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

"One thing Waters said keeps haunting me. He said, 'Your brother drinks a lot. He's got a big mouth,'" Bob Fry says.

Informed of this account, Waters says it did not occur.
"I have no idea of what you're talking about," he says.
Since he has learned that his brother is dead, Fry said his fear has been replaced by rage and nightmares.

"I'm so angry. It's different when an elderly person dies. You're prepared for those things, but when someone dies a violent cut someone up like that--I'm so pissed I can barely control myself," he says.

Fry says that he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome from his days in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief and door gunner and that the news of his brother's end has triggered flashbacks.

"One time while I was flying a helicopter, we were pulling out bodies, and they were hit real hard. It stunk, and everything wasn't in the bags yet. We were just trying to get out of there, and I'm kind of leaning out of the helicopter to get away from the odor," he says.

"Something rolls past my foot. I think it's a helmet. I pick it up, and it was a severed head. So now, when I pick up that head in my nightmares, it's my brother's. I've been to the hospital. I'm going to my therapist. This kind of rekindles all that shit.

"Danny was a con man, but he wasn't a violent person. He didn't deserve that. I don't like being around animals, and the guys who did that are just animals," he says.

Last week, Dallas detectives made another trip to Austin, trying to unravel the threads of a murder case that for them began with a nameless, mutilated corpse and blossomed into a full-blown celebrity mystery. Did Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her family meet a brutal end after spending a month making small talk in a San Antonio motel room with a green-eyed charmer from Florida?

And did Danny Fry himself become a victim of a violent caper that went against his character and past?

Or is David Waters telling it straight when he says that Fry just disappeared and that the atheist documents he has prove the O'Hairs took the money and ran? If so, the grand dame of unbelievers has outfoxed her religious enemies and the authorities one last time.

Although clues abound, the trail is faint. Until some more bodies turn up, cold or warm, the final chapters on Danny Fry and the O'Hair family will remain unwritten.

Days after the story about the identification of Fry's body and his possible connection to O'Hair ran on national news wires, a woman named Larraine Capps from Bailey, North Carolina, called me in Texas.

She had read one of the O'Hair stories about the same time a petition was being circulated in her town that claimed O'Hair was alive and well and up to her old devilish tricks.

"It showed up about a week ago. The boy that gave it to me said that he got it at the Baptist Holiness Church last Sunday in Bailey," Capps said.

The petition to the Federal Communications Commission began: "Madalyn Murry [sic] O'Hair, an atheist, whose effort successfully eliminated the use of Bible reading and prayer from public schools...has now been granted a federal hearing in Washington, D.C., on the same subject...Her petition...would ultimately pave the way to stop the reading of the Gospel on the air waves of AMERICA."

The religious were urged to write the FCC in protest.
"It's just a rumor," says Mary Riddick of the FCC. "This has been going on for 25 years, and she never filed anything with the FCC. We've received hundreds of thousands of letters. They used to have boxes of them stacked to the ceiling. There was never any basis to it."

Informed that there is no such FCC petition and that O'Hair may have been dead for more than three years, the lady from North Carolina doffed her hat to the still potent atheist.

"If she can do this from the grave, she's doing damned good," Capps says.
Published:A quotation in the Dallas Observer's February 18 cover story, "The case of the headless, handless corpse," concerning a claim that atheist leader John Murray had discussed fleeing to New Zealand several years ago, was incorrectly attributed to David Travis, a former American Atheists employee. The comment was actually made by Arnold Via, a longtime friend of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. We regret the error.

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