T. Cullen Davis Case

This is a case that has always fascinated me.  It was one of the first true crime stories I recall ever reading about but until I decided to do this blog I had not really researched it in quite some time.  This is the story of how the richest man in Texas got away with murder. There is simply no other way to put it.  The evidence against this man was enormous.  In a second trial, that he was also acquitted for, he was even heard on tape ordering the murders of his estranged wife, who had survived the first attempt, and the judge proceeding over their divorce.

Thomas Cullen Davis (aka T. Cullen or simply Cullen) inherited his fortune from his father through oil.  It has been said that the character of J. R. Ewing from the television show Dallas was at least partly based on Cullen.  Cullen and his two brothers had inherited their fortune and the oil company in 1968 when their father died, although working for their father prior to his death had not had them living in the poor house prior to him dying.  Eventually Cullen and his oldest brother, Ken forced out their youngest brother and through mismanagement and the recession the company was gone by the 1980's.

Cullen had been married and had two children but was divorced when his father died on August 29, 1968 and within six hours of his death he was married to Priscilla Lee Childers Baker Wilborn, a woman who had been twice divorced and was from the "wrong side of the tracks" when it came to money.  Priscilla had three children from her two prior marriages.  Her oldest daughter Dee Baker lived with Priscilla and Cullen while her younger children, Jack and Andrea Wilborn lived with their father.

Cullen and Priscilla bought a huge mansion and started painting the town.  Much was made about Priscilla and her flaunting of her money, jewels and body.  By 1974 Priscilla had filed for divorce, but as divorces, especially high profile ones involving a lot of money, it was a mud slinging contest.  Priscilla accused Cullen of being abusive and Cullen accused Priscilla of adultery among other things. By 1976 they were still in court. Cullen had been ordered out of the house and to pay for Priscilla's upkeep.  Both Cullen and Priscilla had moved on with their lives aside from this.  Priscilla was dating former athlete, Stan Farr and Cullen was dating and living with Karen Masters.

On August 2, 1976 they were in court again.  Well, at least Priscilla was; Cullen simply sent his lawyers.  On that day the judge ordered that Cullen pay Priscilla $5,000 a month as well as $52,000 in legal bills.  It was said by friends that when Cullen found out about this he was livid.  After court Priscilla and Stan decided to have a celebratory late dinner out.  Her daughter Dee was going to be out for a while and her 12 year old daughter, Andrea was visiting but stayed home alone. When Priscilla and Stan returned Priscilla realized that the alarm system was not activated but just assumed Dee had returned and forgot to engage it.  While Stan went upstairs Priscilla went into the kitchen to shut off some lights.  She saw some streaks of blood leading to the wine cellar and screamed for Stan.  As she did a man wearing black clothes, a black woman's wig and using black trash bags on his hands to hold a gun shot her in the chest. Ironically while they were married Cullen had insisted that Priscilla got breast implants and those implants help divert the bullet and it caused less damage, resulting in her survival.  The man then moved on to shooting Stan.  While this was happening Priscilla started to run outside screaming Cullen's name identifying him.  As she reached outside two of her daughter Dee's friends were coming up the drive.  Beverly Bass had seen Cullen Davis before and she identified him as the man she saw with the black wig.  Her companion, Gus Gavrel Jr. was shot as he stood next to her and she ran with the gunman chasing her.  The man eventually gave up as she reached the street and waved down a car.  In the mean time Priscilla has gotten away again and began running to a neighbors house who she informed that Cullen was at the home shooting and the police were called.

Obviously Cullen was the number one suspect.  Both Priscilla and Beverly had positively identified him and after he awoke from surgery, although Gus Gavrel had never met Cullen, he identified Cullen by a picture that was shown as the man who shot him.  Around 4:00 that morning Cullen received a phone call at his home from his brother Ken telling him about the shooting.  According to reports he told his brother that not only was he sleeping when he called but that he was going back to bed after the call.  Thirty minutes later that is where the police found him... at home, in bed with Karen Masters.  Both of the couple were taken in for questioning.  According to police Karen told them that she and Cullen had gone to bed and that she had taken a sleeping pill and was "out cold" until the phone rang when Ken called at 4:00.  She later told the grand jury that she was awake and alert at the time the murders occurred and that Cullen was there next to her.  Police claim that while he was being questioned that he was asked why so many people had to die and that Cullen answered, "Sometimes a man don't need a reason."  They apparently thought of this as a confession but it was later claimed that this statement was made prior to him being Mirandized and was not admitted into court. Cullen was held but almost immediately made bail.  Prosecutors were furious.  They knew they had their man and now he was walking free.  In order to get him back and hold him they raised the charge from Andrea's murder as a capital crime which revoked bail.

His trial for the murder of Andrea Wilborn  began on August 20, 1977 in Amarillo, not Fort Worth where the crime occurred.  It has been said it was one of the most expensive trials in history and that Cullen was and probably still is, the richest man in America to ever face murder charges.  To this effect he hired well known and very expensive attorney, Richard "Racehorse" Haynes.  I have seen Mr. Haynes, and I use the term Mr. lightly, on many different things on television over the years discussing not only this case but many others that he has been involved in.  While I have known the outcome of this trial for some time and I have never cared for the "attitude" I have seen from Haynes in interviews, once again after re-researching this case I have to say I despise him even more.  Several years ago I myself was attending law school with the thoughts of possibly becoming an attorney one day.  Attorneys such as Haynes is why I could never become a defense attorney.  In my opinion he is as crooked as they come and does whatever it takes, unless he is caught, for a price, to which the wealthy pay.  I would even gander to guess at this point he would do it without a price just to say he did. He was asked during this era if he thought he was the best attorney in Texas and he was quoted as saying yes, but then asked why it was limited to Texas.  Granted, ego does not always make someone a bad or shady person but the things this man has done and continues to do, especially when it comes to the Davis case just astounds me.  It has been nearly 40 years since this case and you can still hear the venom when he discusses Priscilla (will get into that in a bit).

Although he was only charged with the murder of Andrea, and not the murder of Stan Farr, or the attempted murders of the other three people the actions of the entire night were played out in court.  Through my quick research for this I did not find an exact time but through my prior research, as well as from watching television shows on this case, there was a significant amount of time between the murder of Andrea and the time in which Priscilla and Stan returned home.  This means that the killer "laid in wait" until the return of Priscilla and Stan.  Something else that I have never been able to determine is if anything was actually ever stolen from the home.  As stated earlier in order to re-arrest Cullen and hold him for Andrea's murder the prosecutors had filed capital murder charges on him.  However, the way they did this was by stating they believed it to be a burglary, so the murder occurred in the commission of a crime.  Still, I have not found anything that says what, if anything was stolen. If there was something or things stolen I would be very curious to know what those things were.

The first few witnesses on the stand were Beverly Bass and Gus Gavrel.  They both testified that it was Cullen who had been at the home shooting.  Haynes did not do a lot with them.  He attempted to discredit them but not real hard because he had other fish to fry.  When Priscilla got on the stand it was time for Haynes to shine.  By the time he was was done with her the media even said he made her out to be the "biggest slut in Texas" and it was said that people in the gallery even hissed at her.  Haynes claimed Priscilla had wild "orgies" that involved drugs at the mansion; he brought up her sex life and the fact that she was on pain killers.  It did not matter that she had only been on the pain killers since the shooting.  He diverted everything he could away from Cullen and towards either Priscilla or her lifestyle.  It has been said that when Haynes begins a trial that in opening statements he basically throws out 3-4 theories to the jury.  Throughout the trial he tests those theories and by the end he has settled on one.  Priscilla apparently was his tester.  Not only did he seemingly put her on trial, he used things and people in her life (real and imaginary) to pull out other theories. And of course when a witness was on the stand who's testimony did not fit his needs he had a knack of just simply ignoring it.  He did this when the prosecution called Karen Masters out about her inconsistent statements about whether she had taken a sleeping pill or not on the night of the murders.  Haynes never addressed it at all.

After almost three months of testimony the jury retired to chambers and four and a half hours and two votes later they returned with a not-guilty verdict.  One of the jurors was quoted as saying "Rich men like Cullen don't kill their wives, they hire people to do it for them."  Cullen was so sure of there would be a not guilty verdict he had planned a victory party for weeks and had made reservations to ski in Aspen.  It would take almost 30 years before people knew the real reason for his confidence.

The only people who did not appear stunned at the verdict seemed to be Cullen and his team.  The prosecution were at a loss.  They had just lost the most expensive trial in Texas history and it was for the obvious murder of a 12 year old girl. How would they ever get a conviction against him for the murder of his estranged wife's boyfriend, let alone of the attempted murders of his wife and Gus Gavrel?  Charges were never filed.  However, in a twist Stan Farr's children, as well as Priscilla both filed wrongful death suits in civil court against him.  We all know about these.  We have seen it in both the O.J. Simpson and the Robert Blake cases where after a not guilty verdict (or in this case, charges yet to be filed) a family takes the case.  Well, in this case Stan's children received a settlement of $250,000 but Priscilla's case failed.

So here are prosecutors left licking their wounds over this case thinking they have no chance at Cullen Davis and serving any sort of justice against him.... and yet he gives them another shot.  On August 20, 1978, exactly one year to the day of the start of his trial, Cullen was once again arrested.  This time it was for the solicitation of murder.  And boy did the prosecution have the goods on him... or so they thought.  A man by the name of David McCrory had worked as an investigator for Cullen's defense team the year before.  He was also an FBI informant.  He had let the FBI know that Cullen had approached him with a "hit list" of supposedly more than a dozen people.  Including in that list were Priscilla, Beverly Bass, Gus Gavrel and the judge who was still preceding over his unsettled divorce case. So on August 20th McCrory met Davis while wearing a wire to show him a picture taken of the judge who appeared dead by a gunshot wound.  McCrory shows Cullen the picture, tells him the judge is dead and Cullen is heard saying "good."  Cullen also gave McCrory $25,000 and the other murders were discussed.  Cullen did say very little but what he did say obviously showed his guilt.  He was arrested and sent to trial again.  Once again Racehorse was there to bail him out.. it was even said he raised his fees which Cullen gladly paid.  Haynes' defense of Cullen was that he was not admitting to this but stupidly implied that Cullen was "playing along" with McCrory because Cullen thought he (as in himself) was working with the FBI.  Um... yeah, I will give you a second to re-read that last sentence and then will repeat.  Haynes was claiming in court that Cullen believed he was helping the FBI.  Helping with what I am not sure was ever clarified... but helping none the less.  Amazingly the jury could not come to a conclusion and it was declared a mistrial with an 8-4 for acquittal stand.  So hey, it almost worked once for the defense, and the prosecution was not let this what should be hands down case go so a retrial was ordered and proceeded pretty much in the same fashion, the only difference was the defense knew everything the prosecution had and still had an advantage. However, in the end, as the jury took the case even Cullen and his defense team was certain there would be a guilty verdict.  Oh, how wrong they were.  Once again the jury returned with a not-guilty verdict.  Amazingly one of the jurors was later quoted as saying they "just couldn't find a way to convince ourselves that a man of Cullen's wealth would lower himself to have a judge killed." Just goes to show stupid people are everywhere! I will admit here that until recently I had not recalled that there was supposedly more people on the list besides Priscilla and the judge and at first I questioned whether that sounded right.  However, we have to remember that this arrest was less than a year after his trial, and obviously the planning of the list had happened way prior to this.  I wondered at first why Beverly Bass and Gus Gavrel was on this list and then it dawned on me. Cullen was only tried for Andrea's murder. He had no idea yet if the prosecution would try him for Stan's murder or the attempted murder of the others.  Of course I was not there but I am sure the prosecution had not walked out of that courtroom on the day of the murder verdict proclaiming to never charge him, so in reality, Cullen would have wanted them murdered to prevent all witnesses.

So let's analyze this..... Andrea Wilborn, Cullen's step-daughter was killed on the day in which a judge had delivered a devastating blow to Cullen in his divorce proceedings... his ex-wife is shot, her lover is killed, and another man is shot while another woman sees the shooter and flees the scene.  After Andrea's murder, but before the remaining shootings the alarm system to the home had been turned off (although admittedly I was unable to know for sure that Cullen did or did not know the current code); the three surviving witnesses identified Cullen as the shooter... one of which who had never known him.  All three witnesses indicate that the only disguise the shooter wore was a wig, obviously revealing his face; nothing has been broadly reported as stolen; the killer laid in wait for Priscilla and Stan to return. The girlfriend of the prime suspect conveniently changed her story from not giving him an alibi to being right next to him; and the suspects brother found it odd that he was not concerned when he called him and said he was going back to bed. Even in a time before forensics this was a lot of circumstantial evidence that would have convicted just about anyone, yet this man was found not guilty because "rich men don't kill their wives, they hire people to do it"? Oh wait... so let's see a year after this he does EXACTLY as the jury said he would have done had he actually done it the first time, only this time he is caught before it can happen and this jury says they just cannot see him lowering himself to that level.

In January of 2001 Priscilla died of breast cancer.  It was said she never recovered emotionally not only from losing her daughter or from Cullen being set free but also from what Haynes did to her in the trial. As a matter of fact, as I said earlier, I would get to this, after the trial the media also went to Cullen's elaborate victory party and Haynes was interviewed there continually bashing Priscilla and her character.  On every television or documentary or book I have read on this issue since then Haynes is always right there to make sure his thoughts on Priscilla are heard.  I just wish Priscilla could have sued him!!  Her daughter Dee claims that because of Haynes' portrayal of Priscilla during the trial involving drugs Priscilla even refused pain killers through her cancer, afraid of what would be said.

Ironically, or maybe not, also in 2001 new information was brought forward that shed light on just why the verdict was what it was in 1978.  Of course all of this information can be questioned since it came almost 30 years too late, but supposedly much of that information has been confirmed in one way or another.  So the first batch of new information came from a reporter who stated he had been approached by someone who had been on Cullen's defense team that there had been a "mole" in the prosecution feeding them information about what the prosecution knew, and how they planned to handle the case. Supposedly this "mole" had the code name "Eyes" and he was given several thousands of dollars for his cooperation.  Amazing apparently through his research of this the reporter found his way to Karen Master's father who she was estranged from (the reason they are estranged?  I don't know).  He claimed he was the middle man to the "mole" and that the mole's name was Morris Howeth and that he had filtered at least $25,000 to him from Cullen.  By the way, by the time this information came out, true or not, nothing could be done as the statute of limitations to file charges on anyone had ran their course.  It was also discovered that the defense had hired a man who received over $2,000 for about 100 hours of work.  What was his job?  Well his real job was being a Ft. Worth crime scene investigator.  Apparently his secondary job was to let the defense know how the crime scene was investigated.  And oh yeah, by the time the case went to trial the man was retired and receiving his pension.  Then there was just a small issue of jury tampering.  The jury itself was sequestered in a local Amarillo motel.  A waitress in the hotel dining room was supposedly paid by the defense to get the jury talking about the case and she would report back to the defense what they were revealing.  According to her they never had to worry, the jury was always on their side.  And, well, if that did not work the defense apparently hired an artist to sit in the courtroom and make paintings or pictures of each juror.  Supposedly these pictures would have had a market value of about $300 each had they been done and sold by the artist in another setting.  Each picture was then given to a family member of the juror.  Presumably then the family member would tell the juror when they called... and boom, they had an ally.  Apparently it was confirmed that jurors have admitted (when?  I do not know) that they did receive these pictures and during the trial the prosecution had complained to the court that they had seen Cullen speaking to juror's families.  It was Karen's father who stated that many times it was the families thanking Cullen for the pictures that the prosecution did not know about all those years.

With all of the above being brought out in 2001, after the statute of limitation had run out, but also after Priscilla's death once again questions were brought up about the other charges that could be filed on Cullen.  But, as of yet, no prosecutor has taken the bait.  Do I believe those things to be true? I cannot say for sure. I can say it would not surprise me any.  I would like to see charges filed against him but even if anything was kept for forensics I am not sure what they could do with it.  First off, at least one of the witnesses (Priscilla) has died.  Secondly, Cullen at some point lived in that home so any DNA evidence they may have found could likely be argued successfully. They never found murder weapon and coming up with one after almost 40 years is not likely.

However, one has to ask if once again Cullen Davis did not get a little worried that his past was about to come back and bite him.  This time though if he were ever charged he would not have the money he had in 1977.  That was all lost in the early 1980's and supposedly after filing for bankruptcy he went to work for his brother (not sure doing what since the company they owned together is what went down) and Karen Masters, who he later married, had to go back to work as a teacher. But, in 2004 a man by the name of Billy Vickers was sitting on death row in Texas. Vickers confessed to being the killer at the Davis mansion in 1977 and killing Andrea Wilborn and Stan Farr as well as shooting the others.  Supporters to his statement state that this crime was similar in nature to crimes he committed and was convicted of and that he was known to commit murder while committing a burglary (Again, I was never able to confirm there was a robbery in this case), and some say this brought an end to the question of whether Cullen was guilty.  Really? Hmmm  interesting considering a week after this supposed confession Vickers was executed by the state Texas.  Clearly there was enough time to thoroughly investigate his claims and gain all the information needed from him.  And surely we have never seen a murderer confess to a crime he did not commit, especially when they are so close to being executed. I mean wasn't it Ted Bundy for one, who kept confessing to crimes in hopes of investigations delaying his execution? I am sure he was not the first only one.

In the end I believe Thomas Cullen Davis was guilty of everything he was charged with yet got away with the murder of two people; the attempted murder of three others as well as the solicitation of murder of several more.  There must be a special place in Hell waiting for him.
 

Comments

  1. I have to say, I believe you are right!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pre-Ethan Couch Affluenza, it's time to find a cure.

    ReplyDelete

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