Editor’s Note: This story was first published in a different era. It may contain words or themes that today we find objectionable. We nonetheless have preserved the story in our archive, without editing, to offer a clear look at this magazine’s contribution to the historical record.
Fitzgerald: The rich are different from us.
Hemingway: Yes. They have more money.
Like a cat, Priscilla Davis curls her feet up under her celebrated body as she settles into her white velvet couch. She licks her thin lips and purrs in a soft, ingratiating voice. Like a cat’s, her eyes are large but keen — and disarming. And you know that if you could throw her high in the air, Priscilla would land on her feet.
She sits calmly and, it seems, contentedly in her living room, registering none of the expected emotional residue from those ghastly events that occurred here in this house only six months before. On the night of August 2, 1976, the state contends, Fort Worth multimillionaire T. Cullen Davis, 42, unnerved by his estranged wife Priscilla’s victory in domestic court earlier in the day, arrived at his former mansion-residence carrying or wearing a crude disguise. The state believes that Cullen Davis met his 12-year-old stepdaughter Andrea near the front door and took her to a small room in the basement where he shot her to death. They believe Davis donned a woman’s black wig, wrapped a black plastic garbage bag around his hands, and lay in wait for his estranged wife and her 6-foot-10-inch live-in lover. They contend that Davis shot and wounded his wife Priscilla and shot and killed her lover, Stan Farr. Finally, they believe that minutes later Davis gunned down Gus Gavrel, a youthful visitor to the house, the night’s fourth victim, still alive but now paralyzed.
The city of Fort Worth exploded. A writer pronounced the murders “the biggest goddamn thing to happen to Fort Worth since the railroad.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran eight full pages of the story in one day. But quickly the actual crime was old news. As people tried to forget the killing of a 12-year-old girl, the murder became not a whodunit, but a gleeful trespass into the private lives of Fort Worth’s rich black sheep. Certainly the printing presses ran far behind the rumor mills. In one night alone, wild gossip spread that Priscilla had slept with everybody from “her old dyke lover” to a district attorney. Cullen fared little better in these glint-eyed, barside sessions: one recurring tidbit was that “this isn’t the first time he’s ever worn a woman’s wig.”
The town split into camps. The Priscilla camp centered on close friends who defended her adamantly. One woman (who had in fact cancelled earlier plans to stay with Priscilla at the mansion that August night) said, “I adore her. Priscilla’s been very good to me. If she knew you were a pint low on blood, she’d give you a gallon. And I’ll tell you another thing — if I read one more distorted version of this thing, I’ll come after you with a shotgun. I’m serious.” Said another, “Cullen knew when he did this that the liars of Fort Worth, Texas, would eat her up. The men would drool, but the women would grind her up like a cheese grinder.” Cullen’s camp was not really so much pro-Cullen as it was anti-Priscilla. Cullen’s backers wondered aloud why he hadn’t shot her a long time ago. The barbs followed common themes: as one of Priscilla’s critics puts it, “All she ever did was create problems. She’s gone from white trash to millionairess on a fake pair of tits.”
The city of Fort Worth, the country’s largest small town, had years ago adopted the Cullen Davises for their vast gossip value. Now Cullen and Priscilla had given them more than their wildest expectations.
Fort Worth society was T. Cullen Davis’ birthplace. His father, Ken Davis Sr., known by the nickname “Stinky,” was widely respected in the oil supply industry. And just as widely disliked. “He was the meanest man I ever knew,” says one former employee. “That son-of-a-bitch was a bully.” Another Kendavis Industries worker recalls, “He was gruff, abrasive — he used to call me ’boy,’ and I was a Korean War veteran.”
“Stinky” Davis shared that flair for the eccentric that infects so many self-made millionaires. He demanded that his employees wear hats. He banned green ties and taps on shoes. A sign resurrected from the bathroom of the old Ken Davis headquarters says, “No Reading of Any Kind Permitted in This Lavatory.” An occasional pang of civic pride triggered generous but again eccentric response — among his major projects were the Fort Worth Planetarium and a camp for girls. But Davis’ heart was in his business: “You take Fort Worth,” he once told Amon Carter, “and I’ll take the rest of the world.” And the rest of the world is exactly what he went after. Building companies in a wide web of international operations, Ken Davis gathered enormous wealth, always quickly pumping it back into the company and windmilling more dollars.
Cullen was the second of three sons, and the Davis boys didn’t miss out on their father’s fortune. As children, the boys were never sent to camp because they had their own — a 50-acre summer spread on Eagle Mountain Lake, much of it built exclusively for the boys. Here Cullen began to cultivate an interest in athletics that led to a number of ribbons for his sailing skills and a reputation as an expert skier. But only as a secondary feature of his personality: “Cullen — in fact all three of the boys — was totally programmed for the business world,” says one acquaintance. As a junior at Texas A&M, Cullen began to reaffirm his father’s intention that he, like his brothers, enter the family business, vowing, in a letter to his parents, to study more and play less. In a closing postscript to his father, Cullen writes, “You don’t have to count the ‘I’’s in this letter because I already have. There are 28 (counting the two in this sentence).”
With only minor help from a plastic surgeon, Cullen in his 40s looks little different from the Cullen of those college years. His slick dark hair sports a few flecks of gray but is still wavy and cropped short in the back. His eyes are strange. The look is cold, but not piercing — more a detached stare. The nose is slightly hawk-like and the rest of the face is smallish, or seems that way because it’s set on good shoulders. Cullen is slim, though not built athletically. He looks, in fact, more like a pool hustler than a business tycoon.
The hustler image might please Cullen. He is an intense gamesman in all things; opponents describe him as the type who enjoys winning more than the game itself, the kind who has no use for team sports where the blunders of another can spell defeat. Says one associate, “I know Cullen, and he doesn’t like to lose.”
In the business arena, Cullen flashed the same competitive edge. While he lacked the vision of his older brother Ken, he proved hard and sharp in day-to-day, head-to-head ventures. All in all, Cullen’s business and personal life ran as smoothly as the engines in the big cars he bought. Certainly he created no controversy when he married a popular Fort Worth girl named Sandra Masters. However, Priscilla says Cullen later admitted to her that though he cared very much for Sandra, he married her “more because everybody else liked her than because he was in love with her.” True or not, it agrees with a much-offered opinion, that Cullen cared more for propriety than for passion — until he met Priscilla.
That Cullen and Priscilla ever met at all seems both fluky and inevitable. Certainly they reached their rendezvous by entirely different routes.
“I didn’t know my father,” says Priscilla. “He forgot to do two things: come home and send a check. I do know he was a geologist and a rodeo rider.” She pauses in thought for a moment. “I’ve seen pictures though. He was gorgeous. Cherokee and French. Momma was English and Irish. I guess that lakes me a Heinz 57.”
“Momma” is Mrs. Audie Lee Childers of Houston, the guiding influence for her only daughter, Priscilla. Audie Childers was a Texas girl, but spent 10 years of childless marriage in California before a divorce and a return to Texas. She quickly remarried and had three children, only to be deserted by her husband. While Priscilla’s two brothers were too young to work, the family was supported by a generous bachelor uncle and lived in a crowded house outside of Houston. Mrs. Childers tried to keep her brood interested in good books and music, but there was little money. “I used to get a quarter,” Priscilla recalls, “and I could either get a pressed ham sandwich and a glass of water or a pack of cigarettes. Finally I’d just take my mother’s cigarettes. I did it so well I got Momma to change to my brand.” Grade school pictures show a skinny kid, modestly good-looking, and changing dramatically every year — except for those eyes, those keen and hungry dark eyes.
Priscilla did not stay a little girl long. “I was raped when I was just 15,” Priscilla says, in a voice that begins to whine. “I told him no. He promised he wouldn’t. I really liked him, but he promised. I told him no. He liked me.” She straightens up and calms her voice. “It was just like a movie or something when he left for the army. He pulled off in the train. He sat at the window, and I could see his lips move. He said, ’I’m sorry.’”
At the not-so-tender age of 16, Priscilla married Jasper Baker, who had just returned from overseas. “You know, just out of the Marines, and all the girls were after him,” Priscilla says. “It didn’t last. Jasper didn’t understand that you’re supposed to quit dating after marriage. I found out about him and this 24-year-old car hop. I couldn’t believe it. To me, she was an old woman.”
With a six-month-old baby girl, but no husband, Priscilla went west. Like her mother, she found nothing in California, so she hitched a ride back to Houston with a friend, her belongings in a trailer behind his pick-up. Two jobs and 10 months later, Priscilla was married to a Houston used car dealer named Jack Wilborn. With that marriage, Priscilla’s story eventually moved to Fort Worth.
At age 20, Priscilla was still very much the adult-child, and she remains so some 15 years later. She exudes both a storybook innocence and an animal magnetism that suggests a remarkable instinct for survival. On her right hand, a huge gold lion’s head ring flashes the diamond in its mouth as Priscilla reflects on the days when there were no diamonds.
Court records from October 1961 show that Priscilla was arrested outside the Fair Ridglea store for shoplifting one ladies dress valued at $45, one ladies sweater worth $69.95, and one $11.95 skirt. The Tarrant County Grand Jury indicted Priscilla on a felony charge of theft over $50. She posted a $2,000 bond on November 25. In January 1962 the case was refiled as a misdemeanor (a common procedure). Priscilla pleaded guilty and was fined $50.
Priscilla explains the incident this way. She claims to have met a girl (“who dressed with Neiman-Marcus labels all over the place”) near her apartment. They went shopping, and she noticed her new friend putting items in her bag without paying for them. Priscilla, then only 20, claims she didn’t know what to do. So she did nothing and was left holding the bag. “That’s right. She just handed it to me when we got out of the store. And I didn’t try to run or anything. Afterward, this girl tells me not to tell anyone where she lives or anything because her boyfriend is wanted for murder. She told me the whole story that he didn’t do it and all … You’ve got to understand, I was just a kid.”
Soon there was little need for pilfering, planned or otherwise. Jack and Priscilla Wilborn gradually moved up the financial ladder and into the perimeters of the Fort Worth social set. But their marriage began to falter. And at about the same time, the marriage of Cullen and Sandra Davis was beginning to break up — and for much the same reason: Neither Cullen nor Priscilla had ever been allowed — or allowed themselves — a childhood. Nor had they ever fully grown up. Now they felt like playing.
“I’ll tell you about the Fort Worth sets,” says one who is notable for swinging through all of them. “The rich 35-and-over set are good people. They laugh, dance, like their art, no drugs, cocktails at 3 p.m., and they’d vote for John Connally for king. The under-30 set, they don’t run so much with their social or money equals. They treat drugs in a casual manner. And the real young swingers — well, there’s more dope per capita in Fort Worth than Dallas. Believe me.”
Priscilla first met Cullen at the Ridglea Country Club. “I played tennis doubles against Cullen and Sandra,” she recalls. “We slaughtered them. I saw Cullen the next day at the Colonial (golf tournament). He kept walking in front of me all day long, and in the afternoon he asked me to join a group at his table.”
After both couples separated, Priscilla and Cullen started seeing each other. “We dated a few times,” she says, “but he always seemed to want to be discreet about it. We’d always go to Dallas.” Then several days went by with no word from Cullen; Priscilla called to ask why. “He said he was going to try it again with Sandra. I wished him luck. And he said, ‘Why don’t we have dinner some time?’ I told him no way.”
Several weeks later, the reconciliation attempt had failed, and Cullen was once again living at the Green Oaks Motel — and once again dating Priscilla. He traveled to New York for a company Christmas party thrown at the Waldorf-Astoria, and after the party he called Priscilla. Despite the fact that both were in the midst of legal divorce proceedings, his call was a marriage proposal. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “He told me that it might not be the time or place, but that he really loved me and wanted to marry me. I thought we were just good friends.”
They became better friends, spending a week together in Acapulco in January of 1969. Then, shortly after returning, Cullen and Priscilla were at the Green Oaks Motel, late at night. Suddenly the door was smashed in, mace was sprayed, and men rushed in taking pictures. They were private investigators hired by Jack Wilborn.
“I was the first one through the door,” one investigator recalls. “He (Davis) had his shorts on, I think. But she was buck naked. She snapped at what was going on and ran to the bathroom. I took pictures of her in the bathroom.”
Priscilla, not surprisingly, has a different tale to tell. “We went to the hotel, to the Green Oaks. I lay down on the bed to go to sleep. I was fully clothed, and Cullen was in the other bed. He was getting ready for bed. I heard this noise, and there was this crash, and then there was tear gas. I ran up and started yelling at Cullen. He didn’t know what was happening. I told him ’Cullen, call the police.’ I ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Outside I heard Jack yelling, ’What have you done with my wife, you sonofabitch?’ It was all so ridiculous. I mean, the divorces had already been filed for months. I mean, what was the purpose?”
The aftermath was equally confused. Says one of the investigators, “Everything went smooth until the next morning when I got this call to get down to Police Internal Affairs. Garland Geeslin (head of security for Green Oaks when off duty from the Fort Worth Police) was mad as hell. We had to put up the money to pay for the broken door, and we had to turn over the photos … all this to save us from criminal charges. Geeslin told me I wouldn’t work in this city again.”
Geeslin says he was not informed of the break-in until the day after the incident. “I understand there had been surveillance for some time,” he says. “The people were called in and talked to about it. But no, I never saw any photos, and I don’t know exactly who paid for the door.” Case closed. And an uneasy foreshadowing, perhaps, of the power of the Davis name with Fort Worth authorities in things to come.
Shortly thereafter, Cullen Davis went to Jack Wilborn and asked him just what it was that he wanted. Cullen reported to Priscilla: “Let Jack have custody (of the two children) for now. I’ll give you 10,000 times more than Jack Wilborn could give you.”
Priscilla and Cullen were married on the same day that Ken Davis Sr. died. Priscilla says that when word of Cullen’s father’s death reached the couple, arrangements were made to notify the minister and the florist of a postponement. The postponement lasted only hours. “We decided that the next few days would be very hectic, and we might as well go ahead.” (Cullen and Priscilla had applied for their license three days before Ken Davis died.) “Of course, when people came by to offer their condolences, Cullen would say, ‘I’d like for you to meet my wife.’ And their mouths would just fly open.”
“They were the perfect couple,” says one friend. “She was the exhibitionist, and he was the voyeur.”
They made a fascinating pair, Cullen and Priscilla. “They were the perfect couple,” says one friend. “She was the exhibitionist, and he was the voyeur.” Priscilla had indeed ripened into a showcase woman. She is not a classic beauty, but she makes the most of what she has — in fact, makes more of it. Shortly after her marriage to Cullen, Priscilla had “cosmetic surgery” on her breasts. (“I didn’t care if it was done or not,” she claims. “I had something before this.”) The result is an unusual physique: below the waist she is petite, almost tiny; above the waist, accentuated by silicone and crowned by a mass of silver-blonde hair (naturally chestnut but whitened by years of chemicals), she is voluptuous. With her new visibility, the gossip began to grow around her. A favorite tidbit was that “Priscilla had her pubic hair dyed pink.” (“What? That’s ridiculous … I had it shaved into a heart once. But I don’t think Cullen even noticed.”)
Priscilla was seen often in exotically revealing clothes, and she obviously relished the tease: “I dress for my mood. Sometimes right when men think I’m going to show everything, I’ll wear a pinafore.” Cullen relished it too. “I don’t think Cullen likes women too much, except for show,” says one acquaintance. “He didn’t like for Priscilla to talk about anything important. He didn’t really respect her brain.” But for her part, Priscilla seemed genuinely to care for Cullen, and if he was happy to show her off, she was glad to oblige.
“I saw her when I was covering the Colonial, the big Fort Worth social event,” says a sportswriter. “There was this woman in a leg cast, strategically stationed at the most trafficked point of the course, by the ninth and 18th greens. She was standing there in the hot sun, in that cast, for hours. Part of her was just hanging out all over. And I asked who in the name of God that could be. Everybody had these knowing smirks on their faces and the answer: ‘That’s Priscilla Davis.'”
While the matrons whispered, the men ogled. “I’ll tell you why I never figured Cullen for a jealous murderer,” says one observer. “He used to like to show Priscilla off. He would walk behind her a couple steps just to watch other men looking at her. I don’t know though,” he added later. “Now that I think about it, he treated her like a 1908 Ford. It was like everyone would like to have her, but he knew nobody else could bother with the upkeep.”
“Cullen only said no to me three times,” Priscilla says. “Once in Antwerp. I didn’t really ask for it though. I mean, it was an $85,000 pink diamond. Another time I asked him to buy some property in Aspen. And once I bought some Steuben, and he told me to take it back. I said, ‘Aw, come on, Cullen’ like I usually do, but he made me take it back. Then he gave it to me for Christmas.
“Cullen told me once he was eight years ahead on our anniversary presents. I mean, it got to the point of ridiculous on furs and jewels. I’m not saying I’ve got jewels comparable to … like Anne Tandy or some of the other women, but…”
Priscilla had a favorite necklace that spelled out “Rich Bitch” in diamonds. And rich she was, though not according to her own vague definition. “I’d say there’s a difference between being rich and being wealthy — Cullen and I were wealthy. When people ask me what I like best about being very wealthy, I tell them I like being able to go to any restaurant in the world and order whatever I want. And being able to pick up the telephone and call anywhere I want.”
Or do anything she wanted to, including exploring the kinky fringes of the moneyed life. “After we were first married, Cullen and I were in Mexico looking for one of those shows — you know, the donkey show. We went to one of those, you know, places, and Cullen asked the man what kind of acts he had. The man said he had one act with two girls and one boy and another act with two boys and one girl. Cullen asked the man, ‘What if I was one of the boys?’ So I said, ‘What if I was one of the girls?’ Well, they started buttering me up because they knew I would be the deciding factor. Cullen asked me what I thought, and I asked him what he thought. He said if we did that it would open up a whole Pandora’s Box. I told him he was right. I wouldn’t have done it anyway … of course.”
If Priscilla’s style had changed dramatically after their marriage, Cullen also became more socially outgoing and more likely to spend his money. He began collecting art with the same competitive zeal that he played billiards. At the Art Spectrum in L.A. he tossed out $350,000 for a jade pagoda. On his way to the airport in New York, he spotted a painting of a ship in a gallery window. He ordered the limousine stopped, bought the painting, and 115 other art objects. The gallery owner was so astonished that he was almost unable to write the order.
The new Cullen was also apparent in his business dealings. Or at least it seemed that way to his younger brother Bill, who filed suit against Cullen alleging him to be an extravagant spender who surrendered money “based on his emotional needs rather than any exercise in business judgement.” The incident fanned the flames of a fraternal split within the 80-company, half-billion-dollar family business network. Ken and Cullen were siding to resist Bill’s contentions that the companies must tighten their expenditures, showing indications that Ken and Cullen were working to squeeze Bill out of the business entirely. The suit was later settled out of court, but it was the first significant crack in the shiny, towering personal empire of T. Cullen Davis.
Undaunted by his brother’s claims, Cullen initiated his grandest project of all: the construction of Priscilla’s “dream house.” The $3.8-million mansion was constructed on a hill in the midst of 180 acres partially bordering the 14th fairway of the Colonial Country Club golf course in west Fort Worth. The house, which took 3 1/2 long years to complete, came to symbolize what was happening to their marriage — great loads of money were spent, but somehow the thing just never quite came together.
The $3.8 million shows: there is a huge, glass-walled indoor pool and a lavish game room with foosball, pool, and billiard tables. Priscilla’s bathroom is larger than many bedrooms, the walls a hot pink where they aren’t mirrored, with a sunken marble tub under a huge crystal chandelier. Throughout the house, the walls and high, angular ceilings are white, and there are paintings, mostly 19th-century originals, hung everywhere, all in heavy, ornate gold frames. There are dozens of pieces of Oriental carving, in chrome and glass cases. There are pedestaled statues, including one in the kitchen area, of a well-endowed woman labeled “Think Big.” The paneled study is filled with valuable trinkets of every conceivable sort (“I’ve put a lot of things away since Cullen left,” says Priscilla. “He always wanted everything out.”). On the desk is a photograph of Priscilla sitting on Cullen’s knee at the rim of the Grand Canyon. The frame is trimmed in leopard skin.
On one wall of the living room hangs a 1971 portrait by Wayne Ingram. It is actually a collage of portraits depicting both Cullen and Priscilla in various poses. Cullen appears stern and determined at the pool table, on the slopes, and in a business chair. Priscilla looks both coy and seductive curled in a chair, feet tucked under, showing ample thigh. Or standing in some kind of animal miniskirt with kneeboots. Said one European house visitor to Priscilla while eyeing the painting, “You look like something your husband did.”
The couple’s move into their dream house seemed to signal the beginning of serious problems between them. “When we got married,” says Priscilla, “Fort Worth was so ready to reject us that it brought us real close. Then, just when they started to accept us — or me anyway — Cullen started to get real competitive.” Priscilla had seen Cullen’s competitive streak before. “I gave Cullen a pearl-engraved, hand-carved pool stick for a present once. One night when we were at the Pink Elephant, he lost more games than he won. We left, and he started beating the stick against the curb and just totally demolished it.”
According to Priscilla’s allegations, Cullen began beating more than pool cues. In testimony at the bond hearings following the murders, Priscilla described vividly beatings in which Cullen twice broke her nose and once her collarbone. (She said he also broke the nose of the older daughter, Dee.) She recounted one particularly brutal occasion: “In 1972 at a hotel in Palm Springs, we went out with a friend from Dallas. I looked out on the dance floor, and he (Cullen) was dancing with this girl, but he had his hand on her backside, her rear end. She was being very cooperative.” Priscilla testified that she became angry and left for her hotel room and that Cullen came back to the room and beat her “with his fists. And he kicked me. I fell on the floor, and he kicked me, and it just went on, and finally he stopped and went to sleep.” In testimony, she said that while she was recovering from a skiing accident, Cullen beat her with her own crutch. On another occasion, she says, he became infuriated and threw the family cat hard against the floor, killing it.
It was at this time that the troubles with brother Bill Davis in the family business were coming to a head. Priscilla says, “During all this, I asked Cullen, ‘Don’t you love your brother?’ He said that yes, he was very fond of him. That’s when I knew I was in trouble.”
The crisis came on Priscilla’s birthday in 1974. She discovered that her jewelry was missing and confronted Cullen. He replied that it was in his office and was going to stay there for a while. “I called him everything but a white man,” says Priscilla. “I told him I was going to the office, and if he didn’t have my jewelry I’d tear the place apart. He knew I’d do it too. I went downtown and just left my car in the middle of the street. I ran into Cullen on his way down, and he had the jewelry.” According to Priscilla, there was a confrontation.
“You want a divorce?” screamed Priscilla. “Well, you’re going to get one.”
“That’s all right,” Cullen replied. “I’ve been there before.”
“Uh uh. Not like this you haven’t.”
Furious, Priscilla marched to the bank to cash a check. The bank agreed to a $1,500 limit. “I cashed it and said to myself, ‘Happy Birthday, Priscilla.’”
Her next move was to attorney Ronald Aultman’s office. “I’d heard that if you’re going to get a divorce, you should get a criminal lawyer to handle it,” she explains. Aultman was understandably skeptical when Priscilla described the current state of her relationship and suggested a restraining order.
That night, according to Priscilla, she stayed with a friend, waiting for the papers to be served. When she returned to the mansion the next day, she was shocked to find Cullen still there. “Do you want to shoot a game?” Cullen asked, pointing to one of the tables. He made a mild attempt to kiss her. “Leave me alone,” she said. Cullen said he would be moving and taking some of his things. No one who really knew Cullen or Priscilla predicted an amicable parting.
During the next few months of separation, both dated a little. However, reconciliation had not been ruled out. Priscilla in fact visited Cullen at his Ramada Inn suite on several occasions — once to show him the new Mark IV he had bought her. On at least one of these visits, she recalls, they had sex.
Then Priscilla met Stan Farr. There are few bad stories about Stan Farr. “He was just a big teddy bear,” says one girlfriend. “Just a good, good man,” says another friend. “Yes, I’ve met Priscilla. I’m not going to say anything … you’ll just have to ask someone else. I’ll just say that Stan was extremely kind to her.”
The bearded, 6-foot-10-inch Farr was a former basketball star at TCU (he once scored in double figures in 14 straight games), a gregarious sort who liked the nightclub people. He had been manager of the Rhinestone Cowboy club, a would-be concert promoter, and had dabbled in the land business with a few setbacks. Among his many friends were noted Texas musicians like Rusty Weir and David Allan Coe.
“If God can find anything dirty about Stan’s and my relationship,” says Priscilla, “then, well, I’ll just have to answer to God. He let me be me. The kids were about grown up. I had been an adult all my life, and now, for once, I could be a kid.” Priscilla and Stan talked about marriage and finding some land to build on. “We wanted this big room with a real merry-go-round in it that would be the bar.” She says she never really thought she’d keep the mansion, assuming that Cullen would eventually choose to move back in. “You see, I wasn’t trying to take the shirt off Cullen’s back. I wasn’t even trying to take a button.”
By the summer of 1976, Stan had taken up residence in the mansion. He and Priscilla were almost constant companions. Occasionally they would run into Cullen escorting his new girlfriend, Karen Master (no relation to his first wife). Karen had a stunning resemblance to Priscilla. Cullen was, in fact, becoming quite the visible social figure with this new blonde on his arm. They were seen at Colonial, of course, and at the Rangoon Racquet Club, and at many other Fort Worth high spots. At the Colonial, Cullen hosted a private showing of Deep Throat inside a Winnebago in the parking lot.
Both Cullen and Priscilla were presenting a show, at least, of contentment with their new mates. But the divorce proceedings were becoming more bitter with every move. Priscilla was feeling premonitions. She expected the worst. “I found myself thinking that Cullen would either kill us all or kill himself.” For a time she hired special security guards around the house. In early July, she contacted a private detective about possible problems with the mansion’s elaborate security system. During the last week in July, a close friend of Priscilla’s talked with her. “Priscilla said she had bad vibes.”
On Monday afternoon, August 2, Domestic Court Judge Joe Eidson granted Priscilla a continuance because of ill health. Her doctor had suggested surgery for removal of two masses in her left breast. The judge also awarded her a third increase in temporary alimony, an increase of $1,500 for a total monthly payment of $5,000. He also ruled that Cullen pay her $25,000 in legal fees and some $24,000 in expenses incurred by Priscilla in running the house. The itemized expense list ranged from a promised new car for daughter Dee to a $3,645 Neiman-Marcus tab to a $10.29 bill from Ray Polk Grocery.
While the figures may seem large, most observers agree that for Cullen, it should have been considered only a minor setback. Cullen’s own reaction can’t be assessed. Except for the intended victims, no one has said publicly that they saw Cullen Davis later that evening.
After the divorce hearing, Stan and Priscilla allegedly went to dinner with friends at the Old Swiss House and then stopped for a few drinks at the Rangoon Racquet Club. When they returned to the mansion, Cullen, says Priscilla, was waiting for them.
The prosecution contends that Cullen had arrived some time earlier and found Andrea alone in the house. The girl’s body was found in the basement room that housed most of the mansion’s electrical apparatus. She had been shot once in the chest. A projectile was found in the room after the body was removed.
According to Priscilla’s testimony, she and Stan returned to the house about 12:30 a.m., and she noticed the security locks were off. Stan went up the back stairs to the bedroom while Priscilla went to the kitchen, where she noticed that the door leading to the basement was open and saw bloody prints on the wall. She screamed for Stan just before Cullen appeared, dressed all in black, wearing a woman’s black wig, and holding his hands together with a dark plastic bag wrapped around them. “I mean, I don’t think he was drunk,” says Priscilla. “He just came out and said ‘Hi.’ He was so cold, so calm. Then he shot me.” The bullet entered between her breasts, and she screamed.
Stan, Priscilla says, had come down the stairs, and he and Cullen now struggled on either side of the door leading up to the bedroom. Cullen fired through the door, and Stan cried out. Farr opened the door and tried to grab his assailant. Davis pulled away and fired again. Stan fell to the floor near Priscilla, and Davis pumped two more shots into his body. “I watched his eyes,” says Priscilla. “I watched him die.”
While Cullen dragged Stan’s body away, she tried to escape from the house. “I turned around, and Cullen was after me, and I fell down. I was still holding myself. I started screaming at him, ‘Cullen I love you. I didn’t … I have never loved anybody else. Please let’s talk. Please sit down and talk with me . . . please.’” Priscilla says her husband was talking to her calmly, saying only, “Come on.” He pulled her back toward the house with a tight hold on her arm until she said, “Stop, Cullen, you’re hurting me.” He let go, dropping her outside the patio door as he returned to the kitchen.
Just then a car pulled up in the driveway. Beverly Bass, a friend of Dee’s, had arrived to spend the night (Dee had changed her plans and was spending the night elsewhere). Escorting Beverly was Gus Gavrel. Priscilla, meanwhile, had hidden in a clump of bushes from where she heard voices and more shots. Cullen allegedly shot Gavrel as he walked up the driveway. Beverly Bass escaped and ran.
Priscilla ran too, her long denim skirt pulled up and wrapped tightly around her bleeding chest. “I ran with my dog, Tokalat. I talked to him the whole way. And I prayed that my children were all right. It seemed just like a movie, running across that field, and just like a movie, I fell flat on my face. I told myself, ‘Get up and run, you stupid broad.’” Some 400 yards away she reached the porch of the Clifford Joneses’ house. She banged at the door and shouted, “I’m Priscilla Davis. I’m wounded badly. I live in the big white house off Hulen.”
The Joneses were, understandably, reluctant to open their door. But an ambulance was called. Each time a car passed, Priscilla would hide behind the post. When help finally arrived, Priscilla was lucid. She spoke so calmly that the attendants were not aware of her injuries. One of them asked if she would like to go back to the house. “I unwrapped my skirt (exposing the chest wound) and told them I didn’t think so. Then they really went to work. But I told them who I was, what happened, and started to describe Cullen … in case something happened to me.”
According to testimony, Davis first learned he was wanted by authorities in an early morning phone call from his brother Ken. Cullen was in bed at the home of Karen Master. When the phone rang, Cullen answered to hear Ken ask if he’d heard about the shootings at the mansion.
“No, I haven’t,” replied Cullen. “Who was shot?”
“A man by the name of Stan Farr. And a little girl. And I think Priscilla was also shot and is in the hospital.”
“Who shot them?”
“I don’t know,” Ken said, “But the police are looking for you.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I guess I’ll go back to bed.”
Within hours of the shootings, police crowded around the Master home. Davis was allowed time to dress and emerged to ride, unencumbered by handcuffs, downtown. The D.A.’s office urged bonds totalling $80,000. The same office made the peculiar suggestion that Judge W. W. Matthews leave his court and come to the jail for arraignment. Matthews agreed to make the walk and also agreed that the bond was a correct one. “This man will probably never hurt anybody again,” Matthews said, to everyone’s astonishment. “The police told me he was quite drunk, and when he gets drunk he really gets mad. He was just drunk.”
“Just amazing,” said one defense attorney. “She has the keenest sense of survival I have ever seen.
Davis immediately posted bond in the form of four cashier’s checks. He was released Tuesday afternoon, less than 18 hours after the shootings. In the next few days, he was seen leisurely shooting pool at the Petroleum Club.
Phil Burleson, a Dallas lawyer who helped defend Jack Ruby, was hired by Davis almost immediately. Burleson quickly found himself subpoenaed by the Tarrant County Grand Jury in a squabble with prosecutor Joe Shannon over some of Davis’ business records. Burleson had the subpoena quashed.
The Grand Jury stayed active in the case, eventually ordering a writ of attachment for Davis to appear. D.A. investigator Jim Keykendall had been tailing Davis since he had posted bond and served the attachment writ after following Davis to a Meacham Field hanger where the defendant planned to board his Lear jet with a flight plan for Houston. Although Davis had no luggage or passport, prosecutors pointed out that flight plans can be changed after take-off and that the jet contained enough fuel to fly 2,500 miles.
After 17 days of freedom, Cullen was placed in the Tarrant County Jail to await the results of what was to be the most unusual bond hearing in the county’s history. The courtroom drew a wild mix of Fort Worth’s citizenry. They seemed about equally divided in sentiment.
On the first day of the hearings, an objection came, surprisingly, from out of the gallery. Two spectating attorneys rose and asked to approach the bench, identifying themselves as Jerry Loftin and Ronald Aultman and explaining that they represented Priscilla in her divorce action. The next day, Loftin and Aultman were sitting in the jury box, raising their own objections when they felt the need. There were now nine attorneys vying to be heard. At one point, the hearing produced an objection to an objection to an objection before the judge could make a ruling.
After one day of wide publicity, the second court session appeared to be something of a Priscilla Davis look-alike contest, with blonde falls dotting the gallery like so many streetlights. Priscilla was still confined to a wheelchair, but recovering nicely from her chest wound. She could be seen primping carefully just before the bailiff wheeled her into the courtroom. There was no doubt that this is what the crowd came for. Everyone in the packed courtroom strained to get a look. Priscilla sat looking slight and defenseless in a modest pink pinafore outfit, a shy but alert woman with all the right answers and all the appropriate emotions. “My God,” said one defense attorney after the hearings. “Did you see that woman on the stand today? Just amazing. She has the keenest sense of survival of anyone I have ever seen.”
Many waited for the salvo that would turn the case for the defense. It never came, and Cullen is still in jail, held without bond, despite appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The prosecution, led by Joe Shannon and Marvin Collins, played a hand that was just too good. However, both defense and D.A. office observers offered that the prosecution may have shown too many cards too soon. “There are three things you can overdo,” Burleson said later. “Overeat, overdrink, and overprosecute.”
Indeed, what first appeared to be an open and shut case — obvious murderer with obvious motive — is now building towards one of the most sensational trials in the state’s history. There are many loose ends.
In the first place, no tangible evidence has ever been found to link Davis directly to the crime. The murder weapon, most critically, has never been located. There were no telltale fingerprints, footprints, tire tracks, or bloody clothes. The wig and the plastic garbage bags have never been found.
Without tangible evidence, the prosecution must depend almost solely upon eyewitness accounts — essentially, the testimony of Priscilla. If that testimony can be in any way impeached, the prosecution has little to stand on. Gus Gavrel has indicated that he recognized Cullen Davis at the scene, but only after Beverly Bass, the only other eyewitness, allegedly called out at some point during the shootings, “It’s Mr. Davis.” Beverly Bass was, curiously, not called in the bond hearing. Perhaps she is one of those cards the prosecution has yet to show.
There is, too, some question of motive, or at least timing. The domestic court ruling on the day of the murders was not a setback significant enough ordinarily to have sent Cullen into a murderous rage. Some would say that his passionate aversion to losing on any scale might have triggered it, but that still seems a tenuous assumption. It seems unlikely, too, that with the impending divorce, it was a murder of jealousy directed explicitly at Stan Farr. However, there is a rationale for that too. Cullen, in physical stature, is a small man. Says one woman “Cullen always suffered from a little man’s complex (to which the two lithographs of Napoleon on either side of his study door might attest). He couldn’t stand it that Priscilla had a big man now.”
But for many close observers, the real mystery in the shootings is the killing of Andrea. “There was a real thoroughbred,” says one family friend. “She was just beautiful. The kindest heart in the world and everybody’s favorite — even Cullen’s.” “Dee’s the one who could have provoked Cullen,” says Priscilla. “But not Andrea. Not Andrea.”
Many agree that if Andrea and Gus Gavrel had not been shot, Cullen could have pleaded guilty and walked out of the entire affair, perhaps with only a probation. Says one Fort Worthian, “If he hadn’t screwed up and shot the little girl, the people of Fort Worth would have given him a medal and $400.”
One can speculate. Andrea had been in Houston for about a month visiting her grandmother and had returned to Fort Worth and the mansion only the Sunday night before the murders. If Cullen had been unaware of her return, her sudden appearance at the scene would have ruined whatever concealment plans he might have had and forced him to kill her. According to Priscilla, Cullen often talked of how much alike Andrea and Priscilla were. It is conceivable that in a frenzied state of mind, he might even have mistaken Andrea for Priscilla.
Foolish speculation, yes. But certain not to escape the scrutiny of the defense team that is being assembled in behalf of Cullen Davis. In addition to Burleson, Davis has hired Richard “Racehorse” Haynes of Houston, one of the most highly touted criminal attorneys in the country. Haynes has made overtures to reporters to the effect that the thinking of the defense is that the murders were drug-related, more specifically the trafficking of “society narcotics” for which he intimates the Davis mansion was a hot bed. (“Lies,” says Priscilla. “I’ve seen it at parties, sure. But I never heard of Stan using it. He even talked to the kids about how it could wreck their lives. And it was not allowed in this house.”)
And so the lines are drawn. The trial (at magazine press date) is scheduled to begin February 22 (with pre-trial hearings set to begin February 17). If there is no postponement (certainly a possibility), that date will mark the beginning of a trial potentially as spectacular as the crime which produced it.
Meanwhile, Priscilla sits curled on her big bed, surrounded by newspapers, magazines, and make-up, sipping coffee from a cup that says “STAN.” She seems neither weary nor animated. She smiles often, a smile that is both warm and bemused. Priscilla is graciously holding court, and one feels no sense of intrusion in this her domain. She, in fact the entire house, seems remarkably free of the horror that has taken place; as she reflects on it, it is with a detachment that seems impossible, as if she has just returned from a tragic play and this is her synopsis. She draws thoughtfully on a cigarette, a soft and sensual picture of mid-afternoon contentment. “I talked to my doctor this morning,” she says out of nowhere. “He told me I have a perforated ulcer. It’s about to blow any day now.”
This creature is a bewilderment, a confusion of images — like the TV console over her bedroom fireplace with three screens, always on, tuned to three different channels. Her eyes are calm and her face serene as she talks. But there is the occasional cocking of her left eyebrow that momentarily changes her countenance. It says, “You do believe me, don’t you?” And when she cocks her eyebrow to the jury, will they believe her? Because, for now, Priscilla’s story is the only story.
Priscilla, the cat, perhaps lost one of her nine lives as she lay face down in the field that night. Perhaps now she has simply embarked upon another one. She says she doesn’t really even care about the upcoming trial. “None of it can bring my daughter back. None of it can bring Stan back. I just want them back. I keep thinking, is there something I should have done?” She gazes off, but only for a moment. “I don’t know. Nobody wants to bring up about the Brownie troop I had or the volunteer hospital work. All they care about…”
Priscilla is interrupted as her son Jackie walks into the room. “Jackie, here, is a good boy,” she says. “But he took his motorcycle off the property when he wasn’t supposed to and broke his ankle … I was young once too, though. I know what it’s like to feel invincible. In fact,” Priscilla laughs, “maybe I am.”