Last week convicted killer and confidence man Michael Lee Davis returned to his Texas prison cell with 59 years remaining on his 60-year sentence. Thanks to a chance call to the Houston Press, it was not what Davis had planned.
It's been almost exactly a year since a judge hit Davis with the prison term and $10,000 in fines for masterminding an insurance and money-laundering scam that took as much as $15 million from elderly investors.
About 20 years earlier, when he was known as Walter Waldhauser Jr., Davis confessed to being the middleman in the contract murders of four members of the wealthy Diana Wanstrath family. Davis was able to cut a deal to help the state send the other two conspirators to death row, in return for three concurrent 30-year sentences.
After Davis was paroled in nine years, detective Johnny Bonds, HPD's lead homicide investigator in the case, took it upon himself to keep tabs on his old nemesis. In 1998 Bonds discovered that Davis had surfaced in the insurance business in Dallas. Following a series of Press articles questioning Davis's new life, investigators got the fraud convictions that sent him back to prison.
But Michael Lee Davis is nothing if not resilient.
A few weeks ago the Press received a telephone call from a Fort Worth businessman who said he'd been duped by Davis and that some of his customers had lost money in the process. He hoped to convince the Press to do a story that would help him clear his name.
So the Press decided to contact Davis, although the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported that the convict had recently been transferred from the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls. He was headed to the Dallas County Jail on an unspecified bench warrant.
Bonds, now an investigator with the Harris County district attorney's office, immediately contacted Brian Flood, the Dallas County assistant D.A. who handled the Davis case last year.
To Flood's surprise, he found out Davis was telling other Dallas prosecutors that he had information concerning two separate homicide investigations.
"He was attempting to make himself a witness in another couple of murder cases by claiming to have overheard certain conversations," says Flood, who declined to identify the cases. "I can't discuss what they said, because one's been dismissed for further investigation. But he's trying to make himself a witness as he did in the Wanstrath murders."
Flood says the price for Davis's testimony would have been a reduction in his sentence. Flood says negotiations came to an abrupt end when he repeated for his colleagues the words of Houston state District Judge Ted Poe, who prosecuted the Wanstrath murders and testified at Davis's sentencing hearing last year.
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"I related Mr. Poe's description of [Davis] as a man with no soul," says Flood. "That pretty much terminated his ability to be used as a witness."
As for Bonds, he's happy to again be able to give Davis a bad day -- several hundred of them, actually. But he knows that Davis will never stop working the angles, even in prison.
"Anything he does, there's something in it for him," says Bonds. "There's not an ounce of benevolence in his heart."
Indeed, Dallas prosecutors and state insurance investigators have yet to recover the estimated $15 million -- much of it from the retirement funds of elderly victims -- that Davis is believed to have reaped in the insurance scam. They think it may be stashed in a secret bank account in Liechtenstein.