Ricky Davis &
Career criminal and meth-addicted mommy link up to fulfill Ricky's lifetime ambition torturing, raping and killing women on video. Just as police got an important tip, this depraved couple escaped, abducted a young girl and planned their suicide.
On May 25, 2005, Richard Dean Davis stood squinting against the springtime sun after his release from a state prison in Bonne Terre, Mo.
At age 40, Ricky Davis was at a crossroads after a wasted life.
He had been brought up in a broken home in the Kansas City area, and by age 13, he was a chronic delinquent. He spent most of his teen years in reform school or juvenile detention, and he soon graduated to adult lock-ups.
In 1987, just months out of prison for stealing, Davis was convicted of raping a woman. He claimed the sex was consensual - never mind the knife he held to her throat.
A jury saw it differently and sent him away for 25 years.
Davis claimed to have found religion during the 17 years and 11 months he spent in prison. His release gave him a chance to prove it.
During his first nine months of freedom, he apparently did everything required of him under parole. He went to work, stayed out of bars, attended substance abuse and sex offender counseling sessions, reported to his parole officer, and registered new addresses when he moved.
But authorities say Davis also began nurturing an obsession with sexual domination, sadism and asphyxiation, polite descriptions that gild his sickening compulsion: to strangle a woman while having sex with her.
Davis visited strangulation fetish websites on the Internet and began collecting videos that fed his sexual obsession. But his ultimate fantasy was to star in his own snuff-film show.
Sometime last winter, Davis took up with Dena Riley. Methamphetamine had lured the Missouri woman away from her husband, children and respectability.
It was a match made in hell.
Davis and Riley now stand accused of acting out the ex-con's fantasy by murdering two women during videotaped sex sessions. To boot, they then allegedly kidnapped and sexually assaulted Davis' 5-year-old niece before they were captured.
Many wonder how yet another registered sex offender-after years of punishment and therapy - could relapse so completely.
The depravity of his alleged acts recalls the BTK Killer's infamous "factor x" theory - that certain undefined but irrepressible urges make
sexual killers different from the rest of us.
In a 1978 letter to a Wichita television station, the BTK Killer-later identified as Dennis Rader - tried to explain it:
"You don't understand these things because your (sic) not under the influence of factor x. The same thing that made Son of Sam, Jack The Ripper, Havery (sic) Glatman, Boston Strangler, Dr. H.H. Holmes, Panty Hose Strangler of Florida, Hillside Strangler, Ted of The West Coast and many more infamous characters kill. It seems senseless but we cannot help it. There is no help, no cure, except death or being caught and put away."
Whatever "factor x" is, it seems pretty certain that Ricky Davis has it.
Dr. Kathryn Seifert
"People don't just wake up one day and say, 'I'm going to be a serial rapist and a killer,'" Dr. Kathryn Seifert, a psychotherapist and forensic psychologist based in Salisbury, Md., told the Crime Library. "Something leads up to it."
During his years in prison, Davis had plenty of time to conjure up his dream girl: buxom, pliable and willing-a woman just like Dena Delores Riley, 38.
She grew in Kansas City and married just weeks after graduating from Hickman Hills High School in 1985.
She and her husband, Mark Riley, had three children in five years. By the birth of the third, Dena had lost interest.
"She got tired of being a mom," Mark Riley told the Kansas City Star. "She felt she missed out, because she got married right out of high school."
Dena Riley began bed-hopping and using drugs, and her husband filed for divorce and won custody of the three children in 1990. The following year, she had a fourth child with another man.
For the ensuing 15 years, Riley lived at the scruffy edges of Kansas City. She bounced from one temporary job to another-from holiday temping at toy stores to serving donuts, always with a meth monkey on her back. She was homeless at times, spent brief periods in jail, and dabbled in prostitution, according to police.
She was disarmingly honest about her drug jones. A blogger, Crime Scene KC, spoke with a former colleague at a dog-grooming salon who said Riley gave daily updates about her narcotics use and made no attempt to conceal the needle tracks on her arms.
Yet she did not seem to be the sort of woman who would participate in a murder, the friend said.
"She was one of the gentlest people around the animals I've ever had," the woman insisted.
Ricky Davis and Dena Riley took different routes to arrive at the same place.Riley gave up a life. Davis never really had one.
One of four children, Davis grew up in the northeast Kansas City area. His childhood was defined by a bizarre accidental shooting incident, according to a profile in the Kansas City Star.
When he was about 6 years old, Davis fired a rifle shot that struck and wounded his father. His parents were soon divorced.
Davis' stepfather, Stan Cothern, had only sketchy details of the shooting incident, but he said it seemed to have a deep impact on the boy.
Davis was a truant and runaway by the time he reached middle-school age, and he dropped out altogether and left home as a seventh-grader.
He flopped with older friends or "just ran the streets," Cothern told the paper.
From ages 13 to 17, during the late 1970s, Davis spent most of his time in Missouri juvenile facilities. His mother was unable to control him, so the state sent him away for a series of crimes and violations, including theft, truancy and running away from home.
Davis was set free in the summer of 1982, just before his 18th birthday.
Dr. Seifert, author of the newly published book "How Children Become Violent," said Davis' childhood biography is straight from the diagnostic template for psychopaths and sociopaths.
She said the trauma of the shooting incident and the "detachment disorder" that results from broken families and long-term juvenile detention are red-flag risk factors for teens likely to become violent adults.
"They do not learn to attach to other people or develop relationships that teach them how what they do affects another person," she said.
"They get stuck in a 'me-me-me' stage. That's normal when you're 2. But that's not normal when you're 22."
After living four years in the controlled regimen of juvenile jail, Ricky Davis had difficulty functioning as a free adult.
He worked a series of short-term jobs - as a Shoney's restaurant cook, a construction worker, and at a car wash, gas station, truck stop and manufacturing plant, according to the Kansas City newspaper.
Something always went wrong: He didn't like working nights; his boss was abusive; the commute was too much.
Davis, never long on motivation, turned to the quick and dirty money that crime can provide. But he was a failure at that, too.
He was caught a number of times by authorities in several northwest Missouri counties. A file full of cases was combined into a single prosecution, and in February 1984, Davis was convicted of burglary, theft and receiving stolen property.
Not yet 22 years old, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
In trying to stave off hard time, Davis had snitched on a pal. As a result, he was a marked man behind bars and served his time in protective confinement, segregated for his own safety from the prison population.
He was paroled in April 1986, after 26 months. But freedom was fleeting.
It isn't clear whether Davis had had violent episodes earlier in life. Records of the specific offenses that led to juvenile custody are not public.
But in October 1987, Davis was accused of raping and sodomizing a woman at knifepoint at the home of his mother near Lexington, Mo., in Lafayette County 45 minutes east of Kansas City.
Davis first denied the allegation then later claimed he had had consensual sex with the woman. Eventually, though, he pleaded
guilty and was sentenced to prison, where he celebrated every consecutive birthday from ages 24 to 40.
Dena Riley was hired last winter as a seasonal, 25-hour-a-week assembler at a Kansas City metal fabrication factory, the same place where Ricky Davis worked
as a janitor.
Shortly after meeting at work, Riley and Davis were living together in Independence, Mo., a city of 110,000 at the eastern edge of Kansas City.
They took an upstairs apartment in a rather stately brick home on Truman Road, named for President Truman, Independence's most famous native son.
Davis wouldn't seem to have been much of a catch, but both he and Riley were at the bottom of the relationship food chain. She was an overweight, bleached-blond meth addict whose teeth were going bad.
"Water seeks its own level," noted Dr. Seifert.
Davis, born July 9, 1964, was 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, with brown hair, hazel eyes, a scruffy mustache and cleft turtle chin. He had bulging prison muscles and a collection of bad jailhouse tattoos on his wrist, ankle, buttocks, chest and back.
In prison and just after, he wore his hair in an outdated mullet style - short bangs and a cascade of hair down his back. (He later cut it off.)
He was so obviously an ex-con that he might as well have had his prison I.D. number stamped on his forehead.
But he considered himself a player, and he apparently hit on nearly every woman he met.
His downstairs neighbor, Carol Boydston, told reporters that he was a tireless seducer.
"He tried to get me up there, but I never wanted to get involved with him," she told KMBC-TV in Kansas City. "I thought he was just a big flirt."
"He seemed like a real nice guy," she told the Independence Examiner, although "he did have a strange side."
For example, Boydston said, Davis made sure she knew every time he had a woman in his apartment. He often tried to give her the details of his sexual conquests, including the ages of female guests - some as young as 18.
"He bragged he still had it," she said.
What he didn't explain is that most of the women who visited his busy bed were meth addicts who were lured there in a sex-for-drugs exchange.
Ricky Davis had emerged from prison as a cocky, self-assured man-a strange attitude for someone who had accomplished so little.
And like a confident man will, he proved capable of asking women for exactly what he wanted - even if what he wanted was violent sex.
By early last spring, Davis and Riley were beginning to forge relationships among the denizens of the grimy underside of metropolitan Kansas City.
A number of women who dabbled in KC's meth and prostitution world later reported that a woman claiming to be Davis' cousin was hustling phone numbers on his behalf. (The cousin may have been Dena Riley.)
In April 2006, a woman named Lorie Dunfield got a phone call from Davis after giving her number to the cousin.
She went to Davis' Truman Road apartment, and he promptly popped in a video recording that showed him having sex with a woman.
Davis then revealed that "he wanted me to ... participate in being a serial killer with him," Dunfield told MSNBC's Rita Cosby. "He wanted me to help him kill women and get rid of the bodies."
Davis excitedly explained that they would suffocate the victims during three-way sex, which they would videotape for future viewing pleasure. Dunfield said she opted "to get the heck out of there."
But Dena Riley didn't.
"Any normal person who believed sadism and rape were abhorrent and who found that her boyfriend was into those things would have been gone," said Dr. Seifert. "She stayed, which tells you something about the sort of person she is."
She said Davis' obsession with violent pornography should have been her first clue.
"An alcoholic can't have a drink or he's off and running again," said Dr. Seifert. "Sex offenders, in my opinion, should not have
access to porn, or they can be off and running again."
Body Turns Up
Lorie Dunfield was stunned to learn that the victim was Marsha Spicer, 41, an old friend who traveled in the same circles.
Had the "cousin" hooked Spicer up with Davis, too? She thought it was too much of a coincidence that one of her friends turned up dead after her spooky encounter with Davis, so she went to the police on May 16.
On May 17, investigators from the Lafayette County sheriff and Independence police paid a visit to Davis and Riley on Truman Road.
They knew that Davis was a rape parolee, and inside the apartment, the officers saw a number of troubling things.
A video camera was trained on the bed, and an open journal book contained notations about choking and sex. The investigators also spotted marijuana - a clear parole violation.
Perhaps most importantly, Dena Riley admitted to an Independence police detective that her boyfriend enjoyed violent sex.
Collectively, what police saw and heard during their visit to Davis' home seemed to add up to sufficient cause to detain or even arrest Davis and Riley.
But Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh made a peculiar decision. He ordered the couple to leave the premises while he sought a search warrant.
Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh
He later remarked to the Kansas City Star, "This guy is an animal and he needed to be locked in a cage, but you have to jump through the hoops and do it right."
They Drive Away
So as Alumbaugh's deputies and Independence cops watched, Davis and Riley simply drove away in his red GMC pickup truck.
It took two trips before a judge to secure the search warrant. When investigators finally returned to the apartment, they found a stomach-turning videotape, shot in Davis' bed, that showed Marsha Spicer - her eyes covered with duct tape - being raped, beaten and strangled for two full hours at the hands of Davis and Riley.
Spicer, a petite 4-foot-11, was bound at the wrists during much of the attack and was sodomized by both Davis and Riley. The victim apparently was choked repeatedly before the final, fatal strangulation.
"They did the tape because they enjoyed watching it," Jackson County Prosecutor Michael Sanders told reporters. "It was in the machine when we got there. They had been watching it."
Authorities also found a second shocking tape that showed another woman being victimized by the couple.
Police distributed a photo from the video showing the woman in distress, staring wide-eyed and fearful at the camera lens. A vein bulged on her forehead, and her skin color was nearly crimson - as though she had just been choked to near death.
A woman who saw the photo, Sherry Ballew, identified that victim as her daughter, Michelle Ricci, 36, who had been missing for several weeks. Ballew said her daughter was an acquaintance of Marsha Spicer who also had struggled with a meth problem.
APB for Killers
Lafayette County authorities issued a bulletin for the accused killers, who were charged with first-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, rape and sodomy in Spicer's killing.
Just 36 hours after waving goodbye to police, the couple had gone from obscure perverts to accused sex murderers at the top of the heap of America's Most Wanted.
Their pursuit because national news as authorities tracked them via their cellphone calls and credit card purchases. They wandered east across Missouri to the St. Louis area, where they spent several days before continuing into Illinois.
They stopped at some point in the small southeast Missouri city of Perryville, where Riley had a friend, Susan Summers. She admitted to police that the couple told her "they had raped and killed a lady." Their plan, she said, was "to go somewhere and kill themselves."
But they backtracked west to Kansas City, where they apparently bought more meth, then went south and across the Missouri state line to tiny Arcadia, Kan., where they turned up at the home of Davis' sister and brother-in-law, parents of a 5-year-old girl.
The sister, who was unaware of the allegations against Davis and Riley, later told authorities that he made an elaborate display of his newfound Christianity. The couple spent the night at the house.
The next day, May 25, the group decided to have lunch at McDonald's in Pittsburg, a larger Kansas town 20 miles south. They left on the excursion at 11:30 a.m., with the niece riding with Davis and Riley, and her parents followed in another vehicle. But Davis apparently stopped to say that he wanted to go for some other type of food, and the parents agreed to allow the couple to drop her off in a couple of hours.
When they didn't do so, the mother called police that afternoon. Only then did she discover that the couple was wanted for the sex murders.
For their coup-de-grace crime, Davis and Riley sexually assaulted the child while driving backroads along the Kansas-Missouri border.
They then planned to end their lives. Each swallowed a handful of pills, chased by several doses of methamphetamine.
Oddly, they then decided the child deserved mercy.
It was widely reported in the media that Davis and Riley had surrendered. That was not the case.
Davis' Romeo-and-Juliet plan was to drop the girl off outside her home in Arcadia, then race away along country roads to a remote spot, where they would drift off to sleep while embracing and die of overdoses.
But a snag developed when they got lost and couldn't find their way back to Arcadia to drop the girl.
At 4:40 p.m., about five hours after the child was abducted, Davis used his cell phone to call 911 in Barton County, Kan. In the drug-addled conversation, he tried to ask an operator to help him determine his location, explaining that he wanted to drop a child off at a friend's house but was lost on a dirt road.
The operator passed the phone to Deputy Vincent Ashworth, who spent more than 20 minutes on the phone with Davis and Riley.
Riley explained that they were in the process of committing suicide by drug overdose but wanted to spare the child's life.
"Why are you trying to kill yourself?" Ashworth asked.
Riley replied, "We've done a lot of bad things, and we don't want to be caught by anybody. We're gonna end this before anybody else gets to us."
Riley repeatedly hollered at Davis, who was nodding off.
"She kept yelling at him, 'You need to wake up! You need to stay on the road!" Ashworth told "America's Most Wanted."
Riley finally managed to read the name on a road sign, which placed them somewhere along an eight-mile-long dirt road.
Law enforcers raced in that direction just as Deputy Ashworth heard a metallic thud through the phone. Davis had fallen asleep and run the truck into a ditch.
Barton County Sheriff Shannon Higgins arrived to find Riley behind the wheel and Davis outside trying to push the truck. The little girl was sitting in the truck of a farmer who happened to pass by and offered to help.
The couple, so high they could barely stand up, were not in a position to put up a fight. Riley's face was smeared with blood from a broken nose and split lip she suffered in the wreck. Davis was not hurt.
Davis' niece was cut above the eye in the accident. She was treated at a hospital for that wound and underwent surgery for damage done by the sexual assault.
The violation of the child prompted further scrutiny of the decision to allow Davis and Riley to leave their home on May 17 while authorities sought a search warrant. It left the couple free to molest the niece.
The top men of two law enforcement agencies involved defensively insisted to the local media that their departments did the right thing.
"Hindsight is a wonderful thing," said Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh. "Either the public is going to understand it or they are not going to understand it. There's not a whole lot I can do about it at this point in time. We have to do our job right and not haphazardly."
"You can spin the facts any way you want," said Independence Police Chief Fred Mills. "But we had no probable cause to arrest them. What you need for an arrest warrant is a lot more than you need for a search warrant."
Sherry Ballew was right. The second victim was her daughter, Michelle Ricci. After their arrest in the Spicer case, Davis and Riley admitted to murdering Ricci as well.
If anything, her fate was even more cruel.
She apparently agreed to sleep with Davis and Riley in exchange for meth. Using drugs to control the woman, the couple kept Ricci as a sex slave for three days in late April, subjecting her to rape, beatings, torture and choking.
Ricci was still alive after several days of abuse, but the couple feared she would go to police if they released her. Davis decided she must die.
They bound her with speaker wire and drove to a wooded rural spot near Liberty, Mo. Riley dropped them off, and Davis did the dirty work. He first tried to strangle her with rope. When that failed, he suffocated the woman, according to prosecutors.
Concerned about leaving evidence, the killers returned the following day, drenched Ricci's body with lighter fluid and set it on fire. It lay undiscovered for a month. Davis and Riley led authorities to the body after their arrest.
Although law enforcement officials initially feared that other victims might turn up, they now are confident that Spicer and Ricci were the only homicides.
Dozens of secondary felony charges have been filed against the killers in those two murders, including multiple counts of rape, assault and sodomy.
This fall, Missouri prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against Davis and Riley in each of the murders.
The Spicer case is being prosecuted in Jackson County and the Ricci case in Clay County, where the murders occurred.
"The most vile and criminal act should be subject to the ultimate punishment," said Clay County Prosecutor Daniel White.
"Morally, ethically, we think this case merits the death penalty," added Jackson County Prosecutor Sanders. "There is no negotiation at that point...The crime was wanton, vile, and inhuman."
The couple also face federal prosecution in the kidnapping and sexual assault of Davis' niece.
The Jackson County murder prosecution is expected to take precedent, although any trial may not occur until 2008.
Letter to Neighbor
Davis and Riley
Davis and Riley are being held in the Jackson County Jail in Kansas City. Both have made detailed confessions, so there is a possibility of guilty pleas, although that would be unusual in a death penalty case.
It seems Davis is plotting some type of defense.
His former downstairs neighbor, Carol Boydston, told Crime Library that Davis has sent her correspondence from jail with explicit instructions on what she should say when she is visited by police or attorneys concerning his case.
"He sent me a letter, and he had it all spelled out, No. 1 through No. 10, all the things I should say when they come to talk with me about him-as if I'm going to lie," Boydston said.
She declined to go into further detail about the letter, which she said she hadn't shown to anyone.
"I've got it put away. I don't want to get any more involved in this," she said.
But the bizarre contact with his former neighbor might well open Davis up for yet another felony charge - for tampering with or intimidating a potential witness.
The Killing Kind
If her case goes to trial, Dena Riley likely would use her drug addiction as an excuse. She might also claim that Davis had control over her - physically and psychologically.
But what excuse can Ricky Davis claim?
He seems to be a classic sexual psychopath - a person who uses sex to dominate another human being, turning them into possessions. And his videotaping of the assaults placed himself in a class with the infamous Canadian sex killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.
"Psychopaths have no empathy," said Dr. Seifert. "They get a thrill out of hurting people. That is what sets them apart from run-of-the-mill sociopaths, who can feel bad about hurting people."
And when a lack of empathy is combined with a violent sexual compulsion, you get Dennis Rader's "factor x."
"I think he (Rader) was observing that he had something inside of his head that drove him to do awful things, and he knew there was no way he could stop except for being caught, killed or imprisoned for the rest of his life," Dr. Seifert said. "He knew he had this drive to kill and hurt, and he knew that it was something that the rest of the world didn't have."
Joel Rifkin, the serial killer nurse whose crimes were revealed in the early 1990s, told shrinks that he could not stop strangling women - even though he knew it was wrong - because the act of murder gave him an incomparable sexual euphoria.
Dr. Seifert said Ricky Davis was another member of the same club - the killing kind.
Is "factor x" a force of nature, nurture or both?
Dr. Seifert has noted that a chronically violent person "is a matrix of complex interactive systems."
Some sex offenders have a genetic history of deviance. But environmental factors can play a role in how such a predisposition plays out in life.
Some learn to suppress deviant urges. But this may prove impossible for others - particularly those with a childhood trauma or detachment disorder that inhibit their emotional development.
And so it was Ricky Davis.
"He was in prison 18 years for a sex offense," Dr. Seifert noted, "and it did nothing to keep him from reoffending."