At the time Danny Fry came to Texas in mid-summer 1995 to make some money with David Waters, he was living on the Gulf Coast with a woman he had promised to marry, raising his daughter Lisa, and, as always, looking for a fast buck.
Although family members describe Fry as a con man, they are also quick to note that he had no criminal record aside from some alcohol-related driving arrests, and no history of violent behavior.
"Danny was a scam artist, so I wouldn't put a lot of things past him," says his ex-wife, Jeannetta Camp. "He did a lot of things to make extra money scamming people, but I don't believe he would harm anyone intentionally. But people change, and I haven't been with the man for many years."
Instead, Fry made money with his gorgeous green eyes and silver tongue.
"He knew how to twist you around. He just had that way about him. I guarantee, he probably owed most people he knew a few bucks, and no one owed him. On the other hand, he would be generous when he had the money," Fry's older brother Bob says.
Fry's smooth delivery and friendly manner brought early dividends, allowing him to drop out of high school back in Illinois and make grown-up money hawking house siding.
"He started canvassing at a really young age, 15 or 16, and he did real well. He was making $300 a week back then. You know what a racket that was in the '60s and '70s. Danny DeVito did a movie about it," Bob says. "He'd open the door for the closers and keep the people comfortable while they closed the deal...Five minutes in a room with Danny, and everyone knew him."
Fry's father, Junior, worked in the local Alcoa plant. Mother Betty taught school before marrying and raising the eight Fry children, of which Danny was the fifth.
"He was the one who could always make a buck, but he'd spend it as quickly as he got it. He dressed snappy, real good, and always kept himself well groomed. He liked wearing rings and diamonds, and he normally had a nice car to drive," Bob says.
But Danny Fry was also an alcoholic, and the money didn't last.
"He always had a habit after making a big sale of taking off and blowing the money. If he had just stayed sober and used his talents, he would never have to do any of this other shit," Bob says.
Fry made plenty of money selling construction materials to victims of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but by 1995 he was looking for the next big payoff.
Jobs selling auto lubricants and renting mopeds to Gulf Coast tourists hadn't panned out. Neither did a handyman business Fry operated out of his home in the summer of 1995. So when David Waters, an old buddy whom Fry had worked with years earlier in Florida, resurfaced, Fry was interested.
"Danny told me he didn't want to work for no $500 a week. He wanted to go for the gusto. I think he wanted big money at one time. He wasn't satisfied with a day-by-day job, and we fought about it," recalls Fry's fiancee.
"We had made plans to get married. My parents were very much against it, but I was in love. I had known him about six months, and he was a charmer. I think he was a scam artist too, because he took me for a lot of money."
Fry's fiancee paid for his ticket when he flew to Austin from Tampa in late July 1995. For a while he called home regularly from Waters' apartment in Austin.
Then, in September, the calls started coming from pay telephones in San Antonio. His last two calls home came on September 30, 1995, from Waters' Austin apartment. Then he disappeared.
While in Texas, Fry had been close-mouthed about his work, which, he said, was in the construction field and involved a big unnamed backer. But eventually the story didn't wash back home.
"At first I was concerned that he was doing well, making money. I didn't ask a lot of questions. Then I started asking questions because things didn't seem right. As time went on, he would talk less and less about what he was doing," Fry's fiancee says.
When Fry did not return to Florida in early October 1995, she feared the worst.
"I really feel this way: He got in over his head in something, and now he's at the bottom of something. I don't know who he connected with out there. It might not even have been drugs. It might have been money. It might have been anything," she said in an interview last year.