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Crime News Accident, Suicide, or Murder

A Pregnant Army Wife Dies in Apparent Suicide But Details Haunt Investigators: "Makes No Sense"

Three suicide notes and a gun in the victim’s hand point to an obvious cause of death — or does it? Accident, Suicide, or Murder gets at the truth.

By Grace Jidoun

In a photo shown on Accident, Suicide, or Murder, an army soldier in a formal military uniform embraces his beautiful wife in a strapless gown. At first glance, Christian and Dorothy Davis’ life at the Fort Lewis base in Washington seemed picture-perfect. The army wife doted over their two young daughters, and another baby was on the way. But behind the smiles, dark forces were at work: cheating, depression, and Dorothy’s shocking death. She was found with three suicide notes, a gun in her hand, and a bottle of Prozac nearby — it seemed an open and shut case. But in Episode 2, Season 5, a dive into the evidence deepens the mystery.

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On March 13, 1991, the Fort Lewis military base was quiet and empty, as many forces had been deployed for the Gulf War. A 911 call came from Dorothy’s next-door neighbor, and when military police arrived, they found her husband Christian screaming, “My wife, she shot herself!”

“She was propped up on pillows like she had been reading a book,” recalled first responder Bob Campbell. She was later pronounced dead at Madigan Army Medical Center.

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Sgt. Peyton Abrams spoke to Accident, Suicide, or Murder about the night his wife called 911. "I said I just saw Dorothy hours ago. She was really in such a great mood; she seemed cheerful. I know Dorothy was crazy about her girls, they were her world. I was like this just can’t be real,” he remembered.

Dorothy’s mother, Fay McMahan, could barely speak through her tears about her daughter’s death but described her as a “shy” and “happy” person who loved poetry as a child.

All signs pointed to suicide

Dorothy Davis featured on Accident Suicide Or Murder Episode 502

Three suicide notes and ripped-open envelopes were strewn about the bedroom: Two were addressed to her husband, and one to her sister Patty Schlip. “You said suicide was the chicken way out. I guess I’m a chicken,” began one.

A handwriting expert confirmed Dorothy penned the letters.

Crime scene photos on Accident, Suicide, or Murder depict a chaotic room, with blood splatter on the pillowcase and sheets, but there were details that gave investigators pause. Conveniently located near the Prozac was a newspaper article titled “Prozac: Antidepressant Accused of Sparking Suicide.” What’s more, her hand was “tightly gripped” around the gun, and while this didn’t set off alarms during the original investigation, Steve Chancellor, a CID investigator who came on board eight months after her death, knew it was strange. “Contrary to what people think, the gun is seldom found in the victim’s hand in a suicide,” he said.

During police questioning, Christian admitted he and Dorothy had marriage woes and revealed she was seeing a therapist for depression. On the day of her death, he was back and forth between their home and an NCO club, where he worked as a part-time DJ. He claimed that he returned home around 8:30 pm and found Dorothy dead with a gunshot wound to her head. He then went next door to tell his neighbor to call 911.

“I do recall the phone in the master bedroom was a working phone. It was a little odd he didn’t just use it,” remarked Charles Pritchett, an army special agent. “And why did he not go back into his residence and try to perform life-saving measures on his wife? It makes no sense.”

Suspicions Mount Against Christian Davis

Pritchett traveled to Portland to interview Dorothy’s sister Patty to gain insights into their marriage, and he learned more than he bargained for.

“Three years after they got married, she got pregnant with her first child. Dorothy started gaining some weight,” said Patty. “He would tell her she was fat. You can’t eat that. You need to lose weight. You’re not a good mother. But he never did any of that in front of us. I never saw a violent side in Chris.”

Patty also told army investigator Pritchett that Christian would sometimes disappear in the middle of the night. “The way he would explain this to his wife was that he was part of a secret group because of the Gulf War. He was trained as being an assassin,” he said, adding, “He was a truck driver. The army doesn’t recruit a truck driver to become a secret assassin.”

Around this time, Patty noticed a decline in Dorothy’s mental health. Once, when Dorothy was visiting Patty’s home, she believed the “secret service” was listening to her conversation with her sister and insisted on communicating only through writing.

One month before her death, Dorothy discovered that Christian was having an affair. But forensics found no gun residue on Christian, and given the evidence at the scene, CID Command ruled it a suicide and closed the case.

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What caused investigators to reopen the case?

Dorothy and Christian Davis Featured on Accident Suicide Or Murder Episode 502

After Dorothy’s death, Christian allegedly received a $150,000 life insurance payout. He ran an ad for a live-in nanny, and a woman named Dorie Morris moved in.

Nearly a year later, a surprise witness named Audrey revealed a few bombshells to police about the “so-called” nanny: Dorie Morris was Christian’s long-term affair partner and was at the NCO club the night of Dorothy’s death. Christian claimed he told his wife that night he wanted a divorce, and she didn’t take the news well, said army investigator Chancellor. He then left the club, saying he needed to call her from a telephone booth in the lobby to check on her, but when Audrey followed him, he wasn’t there. After 20 minutes, he returned to the club out of breath and was noticeably missing a purple jacket he had been wearing that evening. 

Another witness from the club came forward, saying Dorie Morris told him at 9 pm that Dorothy was dead, about the same time that her neighbor was calling 911. “How did Dorie Morris know Dorothy was dead before the 911 call came in?” asked Chancellor. The case was reopened, and Chancellor was determined to leave no stone unturned. 

Details from the original investigation jumped out at him. For instance, Dorothy stopped taking Prozac after she learned she was pregnant. “There’s no reason for the Prozac to be on the dresser when every other medicine is in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom,” stated Chancellor. Most damning was the purple jacket: Chancellor saw the jacket in a crime scene photo hanging in the bedroom, leading him to believe Christian had returned home and killed his wife, forgetting his jacket behind.

The revelations prompted him to arrange an elaborate reenactment of the suicide that included an “actor” the same size as the victim, the very house where the death occurred (Christian had since moved out). He even checked out the murder weapon from the evidence room.

Audrey said Christian was gone for 20 minutes, so police did trial runs between the home and the club to see if a murder in such a short window was possible. The answer was a resounding yes.

Dorothy almost died in a fire four years before in Louisiana

Patty told Chancellor something else: in 1987, when Dorothy was six months pregnant, the couple’s mobile home caught fire in the middle of the night. When Dorothy woke up, Christian was nowhere to be found. He had left with their 2-year-old daughter, claiming the toddler couldn’t sleep. A fire marshal determined it was an accidental fire sparked by the TV, but Chancellor pulled Christian’s phone records from the time and found that he called a woman named Penny just three hours before. Penny confirmed to police that they were having an affair, and she gave him an ultimatum to get divorced or break up.

A new technology called “DNA Analysis” sends Christian Davis to prison

Christian Davis featured on Accident Suicide Or Murder Episode 502

Alongside the three suicide letters were envelopes that had been ripped open. Chancellor ran tests to determine if the saliva on the flaps came from Christian. While the results were pending, they arrested Christian for murder and attempted murder for the trailer fire. It was the first day of the trial when the results came back a match.

“It doesn’t get any better than that for evidence,” said Chancellor. A jury found him guilty on all charges and sentenced him to life behind bars without parole. Dorie was never charged, and Christian maintains his innocence to this day.

As for the suicide notes, Dorothy’s therapist encouraged her to “write everything down. Letters, feelings, words, whatever it took to help her get through not feeling loved,” as part of a therapy exercise, said Patty.

Dorothy’s two daughters now live with her sister, Linda, who has full custody.

See new episodes of Accident, Suicide, or Murder, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. 

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