By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Around April, David says, Hollis died in his sleep. David wrapped him in plastic and laid him in bed beside Sunnye. He closed the curtains and locked the door.
David kept cashing his parents' social security and retirement income checks, totaling $8,000 a month. He forged his father's signature and drained their bank accounts, often writing himself checks for $9,500. One month he withdrew $45,000. Still, he continued to call friends and family, asking for cash. He said he needed to borrow money to pay the electric bill, fix the air conditioner and fund his father's eye surgery.
Whenever Clara or her husband, Doyle, called, David said his parents were asleep, or were out of town and couldn't come to the phone. After about four months had gone by and they still hadn't been able to talk to Hollis, Clara got suspicious. She didn't believe David's various stories.
Since she lives in Oklahoma, Clara called David's brother-in-law, O.J. Broussard, and asked him to go by the house and check on Hollis and Sunnye. On several occasions, O.J. tried to see Sunnye and Hollis, but David wouldn't let O.J. come inside. Each time O.J. visited, David made up a new story to explain his parents' whereabouts. Once, he said he had put them in a nursing home, but he didn't want O.J. to visit because it was in a bad part of town.
"He just couldn't find them," Clara says. She called the lady who delivered Meals on Wheels, who reported that David never let her come inside the house either. Clara phoned the police, Galveston County Guardians and Adult Protective Services.
"We called everybody, trying to find out if anyone knew where they were," Clara says. "No one seemed to know. No one seemed to care."
The Galveston County sheriff's office dispatched two officers to the house on Marlin in late August 2000.
David didn't answer the door. He wasn't home the next day, either. The officers' third attempt was Friday, September 1, at around 5:40 p.m. Again, David wasn't home.
Officers were about to leave when David turned down Ferry Road, returning from the bank. He pulled his battered blue Buick into the driveway behind Sergeant Bruce Balchunas's unmarked Ford F-150. "Another minute and we would've missed him," Balchunas says.
Balchunas introduced himself to David and told him that some family members and neighbors were concerned about his parents.
David told the officers that his parents were visiting his aunt in East Texas. He said he had talked to his father on the phone a couple of days before, and they were heading to another relative's house in Belton.
"That's fine," Balchunas said. He asked David if they could check inside the house while they were there.
"Sure," David said and signed a consent waiver for the officers to search the house. Inside, there was standing water in the kitchen sink, and the countertop was covered in dishes of moldy food. The dining room table's fruit tablecloth was nearly obscured by piles of papers, bills and boxes. Books and pictures were knocked over on the shelves, and clothes were scattered everywhere. "A typical bachelor place," Balchunas says.
The back bedroom had masking tape sealing the door frame, a towel stuffed under the crack, and Carpet Fresh sprinkled on the floor. There was a sign saying, "Stop! No Entry." David told officers that he had just set off a bug bomb to kill some flies. He asked if they could come back the next day and search the room.
Since it was Labor Day weekend, the deputies asked if they could just take a quick look. David asked them to come back in four hours.
If they closed the other doors in the hallway, they could isolate the fumes and search the bedroom, Balchunas said. David would have to leave the house for only an hour before the fumes dissipated. Balchunas said if they opened the door and everything was fine, they would leave immediately.
Okay, David said. He pulled the tape off the door and unlocked it. Balchunas and David walked into the living room, where David sat on the brown leather couch. Silently, David stared at the walnut floor.
Balchunas's partner, Sergeant Perry Larvin, walked into the bedroom. The windows were taped shut, the blinds and the curtains were closed. He saw a tuft of white hair sticking out from under the covers. Larvin pulled back the blanket and saw Sunnye; her skin was a dark, dried brown. She wore a sleeveless flannel gown covered in blue flowers and white socks; an adult-diaper strap was wrapped around her head to keep her mouth shut. Black mold was growing on her legs, her stomach was sunken, and her face had turned a greenish-black.
In the living room, Larvin ordered David to put his hands behind his back. He patted David down, told him to sit on the couch, and then went to the truck to call for backup.
David reached beneath the sofa and pulled out a .22-caliber rifle and pressed it to his chin. Before he could pull the trigger, Balchunas lunged at him and pinned him against the couch; with one hand Balchunas grabbed the barrel, and with the other, he clenched David's right hand so he couldn't fire. When Larvin returned, the two officers wrestled the weapon away from David. "It was a silent struggle," Balchunas says.