By the age of twenty-four, Air Force Staff Sergeant Mike Severance had already survived a series of missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But his life back at home, in Texas, would prove a lot more dangerous…
In the winter of 2005, Mike's wife, a veterinarian named Wendi Mae Davidson, reported him missing. Wendi told police that Mike had been acting erratically—visiting local clubs, staying out late, sometimes not coming home at all. She filed for divorce the very next day.
Eventually Mike's body turned up in a stock pond on a private ranch. Investigators described a corpse that was weighted down with two cinder blocks, a rock, a boat anchor, and other equipment. It had also been stabbed forty-one times with a knife. But an autopsy report told a different story: That the cause of death was exposure to pentobarbital and phenobarbital, drugs commonly used in veterinary medicine. All the evidence pointed to Wendi…and soon she would be found guilty of murder in the first degree.
Diane Fanning's A Poisioned Passion is the true, shocking story of a war hero and a marriage that ended in cold-blooded murder.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Diane Fanning is the author of the Edgar Award finalist Written in Blood: A True Story of Murder and a Deadly 16-Year-Old Secret That Tore a Family Apart. Her other works of true crime include the best-selling Mommy's Little Girl, The Pastor's Wife, Gone Forever and Through the Window. She has been featured on 48 Hours, 20/20, Court TV and the Discovery Channel, and has been interviewed on dozens of radio stations coast to coast. Before becoming a nonfiction writer, Fanning worked in advertising, and she earned more than 70 Addy Awards. She lives in New Braunfels, Texas.
DIANE FANNING is the author of the Edgar Award finalist Written in Blood: A True Story of Murder and a Deadly 16-Year-Old Secret That Tore a Family Apart, as well as several other true-crime books (available from St. Martin’s) and the Secret City mystery series. She lives in Bedford, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
On his long weekend off, in early March 2005, Game Warden Marshall Davidson drove four hundred miles from Zapata in south Texas up to the west Texas town of San Angelo to visit with his parents at the family home. It was a tumultuous time for the Davidson clan. Marshall's brother-in-law Michael Severance had disappeared without a trace in January. Wendi, Marshall's veterinarian sister, was running a new business and caring for her infant and 3-year-old sons with help from her parents. Marshall's grandmother, Jessie Mae Eggemeyer, was suffering through the terminal stages of lung cancer. The family agonized as they watched her waste away and become progressively more uncommunicative.
Marshall sat down to dinner with his mother and father, Judy and Lloyd Davidson and his 3-year-old nephew, Wendi's son Tristan, on Saturday, March 5. They'd barely taken a bite when the telephone rang. Judy answered. When she returned to the dining table, Marshall saw distress wrinkling his mother's face. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said, shaking her head.
"Who was on the phone?"
"What did she want?" Marshall prodded.
"She said somebody's chasing her and she's going to keep driving and go to the cemetery."
"Well, who's chasing her?"
"She doesn't know."
Marshall strapped on his pistol and drove a couple of miles, turning in at the sign that read "grape creek cemetery — Founded 1895." He entered a gate surrounded by scrubby trees and tall weeds, and went up the narrow dirt lane into the small graveyard. It was a patchwork of old worn gravestones and newer flat plaques, amidst clumps of grass, dirt and rocks. The whole thing could have fit inside the twenty-yard line of a football field. The hum of the nearby highway traffic filled the air.
He saw his sister's 2001 red Chevrolet Camaro first, then he saw her standing by the grave of their grandfather. Wendi was obviously agitated as she paced over a tiny circular patch of ground like a high-strung race horse.
He walked toward her, looking around for any sign of another person or vehicle, but none was in sight. "Who's following you? What's up?"
"No. Nobody's following me. It's just that, you know, I mean, I got something that I need to say, but I'm going to wait till Mom and Dad are here."
"No," Marshall said, a bit irritated at being put off by Wendi after he'd raced over to come to her aid. "Something's bothering you this much, so what is it?"
"Look, nobody's going to believe me ..." Wendi began.
Marshall shifted his weight from one foot to the other waiting for her to continue.
"I didn't kill Mike, but, you know, I did find him dead, and I moved his body to the tank."
"You did what?"
"I took him to the tank at Terrell's. I was just, like, freaking out."
"Why?" Marshall asked. "Why, why would you do something like that?"
"I don't know," she wailed. "I just found him dead there, and, you know, it's — One of the doors, normally you have to use a key — or, you know, it locks from the inside, so you use a key to get it — You know, check it to see if it's unlocked anyways. I went in there, and all the doors were locked up and he was — you know, he was laying there in the bed, and, you know, dead or whatever. And I freaked out, and the first thing that came to my mind is, somebody I know had to do it, you know? How did they get in the clinic if they didn't?"
"The door was locked?"
"I assumed it was," Wendi answered.
"I didn't really check. I just put my key in and turned it. They had to have a key. Maybe it was Nanny," she said referring to their dying grandmother. "She had a key."
"Nanny? You think Nanny killed Mike?" Marshall thought of his dying grandmother and knew the suggestion was absurd.
"I don't know who did it, but I didn't," she snapped. "Nobody liked him, you know?"
"That's no reason to kill somebody."
"I didn't kill him. They're going to think I did. That's why I moved the body."
Lloyd and Judy's pick-up truck pulled into the cemetery with the Davidsons seated in the front seats and young Tristan in a child's seat in the back. Wendi, sobbing, rushed over to them with Marshall on her heels. Both started telling the story at the same time. The 4-and-a-half-month-old infant in the Camaro chose that moment to wake up and add his cries to the cacophony.
Marshall shouted to be heard over the din. "Wendi, you know, the best thing for you to do is just keep your mouth shut." He stalked off and flipped open his cell. He dialed the San Angelo Police Department and asked for Detective Dennis McGuire. The investigator wasn't in the office. Marshall said it was an emergency and left the number to his cell phone. They told him that they'd have McGuire return the call.
When Marshall walked back to the Davidsons' pick-up, Wendi was in the back seat of the truck next to Tristan, comforting the child. Judy was babbling, Wendi was crying. Marshall tried to settle everyone down, but failed. Three minutes after his first call, Marshall redialed the police department and was told that McGuire hadn't answered his cell. "Give me his number," Marshall demanded.
"We're not authorized to give his number."
Marshall identified himself as law enforcement and insisted, "Somebody better give me his number. I need him to meet me at Grape Creek Cemetery."
"Hold on. We'll check."
Marshall gave them his mom's cell phone number, too, and said he'd call back. He tried again to calm his hysterical mother. He gave up and called the police again. This time, he was told, "Okay. He authorized us to give his cell phone number, so here it is."
Marshall disconnected and dialed the number he'd been given. McGuire answered in the whiny, nasal voice that garnered a lot of good-natured teasing at the station house. "Hey, meet me out here at the Grape Creek Cemetery."
"I got your message and I'm on the way."
McGuire was close enough to the cemetery by then that Marshall was able to look up and spot him approaching on the highway. Sergeant Dave Jones, a special crimes investigator with the Texas Department of Public Safety rode with him. Officer Bill Mabe, who was on nearby Sutton Road securing the gate to Terrell Sheen's 7777 Ranch, headed toward the cemetery, too.
Marshall called Sheen and warned him to stay away from the ranch. McGuire exited Route 87 at March Road, heading for the graveyard in the fading sunshine of a dying late winter day. He was the first member of law enforcement to arrive on the scene. Although only in his forties, McGuire's silver and blonde hair was already thinning in spots, and he carried a few extra pounds on his frame. His ruddy complexion gave him the look of excitability in contrast to his unflappable nature.
McGuire spotted Marshall standing in the lane behind the super cab truck. Inside, McGuire saw Lloyd in the driver's seat and Judy in the front passenger seat with her infant grandson Shane on her lap. Wendi was in the back with her other son, 3-year-old Tristan.
McGuire and Jones stepped out of the car and approached Marshall. McGuire asked, "What do you need?"
"Have you searched the pond on Mr. Sheen's ranch?" Marshall said.
"No, we have not," McGuire admitted.
"You need to," Marshall said as Mabe's vehicle pulled into the cemetery. Now in his fifties, Mabe had the rough looks of a dignified manual laborer who'd spent many years working hard, getting things done. He combed his dark hair straight back, drawing attention to his high forehead. As he listened, his bright blue eyes settled on Marshall explaining the situation: "Michael Severance's body is in the pond. My sister said she didn't kill him, but she moved his body to the pond."
"Are you talking about the pond on Terrell Sheen's ranch?" Mabe asked.
"Yes," Marshall said, and walked up to the rear passenger door of the pick-up truck and opened it.
McGuire followed him, standing back a couple of feet listening to the conversation and observing the distress emanating from the truck cab.
In a raised emotional voice, Wendi said, "I didn't kill him, but somebody did. I thought that one of you did it," she said, referring to her family, "so I moved the body to protect you."
Lloyd sat in stunned silence. Judy babbled incoherently, near hysteria, denying that she'd killed anyone. Wendi repeated, "I did it to protect you. I did it for you."
Marshall interrupted them. "The police are here and they need to take Wendi into custody. Wendi, you need to get out of the pick-up truck now."
"No. No, don't do it, Wendi," Judy shouted. "Marshall, we'll take her. They don't have to take her."
"They need to take her," Marshall insisted.
"No, you're not going to take her," Judy said to her son.
Marshall ignored her. "Wendi," he said, "you just need to go."
Wendi paused, considering her mother's objections, then stepped out into the grass and stood close to her brother. Marshall turned to the officers and said, "You need to arrest her. She found Michael Severance dead, and disposed of his body in the stock tank at Terrell Sheen's Four Sevens Ranch."
"What are you?" Wendi asked. "A cop or my brother?"
"I'm both," Marshall said. He clenched his jaw tight. He knew he was doing the right thing. But he also knew he was disappointing his sister.
Mabe took a step toward Wendi and said, "You need to come with us, Ms. Davidson. You are not in custody, but we need to ask you a few questions."
As Wendi turned to go with him, Marshall put a hand on her forearm. "Keep your mouth shut until you've been able to talk to an attorney."
As Mabe deposited Wendi in the back seat of McGuire's car, McGuire asked Marshall if he could come into town to the police station on Beauregard Avenue. Marshall agreed to come in, but said, "I will not investigate my own sister. That is your job. I don't want her talking to anybody until we get her a lawyer."
Marshall watched as the police vehicle pulled out of the cemetery toward the setting sun. He kept his eyes on the silhouette of his only sibling sitting in the back seat of a patrol car, on her way to an interrogation room to be questioned about her involvement in the murder of her own husband.
Marshall's heart sunk. His loyalties were divided. Now that the deed was done, sharp pangs of regret criss-crossed his heart.CHAPTER 2
Officer Mabe followed Wendi's car as Marshall drove it over to the Davidsons' spread. Marshall climbed into the police car and rode back to the cemetery to retrieve his vehicle before going to the police station.
Texas Ranger Shawn Palmer pulled his pick-up truck into the parking lot at the San Angelo Police Department on Beauregard Avenue at 7:30. He lengthened his stature with the traditional Texas Rangers cowboy hat. His boots gave a longer stride and a cocky staccato to his walk. With his brush-cut reddish-blonde hair, ruddy complexion and strong jaw, he could have been typecast in the role of a lawman in a western movie.
He went to an interview room and joined Detectives Dennis McGuire and Brian Elkins. They weren't getting any answers from Wendi. Elkins left when Palmer entered the room.
When Palmer asked the first question, Wendi smirked and said, "I want an attorney." McGuire and Palmer left her alone in that interview room and went two doors down the hall to speak with her brother.
Marshall Davidson reiterated the sequence of events that evening, telling the investigators that his sister had discovered her husband's dead body in the veterinary clinic on Saturday, January 15, 2005. He said that Wendi insisted that she was not the murderer, but since she knew many of her family members hated Mike, she believed one of them had killed him.
When directly asked if he believed that Wendi had murdered Mike, Marshall said, "It looks real bad when someone moves a body."
Palmer asked Marshall if he believed that Wendi could have transported Mike from the clinic and dumped him into the water without help. "She can pick me up, and he was my size. She didn't have to move him very far to get him in there. Yeah, it's possible she could do it."
At the end of the interview, Marshall asked if he could speak to his sister. McGuire and Palmer exchanged a glance and nodded. "Just make sure you leave the door open a crack," McGuire instructed.
The two investigators empathized with their fellow law enforcement officer. No doubt about it, Marshall was in an awkward position. He had done his duty and reported the information about his sister to authorities. But here in the police station, he was balking at answering any other questions. His family loyalty now seemed to be stronger than his promise to uphold the law. Palmer and McGuire felt sorry for him then — but not for long.
In another room, Wendi waited. She yelled at Marshall when he entered. "How could you?"
Marshall held out his arms in the universal sign of entreaty. "Wendi," he said.
"How could you turn me in? I am your sister."
"What you did is what you did."
"How could you?"
"You need to settle down, Wendi," Marshall said.
Wendi continued to rant at him about family, loyalty and her innocent desire to protect her parents. Marshall brushed her off. "Here's what's going to happen. They're going to book you in, and, at some point, take you to the county jail. The kids will be taken care of, so you don't have to worry about them. What do you need us to do with the clinic and everything?"
Wendi ignored his questions and lit into another tirade. After ten minutes, Marshall gave up and left the room.
At the moment, McGuire and Palmer had no body and were not ready to make the legal assumption that the missing Air Force staff sergeant, Michael Severance, had died as the result of homicide. They did have all they needed, however, to charge her with a different felony. McGuire had heard her admit that she'd disposed of the body of a man who'd died under suspicious circumstances. Both of the investigators had heard the corroborating testimony from Marshall.
Palmer went to his office in the Texas Department of Public Safety building out on the Loop and prepared an affidavit for an arrest warrant on a tampering with evidence charge, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The affidavit claimed that the deceased body was evidence or contained evidence. When Wendi Davidson transported and concealed the body, she'd prevented investigators from having access to it.
He presented the document to Judge Eddie Howard, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, and swore to its honesty and accuracy. Howard signed the warrant and set bond for $500,000. Sergeant Palmer arrested her at 11:31 P.M. and turned over her custody to San Angelo Police Department Officer David Kahn, who transferred her to the Tom Green County Jail.
Palmer called Terrell Sheen and told him about the recent developments in the missing persons investigation of Michael Severance. He informed the property owner that officers had secured the area of the pond on Sheen's 7777 Ranch on Sutton Road. Sheen agreed to meet with Palmer at the location the following morning to grant his permission for a search of the property.
Palmer went home to get a few hours of sleep before he had to relieve the officers securing the ranch overnight. At 5:30 the next morning, he went through the gate at 7777 Ranch, drove down the one-lane caliche road through fields where cattle roamed, and parked next to a barn.
He was joined at the pond by Investigator McGuire. Together, they awaited the arrival of the others. The scrubby land, filled with prickly pear cactus and stunted trees, came to life around them with the rising of the sun. Bird song filled the air and a breeze blew through leaves, churning up dust. Palmer videotaped the area.
At 9, people began to arrive at the gate. The first two were San Angelo Police Department evidence technician Rosalind Hinds, and ranch owner Terrell Sheen. Fifteen minutes later, they were joined by United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agents Greg McCormick and Arch Harner and their evidence tech Julie Lecea. Soon after, Terrell Sheen signed a consent-to-search form and Hinds videotaped and photographed the ranch entrance, the one-lane road and the pond.
Around 10, another influx of officers arrived: Sergeant David Jones with the special crimes division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, investigators from the Tom Green County Sheriff's Office and the San Angelo Police Department along with the state trooper dive team. In half an hour, the underwater crew was ready to explore the depths of the pond in their search for the missing Michael Severance.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Poisoned Passion"
Copyright © 2009 Diane Fanning.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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