The Case of the Headless, Handless Corpse

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As the tipster added names and details, the South Seas island family beach scenes began to make way for darker images, ones of kidnapping, robbery, and murder.

One name made this tip worth taking seriously.
According to the informant, Fry had come to Texas at the behest of David R. Waters, whose name would instantly ring a bell with any student of the O'Hair case.

Waters had worked for the Murray O'Hairs a few years earlier in Austin, first as a typesetter and later as office manager.

He quit in 1993, shortly before $54,000 turned up missing from various atheist accounts. A police investigation revealed that Waters had written himself checks for that amount.

Waters eventually turned himself in, pleaded guilty in May 1995, and received probation and orders to repay the O'Hairs. Another term of his sentence was to have no contact with the family.

Over the decades of running the atheist center in east Austin, O'Hair had become less and less selective about whom she hired to keep things afloat. Her diaries, full of complaining about money and unreliable help, reflected her derisive view of her staff.

"Rubber check time," she wrote in July 1980. "After all these years, we are back to that again. It's harder than digging potatoes to try to get money to run the center. We have no one to work in that office but scums, chicken fuckers, fags, masturbators, dumb niggers, spicks, witless cunts, derelicts, lumpen proletarian and transvestites," she wrote.

To O'Hair, Waters was just another lump, fit for typesetting.
To Waters, newly arrived in Texas, American Atheists was just a job.
"The ad in the paper was something I was qualified to do. Simple as that," he recalls.

But it is doubtful that O'Hair had ever knowingly hired a convicted murderer, and when she later found out what she had done, even the great atheist who feared neither God nor man became anxious.

"Once they found out what Waters' record was, they were definitely afraid of him. A member looked it up in the Peoria newspaper files and sent a copy of the articles where he was convicted of murder," American Atheists employee David Travis says.

"And of course Madalyn showed it to all the employees so we could all see what a bad guy David Waters was. That would have been in 1994, after Waters quit, but before he turned himself in," he says.

At age 17, while living in Illinois, Waters was charged and convicted with three other teenagers in the murder of a fourth teen, who was beaten to death with a fence post after an argument over 50 cents in gas money.

Waters and the others pleaded guilty, saying they had been drinking heavily and sniffing ether when the killing occurred in 1964. Three of the youths, including Waters, received sentences of 30 to 60 years. Waters served 12 years before he was paroled in 1976.

Waters had subsequent convictions of forgery and battery, the latter involving a 1977 assault on his mother, Betty Waters of Creve Coeur, Illinois.

According to newspaper accounts, Waters beat his mother with a broom, hit her with wall plaques, urinated in her face, and poured beer over her.

"He was walking around the room, ranting and raving, saying he wanted some whiskey, and then he was going to have a little fun with his mother," his mother, Betty Waters, testified.

But none of this was known when Waters went to work for O'Hair, rising to office manager, a position that gave him keys to both the office and, when they were out of town, the O'Hair family's five-bedroom home.

To this day, Waters denies stealing the $54,000.
Rather, he claims, he was the chump in a scheme by Jon Murray to liquidate atheist assets and siphon them away to avoid having to pay a feared judgment in the Truth Seeker suit.

"I had to plead guilty, because if it went to trial, I had too much baggage," Waters said last fall. "My lawyer told me, 'You will be tried on the facts, but you do have a past record, which will stain anything you say, and that's the reality of the situation.'"

For Waters, the time spent with American Atheists was disillusioning.
"I kind of thought it would be a hotbed of intellectual debate. But there was no debate allowed. That's for sure. It was her way or the highway," he says of O'Hair. "Madalyn to me was the most hateful individual I had ever met. I can't say that I've ever heard her say, without reservation, something good about anyone at any time."

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John Maccormack

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