By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Can you get over there as fast as you can?" John asked.
"I'll try," Thomas said. She hung up and dialed Dena's number.
"Oh, hi," Dena answered. Her friend sounded calm, collected. Thomas heard gospel music tapes from their church playing in the background.
"What have you done to the baby?" Thomas asked.
"I killed her."
"What did you say? You killed her? What did you do?"
Dena was taking a long time to answer.
"I cut her arms off."
"I cut her arms off."
"Dena, back up. Where is the baby?" Thomas demanded.
"In the crib...she's dead...I cut her arms off."
Thomas didn't believe her, but she knew this was serious--a new level of mental breakdown. Thomas hung up, dialed John and repeated the conversation. The day-care workers who'd gathered at the desk started crying. Everyone knew Dena; she'd worked there a year before Maggie's birth. One woman dialed 911.
An hour or so later, Thomas' son picked her up and carried her to the police station. Telling the story to a police detective while a video camera rolled, Thomas finally had to ask. Yes, the detective said, Dena had been telling the truth. Police had raced to the apartment and found Maggie's dismembered body in her blood-soaked crib.
The police video shows that the news hit Thomas like a wave. She closes her eyes, shakes her head and moans.
The capital murder charge against Dena Schlosser would bring nationwide attention to the teachings of Doyle Davidson and his small church on 18th Street in Plano. Water of Life services are broadcast in Dallas every night at 9 p.m. on cable and satellite TV and around the country on various channels. Many blamed his obsession with the demonic and use of violent images for Schlosser's mental illness. That isn't fair, though; the seeds of Dena's insanity were sown early in her childhood, and a long string of failures by others--including her husband, psychiatrists and Child Protective Services--preceded Maggie's horrific death.
But Davidson's garbled gospel--and his insistence that all mental illness is caused by demons and cannot be cured by medication--gave Dena's descent into madness shape and form. John and Dena Schlosser bought into his attitude toward psychotropic drugs. Why and the way she chose to kill Maggie were all mixed up in his unorthodox teachings.
Davidson's own mental meltdown--captured on TV night after night--played a role in Dena's mania. No part of Davidson's life is too intimate or too strange to be used as fodder for his sermons. In the fall of 2004, Davidson announced that God had given him a new "wife." Her name was Lisa Staton, and she'd been his personal secretary.
Only problem: Staton had been married for years to a man who also worked at the church, and she refused to leave him. Davidson blamed the Devil and has pursued her with a single-minded passion, chronicling his quest in letters to Lisa, which he posted online. In the weeks preceding Maggie's death, Dena and other church members were hearing every night about the latest twists in a sick soap opera in which demons and witchcraft played key roles. (Staton and her husband have apparently gone into hiding, and the Dallas Observer could not locate them for comment.)
The irony is that while Davidson and his flock were looking for evil spirits behind every bush, they showed zero discernment when it came to the very real demons of a desperate woman who sat night after night among them. Few but Thomas had anything to do with Dena at the church, which then had about 200 members. There were no Bible studies, Sunday schools, women's groups, group choir or counselors. Water of Life exists mainly as a daily stage for Doyle Davidson and his obsessions.
... As you well know, I have taught you and the world that the Jezebel is a spirit that originates in a woman and operates in men as well as women...
I received this revelation of the activities of a Jezebel from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He taught me from I Kings about Jezebel, Ahab's wife, how she walked in witchcraft, how she controlled Ahab's activities, and how she accomplished things through witchcraft that Ahab could not...
This should explain to you how much the Jezebel hates a prophet of God. Lisa, this should also make you consider what spirit is in you and what made you do the things against me that you have...--From Doyle Davidson's Web site, March 27, 2006
The front of the Water of Life sanctuary is draped in swaths of royal blue. On a blue-carpeted stage sit two blue chairs and a coffee table with silk flowers. An idyllic scene of green grass, trees and pink azaleas completes the backdrop.
Two cameras flank the stage, and another is positioned in the center aisle. Wearing a well-cut suit and blue tie, Davidson paces, repeating "hallelujah, hallelujah," as if to himself. As a cameraman counts down with his fingers, Davidson steps into the pulpit and opens the 10 a.m. Sunday service with a prayer.