The Case of the Headless, Handless Corpse

A reporter's tip helped detectives identify a mutilated body dumped along the Trinity, but finding the man's name led to a deeper mystery -- the disappearance of atheist gadfly Madalyn Murray O'Hair

The purchase came, however, right after Jon Murray had used two credit cards to withdraw $10,400 in cash advances. On September 14, Murray withdrew $3,000 from a bank in Alamo Heights, another San Antonio suburb. The next day, using a different card, Murray withdrew $7,400 from a bank on San Pedro Boulevard in San Antonio.

The Cadillac purchase also came 11 days after someone impersonating Jon Murray had sold his Mercedes-Benz for $15,000 in San Antonio. Last fall, the Sparrows, who had bought the car, finally saw a face that reminded them of the jittery salesman.

"He is a very likely candidate, the best yet, but I would have to see him in person to be positive," Mark Sparrow said after viewing the mug shot of an ex-con from Illinois.

The man, who is not charged with any crime in the O'Hair case, appears to be the same age and size as the mystery salesman. During the Express-News investigation, the man's shadowy presence had been detected in several critical locations linked to the last known movements of O'Hair or Fry. (Because of the man's tenuous links to the case and the fact that he has not been charged with a crime, the Express-News has not published his name.)

Six months before the Mercedes sale, he was released from an Illinois state prison after serving more than 20 years for aggravated kidnapping. The original charges had included rape and armed robbery.

One of his fellow cons was David Waters.
In fact, according to state prison records, from October 30, 1986 until June 11, 1987, both men were inmates at the Vienna Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility where inmates are not confined to cells.

"The key here is free flow. Inmates are not limited to where they could go by physical restrictions. During free times they can recreate together, go to the dining hall together," says Nick Howe, a spokesman for the prison system.

After serving more than 20 years of a 30- to 50-year sentence, the man was paroled March 31, 1995, moved briefly to Florida, and then went to South Texas. His last known address was in Michigan.

Asked if he knew the man, Waters said, "No, not that I know of."
By this time, Bill Murray, O'Hair's other son, who knew nothing of phone records, headless bodies, or other mounting evidence, had become convinced his three family members were dead.

"I think my mother was kidnapped, Robin was taken along to take care of her, and my brother was run like a wet mule in order to get the kidnap money together. I absolutely believe that is what happened," Murray said last fall.

"Jon saw himself as the absolute worshiper and protector of his mother. I think he had his back up against the wall. I think he really thought that if he played ball with these guys and got them the money, he'd save his mother," Murray said.

Austin police maintain a different view.
"It's still an open case. Nothing indicates foul play. I feel they have left on their own accord, and they have that right to come and go as they please," says Sgt. Steve Baker, who worked the case for two years. "I believe they just took off; it was a planned departure."

On January 27, the DNA tests were released, showing a 99.99 percent probability that the headless man was Danny R. Fry. By the following Monday, Dallas County detectives were in Austin beginning their investigation.

"Our job is to get the bad guys, and that's what we're going to try to do," says Bjorklund, declining further comment.

Earlier that Wednesday, before the DNA results were known, Bob Fry had finally agreed to go public with an episode that he says took place a week after Danny had vanished in 1995.

It involved a letter that Bob Fry says Danny had sent from Texas in 1995. Bob Fry says that Waters took a very active interest in the matter when it came up in a telephone call a week after Danny's last telephone call from Texas.

"The letter said that if he wasn't back by a certain date, that meant something serious had happened. I should contact the authorities and bring in Dave Waters' name, that Dave Waters planned what we did," Fry recalls. "I called Waters and told him about the letter. I had already destroyed it, but I just told him I had an unopened letter." Things happened quickly after that.

"He said, 'Hold on to it. I'm sure he'll show up. I just talked to him the night before last from a bar in Dallas. He was drunk,'" Fry says. That conversation allegedly took place on a Thursday. Fry's body had been found the prior Monday.

According to Bob Fry, Waters and a second man were on his doorstep in Florida by the following evening, a Sunday, demanding the letter.

"They told me they were involved with something really heavy in Texas, and the people who planned it wanted them to get the letter back. And if they didn't, the people would come and get it, and they wouldn't be as nice,'" Fry says.

Fry said the two men finally left after he convinced them the letter already was destroyed. But, he said, their words lingered. (Fry said he couldn't recall the face of the second man, making it impossible to say whether it was the Illinois ex-con.)

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