A Quiet Death
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.
The man whom Dallas friends and co-workers knew as Jacob Davidson was raised in Wichita, Kansas, by the name of Jeremy Kendrick. His father died in an accident before Jeremy was born; when his mother, Janice, married Bob Kendrick, the man who became his stepfather legally adopted him.
Jeremy told his parents he was gay when he was 18. They worried about him, especially since, as Bob Kendrick says, "I'd always thought those relationships never lasted very long," but both parents say that, after a period of personal struggle, they accepted their son's sexual orientation. Soon after coming out, Mr. Kendrick says, Jeremy began dating other guys. He never tried to keep his romantic life hidden.
He did, however, seem to put symbolic distance between himself and his family when he legally changed his name to Jacob Davidson not long before he moved to Dallas.
"His birth father's last name was Davidson," Mrs. Kendrick says. "And he liked the nickname that he got while working at a restaurant. People started calling him 'Jake' for some reason."
Jeremy had a fondness for working in restaurants and clubs, his mother says. He'd lived in Plano for about six months in 1995 with a friend of hers, decided he liked Dallas and moved back to establish independence in 1999. In Oak Lawn, he became a popular and highly compensated bartender at Side 2 and Moby Dick. He liked the crowds and the energy. He was sweet-natured and kind to almost everyone--there was no shortage of guys willing to return his attention.
Mrs. Kendrick hadn't spoken to her son for about a year before a Saturday-morning telephone call from a friend informed her that he was dead. The last, short conversation between her and Jeremy included a mysterious declaration from him--he told his mother he could never return to Wichita again. She pressed him for a reason, and he said he couldn't tell her. He soon moved to a different apartment, and the Kendricks were never able to find him.
Getting Dallas friends and exes to comment on Jeremy/Jake's life and death is difficult. Several spoke reluctantly and briefly to Dallas Voice, the city's gay and lesbian newspaper, but didn't return phone calls or pointedly offered "no comment" for this story. A former employer who fired Davidson because he claimed the young man had attempted to pass bad checks says, "I don't want to talk about this. I have a bad feeling about the whole thing," before hanging up. At least two intimates of Davidson's left the city very shortly after his death.
Still, a portrait of Jake's short life in Dallas emerges from published reports and not-for-attribution anecdotes. He was apparently heavily in debt and used various fake names to confuse creditors. He'd had several brief relationships in the year before his death, all of which ended with Jake being the one abandoned. He seemed to get very serious very soon into a courtship, and he tended to get involved with narcissistic types to whom he ceded most of the control. When the splits happened, he took them personally and grew depressed to the point of occasionally isolating himself. He'd been prescribed and was taking daily doses of the anti-depressant Wellbutrin since last year, his doctor confirms.
The subject of illegal drug use has been raised by both family and friends. Janice Kendrick said that about seven people drove up from Dallas to attend his May 3 funeral in Garden Plains, Kansas, and they collected in her home afterward to offer their condolences. She asked one of them if her son had done drugs, and with some hesitation he admitted that yes, he'd known Jake to partake. An intimate of Jake's has contended that he sometimes used marijuana and cocaine but that they never appeared to have taken control of his life. The same could not be said of another, legal drug: alcohol. Jake was allegedly a heavy drinker, and his favorite poison was vodka. A former boyfriend knew there was a problem when, for a birthday present, he received a set of martini glasses from Davidson.
Repeat failed romances, badgering creditors, drug and alcohol use, anti-depressants--Jacob Davidson's life seemed to have entered a downward spiral at a young age, although friends indicate that he didn't seem at all despondent the last time they saw him. He'd walked away from a lucrative bartending gig at Moby Dick weeks before he died--one friend insists that, as much as he liked attention, Jake was never really comfortable when asked by management to serve drinks in just his boxer shorts--and remained unemployed for the duration, exploring various career options. He always had money for clubbing and eating out--he'd usually try to have a good time even when he was feeling down. It was a difficult but hardly unsalvageable period of his life. So what transpired in Davidson's apartment on the afternoon of April 25 that caused him to scream loudly and desperately enough to attract three outside witnesses?
Louise Doe walks me through the downstairs of Jacob Davidson's apartment in 211. She was the first to enter after Dallas police and the medical examiner had left with Davidson's body. The description of what she saw inside generally matches that of Detective Anthony Winn, who was one of the officers at the scene and later headed the investigation, and Davidson's adoptive father, Bob Kendrick, who came in with others to help clean up. There was a large pool of blood on the entry tiles at the base of the staircase, and a few feet away on the living room carpet was a smaller but sizable wet spot that turned out to be vomit. A few more feet toward the rear of the stairwell, and there's a small bathroom in which streaks of blood were on the toilet, on the floor between the toilet and the cabinets and in the sink. Police found neither alcohol nor drugs nor drug paraphernalia in the apartment.
From there, the stories diverge. Doe and Bob Kendrick insist there was a baseball cap soaked in blood that lay in the sink; since the family was advised by investigators that they'd finished taking evidence, the cleaners threw it away. Detective Winn says police discovered a visor cap between the toilet and the cabinet and took it as evidence and that he'd later heard claims there was a baseball cap in the bathtub, but that he knew nothing about it.
Sergeant Ross Salverino is Winn's supervisor and one of the officers in Crimes Against Persons, which encompasses the homicide division. On allegations that the police search of the death scene had been hurried and careless, he replies, "We don't take days [combing a potential crime scene for evidence] the way some municipalities do. We're in and out. We do it all at the same time." And as for the baseball cap, Salverino says, "I asked and was told that there was no baseball cap left behind. I'd like to think if it was part of a crime scene, it would've been taken."
As for the state of the body, there were scratches and bruises on the lower face, neck and chest, the severity of which have been debated. Police investigators, citing information from the medical examiner's office, have said that none of these could've caused internal injuries, let alone death. They've alternately suggested the marks could've resulted from a fall or from the body lying for many hours in one position, with dormant circulation causing blood to rise to the surface of the skin. And what about the blood in the bathroom? Winn has posited variously that it could've come from a shaving accident or from Davidson spitting up blood.
Meanwhile, in Garden Plains, Kansas, the mortician told Jeremy Kendrick's family he "looked like he'd been beat up" and encouraged them to have a closed-casket funeral. Janice and Bob Kendrick refused, and the mortician did what he could to cover the injuries, especially a long scratch that extended from the side of his cheek down to his neck. Jeremy was buried wearing a high collar to conceal his throat.
The death was ruled unexplained at the scene, Detective Winn says, "because we didn't see any signs of trauma. No gunshot wounds, no stab wounds, no injuries from a blunt object. There was no sign of forced entry. There were some clothes strewn about upstairs but no sign of a major struggle. There was nothing at the death scene to indicate that anyone was in the apartment with him. We waited for word from the medical examiner, and she couldn't find an external cause of death."
Meanwhile, Atrium Apartment manager Doe tried to keep the heat on. She had the names and phone numbers of people who knew Davidson well, and she bugged police to take them. Doe had a contact number for an ex-boyfriend who several witnesses reported seeing with Davidson the night before the screams were heard from 211; he's since relocated to Houston, because he says he doesn't want to be reminded anymore of Davidson's death. She also had the name and number of another former lover who claimed that while the two lived together at the Atrium, Jake had received e-mailed death threats. This ex moved to Fort Worth within days of Jake's body being discovered. The police never took this information from Doe; Detective Winn says he was aware of one former live-in lover of the deceased but hadn't talked to him. And as for trying to locate an individual who may have been the last to see Davidson alive, Winn says, "I can't account for everyone he saw and everything he did before he died."
Sergeant Salverino says that notes kept trickling in from the medical examiner's office hinting at what the final ruling would be--suicide by prescription overdose. As far as the reported e-mail threats against Jake, Salverino says, "There's no bearing. It doesn't matter if a man receives threats if he later dies of an O.D. There's no connection, unless you can convince me that someone can force a grown man to swallow a bottle of pills." The coroner found no abrasions on the esophagus to indicate such a scenario. Police also found no empty prescription bottle.
And what about Doe's contentions that she'd heard whispering inside Davidson's apartment after his screams stopped--something she reported in her 911 call on April 25--and that his apartment was locked by keyless deadbolt for almost 36 hours until, mysteriously on the morning of April 27, the deadbolt had been removed and she was able to enter? There are more explanations offered here by the police--that Doe somehow embellished her original account as she got more media attention, or that she was frightened and confused at the sounds coming from Davidson's apartment and may have imagined the whispering.
Doe, whose story has been consistent these last three months, replies with a bitter chuckle: "That's bullshit."
Certainly, the idea that a killer or killers would loiter near their decomposing victim for more than a day sounds outlandish--unless Doe was mistaken about the keyless deadbolt and was simply having problems negotiating the lock with her master key. She insists the deadbolt was in place until April 27. Anthony Winn says that in all his years on the police force, he's never seen a case where a perpetrator hung around the scene of a crime for hours after it was committed. It just doesn't make sense. "You do your dirty work, and you get out."
The death of Jacob Davidson prompted two internal city investigations--one into the fire department's coding of the two 911 calls as a lower priority, and the other into the conduct of the officer who responded, knocked once and then left without identifying himself. 911 supervisor Raymond Sweeney acknowledges that the first operator who received Matt Parker's emergency call coded it as priority 3, meaning the call has a response-time goal of dispatching in eight minutes, with travel time of no more than six. The second operator who took Louise Doe's call could've updated it to priority 1 (reserved for life-threatening emergencies) but didn't; Sweeney says he wishes the operator had. The two 911 operators weren't fired but were sent back for three-day, eight-hour continuing education classes in call-taking.
Meanwhile, an investigation by Dallas police has resulted in one dispatcher being counseled on how to assign the proper level of police response based on comments from the 911 operators. As for the patrolman who stopped at Davidson's door and left, officials wouldn't disclose his identity but asserted that based on the information he received, he didn't have the authority to make a forced entry into the apartment. He has been readvised of the protocol for officers responding to 911 calls.
Dallas police have closed Davidson's case, because the medical examiner's office ruled his death a suicide from the toxic effect of Bupropion (another name for Wellbutrin, the anti-depressant he'd been prescribed). There were negligible traces of alcohol and a drug commonly found in cough syrup in his system, but no illegal drugs. As far as bodily injuries, the report describes only "red-brown skin abrasions" of the chin, nasal bridge, knees and lower legs--all marks that could presumably be caused from the body lying face down for hours.
A forensic pathologist who did not examine Davidson's body--and who therefore has no direct knowledge of the circumstances of his death or post-mortem state--discussed details of the case and the autopsy report at our request, but only under the condition of anonymity. The pathologist has misgivings about the medical examiner's ruling of suicide by Bupropion. Because the drug is protein-bound, it's subject to a phenomena called post-mortem release in which the proteins disintegrate so minutely that false high levels are often reported in autopsies. The fact that the body had already begun to decompose makes determining an "overdose" level equally difficult--especially in an individual who'd been taking the medication for a year before his death.
Also, the most common adverse effect recorded from large doses of Bupropion is seizure. Screaming while either seizing or overdosing is almost unheard of, the pathologist says. As far as the bleeding, if Davidson stumbled around in a delirium and finally fell face-forward by the door, blood could have seeped from his nose and mouth onto the tiled entryway during the hours in which he lay there. But as for the possibility of Davidson vomiting blood in the bathroom, Bupropion is not known to cause internal hemorrhages or stomach ulcers--the former is never mentioned in the autopsy report, and the latter is addressed with "no acute or healing ulcerations of the stomach or duodenum identified." The fact that blood is not listed among the stomach contents in the autopsy report virtually eliminates the idea that Davidson had vomited it, in this pathologist's opinion.
The word "overdose" never appears anywhere in the report--the manner of death is "suicide," but by "toxic effect of Bupropion." The pathologist we consulted said that this was fudging, noting that "toxic effect" is a phrase that normally refers to side effects from a drug in a living person--nausea or headache or dizziness, say--rather than a cause of death.
The coroner in the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office who performed the autopsy did not return phone calls to address these issues or to offer an estimate on how many pills Davidson may have taken. A spokesman replied with the following statement: "The [autopsy] report stands on its own."
Although no criminal or forensics expert herself, Doe remains unsatisfied with the findings of police and pathologists. She's convinced that people were inside the apartment with Davidson when he died. She says she's come to view death as a release from "this evil world we live in" and wants to think Jake Davidson has some peace now. But whether it was suicide, murder or some strange scenario whose details will never be known, Doe thinks Davidson might still be alive if police had responded promptly and aggressively. Certainly, the two and a half hours it took a patrolman to finally appear--and the two-day interval between 911 calls and when the body was discovered--would complicate efforts to later explore the possibility of foul play. She also has her own theory about the necessity of repeat 911 calls and what she considers a sloppy, apathetic investigation: "He was gay. He lived in a neighborhood full of drugs and crime. They don't care if he's alive or dead."
Many people who knew Jake have unanswered questions about what happened itching in their brains. Meanwhile, Jeremy Kendrick is buried in Garden Plains, Kansas, in a plot beside the father who died before he was born, but whose surname Kendrick nevertheless reclaimed to become a young man called Jacob Davidson. Given the year that separated the last time they'd spoken with him and the call that announced his death, Janice and Bob Kendrick never knew much about the life Jake had made for himself in the heart of Dallas' gay scene. But Mrs. Kendrick refuses to relinquish the young man she raised.
"He never liked [the name he was born with]," she recalls. "But I told him, 'You'll always be my Jeremy.'"
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