the veiled sibyl

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

How DOES one choose a corpse?

Wife was brains behind plot to fake husband's death
Molly Daniels chose cemetery, researched how to burn corpse beyond recognition

Photo: Molly Daniels. She testified Wednesday about theft, burning of elderly Burnet woman's body. (Kelly West /AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

By Melissa Ludwig


Thursday, May 05, 2005

GEORGETOWN — When Clayton Daniels left his Leander home the night of June 18 with shovels and lighter fluid, his wife knew exactly where he was going.

As the brains of a sordid plot to fake her husband's death, Molly Daniels had selected the corpse he would dig up and researched how to burn it beyond recognition, she testified Wednesday.

Clayton Daniels would dig up the six-month-old grave of 81-year-old Charlotte Davis of Burnet and pry open her casket, his wife said. He would dress her decomposed body in tennis shoes, Faded Glory jeans and a Harley-Davidson baseball cap with a fishhook on it — a cap she would later describe her husband as wearing when he left.

Then, she said, he would put the body in a green Chevy, push it off a roadside cliff in Burnet County and burn up the body and vehicle.

"We felt because she was older, there would not be much family impact, if any," Molly Daniels told the jury.

Daniels pleaded guilty in District Court in Williamson County on Tuesday to insurance fraud and hindering apprehension. She faces up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors say she did it to keep her husband, a convicted sex offender, out of prison — and to collect on a $110,000 insurance policy.

The jury will begin deliberating her sentence today, after lawyers make closing arguments.

On Wednesday, Daniels cried on the stand and told jurors she was sorry for what she did. She had not considered the effects of her actions, she said.

Co-worker Amy Birkenfeld told jurors that employees of the gutter company where Daniels was a receptionist rallied around her after what they believed to be the tragic death of her husband. They raised $1,000 to help with expenses.

They shut down the small business to attend Clayton Daniels' memorial service, where more than 100 mourners signed the guest book, Birkenfeld and other witnesses said.

Neighbor Jennifer Panas testified that when she saw a note tacked to a bulletin board in her neighborhood, it pulled at her heartstrings: "Newly-widowed mom needs a baby sitter."

Panas baby-sat 4-year-old Caleb and 1-year-old Haley Jo for $120 a week, well below market value for child care, Panas said.

Panas said Caleb seemed to be having a difficult time with the death of his father. She said the boy tormented her dog and tried to push the other children down the stairs.

"He wasn't quite all there," Panas said. "It was clear there were huge issues that weren't being dealt with."

On Tuesday, Texas Ranger Garth Davis testified that Molly Daniels told Caleb his daddy had gone to heaven. Within weeks, she introduced him to Jake Gregg, a new boyfriend who looked like Clayton Daniels, but with dyed black hair.

Sympathy for the grieving widow turned cold when police arrested the couple in December for faking Daniels' death.

"We felt used and betrayed," Birkenfeld said.

Clayton Daniels was set to begin a sentence for sex crimes against a child, Molly Daniels testified, and she thought he would not be allowed to live with his children.

"It was about keeping our family together," she said.

The children live with Molly Daniels' mother and Caleb has been receiving counseling, Molly Daniels said.


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