T. Cullen Davis dominated the Fort Worth Star Telegram headlines in the late summers of 1976 and 1977. A billionaire oil heir, a party girl estranged wife, a mansion and a hot August night all made for a recipe for murder and intrigue. From that moment on, I became captivated by the investigation and subsequent trial held almost a year to the day from the murders.
Through the 1970s, my mother and I loved to watch Perry Mason. During the summers at lunch, she and I would discuss the evidence and try to guess who the murderer was that would invariably confess at the end of every show. Imagine my fascination when the Cullen Davis story broke in August of 1976. It was about a month after the nation’s bicentennial celebration that had gripped the nation. In the immediate aftermath of such a historic celebration, the news environment was rather blah in that first month. You could compare the mood of Texas as similar to those first days after Christmas when people experience the post-holiday funk.
August of ’76 was the murder and August of ’77 was the start of the murder trial held in Amarillo, Texas. The entire state of Texas seemed to be talking about the murder trial of a real life JR Ewing. The Dallas series would not start until ’78 but one has to wonder if the success of it wasn’t somehow linked to the Davis dramas for the two previous summers. Cullen Davis was a very wealthy man having gained his wealth from his father’s now bankrupt Kendavis Industries. In the Fort Worth area, oil men were very intriguing. Men like Davis and a competitor to Davis, the maverick Eddie Chiles, could grab a microphone and it seemed the whole town of Fort Worth would grow silent to hear their words. There has always been something mythical about oil men in Fort Worth since the McClesky #1 oil well blew in Ranger, TX in 1917.
I remember the details like it was yesterday. The entire Cullen Davis ordeal started on an August night in 1976 when a man supposedly wearing a black dress and a wig shot and killed two people and critically injured two others in the Cullen Davis mansion in southwest Fort Worth. Cullen and Priscilla Davis were going through a very turbulent divorce and it seemed as if that were the motive for the violence that took place that night. To add to the fascination, a former Texas Christian University basketball stud Stan Farr was one of the two that were murdered that night. However, it was the murder of 12 year old step daughter Andrea Wilborn that District Attorney Tim Curry decided to prosecute. Theoretically, Cullen Davis could still be tried for the murder of Stan Farr but it is unlikely after all these years.
For a person like me, the year between the murder and the trial was excruciating. I followed nearly every article and closely watched the local news as the investigation proceeded. Although I never achieved my goal of becoming an attorney, at that time it was my goal and motivation. Living only 10 miles or so from the crime, this was better than Perry Mason could have ever been.
There was certainly circumstantial evidence that pointed towards Cullen Davis committing the crime. But, his attorney, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes was able to win him an acquittal. Racehorse Haynes was a world war II veteran of the Battle for Iwo Jima. He was considered a showman lawyer and already well known after he had defended a wealthy plastic surgeon, John Hill, in Houston, Texas in another famous trial that spawned the book by Thomas Thompson called Blood and Money.
After Haynes launched a defense that was really more of an offense on the character of Davis’ flamboyant estranged wife Priscilla, he was able to gain an acquittal for Cullen Davis. There have been periodic points of intrigue since. A few years later, there were accusations that Davis conspired to have his divorce judge murdered and there was even video tape of the conversations. Racehorse Haynes again came in and successfully defended Cullen yet again. In the early 90s, Cullen Davis settled out of court in a civil lawsuit agreeing to pay the children of Stan Farr $250,000 which as of 2002 had yet to ever be paid due to time limit legalities. In January 2004, Sonny Vickers confessed to the Cullen Davis mansion murders moments before he was executed for an unrelated crime. He was within minutes of being executed and there was no further probing of his statement.
I met Cullen Davis in the mid-1990s at a Full Gospel Businessman’s Fellowship International dinner at the old Buffy’s restaurant near Saginaw, Texas. He was the keynote speaker and shared his Christian testimony. I found myself wondering if he truly was sharing all of his testimony as he certainly wasn’t taking credit for what happened on a dark night at his mansion in August of 1976. However, as he has accepted Jesus Christ, he is now my Christian brother and like me has had all of his sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. There was a bloody handprint at the mansion that did not fit the print of Cullen’s hand leading me to believe he is not guilty of committing those murders. But, there were two bloody handprints on a hill 2,000 years ago that goes to show that there is no one beyond redemption even if he did commit those murders. Cullen Davis you are my brother in Christ and I should not look at you any different than God does.