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Texas Couple Dug Up Woman’s Body to Help Stage Fiery Car Wreck and Fake Death
Texas investigators discovered the body inside a charred vehicle wasn't Clayton Daniels, as they had suspected. It was, in fact, a woman.
Just after dawn on June 18, 2004, the Burnet County Sheriff's Department and local Texas firefighters responded to a call about a vehicle fire.
The car had left the road and gone down an embankment. It was charred to the shell and smoldering when officials arrived, according to Accident, Suicide or Murder, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
“The fire had burned so hot that it melted parts of the vehicle,” said Garth Davis, a former investigator for the Texas Rangers. “That’s very unusual.”
Investigator Find Body Assumed to be Clayton Daniels
When William Talamantez, a deputy with the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office, looked inside the car he saw “remains of a body,” he said. It had been charred beyond recognition.
At the same time Laurie Daniels had reported that she was looking for her son, Clayton Daniels, 22, who was known to drive in the area of the crash. Earlier that morning, Clayton’s wife, Molly, 20, had said he hadn’t come home the night before. He was driving the borrowed Chevy Cavalier.
Investigators assumed that the body in the car was Clayton. Remains of paperback books, a ball cap, and a shoe in the car were tied to Clayton.
Autopsy Provides Clues
The lack of skid marks at the accident site suggested the driver had fallen asleep or had a medical episode before the crash, according to Talamantez.
But the question remained: How did the car burn at such a high temperature? Investigators weren’t sure it was an accident, said Davis. They hoped an autopsy would provide some answers.
There was very little left of the victim, but the report revealed no smoke in the lungs. There were two possible explanations: The victim’s larynx could have closed due to intense heat or the individual was dead before the fire.
The medical examiner stated the cause of death as undetermined pending further investigation.
A blood sample was taken from the victim’s hip in hopes that a DNA match could be found, while Clayton’s mother gave a blood sample to help with the DNA match. Analysis was a process that could take weeks. In the meantime, Janine Mather, former Lt. Deputy of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, tried to determine the cause of the fire and why it burned so intensely. She found no mechanical reasons.
The source of the fuel for the fire was a mystery. The gas tank hadn’t ruptured. Other possible accelerants, including oil, weren’t involved in the blaze.
As investigators dug into the case, Molly Daniels, who was a secretary at a local construction company, tried to make ends meet without her husband. Her small-town Texas neighbors pitched in and provided financial help and childcare for her two kids.
A break came on June 22, when samples taken from the car for analysis at the state arson lab in Austin came back. One from the driver’s side of the incinerated car was positive for lighter fluid.
Clayton Daniels' Crash Wasn’t an Accident
At this point, investigators knew it wasn’t an accident.
“Somebody set this fire intentionally,” said Melissa Ludwig, a former reporter with the Austin American Statesman.
Detectives learned that Clayton had pled guilty to a sexual assault 10 days prior to the crash, and was sentenced to probation, according to Davis. Clayton was supposed to report to jail just six days after the accident.
Officials spoke with Molly. She said that Clayton feared his sexual assault conviction could separate him from his own children.
“She was kind of hinting that perhaps Clay had committed suicide,” said Ludwig.
But Molly’s reaction to further questioning raised red flags.
“She didn’t understand why we just couldn’t leave it alone,” said Davis.
Life Insurance Policy Raises Questions
As detectives reckoned with Molly’s indifference, they found out that Clayton had a life insurance policy valued at more than $100,000. Molly pushed to get the payout, but no check would be issued until the DNA confirmed the crash victim was Clayton.
Then, a witness came forward who told officials that Molly had started dating a man named Jake after Clayton’s death.
Could Molly and Jake have plotted to kill Clayton? Before investigators could dive into that query, the crime lab DNA report came back with a bombshell revelation. The burned crash victim was a woman. It couldn't be Clayton Davis.
Investigators combed through missing persons reports, but the efforts were a dead end.
While staking out Molly’s home, investigators got a glimpse of Jake — and believed that Jake looked a lot like Clayton.
Law enforcement followed her and Jake to a Taco Bell. When an officer asked Jake if he was Clayton, the individual produced an ID with the name Jacob Alexander Gregg.
Investigators still weren’t convinced. Molly and Jake were arrested.
Officials were able to confirm through one of Molly’s neighbors that Jake was in fact Clayton Daniels, who had dyed his hair and beard.
The ruse was up, but detectives still needed to find out who was burned up in the car.
Who Was the Victim in the Car?
Investigators caught a break through an inmate in the cell next to Clayton’s. He said that Clayton claimed he dug up a dead body in order to fake his death.
Confronted by authorities, Molly broke down and confirmed what the jailhouse informant said, leading them to the empty grave of 81-year-old Charlotte Davis. She had died six months before the staged crash.
The pieces of the puzzle fell into place about why the crash victim’s body had been consumed by the fire.
“The body had been embalmed,” said Mather. “Embalming fluid is highly flammable.”
Clayton Daniels confessed to digging up Charlotte’s body, dressing her in his clothes, starting the fire, and faking his own death.
Molly and Clayton Daniels pled guilty to charges that included insurance fraud and desecration of a cemetery.
He received a sentence of 30 years and remains in prison. She was given a 20-year sentence.
While behind bars, she divorced Clayton, according to Accident, Suicide or Murder. She served 12 years and was released in 2016.
Charlotte Davis was laid to rest again in a casket bought by Burnet County law enforcement.
Find out more about the case, including what Molly Clayton said about Charlotte Davis in court, by watching Accident, Suicide or Murder, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.