Back home, Davis worked as a cook, a meat-cutter and a factory grunt. He was frequently unemployed as a result of a series of auto and industrial accidents. His wife left him, taking the children with her.
He would later claim that the marriage failed because he found a job traveling around the country as a male stripper--a dubious assertion at best, although he did work briefly as part of a nightclub comedy act, playing a go-go dancer in drag. But if his supposed career as a stripper is another fantasy (it was "more or less like a dream come true," he wrote), it's not far off from the kind of exhibitionism in which Davis was soon engaging regularly.
"When I got older, early 20s, I found myself going around showing myself to women wherever I could," he wrote. "I'd show myself, and after the woman would see me, I'd find somewhere to jack off. At this time I had a beautiful wife at home. I needed this excitement in my life.
"As years went by just showing myself wasn't enough. I had to touch. I needed some pussy by force. To hear the girl or woman scream and beg as I did. Every person I raped I enjoyed."
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.)