In many ways the scene was typical of the divorced wife: Priscilla Davis, finally free and ready to begin a new life, left the mammoth house on Fort Worth’s Hulen Street with an armful of fur coats, heading for a smaller home of her own. “All I ever wanted was a vine-covered cottage,” she said wryly. It’s a “cottage” only by Texas standards—five bedrooms, wet bars, sauna and pool, located in the city’s wealthy Rivercrest section. But not even by Texas standards can Priscilla Davis, 37, be considered a typical divorcée. The child of a poor, broken home, she married one of the richest men in America, was then the victim of a would-be assassin in her $6 million home and finally testified as chief witness against her husband in the bizarre murder case that followed.
The neighbors call it “Murder Mansion” now, and so does she. The huge trapezoid of glass and fieldstone that T. Cullen Davis built for Priscilla after their 1968 marriage is filled with the spoils of vast wealth—marble and bronze statues, Persian carpets, a heated indoor pool, pieces of jade, emerald, ivory and gold, one worth up to $450,000, even a Renoir in one of the 11 bathrooms. Priscilla agreed to surrender them all to Cullen in their divorce settlement last month. The place had become a house of horror for her after a summer night three years ago when, she claims, her estranged husband shot and killed her fiancé and her daughter, gravely wounding Priscilla and a family friend.
After two dramatic trials—the first on charges of murdering Priscilla’s daughter, the second for allegedly plotting to kill the judge in their divorce case—Cullen Davis, 45, remains un-convicted of any crime. Recently he and his new wife, Karen, 37, moved into the house on Hulen Street. Priscilla wound up with $2.8 million in the divorce settlement and should be able to live handsomely on the estimated $200,000-plus annual income from it. But Cullen Davis’ most enduring legacy to her, she says, is fear. She now employs round-the-clock bodyguards and a nighttime nurse (at $75,000 a year) and has signs outside her new house: “Warning, protected by laser beams.” She believes she is lucky to have survived this long. “I know he’ll try something again,” claims Priscilla, who faces surgery to deaden the pain left by the bullet wound in her back. “I don’t know what it is, but it will be something. I have to live with that.”
Theirs was a marriage that began, as it ended, in death. On the day his domineering father died—leaving the family’s billion-dollar conglomerate, Kendavis Industries, to Cullen and his two brothers—he and Priscilla were married. They were an odd pair—he the ultraconservative, driven businessman, she the brassy young mother of three (by previous marriages at 16 and 19) who wore a gold necklace with the phrase “Rich Bitch” spelled out in diamonds. They quickly became Fort Worth society’s most gossiped-about couple. “Cullen liked for me to get attention at first,” Priscilla recalls. “Then he started resenting it, like it was taking something away from him. If men talked to me, I had to get rid of them in a hurry. I had to be rude to people who were just being nice, to avoid a beating.” She claims that Cullen, in various rages, broke her collarbone and her nose, beat a daughter’s kitten to death and once shattered an ivory-inlaid pool cue after losing a game at one of the mansion’s three pool tables. “Cullen could never stand to lose at anything,” she says. “It was the way he was brought up by his daddy.”
In 1974, after counteraccusations of adultery, the couple separated and filed for divorce, and Cullen checked into a hotel. In time he moved in with Karen Master, a wealthy divorcée—and Priscilla invited Stan Farr, a giant (6’9″) former basketball star at Texas Christian University, to live in the mansion with her. He was part owner of a local tavern and, at 31, four years her junior. On Aug. 2, 1976 Judge Joe Eidson Jr. ordered Cullen to pay Priscilla $52,000 for maintenance of the house and other expenses, plus $5,000 a month until a final divorce decree could be worked out. Davis was reportedly infuriated.
That evening a black-clothed figure in a black wig entered the house, found Priscilla’s 12-year-old daughter, Andrea, alone, took her to a basement room and shot her point-blank in the heart. (Priscilla swears that the man was Cullen Davis, but a jury last year was persuaded of a reasonable doubt.) Priscilla, returning from her evening out with Stan, had noticed blood on the kitchen door frame when the man in black stepped from an alcove, said “Hi” and shot Priscilla through the chest. When Farr ran to her aid, the man shot him too. “Stan fell down beside me,” Priscilla says. “He was lying there, looking at me, and Cullen fired twice into his back.” Shortly afterward, family friend Gus Gavrel Jr. drove up to the house; the intruder shot him too, and the bullet lodged in Gavrel’s spine, leaving him paralyzed for life. Davis faces additional charges of murder and attempted murder, and both Gavrel and Priscilla are suing him in civil court for their injuries.
At his trials for allegedly murdering Andrea and putting out a contract on Judge Eidson (the alleged hit man turned FBI informant), Cullen’s defense was a vigorous attack on Priscilla. She was portrayed as a sleep-around drug user who tried to frame Davis for his fortune. That portrait, she says, is painful, wrong and beside the point. “I’m not saying I’m Miss Goody Two-shoes,” she argues, “but it doesn’t matter if I was the biggest hooker, doper or what-have-you—a 12-year-old child was killed. They seem to forget that.” She doesn’t. “It’s the most painful thing in the world to lose a child,” she says. “And it’s always with you. You can be driving down the street and suddenly you start to wonder why the sun is shining, why people are laughing. There are times in the wee, small hours of the night when I break down. There are times I think I can’t take it anymore.”
Cullen’s trial for conspiring to kill the judge ended in a hung jury last January, but a second trial is scheduled to begin next month—and Priscilla will be there to testify again. “Some people have said I ought to change my name and move away from Fort Worth,” she says, “but I’m afraid if I go away, so will Andrea’s memory. I don’t want anyone to forget that he stood there and looked that child in the eye and murdered her.” She is consoled only by the thought that he will suffer some part of her torment. “He’s got to live in that house,” she says. “It will be a constant reminder to him.”