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Crime

D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: The Saga of Priscilla and T. Cullen Davis

The tale of the richest man ever tried for murder.
By Jason Heid |
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A still from TruTv's documentary about the Cullen Davis case.

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This week we’ve got the first (and only) double feature of our series celebrating the 40 greatest stories ever published in D Magazine. Together they recount the scandalous lives of wealthy Fort Worth socialites  Priscilla and T. Cullen Davis. One night in 1976, someone entered the mansion of the estranged couple and killed Priscilla’s 12-year-old daughter and live-in lover, as well as wounded two others, including Priscilla herself. Each of the surviving eyewitnesses said Cullen was the perpetrator.

The trial was just about to begin at the time Tom Stephenson’s March 1977 story was published. Ultimately, Cullen was acquitted of the murder of his stepdaughter, but that wasn’t the end of his legal troubles. An FBI sting operation resulted in incriminating tapes in which Cullen was heard arranging to have the presiding judge and witnesses in his murder trial killed. But his defense attorney again managed to argue that Cullen had been framed, and he got off.

The story of the multimillionaire who once famously hosted a screening of Deep Throat in a Winnebago at the Colonial golf tournament then took an odd turn. As told in Allen Pusey’s December 1980 piece, Cullen became a devout evangelical Christian, under the influence of TV preacher James Robison. Though there were those who doubted the sincerity of Cullen’s conversion, saying that he was only interested in restoring his public image, when Skip Hollandsworth caught up with Cullen for Texas Monthly in 2000, the infamous fellow was still attending church each Sunday and reading his Bible regularly. He also was living in Colleyville and selling skin cream for a living, his fortune having dwindled throughout the 1980s to the point where he had to declare bankruptcy. He’s now 81.

Priscilla’s wrongful death suit against Cullen ended in a hung jury in 1986. He was never tried for the other murder committed that tragic night in 1976, that of Priscilla’s boyfriend, Stan Farr. The entire story has been told in several books, including Blood Will Tell by Gary CartwrightFinal Justice: The True Story of the Richest Man Ever Tried for Murder by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith; and Texas vs. Davis by Mike Cochran, which was excerpted in D in 1980. It was also made into a TV miniseries, called Texas Justice, in 1995. Heather Locklear played Priscilla.

After their divorce, in which Cullen won ownership of their Fort Worth home, Priscilla ended up moving to Dallas. By the 1990s, her money was mostly gone and she was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Oak Lawn. When her daughter ran into trouble with drugs, she took on the responsibility of raising her own granddaughter. She died of breast cancer in February 2001 — not long after a report surfaced in the Star-Telegram in which Cullen’s father-in-law admitted paying off an investigator of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office during the 1977 trial.

As for the mansion where the bloody events took place, subsequent owners tried to capitalize on its notoriety by turning it into a restaurant, but those ventures failed. Then it was a church for awhile. But today it’s a special-events venue called Stonegate Mansion. Can you imagine a more perfect spot for a wedding?

 

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