Son speaks for family at hearing

September 23, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


The U.S. Senate hearing room was thick with anticipation as Vernon Davis of Hagerstown sat down to talk about the horrific murder of his parents 11 years ago.

The ashes of the killer, Russell Wayne Wagner, are at Arlington National Cemetery, a resting place for presidents and heroes.

With all eyes upon him, Davis cracked the tension with levity.

"By the way, I'm Santa Claus," he told Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, who was presiding over a Senate committee hearing on national cemetery burial standards.

Davis, a star witness, explained the white beard he was growing.

"I do Santa Claus in December," he said to a roomful of grins.

Just as quickly, the mood turned grim as Davis described how his parents - Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80 - were killed Feb. 14, 1994.


"My mother and daddy was getting ready for bed at seven o'clock," he said, pausing every few words to collect himself.

He described the knock at his parents' door, the knife and gloves Wagner had, the pillowcases Wagner put over their heads when he tied them up.

He talked about how Wagner stabbed Daniel and Wilda Davis "14, 15 times," robbed them and left.

He recalled how their great-granddaughter found their bodies when she delivered their newspaper.

Soft sobs came from the back of the room.

"I was sitting back there, bawling my eyes out," Vernon's daughter, Julie Gehr of Big Pool, said later. "It just never gets any easier."

Vernon Davis said he didn't rehearse his speech; he went with his heart and said what he thought the committee needed to hear.

Still, his sister, Virginia Davis, said Vernon was nervous beforehand and went over some notes.

She said she was glad he was the one to speak to senators; he's more of a talker than she is.

Virginia Davis said she didn't want to relive the nightmare of that Valentine's Day but she knew she needed to be at the hearing "to back my brother."

Vernon's wife, Vivian, watched him speak at the hearing, too. Virginia's son, Walter, was there. So were family friend Maurice Tedrick and Philip Stotelmyer, the commandant of the Marine Corps League in Hagerstown.

Vernon Davis - Valley Mall's Santa Claus for the second straight year - said he will be glad when he can think about his parents without having to talk at length about who killed them.

"Maybe, after this, maybe we can put 'em to rest," he said.

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