By James Pylant
COPYRIGHT © 2006, 2007—ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
DO NOT POST OR PUBLISH WITHOUT PERMISSION
Revised 3 April 2007
Some speculate the television series Dallas had its inspiration in a true Texas saga of oil, money and scandal. Dallas first premiered as a five-part mini-series on the heels of the shocking, headline-making events surrounding T. Cullen Davis, one of the three sons of the founder of a Fort Worth oil empire. Mark Gribben goes as far to say that Cullen Davis was “the model for the villainous J.R. Ewing.”1 In a bizarre twist, Davis’s story was told in a television mini-series, which was a reminder—intentional or not—of Dallas. Cullen Davis, unlike his mini-series counterpart and the supposed Davis-inspired J. R. Ewing, was never one to strut in a cowboy hat and western-style boots or otherwise resemble Hollywood’s beloved Texas stereotype. Davis, who holds a degree in engineering, shares kinship to three American inventors: Eli Whitney, Samuel Morse and Charles Goodyear.2 “Maybe that’s where I get my inventive imagination,’ said Davis when I told him of his famous cousins.3
The story of the Davis family starts not in the Lone Star State but in the western Pennsylvania county of Cambria. Robert L. Johnston wrote that the county’s earliest settlers could be divided into three distinct groups: (1) the families of American Catholics from Maryland and the adjacent portion of Pennsylvania, who settled in the eastern and north-eastern Cambria County, (2) Pennsylvania Germans, from Somerset and the eastern German settlements, who occupied the south of the county, in the neighborhood of Johnstown, and (3) emigrants from Wales.4
William S. Davis, a shipping clerk for a steel mill, was born in May of 1868 in Pennsylvania, and rented a home at 121 Maple Avenue, in Johnstown. Wife Cora, also born in May of 1868 in Pennsylvania, was the mother of five children, all living, at the time of the 1900 U.S. census. They were Edith, born November 1883; Florence, born November 1890; Herbert, born August 1892; Mary, born April 1894; and Kenneth, born in November 1895. William S. and Cora had been married twelve years, which places the year of their marriage as 1888.5 The couple wedded on 6 November of that year in Cambria County. The marriage license shows William S. Davis, a weigh master living in Sheridan, was the son of William P. Davis and wife Hettie L. The bride, Cora B. Hoover, of Coopersdale, was the daughter of Jacob Hoover and wife Cornelia.6
Based on the 1900 census, Cora Hoover’s 12th birthday fell shortly before the official date of the 1880 federal enumeration. Living in Coopersdale, Cambria County, that year was Jacob Hoover, age 51, a heater in an iron rolling mill, his 34-year-old wife, Cornelia, and six children: John, age 26, a heater helper in an iron mill; James, who was unable to work due to organic heart disease; Kate, age seventeen and at home; Moyer William, age 14, a cart driver; Carra, age 12, and George, age nine, both at home. Jacob Hoover’s 32-year-old sister-in-law, Mary Goudy, also lived with the family. Pennsylvania is given for the birthplace of each resident of the Hoover family.7
A decade earlier, Jacob Hoover, age 41, a heater, held real estate valued at $2,000 and personal possessions valued at $2,100. Wife, Cornelia, 34, lived in Coopersdale with six children: John, 16; Margaret, 13; James, 10; Kate, seven; William, age five; and Cara, age two. All were Pennsylvania natives, including a 28-year-old domestic servant.8
James L. Hoover, son of Jacob, was born in Coopersdale on 10 October 1860. In an interview in 1896, he stated that the Hoovers were of German descent, and that his father was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, in 1832. However, both the 1870 and 1880 census schedules indicate he was born ca. 1829. Jacob Hoover, said his son, left Bedford County early in life and came to Cambria County to accept the position of manager of the general store of the Cambria Furnace Company. When the company discontinued business, Jacob worked for several years as a heater for at the Cambria Ironworks. Eventually, he relocated to New Castle, in Lawrence County. Cornelia’s maiden name is given as Goudy,9 which agrees with the 1880 census listing a Goudy sister-in-law in Jacob Hoover’s household.
William S. and Cora (Hoover) Davis had been married six months on 31 May 1889, the day of the tragic Johnstown Flood, which claimed the lives of at least 2,200 people.10 “They moved to Braddock before the flood,” says the couple’s grandson, Cullen Davis. “My understanding is that they were not in Johnstown when the dam broke.” Davis believes his paternal grandfather’s full name was William Seldon Davis.11
Kenneth William Davis—Cullen Davis’s father—was born on 25 November 1895 in Morrellville, Pennsylvania. For a man destined to become an oil mogul, he was born in the right place. “The petroleum industry traces its origins to Titusville, a two mile drive up the road,” notes journalist and author Mike Cochran.12 Ken Davis, whose educational background did not extend beyond the sixth grade, found his way to Texas as a World War I pilot.13 It was in Fort Worth that he met and married Alice Bound in 1921.14 After the war, Davis worked in Pennsylvania steel mills and later as a real estate agent. His role in the oil business began as a laborer in a field supply store. When the Davises returned to Fort Worth in 1929, Mr. Davis rose to position of vice president of Mid-Continent Supply Company. Within a year he gained controlling interest in the company and eventually transformed it into an industrial empire.15 Alice Bound Davis died on 27 February 1967 in Fort Worth. Her husband outlived her by only a year and a half, dying on 29 August 1968, also in Forth Worth. By the time of Ken Davis’s death, the stunning financial success known as Kendavis Industries International, Inc., was an $800 million conglomerate.16 Mr. Davis, a director of the First National Bank of Fort Worth, contributed funds for the Noble Planetarium at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, among other gifts.17
Thomas Cullen Davis, son of Kenneth Davis and Alice Mae Bound, was born in Fort Worth, Tarrant, Texas, on 22 September 1933.18 His first marriage was to Sandra Masters on 29 August 1962 in Tarrant County.19 The couple had two sons before divorcing.20
Priscilla Lee (Childers) Baker Wilborn became Cullen Davis’s second wife within hours of his father’s death in August 1968.21 Born Priscilla Lee Childers in Dublin, Erath County, Texas, on 30 July 1941, she was the daughter of Oklahoma native Richard Clifford Childers, who worked in the oil industry, and his wife, the former Audie Lee Smith, a Texan.22 Priscilla’s first marriage to Jasper Baker, in Galena Park, near Houston, produced a daughter, but the couple’s union soon ended in divorce.23 In 1959, she married Jack Wilborn in Houston, Harris County. A car dealer who had served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Wilborn was born on 16 March 1921 in Okmulgee, Okmulgee County, Oklahoma. The Wilborns had a son and a daughter and later divorced. He died in May 2005 in Euless, Tarrant County.24
Described as a “human fireworks show,” Priscilla Davis was as flamboyant as her husband was reserved. The mismatched couple’s marriage ended in a lengthy, bitter separation. But in the midst of that prolonged divorce case came one of the most shocking crimes in Fort Worth’s history.
On the night of 2 August 1976, a visitor was shot by a mysterious “man dressed in black” as he walked to the entrance of the Davis mansion. He had arrived with a girlfriend who managed to escape the gunman in the darkness. Moments earlier, Priscilla Davis had fled the mansion with a bullet hole in her chest. Inside the mansion lay the body of Mrs. Davis’s boyfriend, Stan Farr, who had struggled with the intruder before he was shot to death. In a basement closet, police discovered the body of Priscilla’s 12-year-old daughter, Andrea Wilborn, who had died instantly from a gunshot to her chest. Both Priscilla and the visitor survived the shooting spree, though he was left with paralysis.25 Priscilla identified her estranged husband as her shooter, and Cullen Davis was arrested and indicted. A court trial ended with a not guilty verdict for Davis, who was later indicted for a sensational murder-for-hire scheme involving his divorce judge. That case also ended with the accused found not guilty.26 The high profile trials were the subject of books, countless newspaper articles and eventually a television mini-series. Actors Peter Strauss and Heather Locklear starred as the dueling Davises in Texas Justice, a movie denounced by the individuals they portrayed.
Karen Master became Cullen Davis’s third wife on 5 June 1979 in Fort Worth.27 Because of name similarity, some thought that the third Mrs. Davis is a sister to the first Mrs. Davis, which is incorrect. While first wife Sandra Masters Davis’s sister was named Karen Masters, Cullen Davis’s third wife was Karen Master—without the “s” ending.28 Born Karen Joyce Hudson and the daughter of Denzil Ray Hudson and the former Dorothy Marie Anderson, she was adopted by her maternal grandparents after her parents’ marriage ended in divorce. Her two children from a previous marriage, both sons, were adopted by Cullen Davis.29
In 1980, Cullen Davis publicly professed a conversion to the Christian faith during a Baptist church service in a Fort Worth suburb. He and his third wife became active members of an Assemblies of God congregation, dropping their high profile social lifestyle. In the mid 1980s, creditors took Kendavis Industries to bankruptcy court to regain hundreds of millions of dollars in loans; those in the oil industry watched their fortunes plummet, and Cullen Davis faced a series of civil suits.30
Priscilla Lee Childers Baker Wilborn Davis never remarried; she died of breast cancer on 19 February 2001 in Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.31
The tragic shootings at the Davis mansion and the lengthy trials that followed remain endlessly fascinating and controversial. Joe Shannon, the prosecutor, remarked: “The case has got a life of its own… It kind of never dies.”32
Update: Karen Davis, wife of Cullen Davis for 27 years, responds:33
“Cullen Davis does have two natural born children, Cullen, Jr. and Brian Davis. Additionally, he adopted his two sons by Karen Master Davis, which are listed in all of the genealogy books that Dorothy Anderson York has published. The family is quite proud of Cullen’s involvement in our activities and as a member of our family.”
Mrs. Davis adds that Trey Davis and Chesley Davis are adopted sons, to whom he became “father image” upon entering their lives at ages three and five, respectively. “Cullen has been a great father and great husband,” says his wife. “None of what is in ‘print,’ other than positive issues, is true.34
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- “All About T. Cullen Davis: The Best Justice Money Can Buy,” online http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/not_guilty/t_cullen_davis/1b.html, accessed 14 July 2006.
- Eli Whitney, Samuel Morse, and Charles Goodyear were cousins to Davis’s maternal grandmother, Mary Belle Spaulding, and descendants of English immigrant William French, of Billerica, Massachusetts. The descent of three inventors from William French is discussed in Gary Boyd Roberts’s Notable Kin, Volume Two (Santa Clarita, CA: Carl Boyer, 3rd, 1999), pp. 33-39.
- Interview with Cullen Davis by James Pylant, 25 July 2006.
- “History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania,” online http://www.rootsweb.com/~pacambri/history/hist003.html, accessed 14 July 2006.
- William S. Davis household, 1900 U.S. census, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Johnstown, enumeration district [ED] 136, supervisor’s district [SD] 13, p. 154B, sheet 11, dwelling 211, family 223; National Archives [NA] microfilm T623-1389.
- William S. Davis/Cora B. Hoover, Marriage Records, Vol. 5, p. 365, record no. 1565, Cambria County, Pennsylvania.
- Jacob Hoover household, 1880 U.S. census, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, town of Coopersdale, ED 192, SD 8, p. 237, dwelling 57, family 65; NA microfilm T9-1110.
- Jacob Hoover household, 1870 U.S. census, Cambria County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, town of Coopersdale, pp. 367-368, dwelling 12, family 13; NA microfilm M593-1318.
- [Anonymous], Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Cambria County, Pennsylvania, Comprising About Five Hundred Sketches of the Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County (Philadelphia: Union Publishing Co., 1896), p. 82.
- “Johnston, Pennsylvania,” Wikipedia, online http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnstown%2C_Pennsylvania, accessed 18 July 2006.
- “Johnston, Pennsylvania,” Wikipedia, online http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnstown%2C_Pennsylvania, accessed 18 July 2006.
- Mike Cochran, Texas vs. Davis: The Shocking True Crime Account of the Cullen Davis Murder Case (New York: Signet/Penguin Books USA: 1980, 1991), p. 19.
- Kenneth W. Davis/Miss Alice M. Bound license, Marriage Records, Vol. 46, p. 429, Tarrant County, Texas.
- Kenneth W. Davis obituary, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fri., 30 August 1968, p. 7-A.
- Cochran, Texas vs. Davis: The Shocking True Crime Account of the Cullen Davis Murder Case, pp. 23, 107.
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fri., 30 August 1968.
- Thomas Cullen Davis, birth certificate, no. 75199 (1933), Bureau of Vital Statistics, Texas Department of Health, Austin.
- Thos. Cullen Davis to Sandra Masters, no. M162052058, Marriage Records, Vol. 130, p. 125, Tarrant County Courthouse.
- Cochran, Texas vs. Davis: The Shocking True Crime Account of the Cullen Davis Murder Case, p. 48.
- Cochran, Texas vs. Davis: The Shocking True Crime Account of the Cullen Davis Murder Case, pp. 44-45.
- Paul Bourgeois, “Father of Girl Killed in Cullen Davis Mansion Dies,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 23 May 2005.
- Cochran, Texas vs. Davis: The Shocking True Crime Account of the Cullen Davis Murder Case, pp. 70-85; 118-130.
- Summaries of the cases appear on “All About T. Cullen Davis: The Best Justice Money Can Buy,” online, http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/not_guilty/t_cullen_davis/index.html, accessed 14 July 2006.
- Thos. Cullen Davis to Karen Joyce Master, no. M179076252, Marriage Records, Vol. 192, p. 425, Tarrant County Courthouse, Fort Worth.
- Gary Cartwright, Blood Will Tell: The Murder Trials of T. Cullen Davis (New York: Pocket Books/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), p. 74.
Dorothy Anderson York, Our Anderson Family and Their Kin (Fort Worth: the author, 1995), pp. 74, 87.
- Cochran, Texas vs. Davis: The Shocking True Crime Account of the Cullen Davis Murder Case, pp. 517-526.
- Mike Cochran, “Priscilla Davis Dies At Age 59,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 20 February 2001.
- “Killings At Tycoon’s Mansion Remembered After 25 Years,” Houston Chronicle, Sun., 29 July 2001, p. 37A.
- Karen Davis to James Pylant, 27 March 2007.