Houston Chronicle

Aug. 3, 2002, 7:27PM

Gail Bridges: Not a stranger to the spotlight

Houston Chronicle

LEAGUE CITY -- Among the nicely landscaped homes near the banks of Clear Lake, Gail and Steve Bridges lived the American dream with their three young children.

The family lived in a two-story, red-brick house in League City's gated South Shore Park community and attended the neighborhood Methodist church. The couple even had his-and-hers Lincoln Navigators -- his white, hers red.

But the façade collapsed in April 1999 when Gail Bridges filed for divorce, citing discord and personality conflicts.

In his countersuit, Steve Bridges, an insurance agent, accused his wife of cruel treatment and having an affair with her best friend, Julie Ann Knight.

Their divorce -- and that of Julie and Chuck Knight, who lived in the adjoining Harbour Park subdivision -- was the talk of those close-knit neighborhoods.

In recent days, however, the talk has been about Gail Bridges' involvement with orthodontist David Harris, who was repeatedly run over and killed July 24 by a car driven by his wife.

The incident at a Nassau Bay hotel climaxed a loud and heated encounter that began when Clara Harris confronted her husband and Bridges in the hotel lobby.

It ended with David Harris, 44, dead and his wife, a 44-year-old dentist, charged with murder.

Five days after the death, Steve Bridges filed a petition in a Galveston County court asking for sole custody of the couple's children -- a 10-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 7 and 12. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14.

When the divorce was final in December 2000, the eldest child went to live with his father in the League City house while the other two went to live with their mother in a neighborhood north of Clear Lake.

Steve Bridges, 46, could not be reached for comment for this story. Gail Bridges, 38, declined to comment.

Those who knew her say that, while growing up in northeast Harris County's Crosby community, Gail Thompson was popular and involved in many activities.

She was a cheerleader for three years and a member of the marching band at Crosby High School. She also served on the student council and yearbook staff and participated in poetry and speech activities, the medical career club and the Audubon Club.

Her father, Oliver Thompson, was on the school board and a deacon in the First Baptist Church.

After graduating in 1981, Gail earned an associate's degree at Lee College in Baytown and then attended the University of Southwest Louisiana and the University of Houston.

She married Steve Bridges on July 16, 1988.

"On the outside, you would describe them as the all-American family," said an acquaintance who lived nearby. "Steve wore a suit and tie to work every day, and she always dressed to a T."

The family attended St. Mary's Catholic Church, and the older children attended its church school before the family joined Bay Harbour United Methodist Church and transferred the children to the neighborhood Ferguson Elementary School.

Gail Bridges was known to have a materialistic side, said an acquaintance who did not want to be identified. She wasn't shy about telling people after she got breast implants, the acquaintance said.

"She told everybody, `You should get these,' " she said, adding that Bridges convalesced at Knight's home.

Among her possessions mentioned in the divorce were a Rolex watch, a diamond wedding ring, an Italian gold necklace, a pearl necklace and other gold necklaces and jewelry worth $17,000.

Some who knew her say things changed after Bridges became friends with Knight, who has a daughter, 12, and a son, 8. They say the two women saw each other every day, working out together and shopping.

The families began celebrating holidays together and, at least once, the women vacationed together at Knight's condominium in Colorado.

"I think this took a real toll on Steve," an acquaintance said. "He hung on every word of Gail's. This was his wife. He loved her.

"When the husbands weren't home, (Gail and Julie) were always together. I felt sorry for the kids then, and I still do. They are the casualties here."

Another acquaintance described the Bridgeses as "a typical yuppie little family. Gail had everything. Steve treated her like a princess."

Sources tell the Chronicle the marriage started falling apart in late 1998 and early 1999 when the husbands suspected the wives of having an affair. Julie Knight filed for divorce on April 22, 1999.

Six days later, Gail Bridges filed.

"I know there are many people in the Clear Lake area that believe that my ex-wife and Julie Knight had a romantic relationship, even as I assume my ex-wife and Julie Knight will deny those allegations," Steve Bridges said in his petition last week seeking custody of the children.

The suspicions led Chuck Knight to hire a private investigator.

Bobbi Bacha of Blue Moon Investigations said Knight went to the agency's Bay Area Boulevard offices after Christmas 1999. She said he told her that he and Steve Bridges were splitting the cost of having their wives investigated.

The men, she said, planned a trip to the mall for their wives, arranged baby-sitting and disabled Julie's car. Bacha said they wanted Gail to drive because her red sport utility vehicle was easy to spot and she drove slower.

Bacha said the women browsed at the mall, went to McDonald's and then went home.

Chuck Knight was upset that the surveillance didn't catch them in a compromising way, Bacha said.

"He wanted us to inflame the report a little bit. He never picked up the report and the case was closed."

Knight, 44, denied saying he was splitting the cost with Steve Bridges.

"The representative who reported to me said it was dark, that they didn't see anything, but that their heads were close together," he said. "Without any evidence, there was no reason to pick up anything."

He also denied being upset about the surveillance report, but acknowledged he was disappointed.

Julie Knight's attorney, Valorie Davenport, said her client was not available for comment.

About a year later, Bacha said, the two women came to her.

"Julie and Gail were having horrible rumors spread about them being lesbians," she said. "They suspected the husbands might be spreading the rumors, and they also suspected that their husbands might be doing something themselves."

She said Julie was reluctant to order surveillance but finally agreed. Gail didn't want it, saying she wanted to avoid conflict for her children's sake.

The surveillance showed Chuck Knight was seeing a woman, Bacha said. Knight acknowledges dating someone, but says he and his wife were separated.

Bacha said the women told her they suspected their husbands were trying to entrap them. They said the men sometimes would call and say "get naked in bed together and we'll be there later."

"Some women will do a lot of things to please their husbands, but thank God they didn't," Bacha said. "It's sad because they are very good mothers. They take their children very seriously."

To help quell the rumors, the two women appeared on a Sally Jessy Raphael show that aired in April 2001. The segment, titled "My Husband Spies on Me!" featured Bridges and Knight in disguise with their voices altered.

After their divorces, Bridges and Knight moved to Houston's Clear Lake area. Bridges lived in a townhouse and Knight lived in an apartment across the street, acquaintances say.

Harris County Appraisal District records show that Bridges purchased the home where she now lives, in the 15900 block of Lake Lodge in the Bayforest subdivision, in May 2001. The two-story home has an appraised value of $206,580.

A month later, Knight bought a home a block away in the 15900 block of Manor Square Drive. Records show that Knight, whose home is appraised at $155,560, owes $2,293 in back taxes while Bridges owes $3,045.

Bacha said the two are the best of friends, but she believes they are no more than that.

"Julie has always been like Gail's protector," she said.

It was Knight who called police last weekend to report that Clara Harris was knocking on Bridges' front door. The move could have landed Harris in jail, but her attorneys showed that she had not gone to the house.

Davenport said Bridges has been traumatized by David Harris' death and suffered a concussion in the incident.

"She was hit by the car," Davenport said. "She was really, really hurt. She is being taken care of by her mother. She is a victim."

The driver's door on Bridges' 2000 Navigator is badly bent and unable to close, and the side molding was ripped off. It also appears to have been vandalized.

The passenger side of Clara Harris' 2000 Mercedes S430 AMG is dented and the side mirror was almost sheared off.

Davenport said Bridges kept to herself and her children for two years after her bitter divorce.

"For Gail, this was her first relationship after her divorce," Davenport said. "He (Harris) started it at the first of the year. She really resisted it. He told her he had a marriage of convenience, and he really got personal with her. He told her he loved her."

In his custody petition, Steve Bridges says Julie Knight is staying with his ex-wife, that the women's relationship is sometimes violent and that his daughter had to call police to break up a fight.

He also contends that Gail attempted suicide in 2000 by taking a large number of pills, but made herself throw up.

She has denied ever attempting suicide or using illegal drugs during the marriage.

In questioning during divorce proceedings, Gail Bridges was asked whether she ever had sexual contact with Julie Knight. She objected that the question was "overly broad and vague."

When asked whether she had had intercourse or "other sexual contact" with anyone besides her husband since they married, she responded that "other sexual contact" was too broad and vague.

She did, however, answer, "No" when asked whether she had had sexual intercourse with anyone other than her husband.

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle