By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Autumn and Ronnie say their mother was usually prompt and methodical and always let them know where she'd be. Sharon was taking a class at UTA, working toward becoming a school principal. So, Ronnie says, after his sister phoned and said their mother hadn't come home that evening, he checked around the Arlington campus, then retraced the routes his mother might have driven that day, thinking perhaps her van had broken down.
Later that night, he says, he urged his father to call police. Ronnie and Autumn say their father told them that night that a missing persons complaint could not be filed in the first 24 hours. In the morning, police records indicate, he placed the call.
Detectives say when they first talked to Davis, he told them Sharon was probably not missing but had just gone off, maybe to Lake Tahoe. "He told us at first he fully expected her to be at Lake Tahoe. She had been talking about going to Lake Tahoe," Nichols says. "We checked the hotels. We found nothing."
Beverly Ware, Sharon's sister, who works as an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, and Sandra Brewer, a neighbor and close friend of Sharon's, say Sharon was trying to organize a trip with them to the California resort the next month, once the divorce papers were served and the separation was under way.
It made no sense to anyone who knew Sharon Davis that she would up and leave--on a vacation, or anywhere else--without saying a word to her kids.
Kevin Jordan, a medical-products salesman who, along with his wife, Mary, had been friends with the Davises for 17 years, says Ron Davis told him that first week that she simply left. To Jordan, that didn't fit. "She was crazy about her kids. She's never displayed a hint she'd go off...and not be in contact so long. It's impossible."
Says Ozzie Brewer, a neighbor of 10 years who was close enough to attend Sharon's 50th birthday party, "No way she would wander off. No way. Those children were her life. She wasn't going to up and go, with no plans. No plans. Her only plan that day was to go to school."
Ron Davis also told police that his wife had taken off with a large sum of cash--$10,000 or more that had been kept in the house.
Nichols says it would have been helpful to police if they knew where the money had been hidden. "Let's say, for example, as soon as Autumn got out, someone took a gun and stuck it in Sharon's face and said, 'Take me to your house. I want everything you have.' These things happen every day. We could have fingerprinted that safe if her prints were on it, anyone's prints."
When detectives asked Davis to show them where the cash had been stored, Nichols says, "He told us that was none of our business."
Soon after their first encounter, Nichols says, Davis hired a lawyer, Cheryl Wattley, and he has declined to say where and with whom he had his early-morning meeting. "His attorney has told us basically he doesn't have to," Nichols says. "He didn't appear to want to be cooperative. Having an uncooperative witness in a missing persons case makes that investigation all the more difficult."
In all, from the way the police and a host of people around Davis portray it, Davis seems to be taking a lawyer's approach to the disappearance, offering possible theories while, police allege, holding some things back. He told the Observer in his brief letter, for instance, "This is not the first time my wife has disappeared with a large sum of cash."
There is a kernel of truth in that statement, but it's hardly relevant to what has happened now, some relatives say. In 1985, five years into her marriage, Sharon Davis called her mother and her mother-in-law and began driving west with her children, heading to relatives in California, Beverly Ware says. "She took some money from a joint checking account, which was her money," Ware says.
Sharon, who had also taken legal steps and filed for a divorce those 17 years ago, ended up having second thoughts during the drive west. She turned back and reconciled with Ron.
This time, however, she vanished without a word. There have been no credit card transactions, no phone records, nothing to suggest where she is or whether she's alive.
But still, a lot of folks were fooled by appearances. "We're like the ideal family," Ronnie Davis says. "But on the inside, there's a completely different story."
It begins in 1980 in Los Angeles, where Sharon and Ron first met. Both were from out of town; he, from Milwaukee, the son of a cement mason who raised 11 children in a blue-collar part of the city. Ron was six years out of the University of Wisconsin Law School and recently divorced after the birth of a daughter, Ronnette, when he met Sharon Ware.