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

Then, in September, the calls started coming from pay telephones in San Antonio. His last two calls home came on September 30, 1995, from Waters' Austin apartment. Then he disappeared.

While in Texas, Fry had been close-mouthed about his work, which, he said, was in the construction field and involved a big unnamed backer. But eventually the story didn't wash back home.

"At first I was concerned that he was doing well, making money. I didn't ask a lot of questions. Then I started asking questions because things didn't seem right. As time went on, he would talk less and less about what he was doing," Fry's fiancee says.

When Fry did not return to Florida in early October 1995, she feared the worst.

"I really feel this way: He got in over his head in something, and now he's at the bottom of something. I don't know who he connected with out there. It might not even have been drugs. It might have been money. It might have been anything," she said in an interview last year.

"I really thought the asshole went to Mexico to hide, to get himself out of hot water. Then I thought, all these years, his love was his daughter. Lisa was his pride and joy. He never would have left her," she said.

Fry's daughter says she doesn't know what her father might have been doing in Texas, but cannot believe it involved violent crime.

"As far as him flying to Texas to kidnap some people, that didn't happen," Lisa says. "I can't sit here and say he's never cut corners and done little things--I'm not sure what. But I lived with him since I was 2; I can't even remember him fighting with someone. He's not that type."

Questioned about Fry last summer, Waters said that his stay in Texas had been brief and that Fry had gone his own way after a couple of weeks in Austin, never to be seen again.

"He stayed here a couple of weeks. I know he was having some personal problems. I got the impression he was trying to get away from things for a while," he said in an August interview.

Waters subscribes to the theory that the O'Hairs took the money and ran.
He claims that he has internal atheist documents proving this and that he's written a book about the O'Hair case, but declined to share either with the press.

"If all the facts were laid bare, I don't think people would find it much of a mystery," he said. "I think they are kicked back somewhere, and very comfortable, and having chuckles."

Asked about Danny Fry's disappearance that same weekend from San Antonio, Waters said, "It's a hell of a coincidence, but I don't see any correlation."

There was one other coincidence that would later prove significant.
Motor vehicle records showed that Waters was also in San Antonio that month, buying a 1990 white Cadillac Eldorado with tinted windows and a blue interior from an elderly couple.

The transaction took place September 16, 1995. Waters sold the luxury car by mid-February 1996, according to records.

Waters paid $13,000 in cash for the car, just days after Jon Murray withdrew about that amount in cash from bank accounts.

O'Hair, Waters, Fry. After the anonymous tipster's call in June, the tenuous, perhaps coincidental links among these three began to become apparent. Yet the more the coincidences added up, the more the mystery deepened. Was Waters still connected to the O'Hairs after his theft conviction? Was there any verifiable link between the O'Hairs and Fry? Did Waters know more about the O'Hairs' disappearance than he was letting on? And where was Fry?

The answer to the last question would begin to come clear last October 3, when a brief item appeared on the Associated Press wire, recounting a 3-year-old unsolved murder. It began: "Detective Robert Bjorklund says it must have been a cocky killer who killed a man, decapitated him, cut off his hands, then left his body along the Trinity River in southeastern Dallas County."

At my desk at the San Antonio Express-News, I was surfing the wire and noted the coincidence of dates and victim description with the disappearance of Danny Fry. Fry had vanished September 30, 1995, and was the same race, general size, and age as the headless man.

It was a long shot, but during two years on the O'Hair story I had chased flimsier leads. After a call to Bjorklund and some veiled inquiries of Fry's relatives, the lead appeared viable.

Fry matched the estimated height and weight of the corpse. He had no tattoos or noticeable scars. Details added by friends and family members kept the lead alive.

"Some men have no hair on their back. Danny did, on the upper back and around the shoulders. He had a very hairy chest and abdomen, and very small feet, with hair on the top of his feet," says his fiancee.

Nothing yet excluded Fry from being the dismembered victim.
On October 12, I flew north to meet with Dallas detectives.
Seven of them crowded into a small interview room in the office and were handed newspaper articles published in August that outlined parallels between the O'Hair and Fry disappearances.

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