Rookie Private Eye Kim Paris Cozies Up to a Suspected Killer and Gets a Confession on Tape
06/17/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT
It was late 1984, and private detective Kim Paris was sitting in the Houston office of her boss, Clyde Wilson. Under discussion, as usual, were the murders of Jim and Virginia Campbell. On a sultry summer night two years earlier, Wilson's investigators believed, a young ex-Marine named David Duval West had crept into the bedroom of attorney James H. Campbell, 55, and his wife, Virginia, 50, and methodically shot them three times each with a semiautomatic pistol. Unharmed, though terrified by the eruption of gunfire, were the couple's two grandsons, ages 7 and 8, who had been "camping out" in sleeping bags at the foot of their grandparents' bed.
Astonishingly, both Houston police and Wilson's detectives believed West had been hired for the murder by his girlfriend, Cynthia Campbell Ray, the little boys' mother and the victims' daughter. The Campbells' three other daughters subscribed to the same theory, suspecting that their sister, a troubled woman who had been estranged on and off from their parents, had arranged the killing so that she could collect her share of the elder Campbells' estimated $2 million estate. When police weren't able to turn the scenario into an arrest, the daughters had retained Clyde Wilson, a celebrated private investigator with a staff of 16.
But the investigation had reached a dead end. Now someone—Kim Paris doesn't remember who—suggested it was time to go undercover, to "cut into" David West, to gain his trust and get him to talk. Tall and shapely, endowed with a come-hither voice, Kim was an obvious choice for the job. But others at the Wilson agency were skeptical. Kim was something less than a hard-boiled detective. She was in fact just 23, a former high school cheerleader who had drifted into the business two months earlier on the recommendation of another Wilson agent. Besides, the murder was almost two and a half years old. At this point it wasn't likely that West would be talking. Still, Kim wanted the job. She remembers sitting there thinking, "Let it be me, let it be me." Then Wilson decided: She was the one.
To get into the part, Kim first delivered herself into the expert hands of agent Denise Moseley, 31, who had been with Wilson three years and had lately been majoring in David West. West lived in the funky Montrose area, a part of town where gentrified homes butted up against strip joints and gay bars, where artists and weirdos, illegal aliens and prostitutes breathed the same air. "Everyone in Montrose has a gimmick," says Moseley, who promptly gave Kim one of her own, getting her up as a punk rocker with spiky pink hair, black stockings, everything short of the safety pin.
Kim's undercover name, Teresa Neele, was her own flourish. Agatha Christie had used it when she mysteriously disappeared in 1926 during her troubled first marriage. Now it was the name Kim would offer when she went to David West's apartment just before Christmas, pausing only to glance at a sign on the door emblazoned with a victim's-eye view of a gun barrel and the message, "Forget the Dog, Beware of the Owner!" When West's roommate answered her knock, she asked for a nonexistent "Charlie," then wondered if she could use the phone. "I went in there and was Chatty Cathy, but basically myself," Kim says. Explains fellow investigator Bill Elliott, "We told her that the closer she stuck to the truth, the less chance there was of tripping herself up. That's a rule in this business: Don't tell more lies than you have to."
Duly smitten, the roommate took Kim off to a neighborhood bar to meet "some friends." David West was one of them. "As soon as I found out which one he was," says Kim, "I pulled my chair up right next to him and started talking. I just asked him things you ask anyone you've just met, like, 'What do you do? Where are you from?' Regular stuff. It's surprisingly easy to get close to people. One minute I'm a stranger, the next I'm their best friend."
Over the next two months Kim saw West almost every other day. Sandy blond, neither handsome nor homely, West, 28, was a muscular man, vain about his body, who pumped iron daily at a local gym. Macho was his métier. He drove a black late-'70s Trans-Am with big tires. He was a gun fancier. And though he was turned on by Teresa Neele, he had no interest in the punk scene itself. "He was more the jeans and black T-shirt type," says Kim, "with cowboy boots and keys hanging off his belt." When Kim met him, he was earning $4 an hour as a delivery man at a blueprint company. Yet he fancied himself something of an intellectual. "David loved to talk," says Kim. "We both liked history and we liked to read, so we had a lot to talk about. David loved to argue about religion and politics and philosophy. We spent most of our time together in conversation, something not too many people do nowadays."
Indeed, it was West's would-be intellectualism, she says, that made it easier for her to keep him at arm's length. "I had to set the parameters of the relationship at the beginning," says Kim, "because I didn't want to end up weaseling out of an embrace, saying, 'No, no, no!' With David that was easy, because he was interested in deeper things." (The question lingers, however, wherever dirty minds congregate: Did she or didn't she? "Come on," Phil Donahue would later ask incredulously on his daily TV circus. "You expect us to believe there wasn't any eroticism?" Kim doggedly insisted there wasn't.)
Control, that was the key. Kim always initiated her meetings with David, calling him on the phone but never allowing him to call her. And wherever they went, she did the driving. "I wouldn't have dared get in his car with him because that would have been surrendering control," she explains. Kim didn't carry a weapon but says she was never afraid of being alone with West, partly because the couple was usually shadowed by other Wilson agents.
By late January David was talking marriage. He brought Kim a love token—a black-leather bracelet with metal studs. West and Cynthia Campbell Ray had long been a thing of the past. He spoke of her often and said her parents had been killed in a car accident. Kim found the lie both telling and chilling and told David she was sure he was holding something back. She could never marry a man who didn't trust her completely, she said.
At this point Clyde Wilson took Kim to see J.C. Mosier, a Houston police sergeant and an old friend. Kim felt she had West on the line and was eager to set the hook. There was a problem, however: The relationship was becoming harder to manage. "She was getting pretty anxious," Mosier remembers, "because things were getting hot and heavy with West. It had reached the point where he was expecting a little remuneration, and she came right out and told me, 'I'm not gonna screw this guy.' Only she used stronger language than that."
Last February 20 Kim wore a hidden microphone for the first time and carried a transmitter in her purse. Police detectives eavesdropped on the couple's conversation that night from an unmarked van. "Kim told David that unless he could trust her enough to share his secret with her, the relationship would have to end," says Sergeant Mosier. "He just blurted out that Cynthia had promised him money and said she'd set him up in a business, so he took a .45 and killed her parents."
The next day the Harris County district attorney obtained a grand jury indictment on two counts of capital murder. That night Kim met David again—this time in an attempt to have him further implicate Cynthia Campbell Ray. Once she had done so, police told her, she should drive West to a nearby convenience store. Shortly after midnight Kim pulled into the store's parking lot and stepped out, supposedly to buy cigarettes. As soon as she was clear, police moved in with guns drawn and proceeded to read West his rights. "Even as the arrest was going down, I don't think he knew I was involved in it," says Kim. "Then he saw me standing there with the police, and I guess he snapped to what was happening. He looked very surprised. Have I talked to him since? No. I'm sure I'll see plenty of David at the trial."
Ironically, though David West is in custody, Cynthia Campbell Ray is still a free woman and has inherited about $58,000 and an apartment building as her share of her parents' estate. Under Texas law, she can't be convicted on uncorroborated testimony by an accomplice. Kim herself can look forward to intense cross-examination when she is called to testify against her would-be fiancé, who has pleaded not guilty. "Her background is going to be thoroughly investigated," says West's lawyer, Eugene Nettles of Houston. "Her character is suspect. There was more than just kissy face going on between her and David." Kim professes to be unperturbed by such innuendo and is celebrating the professional recognition she feels she has earned. Only last Christmas, she remembers, she told her mother that she was working undercover. "My mother just looked at me," she says, "like 'Yeah, sure, and I'm Cleopatra, and your father is Superman.' " Clyde Wilson too is no longer a skeptic. He recently took Kim to one of Houston's top restaurants, where he had the chef bury a scrimshaw-handled pocketknife in the baked Alaska. Engraved on the handle were the words "The Homicide Investigator," a private cop's laconic acknowledgment of a dangerous job well done.