A shroud of mystery is surrounding the death of former Kimbell Art Museum Director Ted Pillsbury – not because there’s any suggestion of foul play, but because the investigation of the case has been so secretive and slow-paced.

Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes is tight-lipped about his department’s investigation five days after Pillsbury was found dead near I-20 in Kaufman County.

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Friends and co-workers have described the death as natural causes from an apparent heart attack, but the sheriff’s department is releasing almost no information.

“It’s still an ongoing investigation,” the sheriff’s Public Information Officer Patricia Laney said today.

So why is an investigation into an apparent heart attack still top secret five days later?

Laney offered a few basic facts – Pillsbury was found either in or beside his car at 3 p.m. Thursday near the intersection of I-20 and Hiram Road southeast of Dallas. A passerby called to say a man appeared to be deceased on the side of the road.

Byrnes isn’t releasing the incident report, and reporters are being told to submit a freedom of information request to get a copy. But public officials have at least 10 working days, or about two weeks, to release the information or request an attorney general ruling.

Incident reports are public information. So why is the sheriff refusing to release it? The sheriff’s spokeswoman would say only that investigators are “looking at everything possible to make sure everything is like it should be.”

Atlee Phillips, Pillsbury’s coworker at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, said the delay might stem from confusion about Pillsbury’s whereabouts prior to his death. Phillips said Pillsbury was a go-getter, always on the move, meeting numerous people each day about many art deals, and he didn’t keep a precise schedule.

“There’s nothing odd that happened other than the fact that nobody really knew what Ted was doing except for Ted,” said Phillips, who is director of Texas art at Heritage. “It’s still sort of a mystery and they’re waiting for more information.”

OK, so Pillsbury’s whereabouts prior to his discovery near I-20 are in question. But what does that matter if his death appears to be natural with no signs of trauma?

Pillsbury, 66, was trim and enthusiastic, enjoyed motorcycles, attended regular Pilates workouts, and maintained a fairly healthy diet.

Friends speculate Pillsbury pulled off the highway after becoming ill and then died.

The sheriff’s web site says the department stresses “professionalism, integrity, and timeliness so that those we serve may feel secure.”

If Pillsbury indeed died from natural causes, five days (and counting) of mystery makes one question the sheriff’s timeliness in this matter.

Pillsbury, a major figure in the international art world, is being buried in Dallas on Thursday.

Local art enthusiast Morris Matson visited with Pillsbury, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum curator Michael Grauer, and Fort Worth art collectors A.C. “Ace” Cook and Scott Barker on March 9 at Heritage’s show room. He took this photo, one of the last taken of Pillsbury before his death:

Ted Pillsbury and gang
Ted Pillsbury and gang

(Left to right) Ace Cook, Scott Barker, Ted Pillsbury (wearing suit) and Michael Grauer discuss Texas art at Heritage Auctions on March 9. Photo copyright by Morris Matson.