Walker contacted Katherine Reed, Vincent Palmer’s attorney in Dallas to inquire about the evidence related to the person who paid Palmer and Matthew Allen to burn the Black Diamond Club in Dallas. Reed expressed hesitation to divulge in-depth details about the case due to attorney-client privilege. Reed wrote in an email saying the following, “Mr. Palmer was not pleased that he was criminally responsible for anything while Mr. Cobb seems to skate from all criminal prosecutions.”

The sentencing memorandum report mentioned Damon Cobb as the mastermind who paid Palmer, Allen, and the now-deceased Desmond Haye to burn Black Diamond Club because the club competed with Cobb’s Dallas-based VLive.

So, why hasn’t Damon Cobbs faced federal charges involving a string of club fires that the federal agents are convinced that he is guilty of?

black diamonds club sign
Black Diamonds Club Sign.

Who is Damon Cobbs?

While investigators suspect Cobbs is a mastermind criminal with lots of money and heavily connected with organized crime. Many others describe the young man as an outstanding businessman in the adult nightclub business.

A criminal background check on Cobbs doesn’t show any arsons, yet he’s been charged with crimes in Houston ranging from assaulting a family member, theft of $20,000 to $100,000, credit card abuse, bond forfeiture and interfering with his girlfriend when she tried to make an emergency call to report an assault.

FBI and Houston Police are tight-lipped about what they know about Cobb’s involvement in club arsons and possibly homicide. Vincent Palmer claimed Cobbs paid him to burn down the Aces of Spade nightclub as well.

FBI Top Secret: The Ongoing Probe. The Bigger Picture

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Wiley who is now a private criminal defense attorney represented Matthew Allen in the arson of the Black Diamond Club in Dallas told Newsblaze Crimebeat that “FBI usually don’t get involved in local arson cases like the situation that happened in Dallas.”

Wiley said when the federal government comes into an arson case, they’re always looking at a bigger picture.

“FBI looks into strip clubs a lot because (adult entertainment businesses) involve money laundering from drug trafficking,” Wiley said.

Houston-based FBI Division Took the Lead in the Unsolved Death of Phillip Liase Credit Source: Unsplash
Houston-based FBI Division Took the Lead in the Unsolved Death of Phillip Liase
Credit Source: Unsplash

In 2021, V-Live was raided.


Nine long years have passed since the murder of Phillip Liase with no arrest despite the long-term efforts by the FBI bureau in Houston and the FBI in Dallas to bring those responsible to justice for Phillip’s murder.

Deep into the investigation of adult entertainment clubs is an undercurrent of corruption, money laundering in the millions, other murders, arson of clubs competing with the big hitters who own the most popular spots that attract well-known wealthy celebrities and sports athletes.

Heavy loads of money are made where scantily clad women arouse men shaking their fine-built butts to the blast of pulsating music. The power wielded by the players operating high-dollar strip clubs down south is not to be underestimated.

Prior to the passing of Phillip Liase’s mother Betty Sentell, she was quoted in the Houston Chronicle saying, “It’s like my son lived and died and nobody cares.” Sentell went on to tell the reporter she wished her son could have lived long enough to see his most ambitious business venture come to fruition.

“If the club had opened it wouldn’t just be the biggest in Houston but in the U.S., because Phillip was a dreamer,” Ms. Sentell lamented. “He could see further than most people. He could see outside the box.”

Ms Sentell closed her sentiments with these words, “There’s someone out there who knows what happened.”

She was right on point.

Behind every unsolved murder, someone, somewhere knows the truth.

Newblaze Crimebeat Investigative Journalist Clarence Walker can be reached at: [email protected]

Due to the highly sensitive nature of information in this story provided by Cathy Morris; information that hasn’t been revealed publicly or aired or published in the mainstream news media; the name Cathy Morris is fictitious to keep the person’s true identity undisclosed.

Public Announcement: The Houston-based FBI Division is Seeking Information In the Unsolved Murder of Phillip Liase That Occurred on October 21, 2013.

Anyone With Information Can Call the FBI Office Anonymously by Dialing 713-693-5000 – Or call Houston Police Department Homicide Division at 713-308-3600.

Clarence Walker
As an analyst and researcher for the PI industry and a business consultant, Clarence Walker is a veteran writer, crime reporter and investigative journalist. He began his writing career with New York-based True Crime Magazines in Houston Texas in 1983, publishing more than 300 feature stories. He wrote for the Houston Chronicle (This Week Neighborhood News and Op-Eds) including freelancing for Houston Forward Times.Working as a paralegal for a reputable law firm, he wrote for National Law Journal, a publication devoted to legal issues and major court decisions. As a journalist writing for internet publishers, Walker's work can be found at American Mafia.com, Gangster Inc., Drug War Chronicle, Drug War101 and Alternet.His latest expansion is to News Break.Six of Walker's crime articles were re-published into a paperback series published by Pinnacle Books. One book titled: Crimes Of The Rich And Famous, edited by Rose Mandelsburg, garnered considerable favorable ratings. Gale Publisher also re-published a story into its paperback series that he wrote about the Mob: Is the Mafia Still a Force in America?Meanwhile this dedicated journalist wrote criminal justice issues and crime pieces for John Walsh's America's Most Wanted Crime Magazine, a companion to Walsh blockbuster AMW show. If not working PI cases and providing business intelligence to business owners, Walker operates a writing service for clients, then serves as a crime historian guest for the Houston-based Channel 11TV show called the "Cold Case Murder Series" hosted by reporter Jeff McShan.At NewsBlaze, Clarence Walker expands his writing abilities to include politics, human interest and world events.Clarence Walker can be reached at: [email protected]