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Family remembers slain couple

September 02, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Daniel and Wilda Davis didn't tell their family "I love you" very often. They showed their affection through their deeds: a handmade quilt, a fishing trip, a game of dominoes.

"They were quiet but we knew we were loved," said Virginia Davis, the oldest of the couple's three children - Virginia, Vernon "Sonny" Davis and Vivian Monger.

Daniel, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, were killed in their Hagerstown home Feb. 14, 1994. Russell Wayne Wagner, 50, was convicted of their murders Thursday. His sentencing is pending.

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After the Davises' deaths, the family leaned on each other and their faith, Vernon, 63, said.

The Hagerstown City Police's investigation of the murders led to the arrest of Wagner, an acquaintance of the couple.

Wagner was tried on two counts of first degree murder in 1996 in Garrett County, Md. The trial ended with a hung jury after four jurors remained unconvinced of Wagner's guilt, Vernon said.

Vernon said the family doesn't resent those four jurors.

"We attended the trial and it was all about Ted (Monger, the Davises' son-in-law whom defense attorneys tried to link to the slayings). In this trial the evidence was all about Wagner," he said.

"There's no hard feelings; we know they struggled with it," said Vernon's wife, who is also named Vivian.

As the years passed, the family often grew impatient with the police but in their hearts understood how difficult their job was, Vivian Davis said.

The family hopes that Wagner will eventually help police gather enough evidence to convict others involved, she said.

As a memorial to their parents, the Davis children planted a flowering crab apple tree at Cedar Lawn Cemetery near their funeral plots. The tree would have pleased Wilda, who loved to garden and cultivated hybrid African violets in her home, Virginia said.

'A simple life'

After marrying in 1934, Daniel and Wilda moved around before settling in at 109 W. Wilson Blvd. They chose the two-story, three-bedroom house for its location and potential rental unit to the rear of the property.

"It was a simple life for us. There wasn't an overabundance of anything but everybody was welcome," Vernon said.

Daniel supported his family loading trucks at Manbeck's Bread Co. in Hagerstown and learning how to stretch a dollar.

"He used to tell me not to use my windshield wipers in the rain so much because they would wear out," their granddaughter, Julie Gehr, said with a chuckle.

Daniel's hands shook from a childhood bout with Scarlet fever but he didn't let it stop him from helping family members do home repairs, especially painting.

"His hand was steady when he held a paintbrush," Vernon said.

Wilda worked for Fairchild Aircraft during World War II and then at E.J. Fennel Corp. dress factory. It was while at the dress factory that Wilda perfected the sewing skills she used to craft countless quilts from scraps for her family.

"Grandma loved to sew," said Luther Davis, one of the Davises' seven grandchildren. "When we moved into our new house she gave us a handmade quilt. We still have the quilt."

Gehr said her son, Nathan, is too young to remember his great-grandparents but still sleeps with the quilt Wilda made for him.

"It's in shreds by now, but he knows were it came from and he won't let us get rid of it," Gehr said.

One of Wilda's greatest joys was cooking, Vivian Davis said.

"You didn't go to her house without eating," Vivian said.

The recipes were simple but the meals were delicious, she said.

Vernon was always happy with a quart of milk and one of Wilda's homemade chocolate cakes, Virginia said.

Wilda and Daniel sometimes invited in homeless people for a home-cooked meal and prepared snacks for Halloween revelers after the city's annual parade.

Daniel also was known to take a turn at the stove, preparing a family favorite - turtle soup.

Great-granddaughter Ashley Gehr, 18, said she formed a special bond with Wilda one summer when she attended a summer class.

"She would pick me up every day and take me to McDonald's and then we would spend the afternoon playing Parcheesi, Crazy Eights or Chinese Checkers or just talk," she said.

Daniel taught his family to fish and to respect nature during Scouting activities as a former Scout Master for Troop 38.

"One year, I gathered fishing worms for him and I'll never forget the big red sled he gave me," in return, said Luther Davis, another grandson.

Luther said he has fond memories of his grandfather dressing up as Santa Claus for all the children.

"The simple memories are what sticks with you the rest of your life," Luther said.

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