Picks and Pans Review: The Great Texas Murder Trials
by David Atlee Phillips
In 1976 a man in a woman's wig was inside the $6 million T. Cullen Davis mansion in Fort Worth when Priscilla Davis came home with her lover. The lover and Mrs. Davis' 12-year-old daughter were fatally shot, while Priscilla was wounded. Priscilla and other witnesses said the murderer was Davis himself, but he was tried and acquitted. Nine months later Davis was arrested again and charged with hiring a hit man to kill the judge in his concurrent divorce case with Priscilla. There is some sermonizing about whether justice can be meted out in Texas to a man as rich as Davis (he poured $3 million into the original trial). But both of these books mostly just recount gossip about T. Cullen's sex life, his wild spending, his ungovernable temper and ruthlessness. The model for this kind of nonfiction is Tommy Thompson's 1976 study Blood and Money, which showed publishers there is big money to be had in true crime stories out of Texas. One of Thompson's most entertaining characters, Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, a Houston criminal lawyer, turns up in these books too. Author Phillips, who went to the same Fort Worth high school as Davis, is a former CIA agent. His publisher (Macmillan, $9.95) splashed the book's jacket with the come-on "Money, Sex and Scandal." The version by veteran Texas journalist Cartwright (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $10.95) is better written.
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