The Devil and Doyle Davidson

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Patti and Doyle married in 1952, and he joined the Navy. They lived a while in Japan with their only daughter, Kathy. Back in Missouri, Davidson finished his degree and enrolled in veterinary school at the University of Missouri. He became a full-fledged veterinarian in 1962.

Stanley Lewis, a renowned trainer of Tennessee Walkers who still lives in Sarcoxie, remembers Davidson as a sensitive vet who took his time with horses. But during house calls, Davidson often bad-mouthed his father, Lewis says. "He thought his father had been too hard on him."

Dr. Davidson was soon serving people who owned expensive show horses. "Horse people are very demanding," Lewis says. "They have a lot of money to spend, and they want somebody now." Davidson worked on world champions in horse country from Tennessee to Florida to Texas and earned a good income.

Sarcoxie wasn't big enough to contain Davidson's ambitions, though. He went into business with his brother-in-law, George Jackson, a vet in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. That didn't last long. Truth was, horse people preferred Jackson, Lewis says. "Doyle was kind of proud of himself." His arrogance cost him clients.

He arrived in Texas in the mid-'60s and established a veterinary hospital in McKinney with a partner. But God wasn't giving up. As Davidson tells it, he had a road-to-Damascus experience in 1970 when he checked into a Sherman motel at 3 a.m., walked into the room and saw on the nightstand a Bible opened to Isaiah 30.

His eyes fixed on verse 1: "Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin." Realizing he was a rebellious man, Davidson began studying the Bible in earnest.

God had already told him to sell his veterinary hospital. So Davidson asked his partner, Dr. Rodney Butler, to buy him out. Then God had another order: "Return to the land of your fathers." It seems God was really whipsawing Davidson around.

So when Kathy was a senior in high school, the family moved back to Sarcoxie. Davidson, hoping to get into the breeding business, bought 143 acres of prime grazing land and some livestock. But his champion stud horse impaled itself on a pipe, ending its breeding days, and the cattle turned up sterile. After a year or so, Davidson left Missouri, this time for good.

People in Sarcoxie don't think much of Davidson's preaching career. "I don't believe he's led by God," says Roy Ogle. "I think he's a cult."

Davidson deeply angered his parents before their deaths in the '90s. "He told his father he was going to hell because he didn't believe like he did," snorts one of Davidson's contemporaries. Another says that Davidson infuriated his sisters when his mother got sick by insisting her illness was demons and that she didn't need a hospital. "He called his mother a Jezebel," one resident says. (Davidson, however, says the dispute arose because his sisters admitted his mother to a psychiatric hospital without telling him.)

His sister Glenda Schoen lives on a dairy farm east of Sarcoxie. A legal secretary, Schoen refuses to talk about her brother. "Our parents were wonderful Christian people," Schoen says, "and if anyone tells you otherwise, they're wrong."

Patti's relatives felt that Davidson isolated his wife from her family and friends. Though a handful of family members were once involved with Water of Life, most have left. None would talk to the Observer.

"They're scared to death of him," one relative says. "Something changed him."

Davidson returned to North Texas in 1973, much to the anger of Butler, who had paid a lot of money for Davidson's share of the animal hospital in McKinney. Davidson casts it as a divine move. "It was all God to get Doyle to Texas," he says.

Butler thought otherwise. "He wanted to move right back in where he was," says the vet, now practicing in Louisiana. Butler filed an injunction against Davidson and got some money back. Davidson had to live and practice in Argyle until 1976. He returned to McKinney in 1977.

Butler describes Davidson as egotistical, controlling and a skirt-chaser. "He was interested in female anatomy...I don't think God told him he was married to any of them. I got messed up myself. I was convinced I was God for a while. But he still thinks he's God."

Mary Jane Hinkle was married to Butler back then. Though Davidson presented himself as highly successful, the couple lived modestly. Hinkle describes Patti as browbeaten. "Patti was a super-nice, well-mannered person," she says. "But he [Doyle] was so mean. He would make her feel insignificant. She didn't have any value to him."

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Glenna Whitley