By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Their aunt Reida, known to the family as Precious, says she witnessed Sharon's meekness during a visit to her brother's house in about 1990. "One day we were down there, and he had this book of checks. He said, 'I need you to sign the first two checks.' She said, 'What is this for?' He said, 'Look, either sign the checks or don't sign the checks,' and he just threw it on the table and walked away. She was so nervous. She sat there for a while and composed herself. She was a nervous kind of person. I said, 'I'd never sign blank checks.' She just went ahead and signed them. He could intimidate her. Oh, he could intimidate her."
Both Ronnie and Autumn say they remember the day about two years ago when their father declared to the whole family that he no longer loved his wife. "He used to put her down," Ronnie says. "When I was 18 or 19, we were sitting down eating dinner, and we were having some kind of family discussion, and, you know, my mom and my dad got into a fight about something. And he just said, 'I love my kids. I don't love you.' My sister got up and just ran out crying. She couldn't believe he said something to her like that. My mom froze. She completely didn't say anything."
Ronnie says he and his father launched into an argument, which his father ended by leaving the table. "At the time, I was actually proud of my mom, because normally it would affect her. She would go and cry and stuff. And I was looking at her; I was like, 'Well, Mama, you didn't--you're not crying; it's not affecting you.' She said, 'Well, Ronnie, after all these years, I know he doesn't love me.' And then I was like, 'You know what? I know you're strong. Next time, just make sure you talk back. Next time, make sure you defend yourself.'"
Ronnie and Autumn say their mother had mentioned leaving Ron from time to time, but she seemed to be waiting until they finished college before making a move. In the meantime, Ronnie says, "She was passive. She'd get upset with him, make up, try to make it work, get upset and try again."
He says as he got older, he began verbally challenging his father for slights on his mother, whom he described as his "best friend...very close." His father was never physically abusive, Ronnie says, but the verbal and emotional jabs landed hard.
Reida Davis, who up until the inheritance dispute was close to her brother Ron and never very close to Sharon, sums up the Davis marriage in five words: "He treated her like dirt."
"We're not a storefront; we don't get a lot of walk-ins," says McDaniel. To him, Sharon Davis seemed determined. McDaniel filed the divorce papers Monday, June 11. That morning, McDaniel obtained what he called a routine temporary restraining order barring any movement in the couple's assets. A hearing was set for late the following week.
Over the years, several friends say, Sharon bore the burdens of her marriage silently to the outside world. But beginning in about 1997, she started letting one neighbor, Sandra Brewer, in on family matters.
Sharon would wander over into the cul-de-sac to Brewer's house to talk, says Brewer, who works as a lab tech. She found Sharon to be a warm, sensitive, thoroughly likable person. "She drew my father's and mother's picture. A little while back she was looking for a new church, and I took her to my church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, you know, with Reverend Tony Evans."
Brewer says as she came to know Sharon, she began letting out things that were troubling her at home: problems she had with Ron's daughter by his first marriage, jealousies toward other women, money matters. About a month before she disappeared, Brewer says, Sharon told her Ron wanted her to turn over her retirement account, which was worth about $30,000, and that she refused.
On the day before Sharon went to see the divorce lawyer, Brewer says, Sharon came over, very upset. "She asked if I'd vouch for her in court that she isn't crazy."
Brewer says she was stunned by the comment because Sharon was anything but crazy. Brewer says Sharon told her she'd come across papers that showed Ron was taking steps to have her committed to a psychiatric hospital. "She said, 'I can't live like this anymore,'" the neighbor says.
Sharon had told her before that she was going to get a divorce, Brewer says. "This time, she meant business."
Over the next week, Sharon began notifying those closest to her--her father, sister, brother, daughter, son and two friends--about her filing, and she had similar things to say to each one.
On June 9, Sharon left a message for her sister in Los Angeles, Ware says in a statement she made to Dallas police under the penalty of perjury as a member of the California bar. "At 5:04 p.m., Sharon left a message for me at my home that she had told her husband, Ronald Davis, that she had filed for divorce, that he had threatened her, and she asked that I please check on her frequently."