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Sometimes, a man don't need a reason.
Davis when asked about the motive for the murders he was charged with

Thomas Cullen Davis is an American oil heir from Fort Worth, Texas. In November 1977, he was acquitted on a charge related to the August 1976 shooting deaths of his stepdaughter and of his estranged wife's boyfriend. In November 1979, he was again acquitted on charges of soliciting several murders, including those of his wife and of his divorce case's judge.

Background[]

Davis was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1933. He is the second of three sons of oil tycoon Kenneth W. "Stinky" Davis, Sr. and Alice Mae Bound. In 1958, Davis, Sr. was the founder of Kendavis Industries International, which, at the time, was the world's largest oil supply company. "Stinky" was a straitlaced, strict disciplinarian who, despite his wealth, believed in hard work and modest living, which he tried to pass over to his offspring by raising them up to be diligent businessmen. Cullen frequented Arlington Heights high school and went with his older brother, Kenneth, Jr., to Texas A&M University. A family friend would later claim that their father sent them in there because "it was the cheapest, hardest place he could think of". At school, Cullen kept to himself, did not participate in any activities or sports, and caused no trouble. He liked athletics, sailing, skiing, shuffleboard, and playing pool with his friends, who remembered him as being so tight that he charged them a nickel to ride to the pool hall with his car, a Chevy Powerglide. Cullen eventually entered the family business, working sixteen hours a day. He would prove to be a keen and very competitive entrepreneur.

First Marriage and Divorce[]

Cullen and Priscilla Davis

Cullen and Priscilla.

Davis' first marriage, in August 1962, was to a decent, popular Fort Worth girl named Sandra Masters, with whom he fathered two sons. He would later admit that although he cared very much for Sandra, he married her more because everybody else (especially his father) liked her than because he was in love with her. In fact, although he seemed to be a quiet and obedient son, Cullen had secret dreams of evading his father's authoritarian grip and living by himself in his dream home, driving sport cars. He was also described as having a "dark side", acting like a spoiled, angry, aggressive man, obsessed with obtaining anything that he wanted, and reportedly fantasizing about how he could kill his wife if he got tired of her. In the mid-sixties, he met stunning, flamboyant Priscilla Wilborn at the Ridglea Country Club, where he played tennis doubles with her, Sandra, and Priscilla's second husband, car dealer Jack Wilborn. Soon, the two fell in love with each other, and engaged in an illicit affair shortly after they both separated from their respective partners. In late 1968, despite the fact that they were both in the midst of legal divorce proceedings, Cullen proposed her to marry him, to which she initially responded they were just good friends. Then, on New Year's Day of 1969, private investigators hired by Jack Wilborn stormed the motel room where Davis had been living, and found him in the company of Priscilla. The affair made national headlines, and, in the end, Priscilla lost custody of her three children: Dee (whom she had with his first husband, Jasper Baker, and whom Cullen would later adopt as his daughter), Jackie, and Andrea (both of whom she had with Jack). Since "Stinky" Davis disliked his son's new love interest, due to her poor origins and attitude, Cullen didn't marry her until a few hours after his old man's death, on August 29, 1969.

Second Marriage, Building of Stonegate Mansion, and Abuse[]

Aerial view of Stonegate Mansion

Aerial view of Stonegate Mansion.

Freed from his father's lumbering presence, Davis used the money he inherited to indulge in his whims. He embarked on a world-wide spending spree, emptying galleries of antiques, paintings, and other art objects. Cullen finally fulfilled his dream when, in 1972, he spent $6 million to build Stonegate Mansion. The huge estate, which almost looked like a municipal building from the outside, was located on a hill overlooking downtown Fort Worth, and was pompously furnished with the expensive objects its owner had spent years (and a great deal of money) collecting. The Davises would later host night parties at Stonegate, which, according to rumors, were filled with drugs and sex orgies. It became apparent that while Priscilla had a penchant for showing off (she underwent breast surgery shortly after their marriage, dressed in exotically revealing clothes, and had a diamond necklace with the words "Rich Bitch"), Davis considered his wife as just another awesome item to show others. "She was the exhibitionist, and he was the voyeur", a friend would later claim. In private life Cullen was stern, highly disciplined, and intolerant of mistakes or failure as much as he was in his business. Despite this, he and Priscilla seemed to get along well, at least in the beginnings: she adored him, and he showered her with gifts.

Priscilla Davis and Stan Farr

Priscilla Davis with Stan Farr.

All this changed when they moved in Stonegate Mansion. Davis' "dark side" began to aggressively surface, and he became physically abusive towards both his new wife and his adoptive daughter, Dee. One event in particular was especially disturbing: one night, when she was thirteen years-old, Dee left the mansion's backdoor unlocked. Upon discovering it, Cullen awoke her to scold her, and shortly afterwards punched her in the nose in anger. When Priscilla rushed to defend his daughter, Cullen grabbed the kitten she was holding in her arms and viciously slammed it on the floor, killing it. Davis was seemingly obsessed with his house, which he apparently considered his greatest achievement as well as his most precious asset. About a year after the cat incident, he again slapped Dee, and she ran away from home. Eventually, in the summer of 1974, after almost two years of repeated abuse and vain 911 calls, Priscilla filed for divorce. During the next few months of separation, they saw each other a little, then Priscilla met Stan Farr. 6-foot-10-inch Farr was a former TCU basketball star and a nightclubs regular. He had been a club manager, a would-be concert promoter, and had been involved with the land business. It wasn't long before the two of them began talking about their new life together. Cullen, on his own part, began dating secretary Karen Master, who bore a striking resemblance to Priscilla and dressed just like her.

Murders at Stonegate Mansion[]

Events Leading up to the Murders[]

In the resultant divorce trial, Priscilla won temporary possession of the mansion and all of its furnishing, a Lincoln Continental Mark IV, monthly support payments that would escalate as the suit dragged on, and obtained custody of Dee. The judge assigned to the case, Joe Eidson, also issued a restraining order prohibiting Cullen from visiting the mansion, and ordered that the estranged couple’s assets be frozen until they had agreed on a settlement. That meant Kendavis couldn't complete any business deal without the divorce court's permission. Shortly afterwards, the Davis brothers struggled over control of Kendavis' business: the younger brother, Bill, had filed a lawsuit claiming his older brothers were manipulating stocks and working together to rule him out, and lamenting Cullen's extravagant spending habits, which were putting the entire company in jeopardy. The suit was eventually settled out of court, but this caused a rift among the three brothers, and Cullen got reprimanded by Kenneth about the divorce not being over with. In late 1974, to make matters worse, Eidson ordered increases in monthly support payments to Priscilla. The latter, in the summer of 1976, had invited Stan Farr to take up residence at Stonegate, just like she had done before with other "friends". With the divorce proceedings becoming more and more bitter with every move, Priscilla began feeling premonitions, to the point that for a time she even hired security guards around the house. “I found myself thinking that Cullen would either kill us all or kill himself”, she would recall.

The Shootings[]

Cullen Davis is arrested

Cullen Davis (right) is arrested.

On August 2, 1976, after another divorce hearing in which the judge had awarded her a third increase in alimony, Priscilla went to dinner with Stan and some friends, then stopped for a few drinks at the Rangoon Racquet Club. When they returned to Stonegate about 12:30 a.m., she noticed the security locks were off. At that point, while Stan went up to the bedroom, she went to the kitchen, where she noticed that the door leading to the basement was open, and there were bloody prints on the wall. As she screamed for Stan, a figure dressed all in black and wearing a black female wig and a stocking mask appeared, said "hi", and shot her once in the chest with a gun he kept wrapped inside a black plastic bag. She screamed again, at which point Stan arrived and engaged in a brief struggle with the intruder. The latter fired four shots in total at Farr, two of which when he was already on the ground. He died in front of Priscilla's eyes. She, on her part, made her first attempt at fleeing while the intruder was dragging Farr's body away, but was immediately grabbed by her assailant, whom she had by now recognized as her estranged husband, Cullen. Finally, after she bragged him to let her go, the intruder gave up, and she ran outside looking for help. At that very moment, a car had pulled over in the mansion's driveway: it was Gus Gavrel escorting his girlfriend, Beverly Bass. Bass was a friend of Dee Davis, with whom she was supposed to spend the rest of the night (Dee had actually changed her plans and was spending the night elsewhere). The black figure shot once at Gavrel while he walked up the driveway, at which point Beverly ran away. Meanwhile, Priscilla had reached her neighbors' house, and they had called in emergency services. When police arrived on the scene, they were shocked to find one more dead body in the basement: that of twelve-year-old Andrea Wilborn, Priscilla's younger daughter. She had been fatally shot once in the chest. Gavrel recovered from his injury, but was left permanently paralyzed.

Arrests, Trials, and Aftermath[]

Round One[]

Richard Haynes

Richard "Racehorse" Haynes.

Since all the survivors had identified their assailant as Cullen, the latter was arrested within hours of the shootings at his girlfriend's home. At police headquarters, when asked why so many people had to die at the mansion, he answered "Sometimes, a man don't need a reason" (his attorney was later able to prevent the prosecution from using this seeming confession against him, since he had not yet been given the Miranda warnings). A day later, he posted the full amount of his bond with an $80,000 cashier’s check and was released. On August 20, he was rearrested as he was boarding his own private jet for what he claimed was a business trip to Houston. Even though he 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 (ca. 4,023 km). At that point, he was charged with the capital murder of Andrea Wilborn and, after a dedicated hearing, was held without bail. Members of Davis' defense team included famed Richard "Racehorse" Haynes (who defended surgeon John Hill) and Phil Burleson (who defended Jack Ruby). At the time, Davis was referred to as the richest man ever tried for murder (his wealth was estimated at $150 million). Even before the trial began, it was clear public opinion sided with Cullen due to his richness, prestige, and celebrity status (some people baked cookies for him to eat while he was behind bars, while others visited him with their children to make them know him). This was unwillingly helped by Priscilla herself when, at a pre-trial hearing, she arrived wearing a House on the Prairie-like dress with a dangling gold cross, and holding a Bible (a clear attempt to present herself as a modest, religious woman).

Davis leaves civil court with Karen Master

Davis leaves civil court with Karen Master.

When the judge presiding over the case declared a mistrial due to local publicity and jury misconduct, the new trial was relocated to Amarillo, in the Texas's panhandle, as a means to avoid bias on the juror's part. This was seen as an advantage by the defense because it meant that there would be a more conservative jury, one that would be sensitive concerning Priscilla's peculiar lifestyle (let alone the fact that Cullen had several business associates there). The case was solely based on circumstantial evidence and eyewitness testimonies the defense team had no trouble discrediting. As could be expected, Priscilla's cross-examination was what many agreed sanctioned the end for the prosecution's case. She was accused of conspiring with Bass and Gavrel to frame his estranged husband and obtain his money. In a false affidavit (which wasn't accepted as evidence in the first trial but was later leaked to the press), she was presented as a promiscuous woman who hanged out with drug dealers and involved her own daughter, Dee, in sex and drugs. Similar pieces of information were leaked to the jury through the press during the entire course of the second trial. Priscilla was also prompted to admit she consumed painkillers, which allegedly made his recollection unreliable. Another theory proposed by the defense was that Stan Farr had been the real target because he was allegedly involved with drugs too. A list of alternative suspects, some of which had relationships with Priscilla, was presented as part of the defense line, which was later dubbed "ABC": "Anybody But Cullen". Karen Master testified that she had seen her boyfriend in bed beside her the night of the murders, despite the fact that she had previously stated he couldn't recall whether he was at home or not. In the end, on November 17, 1977, Davis was found not guilty. After his acquittal, he threw a pompous party, to which he even invited the judge, the jury, and the press. Civil suits were later filed by Priscilla, Stan Farr's family, and Gus Gavrel's attorneys against Cullen. While Andrea's wrongful death suit ended in 1987 with a hung jury, he settled out of court with the other two. In 2001, it was revealed Davis had bribed a D.A. investigator to illicitly obtain information concerning the prosecution's strategy. He had also managed to obtain insights into the jury deliberations.

Round Two and Aftermath[]

Eidson and McCrory

From left to right: Judge Eidson's fake death photograph, the fast food parking lot where the incriminating tape was recorded, and David McCrory (the one on the left of the picture).

Due to legal and political reasons, Tarrant County's District Attorney, Tim Curry, decided not to immediately pursue the other three pending cases against Davis (the murder of Stan Farr and the assault or attempted murder of Priscilla and Gavrel, for all of which Cullen was ultimately never tried). Despite this, Davis ended up on trial once more, for another crime. Soon after acquiring a new company, he had hired David McCrory, the private investigator who had provided his defense team with the false affidavit containing damaging claims about Priscilla, as an assistant to the company president. By August 1978, Cullen felt more and more frustrated by the slow pace of his divorce trial, which he wasn't winning anyway. According to McCrory, who reported this to the FBI, Davis asked him to arrange the murder of at least fifteen people on his enemies' list, including Judge Eidson, his wife, and the two witnesses who had implicated him in the mansion murders: Bev Bass and Gus Gavrel. Federal agents concocted a plan to catch Davis on tape while he discussed the hit with McCrory. On August 18, they fixed the latter up with a wire and gave him a photograph which depicted Judge Eidson lying in the trunk of a car, wearing a ketchup-soaked t-shirt. As further evidence of the murder having been committed, they also provided him with the judge's identification cards. On the tape there were McCrory's words: "I got Judge Eidson dead for you", to which Cullen replied "Good", handing him an envelope with $25.000. "I'll get the rest of them dead for you. You want a bunch of people dead, right?", to which he replied "All right".

Davis was arrested soon after the meeting and charged with soliciting to murder. The resultant trial became something of a repeat of the last one. The defense challenged the credibility of McCrory, and Cullen went as far as to sustain, on the stand, that he had been undercover for the FBI in the first place. According to him, a Bureau agent named Jim Acree had told him to play along with McCrory, as part of an operation aimed at uncovering a conspiracy to extort or do harm to him by making appear as if he was trying to hire a hitman. Acree admitted in court he did meet with him months earlier, but denied warning him about McCrory's purported conspiracy. The defense, on their part, argued Priscilla may have been part of the entire plot, intending to get even with her husband. This was based on scarcely credible testimonies by individuals who claimed to have seen her in the company of McCrory. An ex-convict who testified to have received an offer to kill Davis from McCrory was later charged with aggravated perjury. Absence of Davis' fingerprints on critical piece of evidence (such as the Eidson photograph and the $25.000) did the rest to cast doubts, and the jury eventually deadlocked (although the majority was in favor of Cullen's innocence). Later, prosecutors convened a new trial, in which a linguistics professor testified that Cullen's words in the tape did not constitute solicitation of murder, and that McCrory was intentionally manipulating the conversation. Against all odds, Davis was again acquitted in November 1979.

Aftermath[]

Cullen Davis in 2016

Davis in 2016.

The divorce case, with Judge Eidson no longer handling it, ended with Cullen's repossession of Stonegate and a menial settlement for Priscilla (who kept with her fifty household items from the mansion out of spite). On June 5, 1979, Karen Master had become Davis' second wife, and he later adopted her two sons. He eventually lost most of his fortune during the recession of the 1980s, and declared bankruptcy. His beloved mansion was sold to a real estate developer in 1984, and is currently operated as an event facility. Cullen continues to live in the Fort Worth area, is a born again Christian and religious missionary, and still firmly proclaims his innocence. Priscilla Childers died of breast cancer on February 19, 2001. She insisted on Davis' guilt until the end. Several books were written on the case, one of which, in 1995, was turned into a TV movie named Texas Justice.

Modus Operandi[]

The night of the murders, Davis allegedly broke into his own mansion by defusing the alarm system. He was dressed all in black and wore a female black wig and a stocking mask. When he killed his victims, he usually shot them once in the chest with a revolver (which was never identified). Since Stan Farr was a tall, stocky guy, he presumably shot him four times to make sure he had disposed of him.

Known Victims[]

  • Unspecified dates in Aspen, Colorado, and at Stonegate Mansion, Fort Worth, Texas: Angela Dee Davis, 13 (his adoptive daughter; repeatedly battered)
  • August 2, 1976: Stonegate Mansion, 4200 Mockingbird Lane, Fort Worth, Texas: (allegedly)
    • Andrea Wilborn, 12 (his stepdaughter; shot once in the chest at close range)
    • Priscilla Childers-Davis, 35 (his wife; previously repeatedly battered, was shot in the chest; survived)
    • Stan Farr, 30 (shot four times)
    • Gus Gavrel, Jr., 22 (shot in the stomach; survived, was left paralyzed)
  • August 1978: Unspecified date and location: Judge Joe Eidson, Priscilla Childers-Davis, Gus Gavrel, Jr., Beverly Bass, and eleven other people (allegedly ordered their murders; all survived)

On Criminal Minds[]

  • Season One
    • "A Real Rain" - The Cullen Davis murder case was mentioned by Hotch as an example of a trial in which the defendant was widely believed to have escaped justice. It was cited, along with other similar cases, in order to convince Marvin Doyle, a vigilante and the episode's unsub, to surrender himself.

Sources[]

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