The Devil and Doyle Davidson
"Stop that!" Carolyn Thomas snapped. Her best friend Dena Schlosser was driving with her eyes closed, hissing like a snake.
"Open your eyes and look at the road!" Thomas said. "Put your mind on Jesus."
The weird behavior had started as soon as Schlosser and her three girls had gotten in the car with Thomas after an evening service at Water of Life church in Plano. Schlosser was chanting something under her breath--"I'm stupid, I'm evil..." Thomas had told her friend over and over: Talk to me when those crazy ideas start rattling around in your head. And girl, stay on your medication!
"Dena, in this car I feel a heaviness," Thomas said. She sensed a foul spirit in the air, a demon of depression.
"Yeah," Schlosser said.
Thomas started praying out loud, and her friend joined in.
Schlosser calmed down for a moment. "Do you know," she asked, "if people, demons, can come in and disrupt your house?"
"Sure," Thomas said. "That's what we're taught. Spirits can get into people and use them for wrong. Spirits can get into your baby, husbands, relatives..."
They stopped at a grocery store, and when Thomas returned to the car, Schlosser seemed her normal self. Thomas put the strange incident behind her.
A week later, Dena Schlosser's grotesque actions would grab headlines around the country. Schlosser, immersed in a world of demons and doom, would kill her youngest child by sawing off her arms as she lay in her crib. She was convinced that evil spirits had invaded her home.
Thomas was talking to a Plano police detective when she suddenly remembered her conversation in the car with Schlosser. "Spirits can get into your baby..." On a videotape of the interview with police, Thomas gasps. Her expression turns to horror.
"Surely there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife incited him." 1 Kings 21:25
Carolyn Thomas just happened to have walked to the front desk when the phone rang at about 11:50 a.m. on November 22, 2004. She answered and heard the voice of Dena Schlosser's husband John, a self-employed software designer. He was calling from his car near Fort Worth.
"Carolyn, I'm amazed I got you," John said in a calm tone. "Dena said she hurt the baby."
"What do you mean, 'hurt the baby'?" Thomas said. Dena was a fantastic mom. No way she'd hurt her kids.
The two women had worked together at the day-care center for a year before Schlosser's third daughter, Maggie, was born. Plump, middle-aged and black, Thomas had witnessed Dena give birth to Maggie at home. Their apartments were across the yard from each other in Plano. Though they were very different, the two women had a sort of mother-daughter relationship, with the older, feistier Thomas giving Dena, a meek 36-year-old white woman, encouragement and advice.
They attended the same church, Water of Life, twice on Sundays and six nights a week, for as many as 16 hours of services a week. The women adored the preacher, Doyle Davidson, a former veterinarian who peppered his sermons with lessons he'd learned doctoring animals.
Davidson was different from other televangelists--unpolished, voice as gravelly as a cement mixer, wisdom gleaned not from seminary but from his event-filled life. He preached that behind misfortune--bad weather, disease, job loss--were various demons, especially the spirit of Jezebel, named after the wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament. Wicked, seductive and supremely manipulative, Jezebel manifested herself in wives who refused to submit to their husbands and lodged in women's reproductive organs, causing problems with childbirth.
John and Dena Schlosser had moved from Illinois to Fort Worth in 2000. They'd discovered Davidson through a neighbor and found his theology appealing. It explained their problems, such as John losing jobs. For months, the Schlossers drove 120 miles round trip several days a week to attend Water of Life. When they lost their home to foreclosure, the Schlossers moved to a Plano apartment near the church.
It was a toss-up between John and Dena as to who was more obsessed with Davidson's teachings. Carolyn Thomas thought John took that head-of-the-household, submissive-wife stuff to the extreme, trying to keep Dena in "a little box." She tried to get Dena to stand up for herself, but Dena feared that the Jezebel spirit was living in her. In the last decade, she'd been through three miscarriages and two live births; after each she'd slipped into post-partum depression. Treatment with Zoloft had helped, but Dena would stop taking it when she felt better.
From the tone of John's voice that day, Thomas assumed Dena had had yet another breakdown. Six days after Maggie's birth Dena had run down the street screaming that an evil spirit was in the apartment as her 5-year-old daughter frantically pedaled after her on a bike. Police found Dena standing at the corner of Independence and West Park, shrieking, her body rigid.
Thomas had even confronted John, insisting that he had to buy the drugs prescribed for Dena by several psychiatrists. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt for John to get off that computer and look after the kids for a while even if the baby's crying got on his nerves. "God is good" and all that, but he gives you common sense.
"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.
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.
He's trim and tan, still a handsome man at 73. He talks about walking many miles or riding his bike around Plano, praying, binding witchcraft spirits and demonic powers as he goes.
But he's not much of a speaker, which at first makes it difficult to understand his appeal. His raspy voice is hard to understand, and he rambles. Big segments are taken up by Davidson pulling the Bible close to his face and reading straight from Scripture. "I just preach the Bible," Davidson is fond of saying. "I don't interpret it. That's why the world hates me."
Forty to 50 people sit in the audience. Every now and then there's an "amen" or "glory," most often from son-in-law Terry Mai, whose rich bass leads the singing with Davidson's daughter Kathy. The Mais are accompanied by one of their daughters on piano; their other two girls play horn and sax. But the church seems subdued for what some people might call a "holy roller" meeting. There's no singing at the beginning, nothing to get the people clapping and raising their hands in praise.
Just Doyle, as he prefers to be called.
He speaks about 45 to 50 minutes, and then the worship team takes over for a while. Davidson is back at the top of the hour and gives another sermon. He repeats this on Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. What's clear after watching a few sermons is this: Davidson's preaching is mesmerizing only because you wonder what bizarre thing he's going to say next.
In Davidson's early sermons, he didn't sound that much different from other "Spirit-filled" fundamentalists: He preached salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the necessity of receiving the Holy Spirit, which was evidenced by speaking in tongues or other spiritual gifts. But he dubbed himself an "apostle," a prophet specifically sent by God to Plano to rid the city of its ruling spirit: Jezebel. And he began to confuse himself with God, claiming in one sermon he was without sin and would never die. He has said that God, in 1974, told him to study the life of Christ "and he would give me a ministry like his Son's" and that his ministry would "cover the earth." Davidson will lose his train of thought in the middle of a sermon, then say with a smirk, "Well, whatever I was going to say, it's of God." Davidson recently told his viewers that God told him to get rid of all his tapes and writings from the '80s and '90s. "If you are keeping them," he said, "you need to throw them away or you're committing sin."
Demons are a central theme in Davidson's sermons. The belief in a spirit world populated by angels and demons isn't unusual; Catholicism has an exorcism ceremony for priests to follow when confronted by evil spirits, and Pentecostal churches have long practiced "deliverance" from demons. But Davidson teaches that Christians and nonbelievers alike can be possessed by spirits. On testimonial pages linked to Davidson's Web site, followers blame everything from multiple sclerosis to kidney stones on witchcraft and demons of rejection, fear, rebellion and lust. When he lays hands on sufferers, sometimes the demon leaves and pain subsides. But other spirits don't come out so willingly.
After experiencing an exorcism, one churchgoer wrote that when the demon left her it felt "as though an ice pick was plunged through my head." Longtime member Jack Small described a devil's departure like a tearing of the flesh. Terry Mai, who also preaches, wrote that when Davidson put his hands on his shoulders to deliver him from sorcery and witchcraft, they felt like branding irons. "I felt in my chest like flesh was literally tearing away from my ribs." Another said it was like "a covey of quail" flying out of his belly.
As Davidson preaches on this Sunday in late April, he says that he had the "gratification" of casting three devils out of his mother. He stops and looks at a listener. "I bet I can cast three devils out of you."
A few minutes later, Davidson turns to the music team. "We need to worship God because I'm going to bind some devils," Davidson says. "This is 'Ladies' Night Out'--out of bondage."
I am sure you remember how I cast the Jezebel spirit out of you in 1990 or 1991. You told me it was like a rod coming out of your head. This took place in my office after you became my wife...Some time after that an evil spirit got hold of you and you were lifted up in pride. That prideful spirit challenged me and told me the kingdom in me had to go. Well my dear the kingdom in me can not be moved. --Doyle Davidson, March 24, 2006
In late 2001, when Mick Macauley saw the "Shirley MacLaine-type" crystals displayed in the Schlossers' home in Fort Worth, he was surprised but glad. They were the first signs of spiritual seeking he'd seen his stepdaughter and her husband display since their marriage 10 years earlier. Macauley knew that Dena had grown up nominally Catholic but, except for their daughters, the young couple seemed interested only in material things.
John and Dena had met at Marist College in New York where, for the first time in her life, Dena had a group of friends, a "rat pack" of like misfits that included John. Her childhood had been unhappy. Her mother Connie first divorced when Dena was 5. Family dysfunction was accompanied by illness, and at age 8, Dena developed hydrocephalus, sometimes called "water on the brain," and suffered through eight surgeries to implant shunts in her brain, heart and abdomen before she was 13. Classmates made fun of her shaved head. The trauma welded Dena to her mother, a dynamic businesswoman who fiercely loved her daughter.
"If an injustice of any magnitude was visited on Dena, you had to deal with Connie," says Macauley, Connie's third husband. He believes his wife's protectiveness in some ways kept Dena from becoming independent.
After Dena and John got married, she finished her degree in psychology. The Macauleys thought John was working on a degree in computer science. When he announced his graduation, John's parents flew in for the big party. The Macauleys later found out it was a sham.
"We paid his tuition, but he never attended class and was dismissed for academic reasons," Macauley says. "For John, appearances are more important than substance." Socially awkward, extremely private, John donned an attitude of "I'm techy, I'm superior." (John Schlosser declined an interview through his attorney.)
In 2000, the couple and their two daughters moved to Fort Worth for John's job. Three months later, John found another position--making $130,000 a year, he told the Macauleys. That lasted 90 days. While he looked for a position, John did computer consulting out of the house.
Macauley had to admit that John and Dena seemed well-matched. Two geeky kids who'd have geeky babies. Their relationship seemed affectionate, even romantic in some ways. But Dena transferred her dependence on her mother to her husband, unable to discipline her own children or make a decision without turning to John. Dena still talked to her mother a dozen times every day but as the marriage progressed, she revealed less and less. John didn't want her to.
Dena wasn't working. Like John, it was difficult for her to keep a job. An extreme idealist, Dena worked for Visa and quit because customers were rude. She walked out on a job at Ameritrade because clients lied. "When she worked in the nursing home industry, she took umbrage at the way some patients were treated," Macauley says. "She would be deeply surprised and offended and quit."
Soon after the move to Fort Worth, Dena learned that her mother had Parkinson's disease. It shocked Dena to her core. Not long after Macauley saw the crystals, Dena started talking about going to a church in Plano, 60 miles away. A neighbor had told her about Water of Life. After attending for a while, the preacher, Doyle Davidson, was all Dena could talk about. She sent her parents audio and videotapes, urging them to watch. John was as enamored with the church as she was.
The Macauleys were alarmed. Mick, a psychologist, watched for hours trying to figure out what they saw in Davidson. Though Davidson used much of the jargon of charismatic Christianity, he also laced his teaching with tirades at people in the audience. On one tape, Davidson hears a baby crying and barks, "Shut that brat up." He said outrageous things, once stopping in the middle of a sermon to complain that he didn't have their attention. "I guess if I took my gun and shot every third person in this front row I bet I'd get your attention."
Macauley realized that what drew Dena was Davidson's certainty, his grip on truth with a capital T. "With Doyle, there's no ambiguity. He's very concrete. He said to her [Dena], 'I don't interpret the Bible, it's the absolute truth.'"
A few years earlier, the truth according to Davidson had gotten him in hot water with the Daystar network for speaking negatively about other ministers, including Billy Graham. In May 1999, Davidson opined on camera that if Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall, two Christian girls gunned down in the Columbine massacre, had had more faith, they wouldn't have been killed.
Even though Davidson did something almost unheard of--paying for airtime in advance--Daystar pulled the plug on him. Within weeks Water of Life was back on the air. He now broadcasts every night at 9 p.m. on KLDT-Channel 55, a Lewisville-based independent that mostly runs infomercials. Water of Life also appears once a week on a CBS affiliate in Indiana and an ABC affiliate in Joplin, Missouri; Monday through Friday at 6 a.m. on a Fox affiliate in Springfield, Missouri; and twice each Monday through Friday on UPN in Tulsa. People around the world also can plug into the programs on the Internet at www.doyledavidson.com, where he's posted his numerous "Messages to Lisa."
Subject: continue my emails to you
...I need to remind us, and those that will read this, that our walk together was mostly praying together. We would pray for hours at a time, fervently. It was such joy to pray with you, and there was liberty to touch you if I desired and you demonstrated that same liberty...I love you dear, Doyle.
If any place could be called Eden on earth, it was Sarcoxie, Missouri, in the early 20th century. East of Joplin, its rich farmland the color of cocoa, the hamlet was both the strawberry and peony "capital of the world." Kids made money by picking berries during the summer. Tourists came for the blaze of color, and weddings took place in halls decorated with peonies. Hybrids were named after townsfolk.
The strawberry market dried up long ago, but a local nursery still ships crates of high-priced bulbs for peonies and irises around the world. Dairy cows and horses graze in rolling green fields. Named after an Indian chief, Sarcoxie has maintained a population of about 1,300 for decades. Downtown is deserted, but new houses dot the countryside where people have claimed a few acres of heaven for their own.
It's a conservative heaven. Here and there on the roads around town are admonitions from God. Says one billboard: "Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery! Luke 16:18."
Lyle Davidson was a carpenter and farmer, well-known in Sarcoxie because he remodeled houses. But Alba Davidson was an enigma. On the rare occasions that Alba came into town from their little house in the country, she didn't say much.
Born in 1932, Doyle was the second of their four children and the only boy. Popular in high school, Davidson played sports, joined 4-H and dated a pretty girl with dark eyes named Patti Tinkle. The caption under his senior photo reads: "That certain air...confident...fascinated with sports...that special smile for Patti...eye catching walk."
Davidson often says that he came from a Methodist background. But people in Sarcoxie remember the Davidsons attending a tiny church not far from their farm called the Redwood Holiness Church. Doyle's father and grandfather, in fact, built it themselves. In Sarcoxie, the church was considered extreme. Says one former resident, "A lot of people didn't think too much of the holy rollers."
Lyle knew his Bible, says one resident who hired the carpenter to remodel his house, but "he took it the way he wanted to take it." One of Lyle's core beliefs was that the Ten Commandments didn't apply to believers.
As a young man, Doyle cussed, drank and smoked. Though smart and a hard worker, former classmates say he affected a superior attitude. His father believed he was destined to be a great minister. It was a call he ignored for many years.
Patti and Doyle married in 1952, and he joined the Navy. They lived a while in Japan with their only daughter, Kathy. Back in Missouri, Davidson finished his degree and enrolled in veterinary school at the University of Missouri. He became a full-fledged veterinarian in 1962.
Stanley Lewis, a renowned trainer of Tennessee Walkers who still lives in Sarcoxie, remembers Davidson as a sensitive vet who took his time with horses. But during house calls, Davidson often bad-mouthed his father, Lewis says. "He thought his father had been too hard on him."
Dr. Davidson was soon serving people who owned expensive show horses. "Horse people are very demanding," Lewis says. "They have a lot of money to spend, and they want somebody now." Davidson worked on world champions in horse country from Tennessee to Florida to Texas and earned a good income.
Sarcoxie wasn't big enough to contain Davidson's ambitions, though. He went into business with his brother-in-law, George Jackson, a vet in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. That didn't last long. Truth was, horse people preferred Jackson, Lewis says. "Doyle was kind of proud of himself." His arrogance cost him clients.
He arrived in Texas in the mid-'60s and established a veterinary hospital in McKinney with a partner. But God wasn't giving up. As Davidson tells it, he had a road-to-Damascus experience in 1970 when he checked into a Sherman motel at 3 a.m., walked into the room and saw on the nightstand a Bible opened to Isaiah 30.
His eyes fixed on verse 1: "Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin." Realizing he was a rebellious man, Davidson began studying the Bible in earnest.
God had already told him to sell his veterinary hospital. So Davidson asked his partner, Dr. Rodney Butler, to buy him out. Then God had another order: "Return to the land of your fathers." It seems God was really whipsawing Davidson around.
So when Kathy was a senior in high school, the family moved back to Sarcoxie. Davidson, hoping to get into the breeding business, bought 143 acres of prime grazing land and some livestock. But his champion stud horse impaled itself on a pipe, ending its breeding days, and the cattle turned up sterile. After a year or so, Davidson left Missouri, this time for good.
People in Sarcoxie don't think much of Davidson's preaching career. "I don't believe he's led by God," says Roy Ogle. "I think he's a cult."
Davidson deeply angered his parents before their deaths in the '90s. "He told his father he was going to hell because he didn't believe like he did," snorts one of Davidson's contemporaries. Another says that Davidson infuriated his sisters when his mother got sick by insisting her illness was demons and that she didn't need a hospital. "He called his mother a Jezebel," one resident says. (Davidson, however, says the dispute arose because his sisters admitted his mother to a psychiatric hospital without telling him.)
His sister Glenda Schoen lives on a dairy farm east of Sarcoxie. A legal secretary, Schoen refuses to talk about her brother. "Our parents were wonderful Christian people," Schoen says, "and if anyone tells you otherwise, they're wrong."
Patti's relatives felt that Davidson isolated his wife from her family and friends. Though a handful of family members were once involved with Water of Life, most have left. None would talk to the Observer.
"They're scared to death of him," one relative says. "Something changed him."
Davidson returned to North Texas in 1973, much to the anger of Butler, who had paid a lot of money for Davidson's share of the animal hospital in McKinney. Davidson casts it as a divine move. "It was all God to get Doyle to Texas," he says.
Butler thought otherwise. "He wanted to move right back in where he was," says the vet, now practicing in Louisiana. Butler filed an injunction against Davidson and got some money back. Davidson had to live and practice in Argyle until 1976. He returned to McKinney in 1977.
Butler describes Davidson as egotistical, controlling and a skirt-chaser. "He was interested in female anatomy...I don't think God told him he was married to any of them. I got messed up myself. I was convinced I was God for a while. But he still thinks he's God."
Mary Jane Hinkle was married to Butler back then. Though Davidson presented himself as highly successful, the couple lived modestly. Hinkle describes Patti as browbeaten. "Patti was a super-nice, well-mannered person," she says. "But he [Doyle] was so mean. He would make her feel insignificant. She didn't have any value to him."
By the late '70s, Davidson was teaching a class at First United Methodist Church in McKinney, where Terry Mai led the choir. Remembering the turmoil Davidson caused, one longtime member says, "He left and tried to move half the membership with him."
Some became core members of Water of Life--where Davidson began services in 1981. Just three years later, he was preaching live on TV.
Within a few months, Davidson writes, "my wife Patti yielded to what I believe to be the Jezebel ruler of the city of Plano." In an interview with the Observer, Davidson described in detail how "God took her out of my life."
One day in church, Davidson says, Patti laid hands on a woman, and all of sudden Patti and the woman began laughing hysterically. Strange spiritual manifestations quickly spread through the congregation: Spirits threw people to the floor; people were screaming. Much of this was broadcast on live television. Patti, Davidson says, erred by laying hands on the woman. "She yielded her members to a false Christ," he says. "That day a division came between us--like Patti was in another world. She said, 'I have nothing in common with you. I'm not a part of your life. All I ask, just love me--don't leave me.'"
The evil spirit to which Patti yielded infected everyone in the congregation, prompting Davidson to announce he'd lost control. Jezebel had taken over, and he was forced to cast the hussy out, over and over. It was great TV and money rolled in, enough that the debt on the building was retired in 1985.
In 1984, Davidson says, he no longer considered Patti his wife, though he didn't divorce her and she continued to attend services at Water of Life. Davidson says he tenderly took care of her until her death in 2003. Ultimately, he says, it was the "plagues" of the Jezebel spirit that killed her. She broke out in boils, then suffered a heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cataracts. To get rid of the evil spirit Patti had unleashed in the church, Davidson says, he "prayed day and night and fasted...there was a war going on between Satan's kingdom and God's kingdom." He finally regained control--and by this time, God had "given" him another wife to replace Patti.
On August 27, 1987--Davidson is precise with dates--Lisa Staton approached him in the fellowship hall and made a statement that rocked his world. This is how Davidson remembers it: Staton was talking to him privately about problems with a home Bible study she was involved in, then abruptly changed the subject. "I've never made love to anybody but my husband, but I believe I could [to] you. I don't know if it's God, or my wicked heart."
Davidson didn't know either. But God did.
A day later, Davidson was praying in the wee hours when God revealed his will to him through the words of Psalm 37: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."
"With those words," Davidson says, "he gave me Lisa as my wife."
Left in the dust, apparently, was Lisa's husband, Harold "JR" Staton. "When God took her and gave her to me, she was no longer JR's wife," Davidson says. From that point on the couple saw each other virtually every day, Davidson claims, sometimes meeting in hotels. "I met with her a lot of times in a lot of places," he says. "She's my wife. Got that?" Lisa, however, continued to live with JR and their children. Both Lisa and JR joined the church staff in 1988. Davidson says several members of the church's inner circle, including Terry Mai, knew about his relationship with Lisa.
But it wasn't until an odd kind of "outreach" a few years ago that Davidson broke the news to JR that Lisa was no longer his. Davidson announced that God had directed him to visit the 48 contiguous states and pray for the nation. In 2003 he chartered a jet and Davidson, the Mais, the Statons and another couple would fly to a city, drive around three or four hours binding demons, then fly back. Sometimes they'd hit two or three cities a day. On Christmas Day the team flew to Little Rock to do their drive-by prayers. Making it to all 48 states cost about $400,000.
She would never, in fact, publicly acknowledge the relationship or break away from JR and her kids, Davidson says. "She didn't have the courage to stand up for what she knew."
I sent this email to JR and I am forwarding it to you with these instructions: Don't even let JR lay his hands on your body. I have power over your body. (I Corinthians 7) Love you, Doyle
Don't you lay your hands on Lisa, you child of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness. Do not even touch my wife's flesh. Doyle Davidson.
Brock Macauley, Mick and Connie's young son, was furious at John Schlosser. The family had come to visit the Schlossers at their Dallas apartment, and John was talking about how he was head of his household and "owned" his wife and children. The 12-year-old blasted him. "You can't own people!" The rest of the visit went downhill from there.
John had been unemployed for a year and a half. A relative of Dena's who worked at Hitachi told John about a job opening at the company's Dallas office. It paid in the high 70s with benefits. John asked if he'd be in charge of Hitachi's Dallas IT department. Told no, John said he wasn't interested. God would bring along the perfect position.
That's what God did for others at Water of Life, at least according to their testimonial Web pages. They believed God for healing, employment and homes. Terry Mai even described how God had located the new car he wanted: a white Pontiac Catalina with red interior. But they had to have faith.
Back when John worked long hours, Dena had started going to church every night, lugging the kids along for two-hour services that ended around 10 p.m. In 2003, alarmed that she was losing her influence over Dena, Connie called Doyle Davidson one day and urged him to tell Dena to keep the children home on school nights.
"He referred to her as a wicked woman," says Macauley, who was listening in. "Connie said, 'I can call CPS, and they can look into it.'" Davidson's response, according to Macauley: "People who oppose me have been known to disappear."
Though Parkinson's disease was robbing her vitality, Connie traveled alone to Dallas and agreed to go with Dena to church. Afterward, Macauley says, Davidson met with Dena and her mother. He laid hands on her head, said a short prayer and announced that she was cured. (Davidson denies laying hands on her but admits he prayed.)
Macauley says either Dena or Doyle took away Connie's medication. Convinced her mother was cured, Dena dropped Connie at the airport for the flight home. Connie sat down to wait for her plane and "froze," unable to speak or move. It wasn't until the next day that someone noticed she was in distress, found a few pills at the bottom of Connie's purse and got her on a flight home.
Then God threw the Schlossers another curve: Dena got pregnant for the sixth time.
Subject: Nice to see you
I told you God would deliver you into my hands shortly. Well he did just that. He knew what it would take to make you very hostile. Let me tell you something, you are my wife and JR will soon die, and you will die before I do. Now your threats do not bother me one bit. You do remember how you said certain people would die that are with me. Then darling you said I would die. You will come to my house and live with me in peace. I will deliver you from the Jezebel...Love you, Doyle. P.S. You are no match for me, but you are cute when you are stirred up. Maggie was born on January 9, 2004, in the Schlossers' apartment with the help of a midwife. "By that time, the home birth--everything--was God's will," Macauley says. That, and they had no health insurance.
The next day, Dena tried to slash her wrists with a pair of scissors. Her injuries weren't serious. She later told a psychiatrist she wanted to prove her faith that God would heal her.
Six days after the birth, Dena ran screaming down the street, her daughter Kelsie pedaling after her on a bike. Diagnosed as psychotic, Dena spent two days at Green Oaks psychiatric hospital, where she was given a prescription for Haldol and Ativan and released. Dena later told a psychiatrist she didn't want to leave the hospital, but her husband had "prayed about it" and wanted her home.
By now Child Protective Services had intervened. After interviewing the kids--one girl called her mother's suicide attempt "a devil's trick," according to The Dallas Morning News--CPS ruled that Dena couldn't be alone with them. Since John had to work all the time, that added another pressure. For a while, a counselor checked on Dena every day.
Carolyn Thomas harped on Dena to take her meds but would later tell Plano police that John wouldn't buy the drugs she needed consistently. Dena would take the medicine for a while, then stop. Thomas was convinced Dena was simply following her husband's lead.
"She didn't want to hurt him if it called for her to be defiant," Thomas told a detective. "I'm a Jezebel," she added, "but I keep it under control. I'm only a Jezebel when I need to be, when I need to stand up for what's right."
Referred in February for outpatient treatment, Dena was evaluated for 45 minutes, then had 15-minute follow-ups at four-week intervals. She continued to tell the psychiatrist she didn't need medication. Dena was later released from treatment.
But in March 2004, Dena had left home in the middle of the night and was found screaming on the bathroom floor of an emergency room. Worried that Dena's "spiritual church vocabulary"--meaning her religious fanaticism and talk of demons--might be misinterpreted as psychosis, John insisted that his wife be released to him.
Following CPS' admonition not to leave Dena alone with the children, John's mother stayed with them for six weeks during the summer. Deeming Dena no longer at risk, CPS closed the case in August.
Isolated and lonely, Dena wanted to work outside the home, but John forbade it. Though the oldest girl was in school, Dena had two children to care for and no emotional reserves. Thomas kept urging her to tell John what she needed.
"I don't think he liked me too much," Thomas told the detective. After yet another scolding from Thomas about Dena's medications, John told her, "Don't push me." John later told Dena, "Maybe something would happen to Carolyn."
Things like that occurred in Doyle Davidson's world. Davidson tells a story about God intervening in 1974 when he was preparing to go to Israel with a religious group. When Davidson couldn't come up with the money, another man put in his place abruptly died. Davidson got to go. Why God didn't provide the ticket instead of sending the grim reaper is unclear.
The turmoil at Water of Life began bubbling to the surface the summer after Maggie's birth. In April 2004, Davidson shocked his inner circle by declaring that, 17 years earlier, God had given him Lisa Staton as his wife. Most of them accepted it, but not without a fight, Davidson says. "They struggled, every one of them," he says. The preacher would later share the news with his television audience.
Davidson claimed his marriage to Patti was in the flesh and his marriage to Lisa, a vivacious brunette at least 20 years younger than him, was pure, "of the spirit."
Core members accused Davidson of adultery and called for him to repent; some left the church.
In June 2004, Davidson announced that God had directed him to give away his Fairfield house, appraised at $227,000. A few weeks after Maggie's murder, he would purchase a big two-story house in Plano only a few blocks from the Statons. Both the home and its elaborate furnishings were paid for by the ministry. Davidson later posted photos of the showcase home on the Internet, as if to tell Lisa her nest was ready.
The relationship boiled into the public eye on September 9, 2004. That's when Davidson went to the Statons' Plano home and demanded that Lisa come live with him. According to a police report, her husband discovered Davidson sitting on top of Lisa, his hands around her throat, trying to cast out the Jezebel spirit so that she would obey him. The Statons called police. Davidson took a swing at JR, according to the report, but JR ducked. An officer smelled alcohol on Davidson's breath and charged him with public intoxication. Davidson admits he'd been drinking but says he "absolutely" wasn't drunk. He ended up paying a $352 fine for public intoxication, but assault charges were dropped when the Statons refused to cooperate with police. Announcing to the church that JR had "betrayed" him by calling the cops, Davidson fired both of the Statons. Lisa's refusal to submit to God's plan became a regular topic of his televised sermons.
Davidson brushed off calls to repent. Of what? He was just obeying God.
The Statons could not be reached for comment, but Lisa has posted this message on the Internet: "Doyle Davidson has been speaking many things both on and off his TV broadcast for some time about me, Lisa, and has also written things on his 'News of Interest' page. It is NOT the spirit of God speaking out of his mouth. Doyle is speaking by a witchcraft divination spirit. Many wicked things have also been said and done in private by Doyle to me and which I will not go into details because God sees, hears, and he knows."
Davidson responded by calling his critics devils and sorcerers.
Dena's soul roiled at every twist in this nightly drama. According to court testimony, after a series of encounters--Lisa chasing Davidson with a fly swatter, Lisa telling Davidson her children hated him--the Statons went into hiding. Davidson says he last spoke to Lisa in June 2005. "She came by and said some things to me. She was mad."
In e-mailed letters, Davidson vilified Lisa for joining forces with a group of former believers who were plotting against him.
"Do you ever consider that your tongue is set on fire from hell?" Lisa shot back in one of her e-mails.
Davidson still expects Lisa to return to him some day. "I saw the power of darkness take Lisa over," he says. "I was horrified to watch her. She lost control, and that devil had her. She became an enemy of mine." But God, he says, will bring her home.
On November 21, 2004, Dena went to Sunday services with John and the children. That day, Davidson severely criticized the Plano Police Department and cursed Lisa's rebellion. He had not been drunk; the accusations against him were from lying spirits. The whole thing was a "set-up by Satan" to destroy his ministry.
Indignant and upset, Dena told John after church about her desire to talk to the police, to demand they drop the charges against this man of God. John took Dena to Davidson, who insisted he could handle the police himself.
The couple argued in the parking lot. "I want to give the baby to Doyle," Dena insisted. "I want to give the baby to God." She was convinced Maggie was supposed to marry Doyle. John didn't take it seriously. Later that day, according to a confidential CPS report obtained by the Morning News, John spanked Dena with a wooden spoon to curb her rebellion.
Dena must have felt her world closing in. Her mother was dying, and her husband was self-absorbed and angry. John had announced they were moving to Grapevine, far away from Thomas. They'd only be able to go to church a few times a week. The post-partum depression now flared into full-fledged psychosis.
You have been my wife from the foundation of the world. The Lord says that any man that hath touched you is a dead man. --Doyle Davidson, March 4, 2006
On the morning of November 22, 2004, Dena had been reading the Bible, as she had nonstop for four or five days, when she was overwhelmed by a feeling something was wrong. A Bible verse from Matthew was reverberating in her mind. "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
After the arguments at church the day before, the Schlossers had gone to an electronics store, and Dena heard John say, "little arms, little arms" as he picked up 11-month-old Maggie to put her in a cart.
Little arms, little arms. Dena had to overcome the Jezebel spirit by making a new start. She was incomplete. Parts of herself and her daughter would combine to be whole. God would heal them; Doyle could marry Maggie then. The baby would be gone, the baby John hadn't wanted, and John would be happy again.
Dena went to a kitchen drawer, pulled out a 9-inch knife and walked into the baby's room. While gospel music played, she cut off Maggie's arms. The infant flailed, suffering 50 cuts on her face. Then Dena stabbed the knife deep into her own left shoulder.
Covered with blood, she sat at the computer as the baby bled to death. She answered the phone and talked to John, then Carolyn.
When police arrived, Dena had a dazed look in her eyes, and while being read her rights she smiled randomly, sometimes chanting, "praise God, thank you God." An officer wrenched the knife from her without realizing it was embedded in her flesh. When asked why she killed her child, Dena said, "I felt I had to."
Placed on suicide watch, Dena was uncommunicative and banged her head against the cell wall. She initially refused to take the anti-psychotic prescribed by a jail psychiatrist, telling him there was no such thing as depression, "there's only God."
Dena later told a psychiatrist that she wanted to kill herself or provoke her husband to kill her. All the repressed anger, fear and resentment she felt about the baby and John--and her obsession with Doyle Davidson and his demons--had built up, accompanied by frightening hallucinations that began after Maggie's birth:
Her deceased grandparents' voices whispered to Dena from behind a door.
A message came through the TV that the woman in a commercial was going to come out and replace her, the defective mother, and Dena would disappear.
Blood on the streets turned into apostles who told her the "end of days" was coming and to be ready.
During a walk with the baby, she'd heard the buzz of an engine and thought someone was building an ark for the coming cataclysm. She looked in vain for the builder because God wanted him to have Maggie. She told John her dilemma. His response: "God brought you home."
Somehow, John Schlosser didn't notice his wife was a psychotic mess. Talking to a police detective the day of Maggie's death, he was unemotional and didn't seem to grasp what had happened. CPS evaluated John before returning his daughters to him. According to the Morning News, John said he felt "melancholy" about the baby's death, but he was "almost done being very sad when I buried her."
Dena was diagnosed as suffering from "bi-polar disorder, severe, with psychotic features." At first, she was found incompetent to stand trial. But a cocktail of medications pulled her out of her psychosis, and the court eventually deemed her fit.
I have done the will of God and in every other time when it looked like I had missed God, and my enemies were telling me that I had sinned, God came through and exalted me. Get ready the time for God to exalt me is here again...I love you, Doyle, July 7, 2005
The demon had been 4 inches wide and more than 6 feet tall with a tail, Davidson testified in a packed Collin County courtroom in February. The bizarrely proportioned spirit had reared up over Davidson a year and a half earlier in his new home, "stood in front of me and spoke to me...trying to scare me."
The demon had a message: Lisa is not your wife.
"I said, 'Lisa is my wife,'" Davidson says. "And the demon disappeared."
During Dena's trial, the preacher claimed he "barely knew" the Schlossers, even though he'd been the first person John had called after his shocking conversation with Dena. Davidson had prayed for Connie and performed Maggie's funeral. John testified Davidson was a confidant. "When Dena said something that was against the teachings of the church," says Dena's attorney David Haynes, "John would bring her to Davidson."
Davidson says he realized Dena "had demons" the first time he met her--when she came to the church and asked for $5,000. He turned her down, he says, because he didn't have the money. "That was the first conversation and the longest," he says.
But Howard Shapiro, John's attorney, also describes a close relationship between Davidson and the Schlossers. "He [Davidson] certainly got into the Schlossers' minds, bodies and souls," he says. "Their relationship was a lot more detailed than Doyle Davidson wants to admit."
On the witness stand for almost two hours, Davidson testified about his demon-busting. "I do not believe that any mental illness exists that is not a manifestation of demonic activity," Davidson said, "and that medication can never straighten out a person. Only the power of God can make a person perfectly sound." But Davidson stopped short of saying he told people not to use psychotropic drugs.
"If they have the faith and God directs them, they need the demons cast out," he said. "And if they don't, they need medication."
Dena's trial ended in a hung jury. After the verdict, medical tests revealed that she has an inoperable brain tumor; there's no way to know how long it had been there or if it affected her psychosis. Instead of a retrial, Dena's case was heard by a judge, who declared Dena not guilty by reason of insanity and sent her to a state mental hospital where she'll likely spend the rest of her days. John, who has the couple's two children, has since filed for divorce and is attempting to have Dena's parental rights terminated. He no longer attends Water of Life.
After his appearance in court, Davidson reported back to his flock, praising God for the opportunity of sharing the gospel with the world:
"I noticed a woman sitting behind two defense attorneys, in a slumped-over attitude, who appeared greatly depressed. I would wonder from time to time, 'Who is this woman, and what is she doing sitting there?' As they moved more toward the things of the gospel, the things of the Spirit, I saw her head rising up, and she started looking at me. I thought, 'My goodness, that's Dena Schlosser.' I could see the words I was speaking were ministering life unto her...God bless her."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.