Evasion of the body snatchers

By James Quiggle
June 1, 2005
Nobody should’ve died the way Clayton Daniels did — all charred and burned up in a Chevy truck that ran off the road, tumbled down a cliff and exploded into a fireball so hot it melted the metal.

Well, in fact, nobody did die in that crash.

Certainly not Clayton.

He and his wife Molly dug up the grave of an elderly woman, stuffed her body in the car and pushed it off the cliff. The Leander, Tex. couple wanted to collect $110,000 in life-insurance money, hoping the insurer would believe the blackened body in the car was Clayton’s.

Somehow Molly found out about Charlotte Davis, who had died at 81 of an illness nearly a year earlier. Charlotte had spent most of her life in a wheelchair in group homes because of birth defects. She was buried in a pauper’s grave. She had only one relative, an elderly cousin who was too sick to attend her funeral.

Perfect foil

Charlotte was perfect foil. Anonymous, poor and without family to complain if her body mysteriously disappeared from her grave.

So Clayton and Molly dug her up one night, dressed her in Clayton’s clothing — even down to his shoes and baseball cap — and stuffed her into the Chevy. Before long, police found the flaming wreck and blackened body at the base of a cliff along a rural road near Georgetown.

Supportive co-workers collected $1,000 to help Molly with the funeral, and neighbors agreed to help care for her two children aged four and one.

Molly couldn’t collect her $110,000 in life-insurance money, however, until routine DNA tests confirmed the body as Clayton’s.

Despite the delay, the plot still seemed to purr along smoothly.

Just a few weeks later, Clayton resurfaced with dyed-black hair and a moustache. Molly introduced her son Caleb, to her new “boyfriend” Jake Gregg. Neighbors recall Jake rarely went outside. When he did, he usually wore a baseball cap fitted low over his face. In fact, the whole family stayed inside of their one-story stone house most of the time.

Insurance claim smelled

But the more investigators nosed around, the smellier the insurance claim became.

Molly was eerily calm when Texas Rangers interviewed her after the crash.

There were no skidmarks at the accident scene, or other signs of a high-speed accident.

Arson investigators carefully analyzed the burned-out wreck itself. Strangely, the hottest spot of the fire was the driver’s seat, not the fuel tank or other obvious places. The fire also was started by charcoal lighter fluid, not burning gasoline.

Little remained of the body in the car. But investigators found enough to run a DNA test using samples from Clayton’s mother. It didn’t match, so the body wasn’t Clayton.

Investigators searched their home, and found the complex scheme mapped out on her computer. Molly had spent weeks on the Internet before the crash. She learned how to burn a human body so nobody would recognize it, and even how to create a fake identity for Clayton.

Fake birth certificates

Investigators also found fake birth certificates, high school transcripts, credit reports, and a Texas driver’s license for Jake Gregg. They even found lists of plastic surgeons in Mexico. A bottle of lighter fluid was wedged behind an electric cooker.

Busted.

Clayton also had other reasons to disappear. He’d sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl some years back. His 10-year sentence was deferred, but he never reported to his probation officer and earned himself a trip back to the slammer. And Molly, apparently, was getting panicky that her family would fall apart.

A jury took only two hours to convict Molly. She was nailed with a 20-year sentence for insurance fraud, and 10 years for hindering Clayton’s arrest. Clayton awaits trial on arson charges.

Charlotte’s pitiful remains were reburied in her original grave. The new mound of dirt is slowly settling over her casket.

“Sometimes life hands you a hard knock. You just got to deal with it,” the prosecutor said. “You can’t just create an elaborate scheme, defraud people, dig up dead bodies, and fake the deaths. Just deal with what life deals you.”

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