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

It was a half-hour crash course into the Byzantine world of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. A drug case probably would have been simpler to follow. The detectives read slowly and asked few questions.

Photos of the mutilated corpse were examined. A trip was made to the crime scene near Seagoville. A visit also was made to the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office to meet the technician assigned to the case.

Bjorklund and the technician agreed to contact Fry's relatives and ask for blood to run DNA tests. The results would be compared with samples taken from the corpse before it went to a pauper's grave three years earlier.

"We have DNA on file. We have checked out three or four different people that looked like were gonna be him, but they weren't," Bjorklund said.

The actual tests take only a couple of weeks to run, but the process of securing the samples from Fry's relatives and then running the tests would consume more than three months.

Meanwhile, out of public view, other breaks were coming in the case.
Months of telephone records from 1995 showing calls Fry made to Texas from Florida and later while he was in Texas were provided to the Express-News by a Fry family member.

Crucial financial information, including Jon Murray's credit card records for September 1995, were also obtained. And efforts to track the identity of the mysterious Mercedes salesman began bearing fruit.

Finally, just before the DNA test results came in, Bob Fry, Danny's older brother, agreed to go on the record about events following the disappearance, overcoming his fears that he would suffer a similar end if he talked.

"I feel like I'd be taking a hit out on myself," said Bob Fry in late summer, brushing off pleas to go on the record.

All the new information pointed toward the same conclusion: David R. Waters knew more about Danny Fry's last days than he was telling and might also know something of the O'Hair family's disappearance.

Waters was quick to deny knowledge of either.
"I am in no way connected with their disappearance, demise, relocation to a sunny clime, or anything else that has to do with them. The last time I saw them was about a year before they decided to make this little move," he said of the O'Hairs.

He repeated assertions that his involvement with Fry in 1995 had been brief and inconsequential.

"He was ripping and running. He had his own group of friends. The last time I saw him was with a guy he was running around with. It was in Austin," Waters said last fall.

Fry's telephone records suggest otherwise.
They track an association between Fry and Waters that began in the spring of 1995 and lasted nearly until Fry's death. The correspondence began at least as early as May and intensified as spring turned to summer.

A call from Fry's home in Florida to Waters' apartment June 12 lasted 46 minutes. Another on June 22 was for 25 minutes, and on July 21, shortly before Fry flew to Texas, the records show an 87-minute call.

During August, Fry made 51 calls from Waters' apartment back to his home in Florida, and records show that his family also called him there.

Then, in late August 1995, Fry moved south. He made a last call from Austin on August 27, then two from Buda, south of Austin, on August 28, and one from San Antonio August 29, from a pay phone at the Warren Inn, where the sale of Jon Murray's Mercedes had taken place.

Fry's phone records suggest parallels to the movements of the O'Hair family, who left Austin on August 27 or 28 and resurfaced in San Antonio a few days later.

While in San Antonio, Jon Murray made numerous calls to businesses on the northwest side of town, including several within blocks of the Warren Inn.

The phone records show that the two men placed their last phone calls from San Antonio within a 26-hour span at the end of the month. On September 28, Fry made a final call home from a pay phone at the Warren Inn.

The next day, Murray made his final call to atheist officials in Austin, right before taking delivery of $500,000 in gold coins from jeweler Cory Ticknor at a bank two blocks from the Warren Inn.

Murray answered the cellular phone a couple of hours later, talked to atheist officials, and then vanished.

Fry made his last known telephone call the following day, on September 30, when he called home from Waters' Austin apartment at 2:47 p.m. during preparations for his daughter Lisa's 16th birthday party.

"He told me he'd be home the following Tuesday," Lisa says, but her dad never arrived. Two days after his last call home, a headless body was dumped near Seagoville.

New leads also refocused scrutiny on Waters' purchase of a car in San Antonio during the crucial month of September 1995.

Waters has said he used personal savings to pay for a $13,000 white Cadillac with blue interior that he bought on September 16 in Terrell Hills, a San Antonio suburb.

"I remarked at what a large stack of bills it was," says the seller, an elderly man who asked not to be named.

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