by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
Near the end of Final Justice: The True Story of the Richest Man Ever Tried for Murder, Charlie Rose interviews multimillionaire Cullen Davis for Rose’s TV show. A Texas jury had just acquitted Davis of killing his wife’s lover and a 12-year-old girl:
“Has your life gotten back to normal,” asked Rose in a husky, intimate whisper. “I mean, can you live a normal life ever again?”
“Normal would be walking down the street without being recognized by anybody,” Cullen replied. “That’ll never happen.”
Davis was right about that. One day in the 1990s, some 15 years after the 1976 murders, my wife and I were crossing a skyway in downtown Ft. Worth. I caught the eye of a man headed in the opposite direction: a slight, dapper-looking fellow with a “cat that ate the canary” glint in his eye. He looked first at my wife and then at me. There was a trace of a smile on his thin lips.
It was, I knew instantly, Cullen Davis.
Rose gingerly turned the questioning to the murders. “Are you afraid, living in the mansion?” he asked.
At about the same time as our Davis sighting in the skyway, we lived near the infamous “murder mansion” on Mockingbird Lane in Ft. Worth. By then, the Davis trials were fading into history and the mansion itself was a long-abandoned wreck. Ghoulish curiosity seekers (including us and our friends) would spend a Saturday or Sunday squeezing through a vandalized plywood barrier to explore the once-lavish, $35 million palace, now dark, musty, and ravaged by souvenir hunters. (I confess that I took a piece of floor-tile from the kitchen – site of one of the murders.)
I mention all this because it’s not often that I read a true-crime book in which the (alleged) killer is someone I’ve seen up-close-and-personal, and whose former home I’ve helped ransack.
But pilfering floor tiles is nothing compared to the hijacking of the judicial system pulled off by Davis and his colorful, apparently conscienceless lawyer, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, in three trials conducted in the late 1970s.
You think the O.J. Simpson trial was a miscarriage of justice? Check out the Davis trials, in which multiple witnesses — including victims shot point-blank by “a man in black” — identified Davis as the perpetrator, and yet Texas juries could not bring themselves to convict.
Apparently, jurors were awestruck by the strange little man’s wealth and charisma.
I certainly wasn’t awestruck when I locked eyes with Davis in that skyway, nor when I trespassed in the cavernous halls and living rooms of his haunted house. I was creeped out.
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