More than a thousand days passed before the headless, handless body dumped by the East Fork of the Trinity yielded a name--Danny Fry, a small-time hustler from Florida who had come to Texas in 1995 for a big score.
Found on October 2, 1995, the body was identified in late January by genetic testing. But who killed Danny Fry, and why so brutally? And what was his connection, if any, to the disappearance in 1995 of famed atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her two adult children along with $500,000 in gold?
Last week, a 36-page affidavit was unsealed in Austin, putting Fry right in the thick of the O'Hair case and naming his two alleged cohorts in her disappearance--Gary Karr and David Waters--as the agents of his wretched end.
"Waters, Karr, and Fry planned and executed the scheme to abduct, kidnap, and murder Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Jon Garth Murray and Robin Murray O'Hair for the purpose of stealing at least $600,000 from the United Secularists of America," reads the affidavit of Edmond Martin, an IRS investigator.
Later, Martin adds, "Waters and Karr turned on Fry and killed him. They then dumped the beheaded and handless body of Fry in Dallas County, Texas."
The affidavit in support of a search warrant was filed March 23, a day before federal agents raided Waters' apartment in Austin and questioned Karr in Detroit.
Among the items sought by federal agents were the possible tools of abduction, murder, and dismemberment: duct tape, a bow saw, handcuffs, a Browning 9mm pistol, and a shovel.
Convicted felons, Waters and Karr were charged with federal firearms violations after guns or ammunition were found in their possession. Last week Waters pleaded guilty to two counts, confronted by overwhelming evidence of his guilt.
"There was no defense. They had pictures of him at the firing range, shooting his weapon," says Patrick Ganne, Waters' lawyer. "The gun was in his hand, and unlike Danny Fry, the hand was attached to his body."
Waters, facing up to 20 years in prison, will be sentenced in July. Karr's trial on similar weapons charges is set for July.
Neither Waters nor Karr has been accused of any crimes in connection with the September 1995 disappearance of the O'Hair family. Efforts to find the remains of the O'Hairs have been fruitless.
However, the affidavit released last week provides a wealth of testimony and circumstantial evidence about the plot to kidnap and murder O'Hair. It was a scheme, according to the affidavit, that sprang from Waters' loathing of his ex-boss, a woman who once reveled in her title "America's most hated woman."
Waters had been O'Hair's business manager in Austin, but left in 1994 about the same time $54,400 vanished from organization accounts. In May 1995, he pleaded guilty to stealing the money.
"Waters was open about his dislike of the O'Hairs and made comments about harming Madalyn. Waters began obsessing about his ability to take Madalyn's money without her knowledge," said a confidential source the affidavit identifies as CS-2.
When O'Hair wrote a lengthy article about Waters, his criminal past, and the theft in the July 1995 edition of American Atheist newsletter, his anger deepened, according to the source.
"Madalyn characterized Waters as a scumbag. At this point in time, Waters had a serious change of attitude regarding the O'Hairs. Waters mentioned that he would like to get revenge for what had been written and expressed fantasies of killing Madalyn. He spoke about seeing Madalyn suffer and snipping off her toes," said the informant.
According to the affidavit, about this time, Fry and Karr were recruited to help kidnap the O'Hairs, who abruptly left Austin in late August 1995, spent September in San Antonio, and then vanished right after receiving $500,000 in gold coins.
Fry's possible role in the crime remains unclear, though the affidavit suggests he played a vital role in the O'Hair kidnapping.
According to the document, while he was in Texas that fall, Fry told his brother Bob that he was armed, was watching some people during that time, and was therefore not getting much sleep.
"On February 18, 1999, [Martin] interviewed Bob Fry, who stated that [Danny] Fry told him in September 1995 that he had purchased a pistol and was going to the pistol range to learn how to shoot. Bob Fry thought this was strange because Fry never owned a gun while in Florida. When he questioned Fry, Fry stated, 'This is Texas, man.'
"Bob Fry advised that during his conversations with Fry, he said the following things: 'I've got to go because I'm sitting on these people. They were staying at the Warren Inn [in San Antonio] and the room is registered to David Waters, and he was sleeping weird hours and sleeping when he could, and was using a van to get around,'" reads the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, Fry was also the mystery man who sold Jon Murray's 1988 Mercedes Benz to a San Antonio real estate agent on September 5, 1995. The man pretended to be Murray.
The document also provides insight into the sinister events that apparently unfolded after the O'Hairs disappeared and were presumably dismembered and buried in plastic barrels.
According to CS-2, Karr, Waters, and Fry came back to Austin, loaded down with money and new clothes, but in a peculiar state of mind. The informant also detected hostility from Waters to Fry, and it was right after this that Fry made his last phone call home to Florida and was killed.
"On the day they [Karr, Waters, and Fry] returned to the apartment, Waters had thousands of dollars in his possession as well as a lot of new clothing that were in bags from Saks 5th Avenue. He also had a new Raymond Weil watch," states the affidavit.
"CS-2 stated that when Fry returned to the apartment...he looked sick. All three men appeared to be somewhat 'out of it,' Waters was in a bad mood, acting very businesslike and said something hateful to Fry. It was obvious that Karr and Waters were getting along, but Fry was not part of the group," it stated.
"CS-2 stated it was quite uncommon for Fry to be so quiet, as his usual demeanor was extremely talkative and animated. CS-2 found it strange that Fry was not drinking or even drunk as he usually drank whiskey and beer everyday," states the affidavit.
Later that day, possibly the last day of his life, Fry took a nap.
After he awoke, CS-2 packed his belongings and was under the impression he was about to return to his family in Florida, according to the affidavit, but something else apparently intervened.
"CS-2 left the apartment to run an errand. When CS-2 returned, Waters, Karr and Fry were gone. Fry's belongings were still in the apartment. Waters and Karr were gone from the apartment at least one night, possibly more," read the affidavit.
Later, most of Fry's personal belongings also disappeared.
When the other two men returned, they were in a joking mood.
"CS-2 then saw Waters and Karr walking towards the apartment from the Dumpster in the parking lot. Both men were in a good mood and laughing. CS-2 asked Waters where Fry was, at which time he replied, 'He took off with some guy.' CS-2 stated that during this time, Karr began teasing Waters about his inability to read a map. CS-2 never saw Fry again," the affidavit states.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
But it was not the last trace the informant saw of Fry.
"A few days after Waters and Karr returned without Fry, CS-2 saw Waters cutting up a shirt which he/she believed to be the one Fry was wearing the last time he/she saw him. Waters used the shirt scraps to clean his glasses," states the document.
And when Fry's relatives began calling the apartment looking for him a few days later, Waters handled the anxious inquiries.
"Fry's daughter called and asked CS-2 if he/she knew where Fry was, as he had not returned to Florida. Thereafter, Waters began taking the calls from Fry family members," the informant recalled.
One final observation in the affidavit may hold the secret of Fry's death.
"During October 1995, CS-2 saw Waters take his 9mm Browning semiautomatic pistol apart and clean it. The only times CS-2 saw Waters clean his pistol was on the two or three occasions when Waters went to the shooting ranges. Waters did not clean his gun again until after the next time he shot.