It was about 11 p.m. Saturday night — after hours of anguish and police visits that had turned up nothing — when Valerie Jackson’s brother finally got David R. Conley on a cellphone. “‘I need to ask you a question,'” her brother, Earl Yanske, told the Houston Chronicle. “‘Did you kill my sister?'”
“He said, ‘Yes, I did.’ . . . There was totally no emotion in his voice.”
It was a macabre scene inside the three-bedroom house nestled in a tree-lined Houston suburb. It is where authorities found Jackson, 40, her partner and her six children dead — including one she shared with Conley. Authorities said Conley, her 48-year-old ex-boyfriend, had climbed in through an unlocked window earlier in the day, handcuffed the victims and shot them in the head. He was charged Sunday with several counts of capital murder.
“We do not — cannot — fully comprehend the motivation of an individual that would take the lives of so many innocent people. Especially the lives of the youngest,” Harris County Chief Deputy Tim Cannon told the Associated Press. “The killer’s motives appear to be related to a dispute with Valerie, who was a former domestic partner.”
Indeed, Conley and Jackson’s troubled history dates back at least 15 years. The two met online, family members and friends told the Houston Chronicle. Even then, Conley had been building a record — auto theft, cocaine possession and evading arrest, the newspaper reported, citing court documents.
By 2000, he was arrested for retaliation. Jackson had accused him of cutting her neck and punching her in the face, according to the Houston Chronicle. She said he told her he was not going back to jail and threw her onto a bed, climbed on top of her and threatened her with a knife. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
In 2008, he was arrested in Wisconsin for disorderly conduct and pleaded guilty, the Houston Chronicle reported from court records. A judge granted a temporary restraining order against him, which was dropped in 2012 when Jackson wrote a letter to the court requesting that it be dismissed.
In 2013, Jackson accused him again of threatening her with a knife. A judge issued a protective order and sentenced him to nine months in jail.
After the sentence was handed down, Jackson took to Facebook, gushing about how Conley was “the best father in the whole world, my baby, my best friend, my forever,” according to the Houston Chronicle. “You have always put me and our kids ahead of yourself and always take care of home.”
For years, Jackson bounced between Conley and her current partner, 50-year-old Dwayne Jackson. “She stayed with [Conley] because she was scared,” Yanske told the Houston Chronicle. Valerie Jackson had her first two children with Conley and five other children with Dwayne Jackson.
Yanske said Conley was always jealous of Dwayne Jackson.
Over the years, Conley was also reportedly abusive toward a woman who says she is his wife.
“He is the devil,” Vernessa Conley told KPRC-TV. “I hope he is listening. He’s the devil. He was very abusive towards me. He would beat me up every day.”
“He almost broke my arm,” she added. “I have a scar on my inner lip. He would pull my hair. He would beat me not in my face because he would always tell me, ‘I don’t want anyone to see.’ I was pregnant with my daughter, and he would threaten me. He would threaten to kill me and the baby.”
She told KPRC-TV that she and Conley also had a child together — a daughter, Quatasha.
“Had not been in my life for a whole 15 years,” Quatasha Conley told the news station. “He was in and out of jail. He maybe just came back into my life maybe four or five years [ago].”
The years of mounting tension between Valerie Jackson and Conley came to a head last month when Conley went after her 10-year-old son with a belt. She told police that when she tried to grab it, he shoved her head into the refrigerator, according to the Houston Chronicle. Police issued an arrest warrant.
Soon after, Jackson changed the locks at the house.
Early Saturday morning, Conley told police, he noticed Jackson had locked him out, so he found an unlocked window and climbed inside. At some point that morning, Yanske, who was in Montana, heard that Conley was in the home — and armed. Family members called police in Houston and urged them to check on Jackson and her family, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Deputies went to the home that morning, but nothing seemed unusual. They went back that afternoon but did not have enough information to force their way inside. When they returned that night, they saw a body through the window.
“Deputies on scene forced entry into the home and were immediately met with gunfire,” Cannon said, according to the Associated Press. “The deputies withdrew from the home.”
Deputies waited for the High Risk Operations Unit to arrive and, after an hours-long standoff with police, Conley emerged without further incident, police said. A neighbor told KHOU-TV that she saw police escort a man from the house, fingerprint him and photograph him.
In the house, authorities found the bodies of Valerie Jackson, Dwayne Jackson and six children: Jonah, 6, Trinity, 7, Caleb, 9, Dwayne Jr., 10, Honesty, 11, and Nathaniel, 13.
“It’s a hard job being a patrolman in this town,” Thomas Gilliland, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, told KHOU. “Our deputies do a yeoman’s job every day. But when they are forced to see some of the most horrific things along this nature, especially of children, and someone so callous to do something like this to children, we have our family assistance coming out to talk to our deputies and help them decompress.”
“It’s kind of surreal,” Vernessa Conley said. “I don’t believe it.”
“You could have let the kids go,” Quatasha Conley added. “You didn’t have to kill the kids.”