The Reluctant Witness
Happier days, top: On February 23, 1980, Ron Davis and Sharon Ware were married in Los Angeles. Shortly afterward, they moved to Dallas. Middle: Sharon Davis with Autumn, the youngest of the couple's two children, in an undated snapshot. Bottom: A relative took this snapshot in the mid-1980s--around the time Sharon filed for divorce but didn't follow through and reconciled with her husband.
He simply wanted his father to tell the truth, to stop the posing and the big-shot games and start saying something that made sense.
Why is Mom still missing? What do you know? Why haven't you told your own brothers and sisters that she vanished three months ago and that Dallas police have suspicions there was foul play?
Those are some of the things Ronnie Davis was thinking as he drove from his dorm room at the University of Texas at Arlington to the family home near the Oak Cliff Country Club one evening last September. He just wanted Ron Davis--lawyer, community activist, former Dallas NAACP leader and a close political ally of Lee Alcorn and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price--to tell him what happened to his mother.
Ron Davis had no answers for his son. But he had something else in store. On June 13, 2001, Sharon Davis, a 51-year-old schoolteacher, evaporated without a trace at the start of a routine morning. Only two days earlier, on June 11, her lawyer had filed what promised to be a nasty divorce suit, complete with broad claims that Davis had committed "fraud on the community," that he was at fault for the breakup of their 21-year union and that she should receive more than half their assets, starting with him being made to move out of the house. The summons had not been served, but relatives say she'd warned her husband it was on the way.
When the son came calling, Ron Davis answered the front door of the spacious, '80s-era two-story home in the 1900 block of Elderleaf Drive, which is on a cul-de-sac in a quiet, pretty neighborhood popular with Dallas' black middle class.
As soon as he let Ronnie in, he demanded to know whether the young man was wearing a wire for the detective assigned to Sharon Davis' missing persons case, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
The trim 21-year-old finance major stripped off his baseball shirt to show he wasn't; then he launched into his questions. "He was saying stuff like, 'Well, your mom went away.' You know, just left. I wasn't buying that," Ronnie recalls now.
Then, changing directions, Davis offered his son a new theory, one of four he is said to have given since his wife disappeared. He told Ronnie he had documentation that his mother was in a "mental hospital," the affidavit states. When Ronnie asked for proof, he says, his father offered none.
The tension in the room inched higher, and talk became argument. Ronnie says he was egging on his father, purposely angering him. "I was saying, 'Well, it's a shame that my mom has come up missing and she actually beat you in life. You always run around acting like you're a bigwig or something, and she did beat you. It's a shame that she's not here to see it.'...He doesn't like being belittled."
As the insults flew, Ron drifted toward the back of the house and into a dimly lit library. In his sworn testimony, Ronnie says he turned to switch on a light, then turned back to see his father reaching for a holstered pistol, which was hanging on the back of a desk chair. "You talk a good game," the son reported his father saying. "You're not afraid to die."
Ronnie says he didn't wait to see what would happen next. When he heard the gun cock, he bolted down the hall, piled through the front door and out to his car. As he raced into the cul-de-sac, then came back to the front of the house, he suddenly remembered something.
"Damn." He'd left his cell phone and some insurance papers in the house. And he thought he might have been able to catch some of his father's words on a dictation feature on his phone. "He's peeking out the door, and I'm yelling, 'Put the gun down; put the gun down,'" Ronnie recalls, describing how he got out of his car and walked back into the yard.
He says his father opened the door, unarmed, and the two exchanged a few more words on the doorstep as several neighbors looked on.
"Someone is going to come out to UTA. Somebody is going to talk to you in the next couple of days," Davis said, according to the affidavit. "You need to see how serious I am. You crossed the line...still living in the same dorm?"
Today, Ronnie Davis' testimony is little more than a sheath of papers in an unsolved missing persons case, and Ron Davis is still going places in Dallas public life.
This spring, a grand jury declined to indict Davis on a felony assault charge arising from the September incident, a charge detectives say could be refiled.
In March, after being nominated by John Wiley Price and unanimously approved by Dallas County commissioners, Davis was appointed to a three-member commission in charge of overseeing labor matters at the 2,000-member Dallas County Sheriff's Department.
Sergeant Brenda Nichols of the Dallas Police Department missing persons squad says Sharon Davis' disappearance is one of the most difficult and heavily investigated cases in her files. "The whole case is curious," she says. "We've had a lot of people ask us if he [Ron Davis] is a suspect. This is a missing persons case. There are no suspects at this time. We don't have any criminal evidence, although we fear foul play has occurred. Right now, Mr. Davis is a witness. An uncooperative witness."
The 54-year-old Davis declined multiple requests for an interview but provided a brief letter and, just before press time, some written comments. He says he has been helpful to police, "and I do not believe that the DPD is taking the position that I have been uncooperative."
Declining the interview, he wrote, "It is obvious that your article will be one-sided, biased, full of conjecture, speculation and designed to entertain the public at my family's expense." He went on to accuse the Dallas Observer of having "an unhealthy history and fascination with African-American men and will do anything to create a negative story about them."
In contrast, Davis' two college-aged children, as well as other relatives, friends and neighbors, say they are grateful for publicity and concerned that the Dallas media have shown little interest in the disappearance until now. The story they tell is of a shy, selfless woman breaking free of a marriage to a difficult, controlling man, a sad mystery set against a backdrop of marital strife. Some talked of how Sharon Davis gave them warnings and revealed her fears during her last days in the couple's home, while others described chilling threats that they reported to police after Sharon was gone.
They have their theories, as does Ron Davis. His most recent casts his wife in unflattering terms. "The most logical explanation for her not contacting our children is that she is not taking her daily medication," he wrote in a letter to the Observer.
Sergeant Nichols says Davis' suggestion doesn't jibe with what she and two case investigators know to be Sharon Davis' medical history. They say there is no evidence of daily medication use, and none reported by anyone when they began their investigation last year.
Sharon had been going to a psychological counselor, several relatives say, but the only psychiatric pills anyone can recall was a doctor's prescription for an anti-anxiety drug some years ago.
Davis' theory also doesn't sit well with his youngest daughter, Autumn, a 19-year-old UTA student who is still living in her father's home. "He's trying to portray her to be a nut or something, and it's not working for me. I don't know if other people are buying it," the daughter says.
In searching for hard evidence leading either to Sharon Davis or a crime, Nichols says, police have hit only brick walls from the time Ron Davis, at what his son and daughter say was their urging, called in the missing persons report about 24 hours after she was last seen.
Autumn, who police say was the last known person to see Sharon Davis, says her mother drove her in her 1998 Mercury minivan to a DART bus stop in the Redbird area about 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 13. The daughter, who was heading to a summer job downtown, says she watched as her mother, who was dressed in a light-green nightgown and jogging pants, her hair in curlers, drove off. It was less than two miles back to the Davis house, where presumably Sharon would have returned to get ready for work.
She had a training session to attend that morning at Stemmons Elementary, in the Dallas Independent School District, where she had taught third grade the previous year and was slated to begin teaching sixth grade when classes resumed in the fall. But she never made it to the school.
Five days after she disappeared, Dallas police found Sharon's minivan in the parking lot of Bally Total Fitness near the Southwest Center Mall, about a mile from the Davis home. It contained no discernible fingerprints, and a window was broken, suggesting the possibility of foul play and of someone's attempts to cover their tracks, police say. Bally employees told investigators they first noticed the van about midnight on the day Sharon disappeared. Records at the gym, where Sharon was a member, showed she had not been there since the first week of June, about a week before she vanished, investigators say.
It wasn't until nearly three weeks later, on July 3, that Ron Davis talked face to face with police, although they say they tried several times earlier to schedule an interview. "We sat outside for two and half hours before he let us in," Nichols says, describing the first time police were able to talk to Davis at length. Davis didn't answer the door at first, but neighbors told them they had seen him come home, so the investigators parked their car and waited until he let them in, Nichols says. "One of the first things he asked us was, 'Am I a suspect?'" she says. She recalls telling him, "No, this is a missing persons case."
Davis, who ran a tape recorder throughout the conversation, says he let the three detectives "examine every room in my home."
Autumn, who says she has become increasingly skeptical over the past year of what she's heard from her dad, says her father's schedule was the only thing that struck her as unusual the morning Sharon disappeared. "My mom told me the night before, she told me to move the car because he was supposed to have a breakfast meeting in the morning," she says. "I really didn't understand, because I usually get up at 6:30." That morning when she got up, she says, her father was already gone.
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.
During the last several years, friends and relatives say, the Davis marriage was all but over. The couple came to occupy separate bedrooms. Any warmth or affection was gone, the children say.
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.
Sharon was born in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of an Air Force sergeant and product of a failed marriage that left her mother rearing four children alone in Las Vegas and, later, Los Angeles. Like Ron, Sharon had an advanced degree, a master's in public administration from California State University at Los Angeles.
Not long after they were married, the couple relocated to Dallas, although nobody is quite sure why. They didn't know anyone here. Ron had no employment lined up. "They just picked Dallas," Ware says.
Rather than enter the legal profession, Davis went to work for the city as an accountant in 1982 and several years later moved to code enforcement.
Family friends say Ron was always politically minded, but it wasn't until after he left his city job in the early 1990s that he began emerging as a visible activist.
He landed a position on a county advisory board on juvenile justice issues and formed several groups that received government grants to deal with youth crime. Davis also began emerging as a leader with the Dallas NAACP and was elected to its executive board. The association was making waves in the late 1990s under then-president Lee Alcorn, who had a high profile in several protests at DISD board meetings. The protests, which sometimes ended in scuffles, gathered a lot of publicity.
Friends and relatives say they became accustomed to seeing Davis on television, usually right behind Alcorn or Price, or leading news conferences on his own.
In 1999, national NAACP officials suspended Alcorn, Price and Davis after complaints about irregularities in a local association election. It was a multi-chaptered saga in which Davis, in a newsworthy and highly contentious move, incorporated a new NAACP chapter at his house. Neither Alcorn, who Davis' children say was a frequent visitor at their home, nor Price, who also would stop by, returned phone calls seeking comment on Davis and his career.
From the time Ron Davis left his city job, Ronnie and Autumn say, they were never certain what their father did for a living. He would go to civic meetings, and the family would attend NAACP banquets. But there was no regular job. "All he would do from about the time I was in eighth grade was hang around the house with the stock channel on and trade," Ronnie says.
"He always told us that he traded stock. He was like a day-trader...a financial adviser to different people," Autumn says.
"He had some kind of nonprofit foundation he was buying real estate through," says Ozzie Brewer, the neighbor, who is in the business of buying houses, making repairs and selling them.
Brewer recalls Davis and a young woman looking at a house of his, with an eye to invest. "I know at the time he was day-trading the stock market; we'd talked about some stocks. When I told him he could make about $25,000 on the deal, she told him, 'You don't want to mess with that. You could make $30,000 in two hours on your computer.'"
Property records show that Davis' tax-exempt Dallas Economic Development Corp. owns a house in Dallas, on Bonnie View Road. On federal tax forms Davis prepared and filed over the past three years, he reported paying himself $29,000 a year through the company and listed four close family members as its officers and board of directors. One, his brother Henry A. Davis, who lives in Milwaukee, is listed by only his first and middle names. Sharon was also listed as an officer by her maiden name, Sharon Ware. His daughter Ronnette, who lives in California, is listed as the company's president, with an annual salary of $3,300.
Davis described the group's mission as "elevating the economic status of poor people" through 11 different activities, including providing food and shelter to the homeless, small-business creation and work with public schoolchildren to increase academic achievement and community involvement.
Davis, who describes himself today as a lawyer/mediator, has never been licensed to practice law in Texas courts and, records show, has never applied to take the Texas bar exam. Through the Dallas County commissioners, he faxed a fresh résumé that listed only his legal education and the fact that he has been licensed to practice law in Wisconsin since 1974.
An Observer search of public records filled in some gaps on Davis and turned up some things his children say they didn't know.
Ronnie, Autumn and a number of people close to the family say Ron Davis always seemed to them to be healthy and able-bodied, as sound of mind as anyone. But in the early '90s, Davis brought a claim against his last regular employer, the city of Dallas, alleging he was "psychologically impaired" and too sick to work.
In 1992, seven years into his job as a code-enforcement supervisor, Davis reported that he was mugged in a city building in Rochester Park, the tough neighborhood where he worked. The attack occurred six weeks after Davis lost a grievance against the city for being passed over for a promotion. Both issues ended up in court, with Davis representing himself.
In the promotion matter, Davis alleged he was the victim of a buddy system and that he was owed roughly $1.2 million in damages. City officials said another candidate outscored Davis in the selection process and was awarded the better job. Davis eventually dropped his suit.
For the disability claim, Davis presented psychological evaluations concluding that the attack left him with a severe case of post-traumatic stress, making him angry and obsessed with thoughts of revenge. But the city's expert, Dr. Marvin Cornette, found nothing wrong with Davis. The psychiatrist concluded that Davis was merely angry because the city, city staff and the city's insurer--who at one point hired a private investigator to follow Davis around--were fighting his claim.
"Feeling angry because one does not feel he has received what is entitled him, and threatening to hurt others as a result, is based on an immature personality style and not a psychiatric disorder," Cornette wrote.
In 1997, though, for reasons that are not recorded in court files, city attorneys simply stopped filing motions, and Davis won the case. He came away with almost five years of pay.
As a result of the lawsuit, through years when Davis was being regularly quoted in the daily newspaper as the director and general counsel of the Texas Family Institute, "an African-American think tank that works on juvenile justice issues," or the co-chairman of the African-American Advisory Council for Juveniles, another Davis-led organization that later dropped from sight, he was cashing city-funded checks for being mentally unfit to hold a job.
Davis had some other adventures in court around the same time. A brother and sister alleged Davis improperly influenced their mother and seized her six-figure inheritance before she died in 1996. That family fight, which is outlined in legal papers filed in Mississippi, ended without the complaining siblings getting anything. But Davis dropped a bomb on his sister, Reida Davis, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Although the matter concerned the relatively small sum of $15,000, Davis found it important enough to sue his own sister in federal court.
"This action," U.S. District Judge Joe Fish noted in his opinion tossing out Davis' lawsuit, "involves a family squabble that has become, quite literally, a federal case."
Sharon Davis' temperament could not have been more different from her husband's, friends say. People use words such as quiet, shy and sweet to describe the regular churchgoer, who was seldom heard to raise her voice. "Everybody loved Sharon," says Sandra Brewer, the longtime neighbor and friend. On their block, she cooked for parties and was thoughtful enough to send cards or flowers when someone was sick.
As her children grew a little older, she took the first of what would be a steady line of jobs: as a counselor in pre-trial release at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center, then as a counselor at a state jail in Hutchins and later, teaching. Her sister, Beverly Ware, says Sharon might have had a better career history were it not for a lack of confidence and poor self-esteem.
A friend, Mary Jordan, says Sharon dabbled in jazz singing, drawing and loved going to the theater but mainly was wrapped up in raising Ronnie and Autumn. "When we were out, we'd talk about her kids, girl-type things. She was crazy about her kids," Jordan says. Ron was always a gentleman when she and her husband would visit for dinner, she says. That impression would change when Sharon got to know her better and began telling things about life at home.
"Sharon really wanted to be married," her sister says. "I think that's because we basically grew up in a single-parent household." Even when the marriage soured after about five years and the birth of Ronnie and Autumn, Sharon hung in there because she didn't want her children growing up without a dad, the sister says.
Their mother worked constantly, Autumn and Ronnie say, and was made to pay half the household expenses from her own earnings, which she told several friends Davis made her keep in her own accounts after the aborted separation in 1985.
With his influential friends, family and neighbors say, Davis projected himself as a wealthy, connected man. At home, he was known for scrimping on everything for the family: clothes, cars, even pots and pans, which were so old that some didn't have handles, several relatives say. "The cake's your present," says Ronnie, describing a lot of birthdays. "That's what he'd say."
"He was very, very, very cheap, but she was, too," says Sharon's sister, who recalls the family pinning clothes on a line to avoid running the dryer. "You can count up on one hand the number of women who would put up with that. She was one of them."
But putting up was not easy.
Behind closed doors, the children say, their father was controlling, ill-tempered and so dismissive of their mother that they came to see it as mental abuse. "He would play mental games...like tell her she couldn't do stuff," says Autumn, who with her brother says her mother suffered a lack of confidence and was easily hurt by Ron's verbal slights. "When she wanted to become a principal, he was like, 'What are you talking about?' Like she couldn't do it."
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."
Six days before she disappeared, Sharon Davis climbed the stairs to lawyer Fred McDaniel's second-story office in DeSoto and did what she'd started to do 16 years earlier: get Ron Davis out of her life.
"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."
Ware, who made her statement to the police two weeks after Sharon disappeared, continued, "She stated that [Ron] had said to her that something might happen to her, and that their children would get over it because people get over the loss of a parent. Sharon called me a couple of days later and asked again if I would check on her every day, that [Ron] had called her a sneaky bitch."
The Observer provided Davis a copy of Ware's statement. He did not comment on its content but instead wrote back with a multi-part question. The first was, "If the Ware family truly thought the allegations were credible, why didn't any one of them or all of them advise her to temporarily leave?"
Davis' question, which not so subtly shifts the burden of replies from him to Ware, has an answer, Ware says. She says McDaniel advised her sister not to leave the house because she was seeking sole possession of it in the divorce.
Rather than leave, Sharon seems to have sounded an alarm to nearly everyone to whom she was close. In her sworn letter, Ware says she learned her sister had made phone calls or statements to other relatives in the span of several days.
Sandra Brewer says Sharon gave her a warning that Saturday, four days before she vanished. "We were at a block party talking at about 10 o'clock. She said, 'Sandra, if the [house] alarm goes off, call the police. If you love me, I want you to call 911...She also told me, 'If anything happens to me, you tell it.'"
Mary Jordan says she went with Sharon that Sunday evening to "Letters to the Lord," a praise dance show at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters downtown. That night, Jordan says, Sharon claimed that Ron had threatened her in the most graphic terms and told her she was crazy. She said she'd found a journal on her husband's desk detailing "what time she would come, what time she would leave, little things she would do through the day."
"I told her, 'Sharon, you need to go to the police and tell them he's threatening you.'"
This is the subject of the second part of Davis' written question to the Observer: "Why didn't someone at least file a report with the police?"
Jordan, who says she gave a detailed statement to the police after Sharon disappeared, says Sharon did not demonstrate to her that she was taking the threats very seriously. When the two women returned from their show downtown, she says, Sharon invited her into the house and offered her beans and some tea. Jordan says she was a little surprised at Sharon's nonchalance, given what she'd just heard.
"Ron was in the house, and he said, 'Is that Mary's voice I hear? Mary, how are you doing?'" Jordan says. "Sharon had told me all these things, and I really didn't want to shake his hand. I thought, 'How could he be saying these things to her and act like everything was so fine?'"
Eugene Ware, Sharon's father, who lives in Hampton, Virginia, says Sharon called him that week and said Ron had threatened her. He says his daughter asked that he call and check up on her every day.
Robert Ware, Sharon's brother, says his sister called him at his home in Los Angeles on Sunday, just before she left with her friend for the praise dance show. Ware says Sharon indicated to him that she was afraid of Ron and felt threatened. But Ware, a lawyer, says he didn't take her seriously and chalked her words up to nervousness about the divorce. "People get divorced and they go their separate ways all the time," he says. "Hindsight is 20-20."
Autumn Davis says she didn't hear any threats, but her mother told her she was afraid of her father and didn't want to be left alone with him in the house after the divorce was filed. "She didn't want me to go anywhere," Autumn says. "She wanted me to be at the house with her."
Autumn says she agreed and promised to stay close until the divorce went forward and Ron, presumably, would be made to leave. Her mother, she says, "would always tell us he would threaten her, and I'd believe her."
Today, Ron Davis says he is working diligently to find his wife.
In a brief conversation on one of the four occasions when the Observer asked him for an interview, he said he had hired a private detective. And in a letter, he says he is asking the public "to please consider us in their prayers and look for someone demonstrating the following episodic characteristics: (A) Wearing a hooded top, sweater or coat to shield her head and neck regardless of how hot the daytime temperature may be. (B) Clutching her purse very tightly to her chest as if someone is trying to take it from her."
No one else interviewed for this story says they ever saw Sharon Davis act that way in her life.
Ron Davis' children say they have heard their father say he's looking for their mother, but they believe they're carrying out the search alone.
In the weeks after Sharon first disappeared, Ronnie says, he and several college friends put up posters in the neighborhood. "Our neighborhood would not have known," he says.
Davis was saying Sharon had taken off with a wad of cash. As the victim of his wife's theft and greed, he would not have found a need to sound an alarm.
"He wasn't gonna do anything," Autumn says. "He said, 'Let the police find her.'"
Autumn says her father has told her so many different things over the past 13 months about what might have happened--Sharon took off, left for Lake Tahoe, ran into drug dealers she knew or other dangerous people, or wandered off in a psychotic haze--she has lost faith that any of them is true. "I think he knows exactly what's going on," she says.
Ronnie says he has all but given up hope that his mother is alive. "What I think it is--like, I said, I think she's dead, unfortunately, and he's still hiding something."
Neighbors say they are frustrated, too, with silence from African-American community leaders and the apparent dead end hit by police.
Earlier this year, with the months ticking by and no sign of Sharon Davis, police thought they were going to get some national media help in their search. A producer from Unsolved Mysteries, the popular reality TV show, came to Dallas and began filming a segment, which was scheduled to be aired this spring.
"They were extremely interested," says Sergeant Nichols, who thought that exposure of Sharon's disappearance on national television could only help. "Unfortunately, they aren't ever going to air the show." Sally Howell, a producer for the show, says, "For various reasons, we came up against numerous roadblocks."
Among them was a long, accusatory letter from Ron Davis, who declined to go on camera, and the fact that police are positing no theories about what could have happened. Sharon's disappearance was just too hot for an entertainment show to handle.
Says Howell, "We're not 60 Minutes."
The last thing Sharon Davis is known to have told the world is that she wanted to slip the bonds of her marriage to Ron Davis.
The mechanics of that began on Thursday, June 14, the first day after she went missing, when constables attempted to serve papers summoning Ron Davis to court for divorce proceedings.
The constables went up the walk to the tan-brick, white-trimmed Davis house four times that month, records show. They reported they couldn't locate him, although they noted one time a red Jeep was in the drive. They tried nine more times in July, reporting in the court record that a surveillance camera had been installed at the front door.
On July 28, a man who identified himself as Ron's brother Henry answered the door and told the servers Davis did not want the papers. In September, the constables reported trying to serve Davis four more times, to no avail.
Autumn Davis says her father told her he didn't want to be served and not to let the constables in.
Today, without service of her divorce petition, Sharon Davis' big leap hangs in limbo. It is an open case on which nothing has been done.
Ozzie Brewer, who can see the Davis house clearly from his own home, says he noticed his neighbor peeking out the windows last summer as the constables did their work. Sometimes Davis would crack open the door after they'd left, as if checking whether the coast was clear.
"He was in there," Brewer says. "He just wouldn't come out."
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