At the Sunday morning service at the three-thousand-member Shady Grove Church in Grand Prairie, one of the most popular charismatic churches in the Metroplex, a contemporary Christian band launches into “Dancing With My Father in the Fields of Grace,” and nearly all the members of the congregation come bounding out of their seats. Some jump up and down like pogo sticks; others whirl spontaneously in the aisles; still others throw their hands up, punching the air in time with the music.
Show your joy to the Lord with dancing.
Even in the back row of the auditorium, an older man in a dark business suit sways back and forth, his eyes tightly closed, his arms cradling a large Bible.
There’s a place where I lose myself in Him. There’s a place where I find myself again.
The man nods his head, as if the lyrics were written for him. He lifts his face toward the ceiling and holds out his hands as if he’s receiving a blessing.
Dancing with my Father in the Fields of Grace.
“Amen,” the man says to himself. “Amen.”
When the song ends, the man opens his eyes. He turns his head and sees me just a few feet away, staring at him. He flashes me a gentle, gracious smile, then turns back and shuts his eyes again as the band begins another song.
I have come to this church just to see the man worship. According to his closest friends, he has been poring over his Bible for the past twenty years. He prays several times a day. He spends time “ministering” to others, telling them about the joys of Christian devotion. He reads religious newsletters and Biblical commentaries. He is well regarded in fundamentalist Christian circles for his ability to cast out demons from sinners. “He is one of the most enjoyable, loving human beings you’ll ever meet,” says Olen Griffing, the pastor of Shady Grove. “I’ve known him well for more than a decade, and I’ve never once seen him get angry or heard him talk negatively about anyone.”
“People will be amazed to hear you say that,” I tell him.
“Not the people who’ve gotten to know him,” he replies. “They know Cullen Davis is full of God’s love.”
All you have to say is the name and the memories come flooding back. In 1976 he was the sort of figure in modern Texas history who was both famous and infamous—a rich and rakish young oil tycoon with a net worth close to $250 million and all the trappings of fabulous wealth, from Lear jets and paintings by Renoir and Dufy to a bevy of blond, spectacularly busty women. If the Tarrant County district attorney was to be believed, he was also a remorseless killer. Then 43, Cullen was arrested for shooting two people to death at his 19,000-square-foot Fort Worth mansion, including his twelve-year-old stepdaughter, and for wounding two others, including his estranged wife, Priscilla Davis. The crimes were so shocking—Cullen was the richest man in America ever arrested for murder—that they were front-page news all over the state. Even more shocking, however, was his acquittal by a jury despite the testimony of three eyewitnesses who said they saw him pull the trigger. Months later he was arrested again after allegedly telling an informant that he wanted fifteen people killed, including one of his brothers, Priscilla, the judge in their divorce case, a business associate, and various people who testified against him in the murder trial. The informant had audiotaped their conversations about the hit list—but again, incredibly, he was acquitted.
At least four books were written about him; the most celebrated of them, Blood Will Tell, by Texas Monthly senior editor Gary Cartwright, was made into a TV miniseries starring Peter Strauss as Cullen and Heather Locklear as Priscilla. Long before O. J. Simpson, Cullen was the symbol of what is sometimes called “rich people’s justice.” According to his detractors, he spent millions of dollars on lawyers and investigators to manufacture reasonable doubt and beat the rap. “Think about what this man has done,” says Priscilla, who now lives in a small one-bedroom apartment in Dallas. “He is seen shooting innocent people in cold blood. He is on tape talking about paying hit men to kill other people. Then he gets on the witness stand and persuades juries that he had nothing to do with it. And now here he is going to church and praying to God. To me, that’s scary.” Yet just as many people who will tell you that 66-year-old Cullen is a genuinely different man—that his embrace of Christianity, which began a few months after his second acquittal, is not unlike the great conversion stories in the Bible.
Today Cullen lives in a cream-colored house in suburban Colleyville, a thirty-minute drive from downtown Fort Worth, with his pretty blond wife of 21 years, the former Karen Master. Living with them is Karen’s 28-year-old son from her first marriage, Chesley, who as an infant suffered massive injuries in a car wreck and now works at a nearby Luby’s cafeteria. (Cullen long ago adopted Chesley and Karen’s other son, Trey, who works in Dallas; he also has two sons from his first marriage, both of whom are also in Dallas.) Cullen himself has a modest job as an industrial products salesman; he works out of his home selling things like skin-protectant barrier cream and industrial surge protectors. For fun, he and Karen invite friends from church to their home to play canasta or dominoes, or they go out to a restaurant in his 1995 Cadillac and then catch a movie.
“I’m sure there are people out there who won’t speak to him or associate with him because of all the old publicity,” Karen told me when I called to ask if I could meet them. “All I can say is that they refuse to see who he really is today. I hope you won’t come out here to see him with some preconceived idea of who he is.”
I promised her I wouldn’t, but it would be impossible not to. I became aware of Cullen the year of the shootings, when I was a sophomore at Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth. My dorm room was less than two miles from his mansion. For weeks after his arrest, my buddies and I would drive past the gates slowly, so we could get one more look at where it all happened. At night, we would take girls parking over there just so we could shout, in mid-embrace, “Oh, my God, Cullen’s coming!” The mansion was our haunted house, a place where an unfathomable act of evil had occurred for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
In fact, I often have wondered if it was Cullen who led me to journalism. His case mesmerized me. For the first time in my life, I began reading the newspaper every day. I needed to know what was happening to him. I could not understand how he could seem so confident and so suave, his handsome face utterly unperturbed, as he was escorted in and out of the courtroom for pretrial hearings. I started visiting the same places Cullen used to hang out: the Rangoon Racquet Club, the Old Swiss House restaurant, and Colonial Country Club, where he purportedly screened Deep Throat for his friends in a trailer in the parking lot. When his trial began in Amarillo, I inhaled every word of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s coverage. It was like a great trashy novel had come to life—a too-good-to-be-true tale of lust, hate, wealth, obsession, and murder. And there was absolutely no question in my mind that he was guilty and deserved to be executed.
No wonder, then, that nearly a quarter of a century later, as I stand on his porch one Sunday evening and ring the doorbell, I feel a strange flutter in my stomach. I have no earthly idea what I am going to say to him. Then the front door swings open and there he is, dressed in a blue button-down shirt and chinos. His hair has turned gray and his face has filled out, but he still looks very much like he did in the old days.
I try to say hello but can’t quite catch my breath.
He chuckles and shakes my hand. My reaction, he later tells me, is something he has seen countless times. “Do you need some water? A soft drink?” he asks.
“No, I don’t think so,” I say.
As he guides me into the living room, two large keeshonds amble up and stare at me. “Watch out for them,” he says, chuckling again. “They won’t try to bite you. They’ll just want to lick you.” Then Karen walks in: blond, pencil thin, skin like porcelain. For a few seconds, all I can think about is the photo of the two of them taken outside the Amarillo courthouse after his first acquittal, waving jubilantly at their supporters through the back window of their car.
They smile at me encouragingly, waiting for me to ask my first question. “Okay, well, fire away,” says Cullen.
For several seconds I look at him, then her. Neither seems to have caught the irony of what he just said.
“Fire away,” I think to myself. “Cullen Davis has just told me to fire away.”
He was born and raised in Fort Worth, the middle of three sons born to the fierce Fort Worth oilman Kenneth W. “Stinky” Davis, who made his fortune by purchasing oil-field supply companies on the cheap and putting them under an umbrella corporation called Kendavis Industries International. After graduating from Texas A&M University, Cullen went to work for the family business, and in 1968, when his father died, he and his two brothers took it over, increasing sales over the next ten years from $300 million to $1.03 billion. Unlike tightfisted Stinky, Cullen loved the high life, showering women with jewels and furs and taking them on trips in his jet. In time Cullen’s younger brother, Bill, got tired of his freewheeling ways and sued him, claiming he’d run up personal debts of at least $16 million and was using Kendavis’ assets as collateral for obtaining personal loans. The lawsuit was settled, and Cullen and his older brother, Ken, bought out Bill’s interest in the business. (Decades later, Cullen and Bill are still not speaking.)
Cullen was best known around Fort Worth, however, for his way with women. His first wife, Sandra, whom he married in 1962, accused him of slapping her in public and beating her in private until she had bruises covering her face. Before they divorced, he met feisty, flirtatious Priscilla Wilborn, whose platinum hair and revealing halter tops (which gave men a good view of what they called her “balcony”) made her the talk of the town. Completely smitten, Cullen wooed her away from her husband, a used-car dealer named Jack Wilborn. They married in 1968, and soon after, he commissioned a six-by-eight-foot oil painting of them—him in a business suit, her in a low-cut dress with a high hemline—and hung it in the foyer of the mansion.
Their lives seemed like something out of a prime-time soap opera. In happy times Priscilla would wear a necklace with the phrase “Rich Bitch” spelled out in diamonds. She decorated their skybox at Texas Stadium completely in pink. Reportedly, she once slipped under the table at a Dallas restaurant, unzipped Cullen’s pants, and performed a sex act. But in 1974 she filed for divorce, telling similar stories to the ones that Sandra had told. She said Cullen often beat her and kicked her, even as she curled up in a ball trying to protect herself. She claimed he broke her nose on one occasion and her collarbone on another. Her eldest daughter, Dee, said Cullen hit her too, beating her so badly at one point that there was blood in her urine; he was so cruel, she said, that he once picked up her new kitten and flung it to the floor, killing it. Initially, the judge in their divorce case ordered Cullen to move out of the mansion and to pay Priscilla $3,500 a month in living expenses. Then, on August 2, 1976, the judge increased Cullen’s payments to $5,000 a month and ordered him to give Priscilla an additional $27,000 to pay bills she had accumulated and $25,000 more to cover legal expenses.
That night, Priscilla later told police officers, she and her new boyfriend, Stan Farr, a former basketball player at TCU, ate dinner at a restaurant and had a few drinks at a nightclub. When they got home, there was a man wearing black clothing and a woman’s shoulder-length black wig in the kitchen. It was Cullen, she insisted. He walked right up to her, coolly said, “Hi,” shot her in the chest, and then shot Stan four times. Priscilla was able to escape: She ran to a neighbor’s house and, according to witnesses, screamed that Cullen was trying to kill her. While all this was going on, some friends of Priscilla’s, Beverly Bass and Bubba Gavrel, were just getting out of their car in front of the mansion and heading toward the door. They also saw a man in black, and they later told the police they had no doubt it was Cullen. In fact, when the man shot Bubba, paralyzing him from the waist down, Beverly said she called out, “It’s me, Cullen. It’s Bev! Please don’t shoot me!” She then ran from the mansion, flagged down a passing car, and told the driver that Cullen was the one doing the shooting.
When the police arrived, they found Stan dead in the kitchen. Elsewhere in the house, they found the body of Priscilla’s twelve-year-old daughter, Andrea Wilborn. Her death had been particularly horrible: She was taken into a basement utility room, shot through the chest, and left to die.
Hours later, Cullen was arrested and charged with capital murder. His guilt was taken for granted by almost everyone investigating the case. The police learned that when Cullen’s brother Ken called and woke him that night to tell him about the shootings, Cullen calmly said, “Well, I guess I’m going back to bed.” A Fort Worth detective told reporters that when he asked Cullen why so many people had to be shot at the mansion, he replied, “Sometimes, a man doesn’t need a reason.” The detective would later say that he took that statement to be a confession.
It seemed impossible to imagine that Cullen would be acquitted, even when he hired the great Richard “Racehorse” Haynes of Houston, a marvel of bombast and fiery cross-examination, to defend him. But then Racehorse went after the prosecution’s witnesses. He kept Priscilla on the stand for several days, firing questions at her about her use of the prescription painkiller Percodan and her sexual relations with other men, implying she was not morally fit to be trusted. He insinuated that Priscilla and Beverly Bass had concocted their story to keep the real killer from coming after them and to help Priscilla get Cullen’s millions in the divorce. He called several witnesses who swore that they had seen Stan Farr associating with drug dealers, raising the possibility that the gunman was a druggie who did the shooting because of a deal gone sour. Racehorse even called a surprise witness: the owner of a small Fort Worth nursery, who said he had sneaked onto the mansion’s grounds that fateful night to repossess some plants that hadn’t been paid for. The nursery owner said that he saw the man in black, but it wasn’t Cullen. Karen Master, meanwhile, testified that when she woke up, around twelve-forty in the morning, Cullen was sound asleep beside her (a detail she had neglected to mention when the police first interviewed her).
After two days of deliberation, the Amarillo jurors returned a verdict of not guilty—a moment that for Texans was as jaw-dropping as the O. J. Simpson verdict. The jury had actually believed the theory that Priscilla and Beverly had conspired to frame Cullen, even though they told different people that he was the killer before they had the chance to compare stories. Rich men don’t kill their wives, one female juror explained at a booze-laden victory party thrown by Cullen; they hire someone else to do it.
After the trial, Cullen returned to Fort Worth, showed up at society parties with Karen, and resumed his position running Kendavis Industries with his brother Ken. The company clearly had not suffered because of his notoriety: After-tax profits in 1977 were $57 million. Yet a mere nine months later, after the FBI caught him on tape discussing his hit list, he was arrested again, this time on a charge of soliciting capital murder. “Do the judge and then his wife,” Cullen was heard saying during a discussion with a federal informant who was posing as the liaison to a hit man. To make sure their case was airtight, federal agents faked the death of the judge, taking four photographs of him covered in ketchup and stuffed into the trunk of a car. They then had the informant show Cullen the photos and say, “I got Judge Eidson dead for you.” Cullen replied, “Good.” The informant said, “You want Beverly Bass killed next—quick, right?” Cullen answered, “All right.”
When the same cast of characters gathered again for another trial, Racehorse Haynes uttered the now-memorable line “You know what they say. The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Called to the stand, Cullen said that the informant had told him during one of their unrecorded conversations that it was actually Priscilla who had hired hit men to bump him off. The informant went on to say, Cullen continued, that the hit men would be happy to turn against Priscilla if Cullen paid them more money; all they required was for Cullen to incriminate himself on tape, so they would have insurance in the event that Cullen ever turned on them. Why would Cullen ever go along with such a patently absurd plan? Well, he explained in his testimony, he had received a telephone call from a man who had identified himself as an FBI agent. The man told him that the bureau had learned that the informant was trying to extort money from him; he said Cullen should play along and talk about killing people so the feds could gather evidence. Now that it was all over, Cullen told the jury, he realized that he had been tricked by the informant and that the FBI wasn’t involved after all.
The story seemed preposterous. Did it make any sense that a man who clearly distrusted law enforcement after his first arrest would have gone along with the plan without ever meeting the agent in person—or at least without some kind of immunity agreement? And if Cullen really did think that he was working with the FBI, why didn’t he tell the police that when he was arrested? Why, instead, did he hide his face as the authorities swooped in to nab him?
For a second time, though, a jury wasn’t troubled by the evidence presented against Cullen. In November 1979 he was acquitted again, and he and Karen got to repeat their triumphant wave as they left the courthouse.
Just when it seemed that there were no more surprises left in the story, Cullen announced in the spring of 1980 that he and Karen had been meeting with Dallas-area evangelist James Robison and that they had decided to turn over their lives to Jesus Christ. Cullen hosted a revival on the lawn of the mansion, which he had taken back from Priscilla as part of the divorce settlement, and he and Robison later destroyed more than a million dollars’ worth of jade, ivory, and gold objects because they honored what he called false gods. He began giving his testimony around the Metroplex; he even gave a speech to a packed crowd at Reunion Arena.
I remember that I roared with laughter when I heard about it: Was anyone on earth going to believe that Stinky Davis’ kid had found God? Yet here I was, twenty years later, sitting in Cullen’s living room, listening to him say, “All I care about is living for Jesus and doing what the Bible says to do.”
Of all the twists and turns in the Davis saga, Cullen’s conversion is the one that perplexes me the most. At first I assumed he was using religion to cleanse his conscience. Or maybe he had made some kind of desperate prayer years ago when he was on trial, promising that he would live the rest of his life in loyal service if God would keep him out of prison. Maybe he thought that if he acted like a Christian, people would decide that he couldn’t have been a murderer after all. Whatever he was doing, I figured it was only a matter of time before he went back to his old ways.
Yet Cullen kept at it. He became president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, and he founded the Fort Worth chapter of the Religious Round Table. He started delivering lectures on such subjects as creationism. Within a few years, he was leading seminars on “spiritual warfare”—how to combat demons or comfort those who were suffering from “spiritual calamity.” Some fundamentalists swore they had heard demons “cry out” when Cullen prayed for them and touched them. “Satan,” he would have people shout, “I declare myself loose from you and your demons! I break off all curses!”
In the mid-eighties, largely because of falling oil prices and a depressed real estate market, Cullen’s entire financial empire underwent a startling collapse. A federal judge wrested Kendavis Industries from the hands of Cullen and Ken and gave it to a consortium of banks that were owed $400 million. Cullen himself filed for personal bankruptcy, claiming he had $200 million in unpaid loans; he had to sell everything except his home and his Cadillac. It was a devastating series of events—in one fell swoop, his entire net worth was gone—but when I ask him about those dark days, he tells me, “The Lord brought me down financially as a blessing. He broke me of my worship of work and money. For too long, all I thought about was business. My idol was business. I needed to be humbled. And this was how God did it.”
Even though Cullen eventually sold the mansion—one of the subsequent owners, morbidly hoping to make a buck off its horrific history, turned it into a steakhouse and then a Mexican restaurant, both of which failed—he and Karen remained in Fort Worth, living at the edge of a country club golf course on the eastern part of town. By the nineties, reporters had tired of writing about “born-again Cullen.” Because his novelty on the Christian circuit had also worn off, he was no longer making as many appearances at churches, though he was still doing curious and interesting things: He went to Eastern Europe to do missionary work, for instance, and he and Karen flew to Los Angeles to spend a day preaching the gospel to John DeLorean, another multimillionaire miraculously acquitted of what seemed to be airtight criminal charges.
In 1994, after a fire damaged the attic of the Davises’ Fort Worth home, they moved to the rapidly growing suburb of Colleyville, a city of 19,500 or so near DFW Airport. Their new neighbors were mostly young upscale couples who didn’t recognize them. They joined the Chamber of Commerce and, according to Colleyville’s mayor, Donna Arp, “quickly established themselves as very positive influences in Colleyville, committed to contributing to our town.” Karen volunteered for several civic organizations, became a member of the Colleyville Woman’s Club, and participated in various Christian women’s groups.
For his part, Cullen began a new career: selling skin cream. He set up an office in his home and started visiting various companies so he could peddle his wares to their employees. During my evening at his home, when I ask if I can see the cream, he shoots me a boyish look and says, “What if I give you a demonstration?”
He walks to the kitchen table and puts a sheet of tinfoil over a plastic cup, then pours some acid from a small medicine vial onto the foil. Immediately, the acid burns a hole through it. “Do you realize that the same acid would burn a hole in my hand in five seconds?” he asks. Then he starts rubbing an aloe vera-fortified cream called Skin Pro-Tec II all over his hands. “But this cream,” he says, “can protect a worker’s hands from all chemicals for a limited period of time, from all detergents, from too much sun, from poison ivy and poison oak, and from bites from insects such as fire ants, mosquitoes, and ticks.” He pours the same acid onto his hands that he poured onto the tinfoil. Nothing happens. Thirty seconds later, he washes off his hands with a wet tissue, smiles contentedly, and holds the bottle of Skin Pro-Tec II in front of me. “This cream is perfect for everyone from mechanics to outdoor workers,” he says.
I cannot believe I am witnessing this scene. Cullen Davis—one of the four hundred richest Americans in 1983, according to Forbes magazine—is acting like a salesman putting on one of those cheesy shows at the State Fair of Texas. Yet as much as I want to laugh, I’m a little awestruck that he could do something so humbling.
“Do you ever miss your old life?” I ask during another visit to his home. “Do you ever miss those days when you and your brothers ran a billion-dollar corporation?”
“None of that interests me now,” he says with a patient smile. “I’m in such a different place than I was twenty years ago; I’ve been so transformed by God’s grace that I’m not sure I can even remember the person I used to be.”
“You mean God has cleansed you of your past sins?”
“You confessed your sins to God, and He forgave you?”
I pause, and then I decide to ask him the question I’ve wanted to ask for a long time. “Did you ask God to forgive you for being a murderer?”
I have no idea what will happen next. I wonder if he will explode and order me out of his house. At the least, I’m waiting for the cold, glassy stare he used to give all the witnesses who testified against him. Yet he doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit offended. He smiles at me benevolently, like a loving father tolerating an impertinent son. “You don’t have to ask God to forgive you for something that you did not do,” he says, and then he smiles at me again.
I try one more time. “Well, let’s just say you did commit murder. Would God forgive such a significant sin?”
“He forgives any sin,” Cullen says. “He forgave King David of murder. He forgave Moses of murder. He forgave Saul of murder. If you ask for forgiveness, you are forgiven.”
I find it interesting that Cullen mentions Saul of Tarsus, the angry Pharisee in the New Testament who persecuted Christians before finding God on the road to Damascus and becoming the Apostle Paul—a turnaround that must have been as astonishing to early Christians as Cullen’s is to modern Christians. But the Apostle Paul publicly admitted his past sins. I ask Cullen about whether we should follow Paul’s example. “Let’s pretend I’m a murderer,” I say, “and then I become a Christian later in life. Do I then have a responsibility to turn myself in to the authorities?”
He thinks for a few seconds, and his response is something I’ll think about for a long time myself. “My off-hand answer is no,” Cullen says. “You have a responsibility, if you rob somebody, to return what you stole. But you don’t have a responsibility to go public with any confession. There’s only one mediator for sin, and that’s Jesus Christ. What you tell anybody else is of no consequence.”
It’s mid-December, and Cullen and Karen have invited me to tag along to a Christmas party thrown by some of their Colleyville friends. The other guests chortle when they see Cullen, who is clearly a beloved figure in the group. On this day he’s wearing bright red socks that play “Jingle Bells” when you touch them and a necktie decorated with Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and other cartoon characters. “That’s my life,” he says with a shrug. “Looney Tunes.” The crowd roars with laughter. I can see why Cullen likes it out here in a suburb where everyone has come from somewhere else, where no one dwells on anyone else’s past, where all is forgiven. Later in the evening, I ask him if he ever gets asked about the old murder charges. “To be honest,” he says, “the only thing people will say to me is that they were behind me during that time and that they knew all along I was innocent.”
Cullen insists that he too has put the past behind him. He says he has not read the books written about him, though he is always glad to sign one when someone asks. “I always write next to my autograph, ‘I hope you enjoy this fiction,’” he says, chuckling. He did see the miniseries, however. He even invited friends over to watch it with him, including his pastor and his pastor’s wife. While it was showing, he wore a huge cowboy hat. “They made me out to be this big-talking Texan in boots and cowboy hat who calls every woman honey darlin’,” he says, chuckling again. “So I thought I had to look the part. The truth is I’ve never worn a cowboy hat in public or called a woman honey darlin’ in my life.”
For a while, he admits, he toyed with the idea of writing a book himself. He wanted to set the record straight; to do so, he was going to reveal the contents of 160 boxes of what he calls “never-before-seen privileged information” collected by his lawyers during their investigation. He went so far as to hire a ghostwriter—of all people, it was Joel Gregory, the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who quit the ministry in 1992 after rumors surfaced that he had had an affair—and they wrote an opening chapter. I’ve read it, and I have to say that it’s bizarre. Cullen and Gregory invent a scene in which the man in black, whom Cullen continues to insist was either a drug dealer or a hit man associated with a drug dealer, describes how he murdered Stan Farr and explains that he did so over unpaid drug money. But at one point he seems to have a beef with Priscilla too: “Stan Farr and the bitch were gone,” the man in black says. Referring to Andrea, Cullen’s stepdaughter, the man in black adds, “I never meant to kill the little girl. She had baked something in the kitchen. Surprised me… She was tall for a little girl. She never knew it happened. I dragged her into the basement closet.”
The book was never finished. A few years ago Cullen threw the 160 boxes in the trash, saying he felt that God wanted him to move on in his life. “It’s not like we have any reason to defend ourselves,” Karen says. “Do you know that during the trials, we kept getting letters, probably ten thousand total—and all but one was supportive?”
There is no question that Cullen and Karen have people who deeply believe in them—and not just Holy Roller fundamentalists. One evening I call Randy Gunnip, a respected Fort Worth financial adviser who is a Christian author and has been a friend of Cullen’s since they met in the mid-eighties at meetings of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. “All I can tell you is that I’ve been a Christian for a long time, and I’ve been around people for a long time, and I know that you can’t pretend to be a Christian forever,” Gunnip says. “At some point, the cracks in your armor will show up.”
“And there have been no cracks with Cullen?” I ask.
“None. Not once in the nearly twenty years I’ve known him. Cullen has read the Bible through many times, he has picked up all the Christian values in there, and he’s said, ‘This is the way my life is going to be.’” Gunnip tells me he kept a close watch on Cullen soon after his conversion to see if it was genuine. He was also there with Cullen during his financial downfall. “When a person gets squeezed like that, you usually see what their hearts are really made of,” he says. “But there were still no cracks.”
What’s interesting is that Gunnip is one of Cullen’s few friends who know the other side of the story. He went to TCU with Stan Farr, and before he was Cullen’s friend, he was close to Priscilla’s ex-husband, Jack Wilborn, the father of the dead girl. Gunnip knows that Wilborn, whom he describes as “a delightful person, a man as honest as the day is long,” is convinced Cullen murdered Andrea. “I love Jack, who’s broken-hearted over his daughter’s death, and I love Cullen,” he says. “It’s unfortunate the situation between them is unfixable.”
“But what do you think?” I ask him. “Do you think Cullen did those murders?”
There is a silence. “I haven’t been asked that question in a long time,” Gunnip finally says. “All I know is that he was found not guilty. But knowing is not important to me. Only God knows the answer to the secrets men keep—mine, yours, and his. What’s important to me is that when I see Cullen now, I see the new man. I don’t see the old man.”
I have to admit that I don’t see the old Cullen either. As much as I was prepared to despise the man, I was totally comfortable in his presence. He’s no longer cocky, callous, or overbearingly self-confident; he’s funny and disarming, and it’s touching to watch him care for his handicapped stepson.
Still, I cannot shake my belief that he committed those murders and tried to hire a hit man to commit more. Even in one of our last conversations, I find myself trying to corner him. “When you were arrested on conspiracy charges,” I ask, “why didn’t you tell the police that you believed you were working for the FBI?”
“You don’t talk to the police about anything if you are under arrest,” he replies. “That’s just the rule I was following.”
I ask him again to explain the incredible story he told about why the hit man wanted him to make an audiotape incriminating himself. He tries to remember the details, then gives up. “You’re taxing my memory,” he says with a shrug. “That was a long time ago. I know it sounds silly, but that’s what it was.”
That Sunday, when I come to Shady Grove Church to observe Cullen, the pastor begins sermonizing about sin. “If we sin,” says Olen Griffing, “our heart condemns us. When we confess our sin, however, God will say, ‘I will remember your sin no more.’” This is why people come to church, of course: to be told that they have a chance at a new start. “But if we sin,” Griffing predictably continues, “we find ourselves hiding, separated from fellowship with the Lord.” Suddenly, he veers in another direction. “Some of you right now are living with a persistent sin, a sin that besets you. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. If there is a persistent sin that you’ve been living with all your life, then you have good reason to question whether you’ve been saved. If you have a persistent, besetting sin, you need to question your relationship with God.” I take a quick look at Cullen. He is listening intently.
“I believe that this morning, God is going to reveal that sin that besets you,” Griffing says, then asks all of us in the congregation to stand, close our eyes, and pray. “Those of you who are still beset by a sin, I want you lift your hands in the air and ask God to forgive you. I want everyone to keep their eyes closed. If there is something you need to confess to God, I want you to confess it now.”
Naturally, I keep one eye open to look at Cullen. Around him, some people begin to lift their hands to God. Others murmur prayers. One lady cries. But Cullen, his shoulders straight and his hair swept back, stands with his hands around his Bible. On his lips is the smile of man who is very much at peace with himself.