The Killer Inside Him

Like hundreds of other men on death rows across America, Gary Lee Davis paid attention when Ted Bundy took the juice in Florida's electric chair in 1989.

Just hours before his execution, while the hecklers gathered outside sang "On Top of Old Sparky," Bundy granted his last interview to psychologist and evangelist James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family. The nation's most notorious serial killer told Dobson that his murderous attacks on women could be traced to his adolescent fascination with pornography.

Davis thought Bundy was pulling the good doctor's leg. "I can't see [how] looking at naked pictures would make someone kill somebody," he wrote in a letter to a friend a few weeks after Bundy's death. "That's a copout...anyone who believes that shit is pure stupid."

Whatever else he was, Davis wasn't pure stupid. True, he offered his share of copouts. In the sinking twilight of death row, condemned men find ready-made explanations for their horrendous crimes: drugs, childhood abuse, loveless marriages, low self-esteem, evil companions, the absence of God in their lives--whatever might play best in the appeals courts.

Davis's excuses ran the gamut, but his favorite scapegoat was his alcoholism. "Sober, I consider myself a real nice person," he said. "Drunk, a real live monster."

Yet in his more candid moments, Davis acknowledged that his drinking was only a catalyst for, not a cause of, his rampages--a way of unshackling the demons within. In his letter sneering at Bundy's confession, he added, "I've always had a strong driving force inside of me for some reason. Alcohol let me go for it."

Davis went for it more than he cared to admit. Like Bundy, he spent much of his adult life stalking and terrorizing young women, reveling in their pain, drowning any qualms he might have had in a sea of booze; in letters to a longtime confidant, made available to Westword after his bid for clemency failed, he estimated that he'd raped fifteen women in the course of his sorry existence. Unlike Bundy, he didn't make a habit of killing his victims--not until one horrific day in July 1986, when Davis and his third wife, Rebecca Fincham, kidnapped their neighbor, 32-year-old Virginia May. They took her to a deserted field outside of Byers, sexually assaulted her, and then, while May pleaded for her life, shot her fourteen times.

On Monday it was Davis's turn to die. He was the guest of honor at Colorado's first execution in thirty years--a long-delayed act of retribution on behalf of the grieving family of Ginny May, a source of outrage to death-penalty foes, a muted spectacle to feed the thrill-crazy media and a vengeful public (see related story, p. 20). The state's executioners strapped him onto a cross-like gurney, opened his veins and flooded his heart with potassium chloride. They put him down like a rabid dog.

What he did to Ginny May, Davis admitted, was a "sick, stupid crime," and he paid the price for it. Yet the "driving force" he wrote about isn't so easily dispatched. The sickness had been gnawing at him years before the murder, but Davis rarely spoke of it; when he did, the truth was often obscured by self-serving lies. As he wavered between wanting to die and trying to stall his execution, Davis told several versions of the slaying, sometimes blaming Fincham, sometimes himself--a routine that infuriated his lawyers and bewildered his handful of supporters.

Davis "told too many stories to too many people, and no one really knows what the truth is," Craig Truman, his trial attorney, told reporters on the day of his sentencing. "I guess I wonder if he even knows what the truth is."

But Davis knew. He even put it in writing, in letters from death row, when he figured he had nothing left to lose. Davis had several pen pals; one, a woman from Ireland, flew to Colorado for a final visit before his execution and paid for his cremation. His longest and most enduring correspondence, though, was with a Denver woman, a prison activist who plied him with questions about his family and his relationships with women. For more than ten years, from the time he arrived on death row until a few weeks before his death, Davis carried on a friendly, occasionally flirtatious and, at times, surprisingly candid dialogue with her.

The Gary Davis who emerges in these letters--lying, denying, fantasizing and sporadically confessing--is a different creature from the wan, soft-spoken ghost who appears in the videotape his lawyers sent to Governor Roy Romer in his final clemency appeal. He is smarter and more tortured than his few press interviews would suggest. He is also, despite his vile crimes, uncomfortably human.

It takes years to make a sexual predator. Davis started early, and his journey to death row was a particularly grim and nasty one. That he drew so many others into his private hell--including, finally, Ginny May, an innocent young mother who had become the object of his warped fantasies--brought him more grief and self-loathing than one might expect.