Owen Norris interview
Saturday, January 7, 2017 - 5:15 p.m.
Owen Norris was Andrea Stover's acquaintance and benefactor.
Detectives Armstrong and Murphy interviewed Mr. Norris at his residence, 118-A Courthouse Square. The interview was recorded with the witness's knowledge and consent.
- Detective T. Armstrong
- Detective S. Murphy
- Owen Norris
Detective Armstrong: Thank you for meeting with us, Mr. Norris.
Owen Norris: Of course, of course. I'm just devastated, and if I can be of any help at all, well, here I am. Would you two like a drink? Bourbon?
Detective Armstrong: Uh, no, thanks. Still on duty, you know.
Owen Norris: Well, I hope you don't mind if I…?
Detective Armstrong: It's not standard protocol, but go ahead. For the record, please state your name and address.
Owen Norris: Owen Norris, 118-A Courthouse Square.
Detective Murphy: Thank you. Could you start out by telling us how you and Ms. Stover met?
Owen Norris: Certainly. As you no doubt know, I head up an arts organization for my father's company. Through that work, I became acquainted with Oxtales and started funding their work. This was in 2009 or so, around the same time I heard about Andrea, who was already causing quite a stir. I like that in an artist.
Detective Murphy: Was she the Oxtales director at that point?
Owen Norris: No, she was just acting with them part-time. When she graduated, Oxtales was in need of a director, and I secured the position for her. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Detective Murphy: Could you go into that history a little deeper? About how you and Andrea worked together.
Owen Norris: Well, that's simple. I paid the bills, and she did the work. I wouldn't say we worked together so much as I supported her work.
Detective Murphy: When you say "paid the bills," what are you talking about? How much of Oxtales' work did you pay for?
Owen Norris: I would say that between the foundation and my own personal contributions, about 90 percent of the costs were underwritten. I would have to look at the paperwork for exact figures, I'm afraid. Can I email that to you later?
Detective Murphy: Sure, but if you could tell us a little more about how that worked. For instance, did you pay for individual plays as costs came up? Or was it more annual grants?
Owen Norris: Oh, a little of both, of course. The foundation gave an annual grant with a payout just once a year, plus Oxtales applied once or twice for project-specific grants. But then I would fill in whatever else needed to be covered. Usually, they would draw up a cost estimate for each project and figure out where the money was coming from. If there was a gap, and if I was interested, I'd write a check.
Detective Murphy: What kinds of costs were covered?
Owen Norris: Well, as I'm sure you know, none of the company members are paid much, so it's mostly production costs — lights, sound, rental of performance space when they were going that route, and so forth.
Detective Murphy: The foundation has been funding them pretty much every year?
Owen Norris: Again, I'd have to look at the books to be sure, but I'm almost certain they've gotten an annual grant every year since 2010 or so.
Detective Murphy: And regarding your personal donations, have you funded everything they've done?
Owen Norris: Not every single thing. Usually, I'd pick up the slack when they couldn't get any other kind of funding — generally because they were trying something a little edgy, which is what I love, so it worked out perfectly.
Detective Murphy: You always picked up the slack personally?
Owen Norris: Well, not always. Sometimes they'd come calling, and I just wouldn't have anything to offer from my personal stash. I don't live by "a penny saved is a penny earned." I'm more a carpe diem kind of guy. So sometimes, after traveling or what have you, I couldn't give them what they needed. But by and large, I did contribute quite a bit. I'd say I was more inclined to donate than not.
Detective Armstrong: Mr. Norris, there are so many groups out there. Why did you donate so heavily to Oxtales?
Owen Norris: To my mind, they're the only ones really covering exciting territory. At least in this state. Maybe in New Orleans or Miami, you'd find something more provocative, but nowhere else in this part of the South. And, Detectives, let me tell you. There's no point in dabbling around in safe territory. If you're going to do something, you might as well get people talking.
Detective Armstrong: So I take it that you helped pay for "Snopes"?
Owen Norris: Yes, of course. That was groundbreaking work. I loved it. It was truly outstanding.
Detective Armstrong: Groundbreaking is one way of putting it. What did you think of the fallout?
Owen Norris: I'm sure I don't have to tell you. My testimony and the full-page ads I took out in the newspaper at the time should make it clear.
Detective Armstrong: Please, refresh our memories.
Owen Norris: In short, it was a travesty. Detectives, I've traveled a bit and seen quite a lot, and what Andrea was doing was relatively tame by comparison. In New York or London, no one would blink an eye at what she was trying to express.
Detective Armstrong: This isn't New York or London.
Owen Norris: You don't have to tell me. Listen, the whole commotion was an example of just how much of a backwater this state is, just how enslaved by the Christian right. The idea that a play can harm someone is utter hogwash in my opinion. Those zealots at COP had no right to censor Oxtales. I was under the impression that this country is governed by laws that protect free speech, but apparently, I was sorely mistaken. And mark my words: it's only going to get worse from here.
Detective Murphy: Did you support Ms. Stover in her refusal to plea bargain?
Owen Norris: Absolutely. I supported her one hundred percent, and when she had doubts, I tried to shore up her courage. If you look back at the history of the arts, Detectives, you'll see that this type of repression is sadly common. Look at Sade, locked away in Charenton asylum. Or Ulysses — did you know James Joyce's greatest work, the greatest work of the 20th century, was banned in this country? Or the blacklisting of the 1950s. Look at how Luther's creation, a new faith, was treated by the pontiffs in Rome.
Detective Murphy: You view religion as artistic expression?
Owen Norris: Well, yes, it's a beautiful fable. Catholicism, Protestantism, all the sects based around this primal myth that has parallels to all the other religions of the world. The creation myth and what have you. It's a wonderful story that has been used by various factions throughout time to repress and prosecute individuals and groups who posed a threat to the status quo. Today is no exception.
Detective Armstrong: Let's stay on track here. Going back to Ms. Stover's prosecution, I understand you paid her $10,000 fine. Was that a loan?
Owen Norris: I told her, "When you're on Broadway you can pay me back." I suppose it was a loan, but we both understood it didn't have a deadline for repayment. No interest./p>
Detective Murphy: Were you prosecuted for your involvement with "Snopes"?
Owen Norris: Certainly not. I wrote the checks. There was nothing more they could prove as far as my involvement.
Detective Armstrong: And what was your involvement exactly? Did you oversee rehearsals, auditions and the like? How much control did that money buy?
Owen Norris: I have to say, I resent your implication. As a patron, my support wasn't based on this or that line in a play, or whether the lighting was thus and so, or whether this or that person was cast. No. I was supporting their creativity and trusted them to carry out their vision.
Detective Murphy: But you did attend rehearsals?
Owen Norris: From time to time, yes, I do drop in but mostly to see Andrea and catch up. I would never dream of making suggestions about what I see. It's up to them to figure it out. I'm a businessman, or so I'm told — not an artist. I am the ultimate aficionado. I have no artistic talent, and I know it, but I can appreciate it when I see it. And Andrea had it.
Detective Murphy: Going back to "Snopes," how well did you know the minors involved?
Owen Norris: Not at all.
Detective Murphy: You never met them?
Owen Norris: Oh, I suppose on opening night, backstage, I might have said hello, but I wouldn't know them from Adam. Actually, there's one fellow who I've seen since then. He's been in a production, I believe, but don't ask me to tell you his name, I wouldn't know it.
Detective Armstrong: So let's go back to your relationship with Ms. Stover. You paid the bills, as you put it, and sometimes stopped by rehearsals. What else was involved in your working relationship?
Owen Norris: Nothing related specifically to the projects she was working on. As I hope I've made clear, I don't like to meddle, or as they call it these days, micromanage. She and I did spend quite a while talking about art in the abstract sense, about ideas. I would send her news clippings of interest to inspire her or a play I dug up in a used bookstore or what have you. In a way, I suppose I was her link to the outside world.
Detective Murphy: Did you see each other outside the theatre?
Owen Norris: Of course. We had dinner together on occasion. She came to New Orleans a couple of times to see plays I thought would be interesting and would stay with me. We went to parties here and there. I suppose you could say we were friends if you must categorize it.
Detective Murphy: Were you romantically involved?
Owen Norris: No. No, no. I'm a perennial bachelor, I'm afraid.
Detective Murphy: But you saw each other how often, would you say?
Owen Norris: Oh, I don't know. Saw each other — such a crude term. I suppose we spoke or did something outside talking about specific theatre projects, I don't know, maybe once or twice a month at most. I'm afraid, Detectives, you're way off with this line of questioning.
Detective Armstrong: Well, just bear with us. I don't mean to put too fine a point on it, but I've seen the letters you wrote while Ms. Stover was incarcerated, and a few of them are pretty hot to handle. You can't tell me there wasn't some sort of connection.
Owen Norris: You lack imagination, sir. Just because I sent her some erotica doesn't mean I wanted to enact it with her. I was simply trying to relieve her misery and have some fun writing those little notes. I forgot about it as soon as it was mailed. Your thought process is so conventional.
Detective Armstrong: Nonetheless. Did you share erotica, as you put it, in other ways? Watch pornography together?
Owen Norris: No. We certainly talked about erotic themes in art. Andrea was working with sexual material, and so it always came up, as it were. I would tell her about interesting things I've seen. For example, I had seen "The Vagina Monologues" in New Tork, and we talked about that. Or I would recommend movies or exhibitions. Send clippings, as I said. I sent her a first edition copy of Delta of Venus once. Anais Nin, maybe you've heard of her? I recommend you check it out of the library if it hasn't been banned and burned. It would do you good.
Detective Armstrong: All right, Mr. Norris. Let's get back on track here. You sent Ms. Stover letters in jail. Did you ever visit her?
Owen Norris: No.
Detective Murphy: Why not?
Owen Norris: I wouldn't want to put her through that. The humiliation of being seen like that.
Detective Murphy: But wouldn't it have cheered her up?
Owen Norris: No more than those letters you're so suspicious about. We had a civilized relationship, Detective, and jail is no place for such a thing. If we couldn't relax and talk at our leisure over a bottle of pinot, we wouldn't have enjoyed it. In fact, we would have suffered and lost something and been disappointed with each other.
Detective Murphy: Why is that?
Owen Norris: It has to do with context. It would have been out of context and therefore wrong and upsetting, and she hardly needed to be upset any more than she already was.
Detective Murphy: What about when she got out of prison? How soon did you see her?
Owen Norris: We had dinner her third night home. We ate at my place — and no, she did not stay over, and we did not have sex.
Detective Murphy: And what happened with the theatre group at that point? You felt pretty strongly about Ms. Stover becoming director again.
Owen Norris: Absolutely.
Detective Armstrong: You say you don't like to meddle, yet you all but ordered Mr. King to step aside.
Owen Norris: There's a difference between meddling — insisting on this or that scene or this or that piece of stage work — and insisting on maintaining an overall artistic vision. I supported Andrea's vision for the group over Dale's. That was no secret, and I told him in no uncertain terms that he would have to stand down. I funded his work while she was gone, but that didn't mean I wanted the situation to be permanent. And he understood.
Detective Murphy: How did that go over?
Owen Norris: Well, I don't really know. As I said, I'm not involved in the day-to-day vicissitudes. But as far as I could tell, everyone was glad to have Andrea back. Dale is perfectly well-liked by them, don't get me wrong. I don't think, for them, it's a matter of preferring one over the other. They were simply glad to have their cohort back.
Detective Murphy: Even Mr. King?
Owen Norris: Certainly. He may have disagreed with Andrea, but he respected her skills as a director.
Detective Murphy: How about the rest of the group? How was Ms. Stover getting along with them?
Owen Norris: Fine, as far as I could tell. There's one fellow, Frank, she was hooking up with before going to jail, and she mentioned they weren't sure what would happen with their relationship now.
Detective Murphy: When did Ms. Stover talk with you about Mr. Tuttle?
Owen Norris: Oh, she mentioned it once when we talked on the phone. It might have been Christmas or the day after. We chatted for a while when I called to wish her a merry Christmas.
Detective Murphy: Did she mention any specifics?
Owen Norris: No, nothing more than that. I love to gossip, but Andrea didn't. And frankly, I didn't want to know about her love life. Our relationship had its basis in professional dealings — I hope you're picking that up — so there were certainly things that were off-limits between us.
Detective Armstrong: But not sexy letters.
Owen Norris: How tedious of you. Look, Detective, there's a difference between sending someone a little mischief to cheer them up, and knowing the soap opera of how many dates they've been on with Tom, Dick, and Harry, whether they prefer Harry to Tom or what have you.
Detective Murphy: Did you know anything more about her love life?
Owen Norris: No.
Detective Murphy: All right. Did she ever speak with you about other subjects — her sex offender registration requirement, for instance?
Owen Norris: No.
Detective Murphy: What about the publicity she was getting from COP? Did you talk about that?
Owen Norris: Oh, we bantered about it offhand. We have a running joke that we're going to seek political asylum from this country some day, and that was part of it, but otherwise no.
Detective Murphy: Going back to the troupe, what about the playwright, Ethan Lewiston? How did he get along with Ms. Stover?
Owen Norris: Ah yes, Mr. Lewiston. He had quite a ride with "Black Boy in the Closet" or what have you. I suppose he's hoping for another success and a ticket out of here. Or he would if he knows what's good for him.
Detective Murphy: And what about the other actors? Henry Jackson and Sheila Love?
Owen Norris: They're both terrific, aren't they? Look, again, as far as I know there were no problems. They were well under way with the new play, and it was going to be a smash.
Detective Murphy: What's going to happen with the new play now? Will you still pay the bills?
Owen Norris: Of course.
Detective Armstrong: How do you feel about Mr. King being the director?
Owen Norris: He's certainly very well-qualified. Don't get me wrong. He's not a moron. His work just doesn't interest me as much as Andrea's. Will the foundation still fund them? Of course. Will I still write checks when they're in a pinch? Sure, if I can. Will I be as excited about what they're doing? Maybe not. Maybe I'll find some other group that interests me, but I'm not going to let anything die here.
Detective Armstrong: How does everyone else feel about Mr. King being in charge again?
Owen Norris: I wouldn't know. I haven't exactly interviewed them all — although I'm sure you have — but I'm sure they're fine with it.
Detective Murphy: Is the play in rehearsals now? Have they started again?
Owen Norris: I haven't the slightest idea. I'm sure Dale could tell you. I haven't heard from them about needing costs covered, so I'm guessing they're not ready for prime time yet, but aside from that, I couldn't say.
Detective Armstrong: All right. Let's talk about the last time you saw Ms. Stover. When was that?
Owen Norris: At rehearsal Sunday night.
Detective Murphy: You came to rehearsal?
Owen Norris: Yes, as I'm sure you've been told. I stopped by in the evening and stayed until it was over.
Detective Murphy: Where were you before you arrived there?
Owen Norris: In Cleveland visiting the family patriarch. Sunday lunch with Daddy. Very cozy.
Detective Murphy: How late were you there?
Owen Norris: Until 5:00.
Detective Murphy: And you came directly to rehearsal?
Owen Norris: I drove to Oxford, yes. I stopped at the store to get groceries. I hadn't been here in a while, so I knew the fridge would be a disaster. I went to my place to put them away, read the mail and so forth. Then I went out to Taylor.
Detective Murphy: What time did you arrive?
Owen Norris: I was there by 9:00 or so, I imagine.
Detective Murphy: And what was going on?
Owen Norris: It seemed like they'd been working on a scene for a while and were winding down for the evening. Everyone was a little worn out, from what I could gather. Perhaps they were working through some little issue or disagreement. Such matters don't interest me. I only want to see the synthesis of all their hard work and arguments — the finished product. I was sitting at the back of the room and planning my calendar on my iPhone. I was having a hard time getting a signal in there, so I was fiddling with it and watching at the same time.
Detective Murphy: What time did rehearsal end?
Owen Norris: Oh, around 9:30. Everyone was ready to quit, I think.
Detective Murphy: Did you all leave together?
Owen Norris: No. Frank, Dale and the girl, Sheila — they went for a drink. Ethan took off immediately, even before they left. I don't know where. Henry and I chatted for a few minutes while Andrea was on the phone, and then he left too. Didn't mention where he was going.
Detective Murphy: And then it was just you and Andrea?
Owen Norris: Yes. We spoke briefly in the parking lot. I wanted her to come to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, so we were talking about that. We had plans to see each other later in the week, so we didn't stay long.
Detective Armstrong: Did she say where she was going?
Owen Norris: No, she said she had to run to meet someone but didn't elaborate.
Detective Armstrong: She left alone then?
Owen Norris: Yes.
Detective Armstrong: And what about you? Did you go home?
Owen Norris: More or less. I stopped by Taylor Catfish and had one drink, but then I went home.
Detective Murphy: Did you see anyone in particular at the bar or talk with anyone?
Owen Norris: I know the bartender, of course. At least, he would recognize my face. I spoke with a college boy, someone named Barkley — odd name, that's why I remember it — anyway, we were sitting next to each other at the bar and had a brief chat. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then he met someone, and they went to sit at a table.
Detective Murphy: What time did you leave?
Owen Norris: Oh, I don't know. Maybe 10:30, a quarter 'til 11:00?
Detective Murphy: And then you went straight home?
Owen Norris: Yes. Detectives, I certainly hope you don't think I'm a suspect!
Detective Armstrong: We just need to place everyone's whereabouts. Did you see anyone on your way home or after you arrived?
Owen Norris: No.
Detective Murphy: What did you do when you got back?
Owen Norris: I went online and did a few things — business and pleasure.
Detective Murphy: Did you send email?
Owen Norris: I did send a couple of messages, yes. But really, why do you think I would possibly want to kill Andrea? I'm her number one fan!
Detective Armstrong: All right. We've got just a few more questions, Mr. Norris, and then we'll be done. How did you hear about Ms. Stover's death?
Owen Norris: Justin called me — a friend of mine who works at Square Books. He saw all the commotion and went over to see what was going on, heard it was Andrea Stover, and called me right away.
Detective Murphy: Where were you at the time?
Owen Norris: In this office, preparing for a conference call at 10:30. It was awful, just dreadful.
Detective Murphy: Do you know why Ms. Stover might have been at Oxford Centre?
Owen Norris: No.
Detective Murphy: She never mentioned it to you?
Owen Norris: No.
Detective Murphy: Was she afraid of heights?
Owen Norris: Not that I know of. It's not like we attempted to scale Everest together, Detective. And I'm afraid I need to ask when we might conclude this conversation. I have an engagement for this evening, and I need to groom myself appropriately.
Detective Armstrong: Just one more question. Did Ms. Stover ever express any concerns to you about her personal safety? That she thought she might be in jeopardy, either from someone she knew or from someone in the community?
Owen Norris: No. She was utterly fearless, or if she was afraid, she never showed it. She never said a word to me about COP or anyone else.
Detective Murphy: Do you have any theories at all about who might have murdered her?
Owen Norris: Of course I'm apt to suspect those demons at COP, Claire Windham and her minions. But in theory they are pro-life, so in theory, they wouldn't kill anyone. Otherwise, I have no idea.
Detective Armstrong: All right. Thank you for your time. If you think of anything else, anything at all, please give us a call.
Owen Norris: I will. And now, Detectives, let me fetch your coats.
End interview 6:23 p.m.