I met David Lee Childress (who prefers to be called “Dave”) several months ago through Austin Eversole. Dave is serving a 40-year sentence at the same prison as Austin for killing his mother at age 14. We have not even begun to explore the issue of whether Dave or his accomplice received a fair trial.
Unlike most of our other kids, there are no pictures of Dave growing up. You will have to use your imagination. If there was ever an unloved child who was groomed and coerced by his parents into killing, Dave was that child. If there has ever been a child who has been failed by the System, Dave was that child. If there were ever worse parents who evaded responsibility for their roles in what eventually led to one of their deaths, Dave’s parents make the recent story of Clayton Moss pale in comparison. Why doesn’t Oprah tell more stories like Dave’s?
I have asked Dave to tell you his own story, in his words. I haven’t checked on the facts as recounted here (there are almost none on the Internet), but I have no doubts that they actually occurred.
I started getting abused very early on. I have memories from Kindergarten. My earliest most explicit are of wanting death more than living like I was. My father and mother at the time were less violent which I assume at that age I wouldn’t handle the “rough stuff.” It was in the form of being neglectful, emotionally unresponsive, and demanding.
We had food in the house, but they wouldn’t feed me often, only when there was a special occasion to my parents. I attempted to copy how I saw my mom, Meda Childress, boil Ramen Noodles, but when she came into the room, she slapped me around and told me how stupid and useless I was. She told me I was unable to do it without her and she didn’t instruct me. My father, Danny Wayne Childress, was usually sleeping as a result of his working night shift. So I didn’t think I could do it and I was scared of trying something more difficult like frying an egg. I only had the school lunch provided to “impoverished families” which I got because my parents would discuss how to lie on the paperwork. My father never spoke or spent time with me then. My mother was there when I came from school.
Now at school I wondered what was going on when I saw other kids’ parents smile, hug and kiss them. I didn’t get that. I craved my parents’ love, but didn’t know what to do. So I hugged my mother’s leg and said, “I love you, Mama!” copying other kids. She shoved my face and looked angry, to other parents’ disgust. She said I embarrassed her. I felt like crying, but I was reluctant in front of people, so I went to class. I would find stuff I thought was interesting like crystals or flowers with different colors and take it to Mother as a gift. Each time she said it was stupid and threw it away, or she would ignore me altogether.
I wasn’t good with math and it’s extremely hard for me to learn it. I brought bad grades like a C or B- and my father, who was good at math, was furious. They yelled in my face and shoved me around the kitchen calling me stupid and that I would be nobody. I was terrified and began to question every little thing. “Can I tie my shoe right?” “Can I pass school?” “Can I talk to people or make friends?” I thought my parents hated me because I was dumb or a flawed thing, not even human. I didn’t have confidence in myself and had no initiative. I was terrified of my parents. To this day I panic when I hear yelling or hear objects slam, and have to calm myself with every ounce of discipline so I don’t freak out in public.
I felt like an alien at school. I was raised in San Antonio TX, which is predominantly Hispanic on the west side. I am Filipino/Irish-Dutch—the only non-Hispanic to my knowledge with the exception of one girl. I was called a Chink, weirdo, four-eyes. I have a repaired cleft lip. I was always told how ugly I was and was asked cruel questions like, “Did someone with a big dick break your lip?” I felt terrible. I wondered if I killed myself, where would I go? I wondered if I would be born as another kid? I was forced to pray the rosary by Mother. If I got one syllable wrong, she slapped me hard and I had to start over. I begged this God I didn’t feel heard me to help. Seeing my life get worse, I thought God hated me, too.
As I grew, so did my troubles. My mother didn’t show others her real self, and would smile and pretend around my apartment tenant neighbors. My father was stern and cold. Things were bad when Mom and I were alone. She would instruct me to perform oral sex on her. She would also place her fingers and phallus-shaped objects in my anus. I was compelled to obey, and told it was normal. I instinctively knew it was very-not-okay, however. Sometimes my dad would use very explicit language at me and my mother about how he needs sex and stuff.
As I felt rebellious, I yelled back at my parents. A couple of times, I was stuffed in a large cloth bag which was tied. I was then beat and locked in a closet in a fetal position in the bag. I don’t know how long precisely I was there, but I was having to go to the restroom on myself. And of course, the lifetime norm of not getting food. Only now I was told not to eat it and still didn’t know how to prepare any. I had so much anxiety about not being able to do it that I screwed some meat on noodles and got beat up for it. I resorted to (scavenging food from) the trash. At times, some kids I knew had nice parents. I would go over and stay for dinner. I told a neighbor why I had a voracious appetite, and she told my mother (who) beat me on the back and head with an extension cord.
My father started being more active. Once when I was about 7, he was helping with my math. I was unable to learn how to conceive of more than 4-digit numbers. He told me to say “10,000.” I couldn’t. So he punched my face and knocked me out of the chair, calling me a “stupid bitch.” At times he would get into rages over who-knows-what. He would yell at me at the top of his lungs and thrash me around the whole apartment. He’d choke me and slam me into the walls.
I was utterly helpless and scared for my life. I was always underweight because of malnourishment. I was maybe 5’8”, 90 lbs. at age 12 or so. He was about 6’5”, 250 lbs., and an ex-military man (Navy). He was a Tae Kwon Do practitioner as well. Even if I struggled, I stood no chance. He was never anything more than a provider of shelter. I got a lot of free health care because of military benefits.
At age 10 I went through a procedure. It was to break my jaw and put in a big stabilizer thing to hold it in proper place for 8 weeks. I was in excruciating pain. The first week was in the recovery room. I only ate soup and protein milk. There was a handle across my whole face that was affixed with 3 screws that were on both sides, an inch into my skull. I walked in front of the TV while my mother watched soap operas. She yanked the device and shook my head like a doll. I passed out from pain. She said I deserved it.
About the same time, I had to get a piece of pelvic bone removed to place it in my jaw somewhere, leaving a 2½-inch incision to heal. After 3 days I could go home, but it was very fresh and I could not walk well. Again, I had to pass the TV to go around the house. She kicked me in my injured hip, and I dropped crying. She yelled at me to shut up and stop acting like a sissy wimp. I didn’t know what to do, who I was, who could help.
I told the counselor at Woodlawn Elementary School in San Antonio and showed them the bruising. They only called my parents, who said they don’t know anything and took me home. They threw me down and kicked me around. My mom said I would die if I told anyone what was happening, and I would go to Hell for being nasty. She said I deserved it. I am still confused at times over who I can trust. I always question and doubt my abilities. If anyone says anything positive I don’t believe them and am suspicious all the time. My morals guide me, however, to try and give people trust.
Gangs became a problem. I would fight a lot to protect myself. I would get called worse things, as teens can be much crueler and inventive. My quietness and odd voice got me teased also. I was called a faggot, bitch, and people would hide my stuff or spit on me. They drew penises on my shirts or schoolwork. If I got in trouble or below a B+ I would get beat by my father. I once came home and looked at the restroom door and wept. I wanted to die. My father taunted me at the door and said, laughing, “Why don’t you kill yourself, bitch?”
I tried to hurt myself to feel something. I filled a bucket with boiling water and shoved my arm into it. I felt the burn and forgot my emotions. After I figured I didn’t like recovering, I stopped. I started to watch porn when my parents were gone. I tried to lose my mind in it. After all, I was desensitized to it from my mother’s sessions. I never told, scared of going to Hell and I thought it was my fault, that I was sick. I got frustrated once because I was hungry. My mom left a dirty (sanitary) pad on the tub. She later rubbed it in my face and told me to eat it.
At 14 I ran off with my new neighbor and girlfriend. Well, the cops got me. I got my ass kicked. I was on my father’s PC. He told me to “get the fuck off” and yanked me out of the chair. I grabbed his collar so I wouldn’t fall. He then threw me 10 feet. He let out what I can only call a battle cry. He picked me off the floor and slammed my head into a hard object (don’t know what). Then he grasped my neck, lifted me again, and started smashing my head on the dresser, calling me a “weak pussy” and slobbering on me. I couldn’t hope to win this. I eventually lost track and woke up on the floor with stuff in my room all over and around my body.
I called 911. After maybe 10 minutes a cop talked to my dad for a long time. They were in the military together or something because I heard snippets. The cop said not to call, ever, and I deserved it. I felt doomed and that I could never escape this. My dad said he should kill me. I was ashamed, scared, and alone. My future crime partner, James Hartman Gruber, also aged 14, saw this.
Drawing to a conclusion, me and Jimmy (the neighbor) were watching TV in my room. My mother burst in wanting to vent, I guess, and started slapping me and hitting me with a phone. When she left, Jimmy suggested that I “do something.” We collaborated on a murder. I felt like I had no recourse. I felt like I was going to be killed any day. I exhausted help. So that night, I killed my mother. I do feel remorse, regardless.
To this day, I still have the problems with loud noises, trust, etc. I have no real concept of love, and don’t receive compliments in my heart. I always reflect on beatings, sex abuse, and emotional scars. I have no hope of things being “fine.” I am continually reminded of this when people talk of how nice their childhood was. I’ve been in prison since I was 14, and I’m 23 now (24 on February 26th). I am serving a 40-year sentence. Pretty much learned life on my own. I’m confused and don’t have confidence in myself. I do things, expecting the worst. People interviewed by the papers were, incidentally, kids who tormented me and made me out to be a crazy killer. I just want a sense of normalcy and want to feel loved. I just don’t know what to do.
I took on future payment for College Trades for Drafting here in prison. I’m in Toastmasters, a public speaking program. I am trying to find peace. It is my fondest wish that someone out there would love me for who I am. People to “fill in” for my parents, to share true friendship and write me letters. I want to feel connected and feel human, not like a beast or alien. I think connecting with people “out there” will help, if they’re truly interested in getting to know and believe me. Prison is NOT the place you meet the right folks.
There are kids out there being abused. I wish I could love them all and teach them. But I can’t. I wish people could hear MY side of the story and that others suffering could be pulled out of darkness as well.
I value honesty, loyalty, purity, love, and support. I try my best to live opposite of my parents. I want to be a good friend and will give everything to people who are my friends in truth.
Dan, I hope this was a good enough view. Of course, there are other incidents, but these stand out and emphasize the periods of my life from 5 to the present. It’s truth as much as I can tell it.
On Wednesday, September 22, 2004, David Childress and Jimmy Gruber, both 14, were seen dragging the body of Meda Childress, 47, down the stairs of an apartment complex by the legs. The body was found dead in the complex’s parking lot. Police say it appeared that Childress died from a physical assault. David and Jimmy fled the scene before police arrived, but that evening they turned themselves in to the sheriff’s department in neighboring Bandera County.
Groove of the Day