a FEELING PERSISTS throughout the country: Texas murders are…well, like Texas. Big, bizarre, and populated by larger-than-life characters that simply aren’t found some place like Rhode Island or North Dakota. Whether this perception is true or not, it’s a fact that Texas crime stories have spawned a cottage industry.
During the nearly 20 years that D has covered Dallas, these stories are the ones that seem to most fascinate local readers. They are also the ones that lure Hollywood producers and wannabes to the pages of the magazine searching for articles they can turn into MOWs- movies of the week.
Most often the stories involve the Big Rich, the socially ambitious, or the obnoxiously successful who apparently have decided that the rules of society don’t apply to them. And in most cases, they involve some combination of love, hate, sex and money. The four famous cases we’ve profiled here-featured in former issues of D magazine through the years-all share scenarios of love triangles, marriages gone aground, husbands or wives scorned.
And veteran writers who follow crime in Dallas know to be patient when it seems that the well of good stories has run dry. It’s just a matter of time before another erupts onto the front pages of local newspapers. One thing about human nature: It never changes.
THE T. CULLEN DAVIS CASE
THIS CASE MAY BE THE GRAND-daddy of the Texas crime story business, and its one that is still growing. In the 18 years since the initial murders catapulted the story to the front pages of Texas newspapers, the Cullen Davis saga has produced countless hours of news videotape, reams of newspaper stories and magazine articles, three books, at least five trials, and one well-publicized religious conversion. In the spring of 1995, it will have its own television miniseries.
No wonder. In the annals of Texas crime stories, the Davis epic has it all: wealth, passion, murder, and hyperbolic characters who fit all the worst Texas stereotypes.
It began in 1976, when Cullen Davis, scion of an oil-rich Fort Worth family, was accused of being the “man in black.” Late one August night, a man donned black clothes and a black wig, disconnected the burglar alarm, and entered the Davis mansion-a $6 million contemporary behemoth sitting on 181 acres in an isolated area of Fort Worth. There he murdered 12-year-old Andrea Wilborn, Davis’ stepdaughter, and Stan Farr, the live-in lover of Davis’ estranged wife, Priscilla. A family friend, Gus Gavrel, was shot and paralyzed in the attack. Beverly Bass and Bubba Gavrel Jr., a young couple returning from a date, met the gunman as he was leaving the mansion. Bubba was wounded, but Beverly escaped unharmed.
Priscilla Davis, a voluptuous blond with a penchant for low-cut dresses, was shot in the chest but survived to testify that the killer was her husband, Cullen, in disguise.
Because of pretrial publicity, Cullen’s trial for the murder of Andrea Wilborn was moved to Amarillo. Flamboyant Texas lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes orchestrated a brilliant defense, assisted by three other attorneys, Steve Sumner, Phil Burleson, and Mike Gibson, and an army of investigators. After spending most of two years in jail awaiting trial, Cullen Davis was acquitted of Andrea’s murder.
But that didn’t end the Davis saga. In 1978, only eight months after regaining his freedom, Davis was arrested again, accused this time of attempting to hire a hitman to kill Judge Joe Eidson, the two witnesses, Beverly Bass and Bubba Gavrel, and Gav-rel’s father, Gus. In a sting setup by the FBI, Judge Eidson posed for a photograph while pretending to be dead in the trunk of a car.
In a conversation between Davis and his “middleman,” who was cooperating with authorities, Davis’ incriminating comments after viewing the photo of the “dead” judge were taped.
“Now you want Beverly Bass killed next, quick, right ?” the middleman asked. “All right,” Davis answered.
“Now I don’t want to make another mistake. You sure ?” the go-between asked.
“Yeah,” Davis said.
Davis was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder Judge Eidson. Even Davis’ worst enemies couldn’t have predicted this bizarre turn of events.
Again, Davis turned to Racehorse Haynes, who argued that Davis had been framed. A Houston trial ended in a hung jury. A retrial, moved back to Fort Worth, ended on November 9,1979, when Davis was acquitted of the conspiracy charge. The Tarrant County District Attorney dropped all other criminal charges pending against the millionaire.
But Davis did not go quietly into that weird realm of pseudo-normalcy that surrounds tile most visible of accused criminals. In 1980, he made headlines again when it was revealed that Cullen and his wife, Karen, under the tutelage of Euless evangelist James Robison, had made a public conversion to Christianity. He was later reported to have hammered to pieces $900,000 worth of ivory and jade carvings, possessions that he now looked upon as blasphemous “idols.”
To many, Cullen’s conversion seemed less like a sincere profession of faith than a cynical attempt to remake his image as he faced several civil suits resulting from the shootings.
The wrongful death and injury suit filed against Cullen by Priscilla Davis and Jack Wilborn, on behalf of Andrea Wilborn’s estate, ended in a hung jury in 1986. To Cullen’s team, that was a victory. By the time of that trial, which lasted several months, Cullen was no longer wealthy. Attorney Steve Sumner had to take art as payment for part of his fee.
Those lawsuits are still pending. But it’s unlikely that, even if they won at trial, the plaintiffs would ever receive any compensation. A few months after the trial, Davis declared bankruptcy.
Though charged with Stan Farr’s murder (as well as the shooting of Priscilla and the two teenagers), those charges were dropped and Cullen was never tried, leaving people to wonder if yet another Cullen Davis trial is possible. There is no statute of limitations on murder, But Davis’ attorney, Sumner, believes it’s unlikely. “If you can’t win the Andrea Wilborn case you sure can’t win the Stan Fair case,” Sumner says.
The case produced three excellent books: Blood Will Tell, by Gary Cartwright; Final Justice: The True Story of the Richest Matt Ever Tried for Murder, by Steven Naifehand and Gregory White Smith; and Texas vs. Davis, by Mike Cochran, which was excerpted in D in 1980. In February of 1995, during sweeps week, a mini-series based on Cartwright’s book is scheduled to air on ABC. The four-hour show, with the working title of Texas Justice, was filmed over 39days in and around Austin. It stars Heather Locklear as Priscilla, Dennis (NVPD Blues) Fran: as Racehorse Haynes, and Peter Strauss as Cullen Davis.
“Strauss did the impossible,” says Cartwright, who acted as consultant to the film. “He gave Cullen a personality, a sense of humor, and a chin.” Cartwright adds that the convoluted story has been greatly simplified and changed in some ways to better fit the producer’s idea of Texas. (For example, Davis’ modem mansion is now a sprawling ranch house outside Austin.) Look for a well-timed reissue by Pocket Books of Cartwright 1978 Blood Will Tell in paperback with an updated introduction and epilogue by Cartwright.
Today, Davis is a lay preacher in a small fundamentalist church in east Fort Worth, where he has been said to cast out demons from the possessed. He and his wife, Karen, reportedly have a small data processing business in their home- Priscilla Davis now lives in Highland Park. Her surviving daughter, Dee, spent time in prison for forging checks to feed a heroin habit. Priscilla is raising her granddaughter. Dee’s child, who also is named Priscilla.
Now in his late 60s, Racehorse Haynes was seen recently on TV doing commentary on the O.J, Simpson case. Steve Sumner, brought in by Haynes for the first trial in Amarillo, has made a career out of defending Davis; he was involved in all the court trials, including Cullen’s divorce from Priscilla.
For someone never convicted of anything, Davis has had a long span in the criminal celebrity limelight and probably wishes it would all go away. Davis never talked about the murders to Cartwright, but the Austin writer has no doubts about what happened that night in 1976. “1 think he went in and killed those people,” Cartwright says. “Then he bought his way out.”
THE EDELMAN FILE
THEIRS WAS “THE DIVORCE FROM HELL.” The bitter court proceedings between Dallas developer Robert Edelman and his wife Linda had gotten to the point where they were arguing over who could brush their daughter’s hair before her ballet recital. But the acrimony was winding down when the case got a fresh infusion of bile: Robert was arrested and charged with attempting to hire a hitman to kill his soon-to-be ex-wife.
The problems began-as they often do-with new money. Neither Robert nor Linda Edelman had grown up wealthy, hut after Robert went into real estate development, his business took off. Despite Robert’s reputation as a “certified asshole,” as one colleague described him, Robert’s projects began bringing in big bucks.
And of course success, in Dallas at least, means building a big, big house-preferably in the Park Cities-that celebrates all that new wealth. The Edelmans’ 7,300- square-foot house on Caruth Place was so large the neighbors referred to it as ’The Amityville Horror.” For Linda, their newly-minted fortune meant she could fill the place with antiques and other instant heritage while spending her free time acting in local musical theater, at least until their children were born,
But happiness in paradise was shortlived. Rifts began to develop. Linda, who had grown up Protestant, had converted to Judaism after marrying Robert. After the couple’s two children were born, she decided that it was a mistake and began attending a Christian church with the kids. Then as Robert’s development company disintegrated along with the Texas economy, so did the marriage, until the couple was enmeshed in a full-scale battle over custody of the kids. The divorce trial was worthy of an episode on As The World Tunis, with Linda’s melodramatic testimony about the time Robert “threw me on the bed and almost choked me to death.” She broke into sobs as she desctibed how he “never gave us peace.”
But the issues surrounding custody of the Edelmans’ two children had all but been ironed out when Robert was arrested on July 27, 1987, after a Dallas man went to the FBI saying that a private detective hired by Edelman had approached him about killing Linda.
The story was far from clear-cut. Edelman admitted hiring the investigator, Colonel Joseph James Young, to follow his wife in October 1986. He wanted Young to track her spending and find out if she had a boyfriend.
Young was not the kind of investigator one might expect to be involved in a slimy operation like a contract hit. In fact, only a month after Edelman hired him, Young was the presiding officer at a Dallas Special Forces Association ceremony on the anniversary of JFK’s death. People in the military sub-culture of Dallas believed Young was a decorated officer in three wars, a winner of the Distinguished Service Cross, two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and more than 50 commendations from the Army. For years, he had engaged in covert military operations with intelligence forces of not only the United States, but England and France as well.
He was also a pathological liar who had fabricated his entire illustrious military career. In fact, Young had been honorably discharged from the Army as a private first class in 1946. In 1965, after being chosen as the head of an Army reserves ski group, he began impersonating an officer and boasting about being an intelligence officer. For years, he did odd jobs-driving a truck, running a pet shop, working as a seafood chef-until 1983, when he became a private investigator.
The FBI set up a sting, taping Young talking to the “hitman” he had recruited. Bur the only real way the FBI could connect Robert Edelman to the proposed murder was through the testimony of Young, whose credibility was slim.
Edelman went to trial in the winter of 1988. Attorney Steve Sumner (who had successfully defended Cullen Davis in the lawsuit filed by Priscilla) argued to the jury that Young was acting on his own, intending to blackmail Robert Edelman. He pointed out that there was no witness to corroborate that Robert had confessed his intention to kill his wife, no tape of Edelman and Young planning the murder. But the government’s case was supported by records of cash flowing from Edelman to Young, as well as phone records documenting the timing of calls between the two after the federal agent claimed “the job” was done. Edelman was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. He later pled guilty to state charges of conspiring to kill his wife, giving up all parental claim to his children.
The Edelman story-became the basis of a book called My Husband’s Trying to Kill Me! by Dallas author Jim Schutze, published by HarperCollins in 1992. Dead Before Dawn, a TV movie with Cheryl Ladd, was based on the case.
Edelman served about five years in federal prison. He now lives in Dallas with his new wife, Diana Key, who was his girlfriend at the time of the accusations. He is rumored to be exploring getting back into real estate development.
Attorney Sumner, claiming that Edelman never paid his fee, sued his former client and won. But Edelman declared bankruptcy and discharged the debt. Despite the fact that he never was paid, Sumner still thinks his client was innocent. “I still believe, as I argued to the jury, that Robert Edelman was a victim of Col. James Young, one of the most proficient liars on the face of the earth,” Sumner says. “I believe Young concocted the plan tokill Linda Edelman.”
Linda, who has gone back to her maiden name, De Silva, still lives in the Park Cities. This summer, Linda and the Edelman children appeared on an episode of Donahue about violent fathers and their effect on families. De Silva has made inspirational talks on overcoming domestic abuse, and now has a staff job at her church, Park Cities Baptist.
In both the Edelman and Cullen Davis cases, the accused took the stand. Sumner, who was involved in both trials, says that the difference in outcomes could have been the “silent testimony” factor-the demeanor, the body language, the unspoken cues radiated by the witness. The longer Davis was on the stand, Sumner says, the less he appeared to he capable of committing the crime of which he was accused. Edelman, however, did not make as favorable an impression.
“I think Robert did not make a good witness,” Sumner says. “His demeanor was to some extent condescending with the prosecutor. He didn’t come off as empathetic. The jury picks up on that.”
THE BLACK WIDOW
IN 1991, AN ARCHITECT FROM ARIZONA walked into the offices of D magazine and demanded to see a writer. In his hand was a copy of the May 1989 issue. While staying with a friend in Dallas and thumbing through her old magazines, he came across a story chronicling the California adventures of Sandra Bridewell, a beautiful, mysterious woman known in Highland Park as “The Black Widow.”
“This woman is staying in my house in Arizona,” the very nervous man said. “What is this all about?”
The Arizonan had run across an update to a May, 1987 cover story by Eric Miller and Skip Hollandsworth that’s easily been the most requested in the history of D. In the early ’90s, when the magazine s supply of copies of the Bridewell issue began to run low, originals sold for $25 an issue. Periodically, people from around the country would call D asking to speak to a writer who knew something about Sandra Bridewell after the story had appeared anonymously in their mail or over their fax machine.
Of all the crime stories written by D in recent years, it’s peculiar in that the subject of the piece has never been arrested or indicted, much less convicted of any illegal act. Indeed many believe that her only crime is that of spectacularly bad luck.
In the early 1970s, the former Sandra Camille Powers was on her way to the top of society’s ladder. She had married David Stegall, an up-and-coming young dentist. The couple had bought and renovated a lovely home in Greenway Park, filling it with beautiful antiques. Their three children were attractive and well-behaved. She was active in volunteer groups and in school activities. Her friends found her delightful: sweet, creative, intelligent, and fun to he with. Sandra Stegall, who had gone to high school in Oak Cliff, was well on the way to her dream of becoming a member of Dallas’ social scene.
But things began to go horribly wrong. She and her husband fought about money. Sandra seemed to spend it faster than David could extract it from the mouths of his patients. As their financial straits grew tighter, Stegall’s depression grew deeper. In February 1975, Stegall was found in his bed in a pool of blood, his wrists slashed and a bullet in his left temple. His death was ruled a suicide.
After Stegall’s death, Sandra asked friends to introduce her to wealthy men. She was clearly looking for a new husband and daddy for her children. Well, why not look for a man of means? And Sandra had the right materials for such a match. In the gentle enclave of the Park Cities, she was a phenomenon: beautiful, with dark mysterious eyes, and versed in art, literature, and fine cooking. It was a combination that men found irresistible. Sandra regaled friends with stories about one wealthy man whose ex-wife threw knives at her and threatened her until he was forced to hire a bodyguard for her protection. With Sandra, nothing was ordinary.
In 1977, Sandra maneuvered her way into an introduction to the son of a rich oilman, Bobby Bridewell, a bon vivant who was beloved among his friends for his wild sense of humor and love of parties. Bridewell was in the midst of a bitter divorce, and his relationship with Sandra was intense and passionate. After a whirlwind romance, they married in June, 1978.
If Sandra hoped for instant wealth, she was disappointed. The real estate developer sank deeply into debt as the real estate market neared collapse. In late 1978, he declared bankruptcy. But he had gotten the idea for creating a ritzy hotel and restaurant while driving by the old Sheppard King mansion on Turtle Creek. He sold Rosewood Hotels Inc. on the project and stayed on as a consultant. By 1980, he was back on top of the world, making a six-figure income. Sandra was thrust ever higher in Dallas society.
Their good fortune was short-lived. In 1980, Bridewell was diagnosed with lymph cancer. His many friends were devastated. But they were also furious. While Bobby Bridewell was dying, Sandra Bridewell moved him into a friend’s house so she could remodel their Highland Park manse. Bridewell’s father was so angry, he moved his son into a suite at a hotel he owned on Central Expressway. Bobby never returned to his own home. After Bridewell’s death in 1982, the gossip and ill-feeling toward Sandra began to mount.
But it snowballed a few months later when one of Sandra’s friends was found dead in a parking lot at Love Field, shot in the head in the driver’s seat of her Mercedes. Betsy Bagwell was the wife of John Bagwell, Bobby Bridewell’s cancer doctor. Sandra had turned to them for support as her husband was dying-and the dependency had intensified after his death. Though they’d tried to distance themselves from Sandra’s demands, Betsy had agreed to help Sandra pick up a rental car at Love Field on the afternoon of July 16,1982. Sandra was the last person to see Betsy alive.
Though Betsy’s friends were alt convinced that Betsy couldn’t possibly have killed herself-she was not depressed, she was making plans for the future-the death was ruled a suicide.
The gossip mill flourished: two dead husbands and a dead friend. Sandra Bridewell suddenly seemed a little too exotic. But that was nothing compared to what happened when Sandra’s third husband, Alan Rehrig, a former athlete 11 years her junior, was found murdered.
Alan had moved from Oklahoma to Dallas to work for a mortgage company. After an intense courtship, Sandra told him she was pregnant and began pressuring him to marry her. (Unknown to Rehrig, Sandra had undergone a hysterectomy in 1977). A few weeks after the wedding, she called him at a friend’s house from a 7-Eleven, explaining that she had been at Baylor Medical Center after miscarrying. Rehrig was devastated when she told him the ictuses were twin hoys with red hair.
From that point, the marriage disintegrated, with each accusing the other of spending too much money. They separated in November, 1985.
On December 5, Alan disappeared after telling a friend he had to meet Sandra at a storage facility in Garland to help her move some boxes. Sandra called the friend to say he never showed up. Rehrig’s frozen body was found, shot to death, in his Ford Bronco near the Oklahoma City airport on December 11, 1985.
Since then, Oklahoma City police detectives have maintained that Sandra Stegall Bridewell Rehrig is their only suspect in Rehrig’s murder. The FBI joined in the investigation. After an initial brief conversation, Sandra refused to talk to police about Rehrig’s death and hired famed Dallas criminal attorney Vince Perini to represent her. A friend who accompanied her to a polygraph examination set up by Perini said she left the room in tears, saying she had failed two important questions.
To escape the gossip, which had builtto a frenzy after Rehrig’s death, Sandra moved to California. She dropped the name Rehrig in favor of the classy-sounding Bridewell rind found a haven in Marin County, an exclusive area just north of San Francisco much like Highland Park. She began dating an attorney and successfully fought Rehrig’s mother for control of Alan’s estate, which included $220,000 in life insurance. Before long Bridewell was working her way up the Bay Area’s social ladder.
But the controversy swirling around Sandra didn’t end with her flight from Dallas. In 1989, two California men filed suit against the beautiful, vulnerable widow for refusing to repay substantial loans. Reports surfaced of other men who had loaned her large sums of money, but were too embarrassed to sue.
The FBI, notified of her presence in the area, took the unusual step of approaching a local woman who had befriended Sandra. To warn the woman about her new friend, they referred her to the May 1987 story that appeared in D, “The Black Widow.” “Have you read that article?” an FBI agent asked the young mother. “If you took Betsy Bagwell and put her in California, you ARE Betsy Bagwell.”
Another story chronicling the new accusations against Sandra Bridewell appeared in D in May 1989. Not long after that, a piece about Bridewell appeared in the San Francisco Examiner and on the news at KRON-TV, one of the city’s major channels. It was then picked up by Hard Copy, A Current Affair and Geraldo. One show featured Dallas private detective Bill Dear, who had been hired by Sandra Bridewell supposedly to check out Rehrig after the couple had separated. Dear said he had become convinced that Sandra had murdered Rehrig and had withdrawn from the case.
In the face of this flurry of publicity, Sandra Bridewell moved from Marin County. After a brief stint in Tucson, Arizona, she moved back to the San Francisco area. For a while, it was rumored that she was living on a yacht in the San Francisco bay. She later moved to the Palo Alto area and got a job selling computer peripherals.
In the years since she left Dallas, Sandra Bridewell’s three grown children have gone on to out-of-state colleges and are making lives of their own. Those who meet her kids agree that they are delightful, well-adjusted young adults.
But it seems Sandra Bridewell is up to her old tricks. This summer, a private detective from Idaho named Carrie Huskinson contacted me, asking me to send her the stories about Bridewell. She had been hired by the wife of a wealthy California investor who had been having an affair with a woman calling herself Camille Bridewell. The man was convinced chat Bridewell had gotten pregnant with his child, delivered it and given it up for adoption. He reluctantly ended the relationship after realizing that-according to numerous reports- Bridewell had undergone a hysterectomy long before the alleged conception.
Now Sandra Bridewell, 50, is living in Boston. The former lover, the California venture capitalist, moved her there to escape his wife’s wrath.
Oklahoma City police detective Steve Pacheco, who has worked on the Rehrig murder from the beginning, says that the Alan Rehrig murder case is “still an ongoing investigation.” According to the detective, Sandra refused, after an initial conversation, to talk to police about her husband’s death, and she prevented them from talking to her children. “We have not eliminated her as a suspect,” says Pacheco.
OF ALL THE HIGHLY PUBLICIZED CRIME STO-ries in Dallas in recent years, none leaves a more bitter legacy than that of Walker Railey, the Methodist minister who found his wife Peggy garroted almost to the point of death in the garage of their Lake Highlands home in the early morning hours of an April night in 1987.
As parishioners of First Methodist Church mourned Peggy’s apparent descent into a permanent vegetative state, they were shocked when their pastor came under suspicion in the attack. They were stunned further when he attempted suicide, writing a note that “demons inside him” were compelling him to do terrible things.
The horrors did not end with his recovery. It was revealed that Railey had been having an affair with a member of his flock, Lucy Papillon, a twice-married woman who fancied herself a “butterfly,” changing her name to reflect her metamorphosis.
Perhaps the impact would not have been as powerful had the fall not been so far. From a small Kentucky town, Railey had attended Vanderbilt University and SMU’s Perkins Theological Seminary. In the early ’80s, Railey was a rising star in the Methodist firmament, a powerful preacher in line to become the youngest bishop in the denomination’s history. He was said to be all those things pastors need to be in these cynical times: relevant, caring and knowledgeable, a role model for those in the congregation.
In the spring of 1987, Railey came under fire as a result of his sermons against racism. Anonymous letters threatening him and his family were slipped under the door of his office at church, promising he “would go down” if he didn’t stop his anti-racism campaign. The Sunday before the attack on Peggy, he stood in the pulpit wearing a bullet-proof vest, watched over by police officers in plain clothes.
But soon after the minister called 911 to report finding Peggy writhing on the floor of the garage with a wire wrapped around her neck, the questions about the crime scene and Railey’s conduct began to mount. Why-in the tense atmosphere- had the security system been turned off? Why had Railey told conflicting stories to police? What about evidence that the threatening notes were written on a typewriter at the church? What had truly happened that night in the Railey garage?
The pastor’s many followers were not reassured when Railey, following the advice of attorney Doug Mulder, took the Fifth when he was questioned before the grand jury. Assistant district attorney Norm Kinne furiously threw down the gauntlet, going before TV cameras to ask the question everybody in Dallas wanted to know. Why, if he had nothing to do with the attack on Peggy, wasn’t he cooperating with police?
Railey didn’t answer. He left. The preacher moved to California and filed for divorce from Peggy, who lay, unable to speak, her brain permanently damaged, in a nursing facility in her home-town of Tylet, cared for by her parents. It was clear she would not recover, nor would she slip quickly into death. Bailey’s two children were taken in by Railey’s good friend, John Yarrington, former choir director of First Methodist, who moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. Even to those who believed in his innocence, Railey was not acting like a bereaved husband and father. Reports from California indicated he was still seeing Lucy Papillon.
For years, there was no resolution to the attack, but it was clear that the Dallas police department and District Attorney’s office considered Railey the only suspect. Then, in 1992, prosecutors decided that, though their case was far from perfect, it was unlikely to improve with age. Railey was indicted on charges of attempted murder.
To avoid the extensive pretrial publicity, the trial was moved to San Antonio. Railey, represented by Mulder, went on the stand in his own defense. He was less than impressive. But, fighting among themselves, assistant district attorneys Howard Wilson and Cecil Emerson were unable to present a coherent view of the attack. The jury voted to acquit. But as one jurist pointed out, that didn’t mean they thought Railey was “innocent.” That meant the prosecutors didn’t prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The acquittal was a blow not only to the prosecutors and Peggy’s parents, who had sued Railey and won in a civil court, but to the handful of journalists who had followed the case for years. Mike Shropshire, who wrote a story for D magazine in late 1987, had a large advance from Doubleday to do a book on the Railey case. Though his manuscript was completed, the hook has been shelved permanently. “It had no closure,” says Shropshire. In other words, the ending was wrong.
Olive Talley, investigative reporter for The Dallas Morning News, had covered the Railey case from the beginning. “As soon as Railey was indicted, I got Hooded with calls from Hollywood producers,” says Talley. “They had called through the years, trying to option my work, but I had always declined.”
A few months before Railey’s indictment, Talley learned she had been awarded a prestigious Neiman Fellowship at Harvard University, which meant taking a year-long leave of absence from the paper. She would not be covering the final chapter of the case she had followed so long.
“It was very frustrating to cover the Walker Railey case for five years only to leave-though I wanted the fellowship,” Talley says. “I wanted to finally put into context and perspective the five years of previous work.”
Convinced that someone would make a movie of the story, knowing that her work on it was finished, Talley negotiated a contract with Republic Pictures producers Tim and Danielle Hill, who have done documentaries in the past. Talley agreed to consult to make sure the movie was as accurate as possible; the Nicolais- Peggy’s parents-and the Yarringtons had also agreed to be involved.
But when Railey was acquitted, Republic and the other producers who had pursued the case backed off.
The only book to come out of the case was The Demon Inside, by Barbara Wedgwood, a Dallas woman with little writing experience. The book suffered heavily from the feeling of clip-and-paste, but it is still the only book about the Railey case on the market.
Perhaps the definitive stories on the Railey trial were written by Laura Miller for Dallas Observer. She persuaded the prosecutors to allow her to watch the process from the inside. Her documentation of their infighting and ineptitude was painful, leaving the reader to wonder what might have been. And her post-trial story about Railey’s son, who might have seen something the night of the attack but who was not put on the witness stand at his father’s trial, was devastating.
Today, Railey is still living in California in Silver Lake, a Los Angeles suburb. Ironically, he is working for a security firm, placing guards. He has filed for bankruptcy in Los Angeles and is seeking to discharge the civil judgment filed against him before his criminal trial. In the lawsuit, which Railey never answered, a judge found that Walker had “maliciously” attempted to kill Peggy. An $18 million judgment was entered by default. She has not received a penny of that judgment. If a Los Angeles judge rules that the judgment is not dischargeable, the court can garnish his wages to repay it.
Dallas attorney Bill Arnold, who represented Peggy Railey and won the judgment, deposed Railey this summer in the bankruptcy case. “We’re looking to see if he has any movie or book deals,” says Arnold. “We hope he makes the biggest movie deal in the history of Hollywood.”
Ted Nicolai, Peggy’s brother, has moved with his family to Tyler to take over as guardian for his sister. In ill health, her parents, Bill and Billie Jo Nicolai, were unable to continue the constant care Peggy requires. A trust fund established at NorthPark National Bank (now Comerica Bank-Texas) is still taking donations to provide for Peggy’s future care.
The Yarringtons have assumed guardianship of the Raileys’ children, though Walker has not relinquished parental rights. For a while, Railey made himself available for the motivational lecture circuit and for talks on being an “away” dad. It is not known whether he had any bookings. The children, Megan and Ryan, have not seen their mother since the day of the attack eight years ago.
Lucy Papillon, who testified at the trial on Walker’s behalf, is apparently living a low-profile life in California.
At this time, Walker and Peggy Railey are still married. Though Walker filed for divorce from Peggy before his trial, proceedings have since been dropped.
And Peggy? Doctors say she could live for years in the nursing home, lost in the murky realm between life and death. In the words of one journalist who covered the case for years, “it’s like she’s been buried alive.”
a FEELING PERSISTS throughout the country: Texas murders are…well, like Texas. Big, bizarre, and populated by larger-than-life characters that simply aren’t found some place like Rhode Island or North Dakota. Whether this perception is true or not, it’s a fact that Texas crime stories have spawned a cottage industry.