The Killer Inside Him

The twisted life--and lethal secrets--of Gary Davis.

Booze was a constant part of the equation: "The more I drank the more I raped. When I wasn't drinking, I wasn't thinking of pussy. Give me a drink and I had to have it. Finally a murder took place in Byers...Please don't hate me for this."

It's impossible to know if Davis's claim of raping fifteen women is accurate or just another grotesque boast. Doubtless he made more attempts, and probably committed more assaults, than he was ever charged with. His early targets tended to be adolescents, underage girls he could frighten into not reporting him. Prior to 1969, all of his arrests were alcohol-related--drunk driving, urinating in public. Even subsequent felony convictions in Kansas for grand larceny and embezzlement (1969) and burglary (1970) don't provide much of a picture of what he was becoming.

Yet the darkness was welling up in Davis. The need to expose himself, to force himself on women--to touch, to take, to give pain. "I've never thought about getting into trouble until it's over," he explained. "During and before it happens all I'd think about was making them do whatever I wanted...I'd just lay there with a smirk on my face yelling at them and watching them cry and beg me not to hurt them. Some of the girls were real young, some were grown women. I'd treat all of them the same. If they didn't cry or beg it would take the excitement out of it."

Afterward, he wrote, "sometimes I'd sit there and cry and want to hold the person and tell 'em how sorry I was. The next day I'd be right back out looking again."

I have been locked up one time for a rape charge. That doesn't make me a sex offender. I went to church once, but that doesn't make me a Christian. (7/27/89)

Everyone told me I'd come off death row. I've got to quit trusting people...The papers say I have about five years left, the lawyers say about two. I see the one paper is still putting rape [of Virginia May] as one of my charges. As if it's not bad enough already. (3/22/94)

In 1974, at the age of thirty, Davis married for a second time. His bride was a seventeen-year-old named Leona Coates. The relationship lasted eight years, during which Leona gave birth to four children, but it was doomed from the start. It couldn't offer the excitement Davis was looking for.

Davis would later claim that Leona was pregnant when he met her and that the marriage was a rocky one, "a big mistake." He stayed with her because "she kept shelling out kids."

"I really thought I was doing her a favor," he wrote in 1987. "Softhearted Gary."

Leona has given different versions of their marriage. After the murder of Ginny May, she told police investigators that Davis had abused her in drunken rages, tried to coerce her into a menage a trois with another woman and had once pointed a gun at her. Nine years later, in the course of Davis's federal appeals of his death sentence, she recanted much of her previous statement, saying that the gun was plastic and that Davis was a good husband and father who drank too much on the weekends. (In a 1995 interview with a California psychologist, Davis admitted to being "physically and verbally aggressive due to his alcohol consumption" in all three of his marriages.)

Davis didn't get his threesome; that would come later, as his quest for variety became increasingly bizarre and violent. Instead, he spent much of the last three years of the marriage in trouble with the law. In 1979 he lured a young female clerk out of a convenience store in Baca County on the pretext of needing help with the ice machine; once outside, he held a knife to her neck and dragged her into an alley. The woman struggled and escaped, sustaining wounds to her hand and throat.

Clearly, Davis had rape on his mind, but he wound up copping a plea to felony menacing. He spent less than a year in prison.

He was out only a matter of months when he got caught again. This time the victim was a fifteen-year-old girl, the daughter of one of Leona's friends. Davis claimed the girl reported him because he'd promised her $300 for sex, then reneged; prosecutors, though, believed the girl, who said Davis had pulled a knife on her and raped her.

Incredibly, this time Davis managed to plea-bargain his way to an eight-year sentence for sexual assault--which meant that barring bad behavior, he'd be out of prison in less than four. In hindsight, it's easy to see that he was headed for worse crimes; both assaults were the unmistakable acts of a violent predator, a man who chose the most helpless victims he could find. But in the early 1980s, programs for sex offenders were still in their infancy. The criminal-justice system tended to treat men like Davis as poor dumb shlubs who just needed to keep a sober head on their shoulders.

Corrections officers regarded Davis as a model prisoner. He kept to himself, earned special privileges, went through the motions of alcohol treatment--all the while thinking about that first drink he was going to take the moment he hit the street. And, like a lot of cons, he began to collect female pen pals.

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