He was a Cadillac-driving, oil-moneyed, second-generation multimillionaire who was battling his brother over the legacy their flintnosed scrapper of a father had left behind.
She was a bleached platinum blond, diamonds dangling down between her silicone breast, who hurtled her way into high-tone society by marrying him (on the day his father died) and then proceeded, deliberately, and with a smile on her face, to spit in society's eye.
And from the beginning, from the very first days of the exquisite scandal that was T. Cullen and Priscilla Davis, it was as though someone had lifted a giant rock and watched everything awful come crawling out into the sun.
By the time he was acquitted last November of killing her 12-year-old daughter, their lives had turned into a heavy-breathing passion play that held the whole state of Texas transfixed, waiting for the next terrible testimony. The backdrop was a dead white mansion that loomed over the Colonial Country Club, making the golf course look like the Davis' front lawn; the newspaper photographs had shown the mansion's interior, the day after the killing, blood streaked down the long hallways. The defense lawyer, who went by the name of "Racehorse," showed up in court wearing pinstriped suits and ostrich skin boots, and signed autographs at the end of each day. Cullen was in jail and Priscilla locked herself up in the mansion and pretty soon every newspaper reader in the state knew all about how he had taken a lover, how she had taken a lover, how he said she started smelling like marijuana and was addicted to Percodan, how she said he killed her older daughter's kitten one day in a rage, how he told reporters she had turned their home into Sodom and Gomorrah, how one of her lovers achieved Texas courtroom immortality by turning up in a photograph clad only in one strategically placed red and white Christmas stocking, and how she told two AP reporters in a midnight interview (" . . . curled lazily against a downy ridge of pillows, she sipped clear wine from a goblet. A bluejet of cigarette hose twisted carelesslytoward the ceiling . . . )that all she had ever wanted in life, reall, was a husband and children and a vine covered cottage.
It was the longest murder trial in the history of Texas (one juror, an Amarrillocowboy, ended his three months of sequestered misery by vaulting out of the jury box and bolting from the courtroom just after the verdict was announced. Davis held some fancy victory parties afterward and flew off to Aspen with his girl friend. Priscilla Davis burst into tears and said, "Now he'll have to answer to God. That's one he can't buy." The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram published a special 12-page Sunday foldout about the case, Davis went back to work, and it looked forawhite as though the Cullen Davis saga, which had brought vast new meaning to the word "tacky," was finally quieting down.
But it wasn't.
On Aug. 20, at 8:46 in the morning, Cullen Davis drove his baby blue Cadillac into the almost-deserted parking lot outside Coco's Famous Hamburgers, in Ft. Worth. A friend named David McCrory got out of a white Ford parked nearby and walked over to Davis' car. They talked for awhile and McCrory went back to his car. McCrory brought something over to Davis and put it in the Cadillac's trunk. Davis slammed down the trunk lid, got into the front seat of his car, and drove away.
He was arrested five minutes later, outside a kentucky Fried Chicken telephone booth, and charged with arranging the murder of his divorce judge.
McCrory had climbed into Davis' car with a Nagra tape recorder strapped to the middle of his back, wires running up over his shoulders, and a microphone on each side of his chest. A van parked to the next lot over had been filming the two men on videotape. An airplane had been circling overhead, and four other cars had been sitting just out of sight, each one of them containing agents for the FBI.
According to the prosecutors, and McCrory's testimony during Davis' lengthy bond hearing, the meeting at Coco's had culminated several months of planning in which Davis had repeatedly requested the murder of Judge Joe H. Eidson, the FT. Worth judge who had spent four years presiding over the divorce battle between Cullen and Priscilla Davis. When McCrory sat down in Davis car that Sunday morning, he said, he told Davis the job had been completed.
The voices were on tape and the tapes were played at the bond hearing. You had to stand in line, and get frisked by a whining metal detector, to get in. There were signs up in the elevators instructing the crowds to "Conduct [themselves] with propriety," which they eventually did, filing into the long white room that houses Tarrant County Criminal District Court No. 3. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder, just like a movie audience, listening.
McCrory: "I got Judge Eidson dead for you."
Davis (or the voice alleged to be Davis) "Good."
McCrory showed Davis a photograph to prove it, he testified. It was a black and white photograph and in it Judge Eidson lay curled up in the open trunk of a car, dark bullet-hole sized splotches on the back of his T-shirt.
McCrory said he showed Davis Eidson's driver's license and judicial identification cards to prove these had been taken from the body.
He said Davis handed him an envelope containing $25.000 cash.
He said they talked about the other work Davis wanted done. That was on the tapes, too. McCrory: "I'll get the rest of them dead for you. You want a bunch of people dead, right?" Davis: "All right."
Davis wanted someone to kill Priscilla, McCrory said.He also wanted McCrory to arrange the murders of 13 other people, McCrory said, including Mrs. Eidson, two of the witnesses who testified against him at the murder trial, the judge who presided over part of the murder trial, one of Priscilla's former lovers (the one in the Christmas stocking), the father of one of the witnesses (the man's son was shot and partially paralyzed the night Priscilla's daughter was killed; the son is suing Davis for damages,) and Davis' own younger brother William, who sued Davis and the oldest Davis brother for trying to steal away control of their father's corporate empire. That is a total of seven McCrory said Davis never specified the other six.
"I told him I was in contact with some people, like Murder, Inc., out of Kansas City,"McCrory testified. "I told him they worked at their own pace, and when they got ready they'd do it. He said he'd have to know when so he'd have a good alibi anytime somebody was killed. I told him it would be very expensive. He said, 'Well, I'll spend whatever it takes.'"
Davis had said they might throw off investigators by tossing some sugar substitute on the ground to make the killings look drug-related, McCrory testified. They might also get a Mexican-American's driver's license and cap, McCrory said Davis suggested, and drop them off at the scene of Eidson's killing. Then they could "send a tape to some TV stations and let the Brown Berets take the blame for it," McCrory testified.
The object he placed in Davis' trunk, McCrory said, was a 22-caliber gun with a handmade silencer.
Cullen Davis has a woman friend, a sweet-faced blond divorcee named Karen Master. Karen Master, if we are to follow the players as Fort Worth has, is kind and true. She works with the deaf. She is soft-spoken in public. She has two handicapped boys of her own, both of them brain-damaged when a drunk driver smashed into their car as they were on their way home from church. And Karen Master said to the newspapers, as she sat one day at Davis' bond hearing, "I had the family over Monday night for dinner, and they said everyone they had talked to felt it was all a Priscilla frame-up."
Priscilla Davis, you see, had links to David McCrory. That was established during the bond hearing. She had spent time with the borrowed money from a handsome, moustached karate instructor named Pat Burleson - the newspapers said one of Cullen's lawyers darkly described the relationship as "nude swimming in the mansion pool together, and whatever that leads to" - and Pat Burleson was McCrory's friend. Pat Burleson led McCrory to the FBI.
All this is fine for judicial purposes, but it is not really in root of the Priscilla Frame-up theory. The root of the Priscilla Frame-up theory is the firm belief, shared by a sizeable portion of uppercrustFort Worth, that Priscilla Davis personally embodies all that is sleazyand low cost and an affront to public society. First married at 18, twice divorced, up from a fatherlesshome outside Houston the tiny platform blond who married Cullen Davis simply never seemedto grasp the idea that even with fabulous wealth, especially with fabulous wealth, these are certain things one does not do.
She had a necklace that spelled out "RICH BITCH" in diamonds. She wore hiphuggers jeans and skimpy tops and Indian jewelry that looked to people as though she had raided Woolworth's. She waltzed into fancy parties in dreams with plunging fronts and plunging backs and great slits up the side. In one of the most frequently printed photographs of her, she is wearing bunchy pigtails and tight lace up shorts and a bikini top that is struggling nobly to contain her right breast. She is holding hand with her lover, Stan Farr, outside the Colonial Country Club. They are both beaming.
This was the woman who married the second Davis brother, the one-third heir to an 80-plus-company corporate than called Kendavis Industries International, Inc. The titan's creator was a tough little man named Kenneth W. Davis Sr., who came down from Pennsyivania in 1920 and proceeded through instinct and chutzpah and a mean streak now legandary in Ft. Worth, to turn one oil well supply company into a diversified fortune.
He was known throughout town as "Stinky." It was not an affectionate nickname. They say in Ft. Worth that Cullen Davis grew up kind of hunched and quiet under a father like this, that he never flaunted his money as a kid because he apparently was not given much, that Stinkly just booted him into adulthood and an empire already made.
"If you want to you can take the best colt in the world and absolutely ruin him by cruel treatment," one Fort Worth woman says. "They flat out think that's what happen to Cullen."
He then drove Pontiacs and Chevies, not Cadillacs. He collected stamps and played pool and is said to have charged his schoolmates for long drives in his car. He graduated from Texas A&M, like his brothers, worked fulltime for his father, married a nice low-key Fort Worth woman named Sandra Masters and led a life so muted and uneventful that nobody much remembers Cullen Davis before he took up with that incredible Houston blond.
She was married and he was married and they both got divorced. Their wedding took place in August 1968, on the day Stinky died. (The rumors flew, wild and unsubstantiated, including one hot whisper that Priscilla has been Stinky's woman; she dismissed them all and said the wedding date had been set for months.) She forged into Fort Worth society with her extraordinary body and her indelicate ways, and Cullen stick by her side like the proud impresario of some wondrous imported showgirl, buying her jewelry, draping her in furs, reportedly paying for her silicone breast implants, and finally ordering completion of the wild futuristic fortress that became the Davis' home.
But the marriage went bad and Priscilla filed for divorce, and in 1974 Joe H. Eidson Jr., a Tarrant County district court judge, signed an order banning Cullen Davis from the mansion he had ordered built during the first years of marriage. The divorce battle sputtered on for four years, Priscilla and her lawyers insisted that Davis was trying to strip her of her share of the property, including the mansion, and of a reasonable alimony payment, which at one point in the proceedings was $6,000 per month.
The divorce trial had been set for this September. On Aug. 18, according to testimony at the bond hearing, McCrory met for the first time with FBI agents and told them what Davis had asked him to do. Judge Eidson lent his identification to the FBI and posed for the staged photograph with his body in the trunk. The splotches on his back were ketchup.
They had photos. They had a videotape. They had four tape recordings, declared prosecutor Marvin Collins at the end of Davis' bond hearing, that "capture the defendant himself in the act of committing the crime of solicitation of capital murder-we have the defendant's own voice plotting to kill a district judge of this county."
He was arguing that Davis should stay in his cell at the Tarrant County jail, without bond. He stood before the bench, fingers outstretched, palms together. At the table to his left, predictably impeccable in the famous dark pinstriped suit and half glasses and silver sideburns, Richard "Racehorse" Haynes sat back with his legs crossed and took as occasional note.
The name was a legacy of college football days, or so Haynes maintains, and if a flamboyant Texas lawyer named Racehorse lent the final note of theatrical self-parody to the whole affair, Haynes did not seem to mind a bit. The press loved him because he dropped wonderful, gilded quotes on them (he is still being haunted by the time he told CBS Dan Rather - facetiously, Haynes now insists - that he knew he had won his defense of two white Houston cops charged with stomping a black kid to death when the jury selection was complete and "we swore in the last bigot.") Even when he shut up he was terrific copy, this onetime defender of hookers and petty thieves, who argued his way into Texas prominence, a scuba diver and former paratrooper and accomplished motorcross racer who now owned five racing motorcycles, three pairs of downhill skis, two pairs of water skis, one white waterskiing boat, one twin-engine Cessna, a 40-foot sloop called "L'esprit Libre," one silver 73 Excalibur, one silver turbo Porsche, and one "hippie van," British racing green because he could not find a hippie van in silver.
Or so he said. It was hard to tell about what Haynes said. At one point during the bond hearing he leaned back in the back seat of the car, having just put away an excellent Kincaid's Grocery hamburger, and said with a perfectly straight face, "I don't guess I'll ever change - I could go to New York and sit in the 21 and talk about Zen and existentialism with all those people, but when you get right down to it I'm just a cowboy from Texas."
So now the prosecutors had finished presenting their case against bond and the cowboy from Texas got up to speak his piece. He took off his glasses and held them between his teeth, thoughfully, as though pondering the complexity of it all.
"We all know that human being communicate with each other in so many ways other than what they say,"said Haynes. "By a raise of the eyebrows by a shrug of the shoulders, by a nonverbal gesture. These are not captured on a voice recording."
Haynes said the transcripts were inaccurate. He said the conversation were consistently initiated by McCrory, not Davis. Although he did not say it outright, it was clear that Haynes might well try to prove Davis was framed, which would probably mean calling Priscilla Davis into court. And if Priscilla Davis got back on the stand in front of Racehorse Haynes, the Cullen Davis Alleged Hit List trial had all the markings of theater just as fascinating and convoluted and slimy as the Cullen Davis Alleged Murder at Midnight trial. "Even slimier," said Haynes afterward, looking slightly pained.
Cullen Davis had acquired Racehorse Haynes, so to speak, back in 1976, when Priscilla insisted that she had watched Cullen commit murder up at the mansion in the middle of a hot August night. Her story, much of it substantisted by two younger friends who were outside the mansion at the time, was repeated at the trial until most observers could recite if from memory, all the way down to Priscilla's fear-singed cry of "Cullen is up there killing my children."
The story went like this. Priscilla and her lover, a giant Fort Worth former basketball player named Stan Farr. got home late from a dinner party and found the Davis mansion unlocked. Priscilla saw a bloody handprint on the basement door. A man in black, wearing a woman's wig, stepped out from the laundry room and said "Hi" and shot Priscilla in the chest; when Stan Farr heard the shot and ran downstairs, the man shot Farr four times, killing him instantly. One of the two younger witnesses, who had arrived at the mansion shortly after Priscilla and Farr, was also wounded by the man in black. Andrea Wilborn, Priscilla's 12-year-old daughter by a former marriage, lay sprawled on her back in the basement, dead on one gunshot wound in the chest. Priscilla insisted, and the two younger friends agreed, that the man in black was Cullen Davis.
It has been estimated, although Haynes never discussed his fees, that Davis spent something over $2 million for his defense against the murder charge. He got what he paid for.The trial was held in Amarillo, a conservative north Texas oil and cattle town, and under Haynes' direction Davis never took the stand in his own defense. He had an alibi - Karen Master testified that he had been in bed with her the night of the shooting - but in the end that was almost irrelevant. Cullen Davis got off, or so just about everybody in Ft. Worth believes, because Racehorse Haynes made Priscilla Davis look like a wanton gloozy whose testimony wasn't worth the time it took to hear it.
She sat up there with a tiny gold cross resting on her bosom ( as if it wasn't bad enough that she had been seen carrying a Bible in her Amarillo hotel) and ducked, and hesitated, and denied. How long had she been married the first time? She didn't remember. Was she addicted to Percodan? No. Well, maybe. And she hosted nude swimming parties up at the mansion and invited guests with criminal records? Persons with criminal records had visited the house. Yes. Had she once seduced her second husband as they were in the middle of a contested divorce and then accused him of raping her? She had not .
It went like that from start to finish. There was testimony that Priscilla wanted to get rid of Farr, that Farr was secretly dating a 19-year-old while referring to Priscilla as his "investment," and that at one point Priscilla was in bed with three other people includint W. T. Rufner, of the Christmas sock. (The witness, a woman who said she was part of the foursome, added that Rufner was stricken with jealousy in the midst of the particular episode and poured a drink on Priscilla. Haynes."Did that make her stop?" The witness: It sure did.) Haynes had a small contingent of Priscilla's party guests describe causal sex and drug use at the mansion and when he was through he get up before the jury and declared that the state's chief witness was a "Machiavellian influence," a "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde," who led "scuzzies, scallawage, rogues, and brigands" into her once gracious home.
Cullen David, before the verdict was announced, was said to be making reservations for Aspen.
His victory party lasted until 1 o'clock the following morning and included three of the jurors, several bailiffs and the trial judge, who was the last guest to leave.
Davis is now back in the Tarrank County Jail.
He was denied bond on Sept. 1. Racehorse Haynes stood under the television lights in the courthouse hallway for a while afterward. He was asked what Davis said after bond was denied. "What's next," said Haynes.
He went outside and started down the steps and a pretty little dark-haired thing in a lacy top asked him to please sign her notebook so she could keep it. "Put my name in it too," she said. "My name is Brenda." Haynes wrote her name on the paper. Then she got up on tiptoe, Right in front of the photographers, and kissed him smack on his Texas cowboy cheek.