By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Those facts interested Bonds, but they did not prove that Duff-Smith was responsible for the deaths of his mother or the Wanstraths. Besides, Duff-Smith had an alibi for the night the Wanstraths died.
The investigators decided to seek the coin-collecting real estate maven, making their way through Duff-Smith's known associates until they came across the name Walter Waldhauser Jr. Bonds found out that Duff-Smith, Waldhauser, and their wives had had reservations to go to Las Vegas on the day the Wanstraths' bodies were found.
The detective figured it was time to pay Waldhauser a visit. During the interview, Bonds fished for information just as he had with Duff-Smith's other friends. He casually mentioned that he'd heard Waldhauser was a coin collector.
Waldhauser said, "Yeah, how'd you know?"
Bonds knew then that he had his man.
But he still had to prove it. Over the next year, he dug into the lives of Duff-Smith and Waldhauser and discovered that they were the biggest con men he'd ever run across. In addition to Duff-Smith's insurance scams, which Bonds says Waldhauser was a part of, the two men were also fascinated by organized crime. Waldhauser sometimes passed himself off as a Mafia attorney, even though he didn't have a law degree.
More than a year after the Wanstraths had been killed, Waldhauser and his wife separated, and his wife allowed the police to search their home. In a pile of garbage, investigators came across five letters from Waldhauser to one Allen Wayne Janecka.
A background check revealed that in 1979, about two months before the deaths of the Wanstraths, Janecka had been present during the murder of a southeast Houston drug dealer, but had never been arrested or charged in the case. The killer was a young guy named Richard Bufkin who, after being granted probation, was already a free man. In November 1980, Bonds located him working on a delivery truck in Corpus Christi.
Bonds asked Bufkin whether Janecka had ever talked about killing anyone else. And the kid replied yeah, that Janecka had had some Mafia deal, that a Mafia lawyer knew a guy who wanted his sister and her husband and baby killed.
"That's when I knew we were home," remembers Bonds. "After I got that piece of information, within a month we had everything."
In March 1981, Waldhauser signed typewritten statements admitting that, on behalf of Duff-Smith, he had hired Janecka to kill Duff-Smith's mother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew in exchange for a cut of Duff-Smith's inheritance, which included benefits from the family's life-insurance policies. Waldhauser told police that he'd been an active participant in the Wanstrath killings, spraying the faces of the two adults with Mace. And according to Janecka, Wanstrath had even held Diana Wanstrath to the floor while Janecka shot her in the head.
Waldhauser confessed to another murder plot as well. Waldhauser said he, Duff-Smith, and Janecka had intended to kill Lowell Leggett, a drinking buddy of theirs. They convinced Leggett that they were going to open a restaurant on Lake Conroe near Houston and would make him the manager. To protect their investment, they said, they needed him to take out a $500,000 life-insurance policy naming them the beneficiaries.
"They were going to kill him," says Bonds. "They had already set up the corporate papers, and they were going to take him out on Lake Conroe to scout for a location for the restaurant, and then drown him."
In 1981, a Harris County jury found Duff-Smith guilty of having his mother killed. In 1993, he was put to death by lethal injection. Janecka is currently awaiting execution for the murder of Kevin Wanstrath.
But in exchange for his confessions and a plea of guilty to three counts of capital murder, Waldhauser received what Bonds calls a sweetheart deal: three 30-year sentences to be served concurrently. In 1990, after serving less than 10 years in prison, Waldhauser was paroled.
Bonds' obsession with the Wanstrath case had destroyed his first marriage and almost cost him his career; there was no way he was going to forget the killers. He thought that Waldhauser had gotten off too lightly--and worse, that he is a threat to kill yet again.
Bonds characterizes Waldhauser as extremely cunning, a criminal void of emotion who enjoys playing games.
"He is potentially as dangerous as anybody I've ever dealt with in my life," says Bonds. "I have tried to keep up with him as best I can, because I know this guy is going to do something else."
Although he managed to avoid the death penalty, on April 23, 1990, Walter Waldhauser Jr. in effect died and was reborn as Michael Lee Davis. Less than a month out of prison, he legally changed his name and, somehow, Social Security number--wiping out his identity as a paroled murderer without ever breaking the law.
A spokesman for the Social Security Administration says it is possible to get a new Social Security number legally, but such cases are rare. Waldhauser's situation does not sound like one of these, the spokesman says.
For about three years, Bonds lost track of Waldhauser. During that time, Waldhauser/Davis moved to Arizona and was accepted at the law school of Arizona State University. He made good grades, completed his courses, and was on the verge of accepting his diploma.