By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
When the screaming began inside No. 211 of the Atrium Apartments, Louise Doe and Neil Clement froze.
It was around 2:30 p.m. on April 25. Apartment manager Doe and Clement, a resident who sometimes does odd jobs for her, were walking through one of the courtyards to check out what she considered a pair of suspicious men. Drug-dealing and male prostitution are a constant source of headaches in this part of Oak Lawn, just a few blocks south of the Cedar Springs concentration of bars and clubs. They passed below the second-floor apartment of a 28-year-old man named Jacob Davidson, who was friendly but not well-known to them. The frantic shouting came from his place.
"It sounded like he was in real pain," Clement remembers. "Like he was being tortured." He shouted, "Hey!" up to the door to try and get whatever was happening to stop. Doe and Clement were joined by neighbor Matt Parker, who stood on his patio that looked sideways on Davidson's door. Doe yelled for Parker to dial 911, and he did; the call came in at 2:37 p.m. Meanwhile, she and Clement moved upstairs toward the apartment and heard the screaming continue. Clement saw the venetian blinds on Davidson's window push against the pane suddenly, as if a hand was resting against them. Doe pounded on the door and shouted, "Manager!" before Clement waved her off and she pulled away, realizing that if a struggle was taking place inside, an attacker or stray gunfire might come busting through. Before she cleared a path, though, Doe heard something that she's repeated in multiple interviews since.
"I heard people whispering inside," she says. "More than one person was whispering inside."
Doe, Clement and Parker milled around for about a half-hour. Apartment 211 had become silent. No police showed up. Doe walked hurriedly to her office to place another 911 call at 3:05 p.m., in which she said breathlessly: "It sounded like someone's beatin' the hell out of 'im! He's screamin' and hollerin' like he's in pain! I heard some people in there, so I was afraid to go in!" She was told that the call had been dispatched to police but that there was another call waiting in line before hers. About 4:30 p.m., when still no officers had arrived, she called the office of City Councilwoman Veletta Forsythe Lill and spoke with Lill's assistant Connie, who plugged her directly into a Dallas police dispatcher. Doe was told that no police were available due to a change in shifts. One would come as soon as possible.
The trio dispersed, agitated. It was sometime after 5 p.m., as Clement was watering a banana tree, that a policeman walked into the Atrium courtyard unannounced, marched up the stairs and knocked on the door of 211. He waited briefly for a reply, and when none came he walked back down the staircase and looked at Clement.
"He said, 'Let me know if something changes,'" Clement alleges. "I told him, 'When something starts stinking, we'll know someone's dead up there.' He just looked at me and left. He never asked to see the manager."
Doe cuts a bit of a trash-talking mother-hen figure, which has made her popular among the Atrium's largely gay male population during her 15-year tenure as manager. "I think some of these boys consider me a second mama," she says with some pride. She's certainly not afraid to roll her eyes and declare, "That's bullshit," when she thinks something deserves that designation. Doe, who patrols her building constantly during the day (when her arthritic knee permits it), regularly attends neighborhood crime watch meetings and is well-known to the offices of Lill, her city councilwoman. It's all out of necessity.
"We don't get no narcotics officers around here," she says. "We never see a police car. They don't give a shit. I have to do most of the work myself."
Later in the evening, Doe returned to Davidson's apartment with a set of his keys. She turned the lock and discovered she couldn't enter; the keyless deadbolt was in place inside. Doe tried several times during the next 36 hours to gain entry. Clement also knocked on the door a couple of times, calling out Jacob's name. On Friday, April 27, Doe tried again, and this time the deadbolt had been removed. The door opened, but only a little way. It pushed against the body of Jacob Davidson, who was lying face down in a pool of blood on the tiled entryway. As the police report would later state, $40 in a money clip lay beside his body.
It took Dallas police fewer than 10 minutes to respond.
The claims from Doe, Clement and Parker about the events of April 25 raise questions that have yet to be answered by the subsequent police investigation and the medical examiner's ultimate determination of what caused Davidson's death. Family, friends and neighbors believe other people were involved with what happened in his apartment that afternoon. They want to know why he was screaming, why there was so much blood in the apartment and why there were marks on his upper body. They also wonder if the Atrium's location--in a section of heavily gay Oak Lawn where criminal activity is omnipresent--has anything to do with the slow response of 911 operators and police dispatchers. Given the troubled and enigmatic nature of Davidson's life shortly before his death, putting all the pieces together reveals only a larger puzzle.