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Obituary: Dante 'Tex' Gill / Sexually ambivalent rub parlor owner

Thursday, January 09, 2003

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In all the old newspaper stories about Dante "Tex" Gill, she was always "the woman who prefers to be known as a man," or some variation of that description, and she sure looked and acted the part.

A 1984 portrait of Dante "Tex" Gill. (Post-Gazette Archives)

Short and dumpy, she wore men's suits and short hair, she talked tough and she may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made her appear masculine.

During the 1970s and '80s, she was a bizarre fixture in the red-light world of Pittsburgh's massage parlor district along Liberty Avenue.

For years, according to police, Ms. Gill ran a string of parlors as fronts for prostitution, all the while insisting that she was a man and telling everyone she wanted to be known as "Mr. Gill."

In 1984, she went on trial in U.S. District Court for tax evasion and ended up in federal prison for seven years.

Ms. Gill of Brentwood died yesterday in UPMC McKeesport. She was 72 and had been undergoing dialysis for some time.

Born Lois Jean Gill in the city, Ms. Gill was a savvy businesswoman who became one of the most notorious of the city's massage parlor operators. State and local authorities had long believed her parlors, including the Japanese Meditation Temple, were little more than brothels, but she seemed beyond the reach of the law for years until the Internal Revenue Service stepped in.

IRS agents caught her for tax evasion, not prostitution, by comparing the money she spent with the income she reported. In 1984, she was convicted of conspiracy and evading income taxes from 1975 to 1983.

Those who knew Ms. Gill said she was every bit as colorful as the news stories about her suggest. An unabashed lesbian in a less sexually liberated age, she married a woman in Hawaii and lived with her in Pittsburgh for a time before they eventually split.

"She was just a hell of a lot of fun," said lawyer Carl Max Janavitz, who met her in the 1970s and sometimes represented her. "She was just laughing at the world. And naturally, the authorities don't like that. She was a very good businesswoman, but she just had a different lifestyle."

Before her entry into the massage parlor industry, Ms. Gill was involved in several other ventures. In the late 1950s, she worked as a blacksmith at the old horse stables in Schenley Park, where children and adults would come to learn to ride.

She went by the name Lois back then, but she wore her hair short and covered with a cowboy hat, and she was known as gruff and no-nonsense. If a horse acted up while she was shoeing it or cleaning its hooves, she smacked it on the rump.

She was apparently an accomplished horsewoman in her youth.

Barry Paris, a Post-Gazette film critic and Ms. Gill's cousin, said she was an anomaly for her day, someone who had to hide her sexuality as a single woman in the transgender community, which at the time was so underground it had yet to acquire that label.

"She scared the hell out of us when my cousins and I took riding lessons from her as kids at Schenley stables, and she got involved early on with the proverbial 'wrong crowd,' " he said. "But she was personally gentle and nonviolent, and she made a nice corrupt life for herself in a nice corrupt American society."

In her later years before she went to prison, Janavitz said, she ran various businesses in town, including a baby furniture store and a frozen foods store.

She got involved in the massage parlors through business contacts, Janavitz said, and did it because she needed money to care for her ailing mother, Agnes, who eventually died of cancer in 1973.

Janavitz, who had a falling-out with Ms. Gill and hadn't talked with her for the last 10 years, characterized her as a true free spirit who did things her own way.

"You're talking about a person who was very complex," he said. "She was very tough. A lot of fun. She drank a lot. She partied a lot. She could recite poetry endlessly. Irish poetry."

Ms. Gill is survived by two brothers, Donald M. Gill and Merritt Gill.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow in John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood.

A Catholic blessing service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in the funeral home.

Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

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