On the lam

The explosion of the battering ram splintering a heavy front door jarred the predawn stillness in Plano last Thursday. Seventeen SWAT officers of the Plano Police Department rushed into the fashionable two-story house in their search for the elusive homeowner, Michael Lee Davis.

With the SWAT team were Plano Detective Curtis Coburn, three Texas Department of Insurance investigators, and six warrants for Davis' arrest.

Six months of intense investigation brought charges that Davis masterminded a massive insurance-fraud scheme involving more than $1 million in coverage. He is accused of persuading clients of the AIDS Resource Center in Dallas to take out life policies by lying to insurers about their HIV-positive status. Sources close to the investigation say Davis would then buy up the policies for a fraction of their full value and resell them to investors at a hefty profit.

The alleged scheme was hardly the standard insurance fraud -- and the target of this early-morning manhunt had emerged from an even more unpredictable past.

In 1980, when Michael Lee Davis was still Walter Waldhauser Jr., he confessed to being the middleman in one of Houston's most infamous multiple homicides -- killings committed to cash in on life insurance payoffs. One of the victims was a 14-month-old boy. The triggerman in the case claimed that Waldhauser held the boy's mother down as she was shot in the head.

Waldhauser received three concurrent 30-year prison sentences and was paroled after serving nine years.

Last October, the Dallas Observer and its sister paper the Houston Press tracked the new life of the convicted capital murderer (Death merchant, October 22). He had legally changed his name to Davis and become vice president of Southwest Viatical in Dallas. The viatical market deals in existing life insurance policies of people terminally ill with AIDS or HIV. Dealers such as Waldhauser/Davis pay patients pennies on the dollar for their policies, then collect full value when patients die.

The October story and several follow-up articles attracted the attention of state insurance regulators and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, which was interested in revelations that some of Waldhauser/Davis' associates at Southwest Viatical were also ex-cons.

Waldhauser/Davis had been on "postcard parole" -- it required merely that he report annually to authorities by mail. But last November, authorities revoked his parole for failing to make his annual reporting deadline. Four weeks later, parole officials reversed themselves and freed Waldhauser/Davis again with the proviso that his parole requirements be tightened. They fitted him with an electronic monitoring device.

After about three months, however, parole officials dropped the electronic monitoring for Waldhauser/Davis. The device was gone. And now, so is he.

Plano Police Detective Curtis Coburn is the latest law enforcement officer obsessed with putting Waldhauser/Davis behind bars. Coburn first learned that the ex-con was a Plano resident after the killer's parole was revoked last year. The cop didn't like the idea of what he describes as a piece of "human trash" living in his city.

Coburn took it upon himself to stake out Waldhauser/Davis' home occasionally and monitor his activity. He also researched county records, discovering that there was no mortgage on the home. That indicated an apparent cash purchase of the $180,000 house -- unusual for someone who claimed on his parole reports to have been unemployed for the past few years.

So Coburn didn't need much prompting when the state investigators called to ask for his help in the predawn raid to take Waldhauser/Davis into custody. And he was just as upset as they when they discovered that Waldhauser/Davis had already hit the road after learning somehow that his parole was about to be revoked.

Coburn had arrived at the location early -- 4 a.m. -- to await the arrival of SWAT and the insurance investigators. At 5:45 a.m., SWAT officers made what is called a "hard entry," using the battering ram to burst into the house.

Seconds later, Coburn heard the screams of Waldhauser/Davis' wife, Beverly. In the dark, she pleaded with the intruders not to kill her.

According to one of the raiding officers, Beverly claimed that she hadn't seen her husband since he learned -- how, she didn't say -- that parole officials had an arrest warrant issued to revoke his parole.

Indeed, parole officials in Dallas obtained that arrest warrant one week earlier. That was after Waldhauser/Davis had failed to show up for his scheduled monthly visit with his parole officer in May. The parole records also reveal that only a month before his failure to report, the Dallas parole office recommended that Waldhauser/Davis be taken off electronic monitoring. Despite Waldhauser/Davis' reputation as a con artist, two parole board members approved the request for him to remove his monitoring device.

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Steve Mcvicker

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