Houstonians know Carolyn Farb as a philanthropist and a high-profile socialite often photographed wearing elegant gowns at charity galas.
On Friday, however, Farb and law enforcement authorities described decades of private torment she endured through a series of threatening, anonymous letters. Farb said she has never met the man charged with sending them.
“I’ve been receiving his letters for over 30 years,” Farb said. “They are frightening, menacing and a vicious type of stalking. It makes you feel not safe.”
Robin Chiswell, 60, was charged in November with felony stalking, accused of sending threatening letters to a person identified in court documents by the initials C.F. In a news conference Friday, police and prosecutors identified C.F. as Farb, one of Houston’s best-known society figures.
Farb’s website describes her as Houston’s “first lady of philanthropy.” During the past 40 years, Farb has helped more than 100 nonprofit organizations raise millions of dollars.
“It’s hard to believe that someone could be that evil,” Farb said. “The last straw was when he wrote, ‘I’m glad your son is dead.’ “
Farb’s son died unexpectedly in 2004 at age 34.
Prosecutor Samantha Knecht said authorities believe Chiswell threatened others. She urged anyone who had received similar letters to contact authorities.
“We believe there’s a good chance there are other victims out there,” Knecht said.
Chiswell apparently targeted high-profile socialities and philanthropists who lived in the River Oaks and Tanglewood areas, police said. He even attended funerals and weddings of his victims, according to Sgt. T. Seagler with the Houston Police Department’s Major Offenders Division.
“As a community, we know that long-term stalking cases can lead to other serious crimes, and Houston Police Department is committed to ensuring the safety of our citizens,” said Seagler.
During the years she received the letters, Farb made numerous police reports, but no headway was made because the letters had fake return addresses and the sender was anonymous, authorities said. Seagler said Farb feared for her life because Chiswell knew where she lived, appeared to be following her and the tone of the letters grew more aggressive.
Farb said one of the letters told her that the writer had been at a restaurant while Farb was dining with friends there last May.
“He followed me from address to address,” she said. “Every time I moved he was there. Every time I had a major achievement, he was there. I wondered if it was someone I knew.”
In February 2018, police investigators took a fresh look at the case. They worked with U.S. postal inspectors and eventually identified Chiswell as the prime suspect. Detectives conducted research and surveillance on Chiswell and interviewed neighbors, church members, past co-workers, past employers and family members.
Authorities arrested Chiswell in November. At his home, they found several pieces of evidence including stationery similar to some that was sent to Farb. Detectives also learned that Chiswell had sent a harassing letter to former Texas A&M University coach Kevin Sumlin in 2017, authorities said.
Art lover: Carolyn Farb seeks to resurrect Dorothy Hood
No one answered the door Friday at Chiswell’s home in northwest Houston. Large, colored lights and a Santa wreath adorned the residence.
A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, described Chiswell as extremely nosy, often checking on vehicles that drove by in the neighborhood.
Chiswell had grown up living in the home with his parents, who have both died, the neighbor said.
“He’s the kind of guy you would never want to get on his bad side,” the neighbor said.
The letter to Sumlin, bearing a handwritten return address of the Houston Country Club, arrived at Sumlin home in the days after A&M’s 45-44 loss at UCLA in the 2017 season opener. Sumlin was still the A&M coach at the time.
The single-page letter included a racist term directed at Sumlin and finished with “or else” after “please get lost.”
Chiswell’s defense attorney, Val Zuniga, said he intends for Chiswell to receive a psychiatric evaluation to try to reduce the $250,000 bond that has kept his client in jail since November.
Farb expressed gratitude to law enforcement officials for their work on the case, and she echoed their call for other possible victims to come forward.
“There are a lot of people who have received his letters, so I’m speaking out because I want them to know they aren’t alone,” she said.
Chiswell is a former employee of the Houston Country Club, Zuniga said.
Chronicle reporter Brent Zwerneman contributed.