Fallen Angel

True-crime author Barbara Davis fought hard to redeem Darlie Routier's reputation. Now she's caught in her own bizarre web of death, drugs, and family hatreds.

Joking or not, Jim Davis' estimate of his life expectancy was accurate. His death only widened the gap between Barbara Davis and her suspicious in-laws. It led to extreme (and unsubstantiated) charges being leveled against her by Bob Davis.

"Leading up to his death," says Bob, "Jim had three heart seizures, all at around 2 a.m." He and other members of the Davis family began to wonder whether Barbara might have given him something that brought on the heart problems. Bob says that after his brother's death, he went to the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department and voiced his concerns. "I was told that since we had no proof I'd best forget about it," he says.

Prior to her husband's death, Barbara Davis says, he had been hospitalized with meningitis for a week but had never experienced heart problems. "He had only the one heart attack," she says. "That night, I was up writing until around 3, then went to bed. When the alarm went off the following morning, Jim didn't shut it off like he usually did. Then the dog began barking. That's when I knew something was wrong. I called 911 and gave him mouth-to-mouth, but he was already gone."

Bob Davis, brother-in-law of Barbara Davis and a self-described "old hippie," helped tip off the cops.
Bob Davis, brother-in-law of Barbara Davis and a self-described "old hippie," helped tip off the cops.
Jim Davis, Barbara's husband, died of a heart attack in his sleep in 1995.
Jim Davis, Barbara's husband, died of a heart attack in his sleep in 1995.

Davis says she feels betrayed by her brother-in-law and nephew. "None of it is true," she says. "Not a single word. I loved my husband very much."

The words "greedy" and "violent" in no way describe the Barbara Davis I had known casually since the publication of her first book. She had phoned shortly before the paperback version of Stalked, a chilling story she'd written with rape victim La Vonne Skalias, was to be published, asking whether I might read it and write a cover blurb. I did so and later attended a local book signing, where I met her for the first time. In the years that followed we appeared together on a panel discussion of crime writing and said our hellos at occasional book gatherings. For a time, we were represented by the same literary agent.

She was an attractive woman who struck me as a bit shy. Only when she talked of making a career for herself as a writer of true crime did real passion enter her voice. She brought no journalism background to her task, but she had experience working in the legal world and was regularly attending meetings of the D-FW Writers group to improve her skills.

Davis, by all accounts, worked hard at her newfound craft. When a piece of evidence in the Routier case troubled her, she went in search of her own answers. When she learned that a blood-stained sock had been found in an alley some distance from the Routier house -- supposedly left by a nameless intruder who defense attorneys alleged did the crime -- Davis, stopwatch in hand, timed herself as she raced from the Routier house to the location of the sock. She concluded (for the time being, at least) that Darlie Routier had ample time to plant the evidence before the police arrived.

In her book on the Routier case, published in January of last year, Davis pulled no punches. After attending the Kerrville trial, conducting numerous interviews, and poring over police reports, she concluded that the 28-year-old Darlie Routier had simply reached the meltdown point in a young mother's life and savagely murdered her 5- and 6-year-old sons on an early June morning in 1996. That done, she self-inflicted a wound to her neck, staged an elaborate crime scene to match a concocted story she planned to tell, summoned crocodile tears, and dialed 911. To readers of Precious Angels, there could be no question the author strongly believed not only that Routier was guilty but that she defined evil.

Then, shortly after publication, Davis reversed her field, citing evidence that neither she nor the jury had been privy to, testimony that she was convinced was perjured, and a less than stellar performance from Routier's defense team, as well as questionable practices by the prosecutors. A self-published book by an amateur Lewisville sleuth named Christopher Brown, Media Tried, Justice Denied, containing photos taken at the crime scene and the hospital where Routier was taken for treatment, gave Davis pause. In short order she was a believer in Routier's innocence, had visited her in jail to ask her forgiveness, and emerged as the most celebrated voice in the Darlie-didn't-do-it chorus. Virtually everyone Davis had once praised, thanked, or written positively of in her book became a target in her post-publication turn-around. (See the Dallas Observer's cover story "The cult of Darlie," May 5, 1999.)

A statement Davis posted on the busy Darlie Routier Web site offers ample proof of her new posture. In part, it reads: "Now is the time for us to rise up and exert so much relentless and tremendous pressure on officials that they will have no other choice but to set Darlie Routier free. I'll probably never get this out of my system but I was WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!"

Such, apparently, was her mind-set when things began to unravel, beginning a month before the raid on her house -- beginning, in fact, on Thanksgiving Day.

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