Death Merchant

In 1979, Walter Waldhauser Jr. arranged the murder of a Houston family. Today, he has a new name and a new business in Dallas,but he still profits when people die.

Marshall asked for Davis' date of birth, and the clerk told him September 1, 1976--which would have made Davis only 21 years old. Next, Marshall requested Davis' driver's license and Social Security numbers. The clerk replied that Davis had not listed either set of numbers with the school, and had randomly been assigned a number. The address he'd given the school turned out to be another postal drop box.

Marshall decided to return to the Garland Police Department's intelligence division, hoping for a more sophisticated background check. Busy with other projects, the intelligence officers turned Marshall over to the division's secretary and asked her to see what she could find.

While the secretary accessed the department's databases, Marshall called the Richardson Police Department to verify Beverly's stories of having been savagely beaten by her ex-husband. An officer with Richardson's family-violence unit came back with two reports. No one was arrested in either incident, and neither showed that Beverly had been injured--much less hurt so seriously as to need facial reconstruction.

"Who's scamming whom?" Marshall wondered. "Is Beverly scamming Mike? Is Mike scamming her? Or are they both scamming me?"

Meanwhile, the clerk continued to run background checks on Mike Davis. She found that Davis loved post office boxes--so much so that he had rented about a dozen during the past few years. But every time she tried to route his name to the next level of her computer search, she faced a blank screen. She asked Marshall if Davis might be in the federal witness protection program. Marshall replied that for all he knew, Davis might well be.

Several more hours turned up little of significance. Finally, the secretary found a Social Security number for Davis. With approval from her boss, she next made a discreet call to a contact at the Internal Revenue Service. The contact told them that Davis had held a couple of low-paying jobs and was currently working for a company named Southwest Viatical, located at 3101 Carlisle, in the Oak Lawn area. To Marshall and the secretary, the name signified nothing; neither knew what a viatical was.

Back at the computer, armed with the Social Security number, the secretary discovered that Davis had applied for, and received, a new Social Security number. She told Marshall to wait in her office while she went next door to the department's main computer center and ran a criminal-history check on the original Social Security number.

Marshall was passing the time, shooting the bull with intelligence division officers, when the phone rang. The secretary's voice quaked with excitement. She told Marshall not to leave, that she'd found something. He assured her he wasn't going anywhere.

In a few minutes, she returned with the news: Davis' name really is Michael Lee Davis, but it used to be Walter Waldhauser Jr. And in 1980, Walter Waldhauser had been charged with four counts of capital murder and had pleaded guilty to three.

Suspecting a data-entry error, the Garland cops placed a call to Houston's homicide division. There had been no error.

"Jesus God," thought Marshall. "This guy has been in my home. He knows where I live."

He was eating his lunch and trying to absorb the news when he received a message on his pager. He dialed the number and spoke with Johnny Bonds--now with the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

"I understand you've met my old buddy, Walter," Bonds said.
He briefed Marshall on the Wanstrath killings. The briefing didn't make Marshall feel any better.

Bonds asked Marshall if he was going to tell Waldhauser/Davis what he'd discovered. Marshall said he didn't know. But if Marshall chose to confront the killer, Bonds had a request. "Be sure to mention my name," he said, "because he hates my guts."

Marshall contemplated his next move. He chose not to confront Davis--but for his own satisfaction, he opted to take his investigation one step further.

Marshall recruited a friend who fancied himself an amateur detective. On a Friday morning in early October last year, the two drove to Davis' house and waited for the ex-con to leave for work. After almost losing him in traffic, the two men trailed him to a two-story atrium-style office building on Carlisle--the address of Southwestern Viatical.

Marshall's friend followed Davis inside the building. After a few minutes, Marshall got nervous.

Finally, his friend returned, excited. After entering the building, he'd seen Davis and another man in a second-floor office. He checked the building directory, which listed Southwest Viatical as one of the second-floor tenants. As he studied the directory, someone from a downstairs office asked if he needed help. He replied that he was curious what a viatical was. The man explained that a viatical buys the life-insurance policies of people who are terminally ill--usually AIDS patients--for a fraction of what the policy will pay the beneficiary. When the person dies, the company collects the full benefits.

Marshall still didn't know what to make of his discovery, so he called Bonds.

"I became concerned," says Bonds. "Because a viatical doesn't make any money until someone dies. And Walter Waldhauser is a guy who doesn't like to wait on his money."

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