God speaks to Doyle Davidson. It is a still, small voice that he not only hears but feels in his stomach. He feels it, hears it, often. He heard it about 20 years ago when God told Doyle he was a prophet and an apostle and a conduit through which God Himself would speak. That’s why, today, when Doyle — a short, fit man of 74 with full but graying hair and small eyes set behind an aquiline nose — stops mid-sermon to blurt out a misogynistic non sequitur about the corruptive influence of women, he follows it up with, “Lord, are you trying to get me assassinated today?” The congregation at Water of Life church in Plano, where Doyle is pastor, laughs. Because the faithful know these aren’t Doyle’s words. These are God’s. And over the years, God has said all sorts of things.
God told Doyle in 1981 that a Jezebel spirit ruled Plano, a spirit of witchcraft that originates in a woman and operates through her to rule men. God told Doyle — he prefers first name only — to inform a married woman named Lisa Staton that she was no longer married to her husband, J.R.—but to Doyle. (Never mind that Doyle himself was married at the time. God’s law is above that of man.) The Statons have since gone into hiding. Yet Doyle has continued to write Lisa e-mails—sexually suggestive e-mails, threatening e-mails, loving e-mails—and post them on his web site. This is, after all, what God told Doyle to do.
God told Doyle — tells him still — that ministries other than his teach heresy. This gets Doyle in trouble with the local religious community and nationally with the television executives who broadcast his sermons. Doyle has been on television since 1984. Today he’s seen on five stations in Dallas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; South Bend, Indiana; Joplin, Missouri; and Springfield, Missouri. Stations have dropped Doyle for statements he made about other televangelists, about how, say, Kenneth Copeland isn’t following the true faith. Doyle even once said a victim at Columbine, a girl shot dead for her Christian beliefs, would have lived if she had had enough faith. And he has often called members of his own congregation “stupid,” “a bitch,” and, worse, “nonbelievers.” But Doyle is unrepentant about all this.
“You see, what I do is exactly what Jesus did. Preach that Gospel,” he says.
It all seems so out of place here in workaday suburbia, on the corner of 18th Street and Avenue P, just blocks from downtown Plano. From the outside, Water of Life looks like a hundred other churches, with its well-kept grounds and marquee sign proclaiming, “Let God Arise!” Inside, visitors are greeted with meaty handshakes on Sunday mornings. Portable chairs sit in orderly rows in front of a stage decorated with potted plants and blue drapery.
But members who’ve left the church call Water of Life a cult and say its doctrines amount to brainwashing. Some fear consequences for having left the fold. One former member has organized a support group at a Garland church for ex-Water of Lifers struggling to escape its grip.
To hear this tests even Doyle’s faith. Testing it more, though, is Dena Schlosser, a church member who attended services sometimes seven nights a week. In 2004, psychotic, off her medication, and thinking she was doing God’s will, Schlosser used the biggest knife in her kitchen to cut off the arms of her 10-month-old baby. The murder and the trial that followed made international news. The media scrutinized the health system that failed Dena, investigating the doctors who diagnosed Dena with postpartum psychosis; investigating Child Protective Services, which had a case file on her. Even Dena’s husband, John Schlosser, came under fire for the role he played in the murder, by working to keep his ill wife out of the hospital and at home with their children.
But one man has largely escaped that scrutiny: Doyle Davidson. After all, John was just following Doyle’s teachings. Doyle is the one who has declared that “medicine is witchcraft” and that physical and mental illness should be treated with prayer.
Now Dena’s family and former church members are calling for a closer look at Doyle and Water of Life. Because, as ex-member Cheryl Parmenter says, “I’m waiting for the Kool-Aid.”
• • •
In the beginning, Doyle was different. “He was real impressive,” Bob Buckner says. The tall, slow-talking engineer and wife Judy were among the 50 or so lapsed Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists looking to form a new nondenominational church in Plano in the spring of 1979. Doyle was one of those auditioning, as it were, for the role of pastor.
Doyle had spent the 10 years previous looking for a way out of his veterinary practice in McKinney. He wanted to preach. God, in fact, ordered him to. But first he needed the preparation. So for 10 years, from 1970 to 1980, Doyle pored over the Bible, working only when he had to feed his family, wife Patti and daughter Kathy.
Doyle came before Bob and Judy one day in 1980 in complete command of the Bible, a man without notes for a sermon, without a degree in divinity, but dang if he couldn’t inspire the faithful to their feet or, when appropriate, to their knees. The young congregation soon agreed: this was the one to keep. In November that year, Water of Life opened its doors.
And it was a great place to be,” Bob says. Bob and Judy moved recently into a large ranch house at the end of a dirt road outside of McKinney. Sitting in his living room, talking about the early days of the church, Bob says a service could last an hour; it could last two. There was no established pattern. “It was just in the service of God,” Judy says. Doyle often asked parishioners to repeat a verse in a song, the better to draw oneself closer to God. The sermon itself took an hour and a half sometimes, but it was always engaging. “He could explain the Bible better than anybody I’ve ever been around,” Bob says. After the service, Doyle often prayed for the sick among them. “We saw miracles and healings,” Bob says.
Ever so slightly, though, the tenor of the church changed. In July 1981, God told Doyle that an evil spirit ruled Plano, the Jezebel spirit, the manifestation of a pagan prophetess who, in the Old Testament, married King Ahab of Israel and seduced by her wickedness 850 men. Doyle shared the news with his congregation.
“I had never heard of the Jezebel spirit,” Bob says. Few, if any, had.
But within the next few years, to hear Doyle tell it, “I watched that spirit take over almost every person in this church.”
That included his wife Patti. The Jezebel spirit was so strong within her that, Doyle says, “I took her out of my life. God put a sword between us, and that was it.” They would still live together. They never filed for divorce. Doyle provided Patti money, clothes, new cars. But Doyle no longer considered Patti his wife. “Her and I both understood God had split us apart,” he says.
But the parishioners knew none of this. Nor did they know that in 1987 God gave Doyle a new spouse, a young, attractive brunette parishioner named Lisa Staton. They didn’t know of it because Doyle didn’t make it public. “It wasn’t the right thing to do,” Doyle says. But one person he did tell was J.R. Staton, Lisa’s husband. When J.R. asked his wife about it, she said, “J.R., don’t believe him. You know he lies.”
So, just as Doyle and Patti never separated, Doyle and Lisa never legally wed. What, then, to make of this “marriage”? In a word, it was an affair.
“My daughter had the discernment to see it,” Cheryl Parmenter says. “She said, ’Doyle watches Lisa’s butt.’”
Parmenter joined Water of Life in 1983, shortly after her sister’s wedding there. She found in Doyle the authority figure she never had in her indifferent father or alcoholic husband. “I mean, you sit back in church and you’re like” — she takes a deep breath — “you’re impressed. Because he was so sure of himself,” Parmenter says. This charisma, however, kept Parmenter from believing what her daughter thought of their pastor.
But that would change. The signs became more obvious as time went on. By the early ’90s, Doyle and Lisa had taken to leaving church together. One day, Parmenter and her sister got in her car and followed Doyle and Lisa, at a safe distance, into a wooded area. Doyle parked behind some bushes. Parmenter couldn’t see anything but imagined what was happening. How could he? she thought. She had worked in the church nursery for years, even after she suspected her husband of abusing their children. It tore her apart, these times when she could have spared the kids beatings if only she had been home. She had pleaded with Patti Davidson to let her out of work. But no. Patti conferred with Doyle, and he said the nursery was where God wanted her. Parmenter obeyed.
And then, this? Her pastor out in the woods with a parishioner’s wife? Parmenter and her sister screamed at Doyle and Lisa, thinking they couldn’t be identified.
But a few days later, at 6 in the morning, Doyle called Parmenter’s sister. He quoted to her from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 5, and said if she didn’t repent for her sins against his ministry, “I will pray to God to turn you over to Satan for the destruction of your flesh.” (Doyle doesn’t remember making this call.)
• • •
Parmenter left the church. It wasn’t just that she perceived the call as a threat. She’d had enough of his dogmatism. “What Doyle taught,” Parmenter says, “was ’If you come against me and my ministry and my teachings, you’re coming against Jesus. I’m speaking God’s words.’” He was a prophet, lest it be forgotten.
Bob Buckner, too, discovered this. “In one sermon, Doyle said it didn’t rain before the time of Noah. And the Bible doesn’t say that,” Bob says. Genesis 2:6 talks of a mist that “watered the whole face of the ground.” After Bob pointed it out, Doyle, from the pulpit, discussed how someone had questioned him — was wrong to question him. “He was looking at me the whole time,” Bob says.
Which is why he said nothing when Doyle anointed him one of Water of Life’s 12 apostles in the late ’80s. Bob felt unnerved by a church of 200 needing such grandiose titles. But God had told Doyle he would one day have a ministry like Jesus’. “You basically were going way out on a limb if you questioned anything Doyle said,” Bob says. “Some of us may have questioned him, but we kept it to ourselves. What Doyle said was law.”
Schlosser’s family and former chuch members are calling for a closer look at Doyle Davidson and Water of Life. Because, as ex-member Cheryl Parmenter says, “I’m waiting for the Kool-Aid.”
And the law said to listen to Doyle’s sermons on cassette tapes. That’s what Deb Purcell did. She joined the church in the early ’90s, not long after graduating from college, not long after her father died. A slender woman with high cheekbones, Purcell possesses an alacrity and eloquence that enable her to talk in complete paragraphs. Nevertheless, she was untethered and unsure of her future in those early years, wanting “something to belong to,” she says. Like others, she found stability and authority in Doyle Davidson. Every day, she read the Psalms out loud, as Doyle said. Listened to the tapes in the car, as Doyle said. Fasted when Doyle said. Even married someone within the church, as Doyle said. “That was how you were going to become a Christian,” Purcell says. “Wrap your life around this.”
Even if it meant excluding family. Because Purcell’s sister in Austin didn’t follow Doyle’s teachings, and because people outside the church were a negative influence, Purcell missed her sister’s wedding. She missed her nephew’s funeral. She visited her mother in Nebraska three times in nine years. Before Water of Life, Purcell drove home four times in a year.
“You’re taught that you need to be washed with the water of the Word,” Purcell says. “You are at the same time washing your brain of all critical thinking skills.”
Besides family, books were seen as another outside influence that ought to be eliminated. Brandy Stark, 14 when she joined Water of Life and unhappy about it from day one, was a voracious reader. Stark’s mother, a child of the ’60s forever atoning for her past, brought her to the church in the mid-’90s. For six years, Stark attended Water of Life against her will. For six years, too, as a salve to her depression, Stark ate. At one point, she had as much as 300 pounds on her 5-foot-6 frame. But she found strength in her books. Before Water of Life, her mother had always encouraged Stark’s reading habits. But after joining, things changed.
“If she saw me reading anything,” Stark says, “she would say, ’You are just wasting your time. You’re wasting your life. There’s only one book you need to read.’” Church members who visited Stark and her mother were “appalled” at Stark’s library, she says. Not at the titles, mostly history and English literature. “Just the sheer collection,” Stark says. “They would only have the Bible.”
On Sundays Stark would be the one sitting with her arms crossed, expressionless, while her mother screamed and other women rolled on the church floor, cleansing themselves of their Jezebel spirits. “It made me sick to my stomach,” Stark says. After leaving the church, she lost 150 pounds.
By the late ’90s, Doyle’s messages became even more strident. He preached that medicine was witchcraft and illness could be prayed away. Science was a falsehood. And mental illness was nothing more than demonic possession.
• • •
Dena and John Schlosser joined Water of Life shortly after moving to Fort Worth from Chicago in 2000. A neighbor had recommended the church to the young couple. (They were both 32.) The Schlossers watched some of Doyle’s sermons on television. Even though attending services meant driving 100 miles roundtrip, they wanted a sense of community that the church could provide.
Dena and John were raised Catholic, but their faith had lapsed over the years. They met as college freshmen in upstate New York. They were both heavyset and a bit reserved. They shared a core group of friends. It took a year before John asked Dena out; he liked how caring she was. Dena once called the Illinois version of Child Protective Services after watching a mother spank her child in a grocery store parking lot. The couple married in 1990, and Dena graduated a year later. John, never much liking school, didn’t finish. The computers he fiddled with, though, helped land him jobs with software companies. By the time the Schlossers moved to Fort Worth, he was earning almost $100,000 a year and could afford a 3,000-square-foot home in an upscale neighborhood.
Dena had always worked odd jobs — a desk clerk at a hotel, a social director at a nursing home — but quit working in Fort Worth. For one, she didn’t like confrontation. If a maid was stiffed on pay or a nursing-home resident handled too forcefully, Dena walked out rather than say anything. But she also had her own children to consider. So Dena stayed home and cared for her daughters, 5-year-old Breana and 2-year-old Kelsie.
Dena loved her children with a special passion, perhaps because she had barely survived her own youth. Dena had excessive fluid on the brain at age 8, most likely the result of an earlier childhood injury. The condition, known as hydrocephalus, required seven surgeries in which doctors drained the fluid from Dena’s brain: three surgeries shortly after it was diagnosed in Chicago, where Dena and her family lived at the time; four more in junior high in Houston, where the family moved for her stepfather’s work. These were risky procedures. Dena came out of them clumsy and withdrawn. Dena’s mother, Connie Nicholas, a vivacious, petite woman with an almost desperate bond to her only daughter, considered Dena fortunate to see her 18th birthday.
As a result, Connie never raised her daughter to be independent. After she moved out, Dena phoned frequently, even more after Connie developed Parkinson’s. Dena would call to ask, “What should I make for dinner?” She’d call to get her mother’s opinion: “The red one or the blue one?” And later, after she started going to Water of Life: “Let me tell you about Doyle.”
Connie and her third husband, Mick Macaulay — an erudite, fast-talking Canadian with big shoulders and a Ph.D. in counseling — listened as Dena gabbed on endlessly about Doyle: how Connie and Mick should watch his sermons online, how they should listen to his audio tapes. And, intrigued, they did. But what the Macaulays saw and heard disturbed them.
By 2001, Connie’s Parkinson’s had advanced, slowing her movements. She and Mick visited Dena from Chicago, where the couple lived, in part due to the illness but in equal measure because of their suspicions of the church.
They saw its effect immediately. John lost his job early that year and took unemployment. The Macaulays worried about the couple’s financial state, but Dena didn’t. She said God would provide. “The big recurring theme was God’s direction in all things,” Mick says. Yet by July the couple needed money. Lots of money. All told, the Schlossers received about $35,000 from Dena’s biological father and from the Macaulays. A sizable chunk of it, Mick Macaulay later learned, went to the church. Doyle talked a lot about the reciprocity of Luke 6:38: “Give and it shall be given unto you.”
The church changed the Schlossers in other ways, too. During one visit in 2002, Breana had a cough, and Connie, a nurse, brought over some Robitussin. Dena dropped it in the garbage can. “We don’t use that,” she said. “We use prayer.” During another visit, Connie discovered the Schlossers went to church not only on Sunday, but five, six, sometimes seven times a week. With an hour drive each way, the girls got to bed some nights at 10:30. On these nights, they sometimes went without dinner.
Connie worried about her grandchildren’s welfare. “What are you doing? They’re young children,” Connie asked, calling one night from Chicago. “They’re hungry. They’re not getting their dinner.”
Dena said, “God has not directed me to do anything other than what I’m doing.”
So Connie called Doyle, told him he needed to talk with Dena about the kids. Connie claims Doyle said she was a heathen infected with the Jezebel spirit. “And women who stand in opposition to me have been known to disappear,” he allegedly said. (Doyle denies making that comment.)
“Are you threatening me?” Connie asked.
“Women who stand in opposition to me have been known to disappear,” Doyle repeated.
Connie slammed down the phone.
• • •
But she did not give up. Connie and Mick pleaded with Dena and John to be open to other ideas. And not just lefty, multicultural, Kumbaya ideas. They pleaded with the Schlossers to consider any other Christian perspective. But it went nowhere.
In the fall of 2002, the bank foreclosed on the Schlossers’ home. Dena, deferring to John more than ever, learned of the news two nights before they had to vacate the house. “She called Connie, frantic,” Mick says.
The Schlossers moved to an apartment complex in Plano, a two-bedroom on the 1700 block of Coit Road. Shortly thereafter, Mick noticed a shift in Dena on the phone. Something a professional counselor like him would notice. With death slowly crippling her mother and her husband in financial trouble, Dena shifted her dependency to Doyle, Mick says. Dena’s phone calls to the Macaulays, always focused on the church, became “almost exclusively Doyle,” after the move to the apartment, Mick says.
Connie was frightened and returned to Texas again and again, once for an extended weekend. She went with Dena to the church. Doyle remembers Connie “attacking” him but doesn’t recall exactly what she said. Whatever it was, the session ended with Doyle laying hands on Connie, beseeching the devils that caused her Parkinson’s to leave her body.
That night, Dena dropped Connie off at DFW Airport and took her mother’s Parkinson’s pills with her. Such was Dena’s confidence in Doyle’s exorcism. But left alone at the airport, Connie’s condition worsened, and full paralysis set in before she could board her flight. Without her pills, she was helpless. She spent the night in the terminal, sitting in her own feces. In the morning, someone in the airport noticed her condition, dug through her luggage, found some pills that Connie had forgotten, and was able to get her back to Chicago.
In December 2002, doctors at the Mayo Clinic put stimulators into Connie’s brain, hoping to stem the disease’s progress. It didn’t help much. Returning from a treatment center visit the following March, the Macaulays laid over in Dallas. They spent four days in Plano. Dena worked at a day care center at that point, John as an independent computer consultant. Each day Dena promised to meet her mother and Mick for lunch, and meet them again after work. Each day she canceled her plans. Mick and Connie watched movies all day at a La Quinta Inn, spending a few minutes each night with the grandkids when Dena dropped them by after church.
On the third night, Connie, her condition deteriorating quickly now, said to Dena, “You’ve changed. You’ve dramatically changed. And it’s not for the better.”
Dena closed her eyes, hunched over, and, in a whisper, chanted: “God is great. God is merciful. God is great. God is merciful.” She would not answer her mother.
Connie screamed, as best she could, that they were leaving early.
“We came down a month later,” Mick says. This time, Mick’s 11-year-old son Brock came, too. “Same damn thing happened,” Mick says. Dena canceled plans with them, bringing her daughters by only after church, never allowing the Macaulays to stay at the apartment.
Even Brock got upset. “We came all the way down to Texas, and we can’t even see you,” he said.
Dena started chanting again.
“You’re my stepsister,” Brock yelled. “And you’re acting like an idiot!”
• • •
Maggie Schlosser was born January 9, 2004, with the help of a midwife. The Schlossers had no insurance, but John didn’t want the child born in the hospital anyway. He found births there “very clinical.” Maggie’s delivery, though, was not an easy one, and court records would later show that the midwife wondered if Dena should go to the hospital. But the Schlossers refused. Maggie was eventually born in the apartment. “I loved it,” John would later say in court testimony.
Dena didn’t, and not for the obvious reasons. She believed she had given birth to twins, a boy and a girl, but the boy had died at birth and already returned to God.
The day after Maggie’s birth, as Dena was reading the Bible, the word “cut” jumped off the page. Dena slit her wrists, and John found her in the bathroom, holding the baby. Blood stained the floor. But John never took Dena to the hospital that day. “I didn’t think to,” he would later say. Instead, he put Band-Aids on her wrists, and the couple prayed about her condition until she improved.
Five days later, though, Dena heard characters from the movie The Little Mermaid talking to her. John was at work, and Breana was at school. Kelsie, now 5 years old, was home watching the film. Then the television itself began laughing at Dena. Dena burst out of the apartment. Kelsie chased after her, but her mother, six days after giving birth, was walking much too fast.
A short time later, police dispatch got a call about a woman standing at an intersection with her arms raised heavenward; this was about two miles from the Schlossers’ apartment on Coit. Officer Tony Dickerson was the first to arrive on the scene. When he tried talking to Dena, she screamed — a scream as loud as any he’d heard.
Dena spent the night at Green Oaks Hospital in Dallas, a mental health facility. She was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, an illness far more serious than postpartum depression. But John didn’t see it that way. He thought the best place for Dena was with him, at the apartment. He pleaded with hospital personnel to take her home. What worried John more, in fact, was that Dena’s religious talk was being confused with psychosis. To clear things up, he gave the hospital Doyle’s number as a reference.
Green Oaks released Dena 23 hours after admitting her, but John still had to deal with Child Protective Services. The agency viewed Dena as a “priority one” case, one of highest importance. What troubled CPS more than Dena outwalking Kelsie and leaving Maggie at home was the suicide attempt that John didn’t take seriously. (Dena did not report to CPS or Green Oaks how the television had talked to her.) The agency forbade Dena from having unsupervised contact with her children for two months. This meant John’s mother had to move in from New York. CPS also planned nearly daily visits to the Schlosser home, some of them unannounced. And it referred Dena to LifePath Systems, which provides mental health services for the indigent and uninsured in Collin County. Dena went on antipsychotic medication.
“The medication was an issue,” Suzanne Arnold would later say in court. Arnold was the CPS caseworker who checked in on Dena every weekday after the episode. “She wanted off of it every [visit].” Dena told Arnold she worried about the damage the drugs might do to her breast milk. But really, as court records would later show, she wanted off medication because Water of Life taught that medicine was evil.
Carolyn Thomas, an elderly neighbor of the Schlossers’, was Dena’s best friend. A cheery woman prone to pedantic digressions on Jesus, Thomas told Dena to take the pills anyway. Sometimes prayer wasn’t enough. “I’m too independent. … I’m a Jezebel,” Thomas would later say in court testimony. “But I’m only a Jezebel in the time I need to be.” Dena, by contrast, was “submissive to John 100 percent,” Thomas would later say. “And John said she didn’t need medication.”
Still, the drugs worked, and for a few months, Dena seemed to be doing well. Her hallucinations stopped, and John’s mother returned to New York in mid-February. Beginning in March 2004, CPS only checked in twice a week. For Dena and John, her progress proved she didn’t need the drugs. They were going to church as often as ever, and prayer was obviously working. They pleaded with Dr. Nasir Zaki, the psychiatrist from LifePath who oversaw Dena’s prescriptions. He allowed her off medication so long as Dena checked in with him monthly, and CPS reported her progress to LifePath.
But then it all came crashing down. The descent began in May, and over the next six months, Dena suffered a series of delusional episodes. When a boy came to the apartment asking for water, Dena thought he was Jesus. She feared a neighbor’s dog would eat her, much as dogs ate Jezebel in Kings 2:9. “She had a preoccupation with the Jezebel spirit,” court documents would later show.
When CPS caseworker Jaime Burrus visited the Schlossers’ home on May 18, Dena looked different, depressed. Dena said she was fine, “just tired.” And this was true: Dena hadn’t slept in three days, reading the Bible feverishly at night. She told Burrus none of this, but after Burrus left, Dena called her back to the apartment. “She said she was disappointed with herself and wanted to please God,” Burrus would later say. Not knowing what was going on, Burrus gave Dena her cell phone number and told her to call if anything happened. But Dena never did.
That night, she rose from bed and checked herself into Plano Medical Center, two blocks from the apartment complex. A short time after Dena was admitted, at 4 am, an attendant found her on the bathroom floor, growling.
Once more, though, doctors released her after John persuaded them that the best place for Dena was home. The medical staff put her on antipsychotic medication, and John promised to visit LifePath during work hours. The Schlossers did go to LifePath that day. They told Dr. Zaki that Dena needed to be put back on medication. But they never told him why.
And they never told Mick and Connie much either. Dena called every day, numerous times a day, but she never told her mother — or her stepfather, with his Ph.D. in counseling — about the suicide attempt or checking herself into the hospital or much else. The only thing Dena really talked about was Doyle. “What was alarming to us,” Mick says, “is that we sensed there was a franticness on her part to bring us into the fold — so we would not be excluded by her.”
She’d excluded others. The relatives, for example, who failed to see Doyle in the light she did. She didn’t phone them anymore. And earlier that year, her paternal grandparents, two people she’d loved dearly in her youth, had died within six months of each other. The funerals were a car trip away, in Oklahoma. But Dena attended neither of them.
Mick felt he and Connie were next on the blacklist. But they couldn’t — wouldn’t — agree with Dena about Doyle. Because the church seemed to be getting stranger.
On September 9, 2004, Doyle knocked on the front door of Lisa Staton’s house. In the years since 1987, their affair — or “marriage” — had continued, but recently Lisa’s interest in it had waned. That evening, she refused to let Doyle in. But J.R. Staton, Lisa’s husband and one of the 12 apostles at Water of Life, did let Doyle in. Doyle then headed upstairs, where Lisa was, threw her on a couch, and began choking her. Doyle said he was casting out Lisa’s demons. J.R. heard Lisa yelling, ran upstairs, wrestled Doyle off her — ducking a punch in the process — and called 911. When the cops came a little before midnight, they noticed redness around Lisa’s chest and throat, and they smelled alcohol on Doyle’s breath. He was arrested for public intoxication.
Doyle says now that the arrest report is false and that evil spirits caused J.R. and Lisa to lie to the police. “And God will judge them,” he says.
After Doyle bonded out of jail, he felt he was wrong to have appointed J.R. as an apostle. Freed of the church and its responsibilities, J.R. took Lisa and their children and went into hiding. They never pressed charges, and to this day, former church members and authorities don’t know the whereabouts of the Staton family.
• • •
Two months after Doyle’s arrest, it still troubled Dena. The police were wrong, just like Doyle said. She told John on Friday, November 19, that she was driving to the police station to defend Doyle. John thought better of it. No point in stirring up debate over an old case. But Dena was adamant.
In truth, she had been acting strange the whole week. The previous Sunday, Dena had gone to church with her neighbor and friend Carolyn Thomas. On the drive home, Dena started hissing. She wouldn’t quit. “Stop that,” Thomas said. Thomas began to pray for Dena. According to court testimony, Thomas wondered then if Dena had stopped taking her medication.
She had. She’d stopped taking her meds in July, when LifePath screwed up paperwork and incorrectly told the Schlossers that they could receive the drugs only if they paid for them in full. They couldn’t and never bothered to clear up the mistake. CPS had closed its case in October.
Around the night of the hissing incident in November, Dena heard a chain saw and thought Jesus was building an ark. She took Maggie and walked outside, looking for the noise. She apparently never found it. The night after the hissing incident, Dena talked with Thomas about “spirits” jumping from one person to the other. Thomas told her to put her mind on something “pure, like Jesus.”
And then, that Friday, the 19th, Dena implored John to take her to the police station. Instead, John took Dena to work with him, so she wouldn’t be alone. He didn’t notify CPS or LifePath about Dena’s behavior, but he did have a sit-down with his wife and Doyle that weekend. Doyle told Dena she shouldn’t get involved with the police, and that seemed to placate her.
That Sunday, Dena said something very odd. According to court documents and testimony, as she was getting the children ready for church, Dena dressed 10-month-old Maggie in white. She said she wanted Doyle to marry the baby. John convinced his wife to put another outfit on the child, but he, again, did not notify LifePath or CPS. After church, Dena said she wanted to “give her baby to God.” John told her she was confused. Again, he didn’t notify anyone.
Instead, the Schlossers prayed about it and went to bed.
The next morning, John told Dena to listen to recorded hymns. The singing soothed her. He took the older girls to school and tried calling Dena at the apartment about an hour later. She didn’t pick up.
According to court testimony and documents, that morning Dena was convinced that God wanted Maggie. God wanted Maggie, and her, to go to heaven.
It was laundry day at the Schlosser home. Clothes and towels were piled high in the bathroom sink and on the mattress in Dena and John’s bedroom. But Dena didn’t concern herself with that now. With the sound of hymn singing filling the apartment, Dena went to the kitchen, past five pictures of Maggie on the refrigerator door, and found the knife set. She took out the biggest one she could find. It had a 9-inch blade. She went to Maggie’s crib, held the knife over her baby’s left shoulder, and began cutting.
Maggie screamed. Court records would later show she had more than 50 marks on her left cheek, marks where the knife’s tip punctured the skin as Dena sawed deeper into the shoulder. Blood splattered the crib’s rails, but Dena kept cutting, cutting through the left shoulder blade and clavicle, severing the baby’s arm.
She then started on the right one. Maggie’s right cheek was later found to have only a few marks like the ones on her left, meaning she stopped struggling at that point. In all likelihood, Maggie Schlosser was dead before Dena cut off her other arm.
The house now silent except for the music praising God, Dena turned the knife on herself, going to work on her own left shoulder. For whatever reason, though, after sawing into her own muscle, she stopped. And for whatever reason, she answered the ringing phone. It was John. “She had a tone of voice I had never heard before,” he would later say. She said she had hurt Maggie. She said she had cut off her arms. John didn’t believe her.
“Yeah, I did,” Dena said.
Rather than call 911 next, John called Doyle. Doyle told him to call someone who could go over and check on Dena. He recommended Carolyn Thomas. So John called her, and she called Dena. And, while Thomas was in disbelief, someone at the day care center where she worked, someone who overheard Thomas’ conversation, finally called 911.
Officer David Tilley was the first to respond. Dena answered the door dazed, blood on the left side of her neck, shirt, and jeans. She clutched the knife to her chest, pieces of flesh still on it. Tilley took it from her, sat her down, and went looking for the baby. He found Maggie in her crib. The song “He Touched Me” played from the stereo.
Dena told Tilley she cut off her baby’s arms because, “I felt like I had to.” As more police and fire personnel filed in, Dena chanted, “Praise God. Thank you God.”
One officer reporting to the scene was Mike Letzelter, a former Marine MP who at one time disarmed bombs for a living. He nearly quit the force after what he saw in the Schlossers’ apartment.
That evening, in jail, Dena made a list of which people she would allow to visit her. Bob Nicholas, the former stepfather whom Dena called Daddy, who saw Dena through seven brain surgeries and who drove 16 hours straight from North Carolina to be in Plano after the murder, did not make Dena’s list. Neither did her mother Connie, nor Connie’s husband, Mick Macaulay.
The only people on Dena’s list were John Schlosser and Doyle Davidson.
• • •
Dena Schlosser pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to capital murder charges. Her trial was this past February. Three psychologists testified that Dena was insane at the time of the murder and remains insane to this day. Dr. Joseph Black, chief psychologist at North Texas State Hospital in Vernon said the murder “would have been preventable with appropriate treatment.” Doyle Davidson took the stand and said he barely knew the Schlossers. He also said medicine is evil and that mental illness is demonic possession. John Schlosser told the court, “I’ve had enough of religion for a while.”
The case ended in a mistrial. It was retried again in April by Collin County District Judge Chris Oldner, who had presided over the first trial. In the second trial, neurologists presented new evidence that Dena had an inoperable brain tumor that may have contributed to her hallucinations. Judge Oldner found Dena not guilty by reason of insanity.
Before Dena was transferred to North Texas State Hospital in Vernon for treatment, she called Mick from the Collin County jail. She told him Doyle had asked to come and speak to her. Mick said she shouldn’t allow it. He told her of the messages Doyle had put on his web site, saying the devil worked through Dena against his ministry.
Dena seemed puzzled Doyle would say that.
“I still love Doyle,” she said.