Status Report

Following a vote of a panel of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, confessed murderer Walter Waldhauser Jr., also known as Michael Lee Davis, is once again a free man.

Last October, the Press reported ("Making a Killing," October 22, 1998) that Waldhauser/Davis, the middleman in four inheritance and insurance-driven contract killings in Houston in the 1970s, was working in the viatical business in Dallas. A viatical is a company that buys the life insurance policy of a terminally ill person -- usually someone with AIDS -- for pennies on the dollar, then collects the full benefit of the policy when the person dies. That news alarmed the lawman most responsible for originally putting Waldhauser/ Davis in jail, since he had killed for money in the past.

"Walter is not a man who likes to wait on his money," said former Houston police homicide detective Johnny Bonds in October. "If I knew this guy had a life insurance policy on me, I'd feel like a walking dead man."

While two of his partners were sentenced to death for their part in the murders -- including that of a 14-month-old boy -- Waldhauser received three concurrent 30-year sentences and was paroled after spending less than nine years in state prison. Four weeks after publication of the Press article, state parole officials issued a warrant for the arrest of Waldhauser/ Davis on the grounds that he allegedly violated the terms of his parole. He was arrested November 20 at his $180,000 home in the Dallas suburb of Plano.

However, during a parole revocation hearing last month, a hearing officer agreed with Waldhauser/Davis that he had not violated his parole, despite allegations that the felon had not informed parole officials about either his change of address or employment status. She recommended that he be released, and the recommendation was forwarded for review by a three-member parole board panel.

Although the hearing officer did not review all the information available -- one witness was left sitting in a hall, and another gave out only half her information before a break and was not called back -- the hearing officer's recommendation was upheld last week by parole board members Brendolyn Rogers-Johnson and Sandie Walker. Both women were appointed to the board by Governor George W. Bush. (The third member of the panel, Billy Walker -- an appointee of former governor Ann Richards -- did not vote.)

Although Waldhauser/Davis has been returned to the streets, his freedom does include some new conditions. For the last eight of the nine years Waldhauser/Davis has been on parole, he was on what is called annual reporting -- referred to by its critics as "postcard parole" -- and only had to stay in touch with parole officials via the mail once a year. Parole officials now say that, following his most recent release from jail, Waldhauser will be returned to regular parole, which means he will have to report to a parole officer -- in person -- at least once a month.

E-mail Steve McVicker at steve_mcvicker@houstonpress.com.

 
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