By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
On the other hand, "Priscilla's version of the events remained rock solid, and they always matched the physical evidence. The defense never made inroads into defeating that story."
Nonetheless, after Richard Haynes' scorched-character method, and by floating the suggestion that Andrea might have been murdered by one of Priscilla's consorts in a drug-related act, three identical eyewitness testimonies were erased. Maryln Schwartz, the Dallas Morning News columnist who as a young reporter covered the trial, says, "She was done in. They turned her into the biggest slut in the state. Her child was murdered, she almost died, but 'Racehorse' Haynes did a brilliant job of keeping those facts out of the courtroom."
In every interview since--including this one and an on-camera chat for a recent June episode of Arts & Entertainment's American Justice devoted to the murders at the Davis mansion--Priscilla speaks unflinchingly of Cullen Davis as the murderer of Andrea Wilborn and Stan Farr. A $16.5 million wrongful death civil suit by her and Jack Wilborn ended with a deadlocked jury in 1987. Later that year, Cullen's lawyers--asserting that it was not an admission of guilt--settled with her for $5 million. But as they admitted somewhat gleefully at the time, his simultaneous bankruptcy bid almost guaranteed she'd never see a penny of it. And she hasn't. "My lawyers and I just didn't understand bankruptcy law," she says now. "They pressured me to hurry up and sign something, so I did."
There is a sense in revisiting Priscilla's past through conversations with her that she has never concentrated much on the details that might've made her subsequent landing softer. For the divorce, her lawyers negotiated only a flat $3.4 million cash settlement from which they subtracted fees; she had to buy back from Cullen piece-by-piece stuff she'd brought into the marriage, because the lawyers didn't itemize them. The Fort Worth home she moved into immediately after the mansion was extensively damaged by fire, caused by a cigarette butt she had left wrapped in a wet tissue. She was not insured, and received no compensation for the lost property. Back in 1984, during an estate sale at her almost all-white home in North Dallas' exclusive Bent Tree neighborhood (the press dubbed it "Priscilla's Garage Sale"), she lost control of the event; spilled beer soaked the carpet, and a portion of the statues and paintings and furs, she discovered later, were sold at the lowest bid as part of what she considers a scam. Included was a $15,000 marble commode; she recently discovered it graces the restroom of a Dallas antique shop.
"The divorce settlement was the first time Priscilla had a lot of money she controlled herself," says a friend who speaks under condition of anonymity. "She's extremely unselfish. She paid for everything; she'd take trips to Los Angeles with friends and pay for everyone's airline tickets. [Back in the early '80s] she was going 90 miles an hour and feeling no pain."
A few years of hiring 'round-the-clock off-duty police surveillance ended with the Fort Worth fire. Priscilla moved to Bent Tree in Dallas in 1981 to live closer to a boyfriend who worked at Cutter Bill's. "That was when everyone had money," she remembers, her eyes agog. There was a revolving menagerie of folks, some genuine friends and others temporary hangers-on, who floated around Priscilla as she predictably took care of the restaurant bill, dropped $75,000 for a second car, gave cash loans without bother if they were to be repaid, and financed a pal's cosmetic surgery after breast cancer, among other expenditures. There was, Dee Davis says, always someone who needed help with their alimony payments or a court fine, or someone who wanted her to invest in a piece of art or a startup business that was rotten from the get-go. "She was naïve to people's motivations," she says.
Jack Strickland acknowledges she had received bad legal advice during her divorce and civil suits, but says, "She is even more a victim of her own generosity. I watched her bestow gifts and assist people all the time when she had the financial wherewithal to do it."
Meanwhile, she and a couple of female friends were what her daughter Dee called "unstoppable" clubgoers, habitués at the Rio Room and Mistral, and to a lesser extent, the Starck Club, an institution Priscilla quickly grew to hate. "Everybody was doing drugs in the bathroom right out in the open," she snorts, her nose wrinkled, "and I was like, 'Get outta here so I can use the bathroom!'"
Here's a point that Priscilla feels is one of the biggest misconceptions about her--that her partying days included major drug use. Her dependency on Percodan, which began innocently after a skiing mishap but turned nasty during treatment for the shooting, was part of court record, but as the unnamed friend notes wryly, "That was the '70s. Doctors were prescribing speed to lose weight and Valium for headaches." She readily admits she has tried illegal substances, but never ventured beyond experimentation: "I'd rather have a cocktail," she says of her preferred poison. Intimates with whom I spoke for this story bolster her assertion. Now that she's been diagnosed with breast cancer, a friend who has AIDS encouraged her to smoke marijuana to alleviate pain, but she refused. "I don't like the way it smells and I don't like the way it tastes," she says. "People can do whatever they enjoy, but I ask them not to smoke it in my place."