Okay, folks, vacation’s over. Alex left by bus today for a week in Pensacola to get duplicate IDs (and then on to California to learn computer coding), and Derek arrives here tomorrow for who-knows-how-long.
While I was on “vacation,” a couple of articles came out about Estrella Vista, which is apparently coming into its own as a “safe house.”
The first, by Emma Collins, which appeared on a website called VICE, opened the floodgates. I received a call immediately from a reporter from the Houston Chronicle, and at least three production companies in the UK, one in Belgium, and one in Holland. I managed to put off the TV producers until Alex left, but William Axford, the man from the Houston Chronicle, would not be dissuaded.
As a result, I have two print articles to share with you below.
Emma got it mostly right, but wrong in a few minor respects. The Los Chisos Mountains are within the boundaries of Big Bend National Park, and we are located outside the Park. I resist Emma’s descriptions of the desert and Terlingua; they’re more than dust and trailers, and incredibly beautiful. I think if Emma comes here for a visit (as she is planning to do), she will conclude she has sold this place short. There are also minor issues with the timing of things, but we won’t bother with that.
The biggest thing I take issue with is my supposed interest in becoming a “surrogate parent.” This just isn’t the case. I am only trying to provide a setting where young people are accepted, feel free, and have an opportunity to thrive. If a kid grows to think of me as a mentor or a “surrogate parent,” that is their decision, and not my objective. Such things are a reward or indicator that I am fulfilling my role correctly.
I am sorry if I “creep out” at least one person who commented on VICE. Yes, I recognize that it is unusual to show compassion for kids who are born into intolerable circumstances. I think I’m the only person in the US who is doing what I’m doing. If she thinks this is creepy, I really don’t care. I’m going to keep it up, regardless of what anyone thinks.
My comment about “the best and the brightest” in Emma’s article was brought up in contrast to how most people deal with abuse, whether at the hands of a parent, priest, etc. Most people let the shame and pain fester until they are in their 30s, 40s or even 50s and beyond. Untreated, they seem to never get over it. Most parricides are committed by adult children; by my reckoning, only 10% of them are committed by minor children who have the gumption to insist (rightly or wrongly) that the abuse must end now. I don’t condone anyone committing violence on another, but I do understand it. And maybe you will find this injustice interesting: a foundation in Colorado has conduced research which found that kids who kill parents are punished twice as long and hard as parents who kill kids. Is this fair? Does it seem right to you?
Oh, I could go on and on, but I won’t. Here’s what other people think.
Inside the West Texas Sanctuary for Kids Who Killed Their Parents
by Emma Collins, VICE
The house at Estrella Vista is long and low-slung, with a tin roof and small windows overlooking the brutal dreamscape that is the Chihuahuan Desert. Dan Dailey and Alex King, the only people who live there, don’t seem to mind. “Even though the land is cheap, it’s poor as hell, and nothing will grow here,” Dailey told me. “It’s incredibly beautiful.”
Alex, now 27, spent most of his youth in a prison cell. He and his brother, Derek, made national headlines in 2001 as the youngest inmates in the Florida Correctional System, at 12 and 13, respectively. Derek had used a baseball bat to bludgeon their sleeping father to death while Alex watched, encouraging him. The boys set fire to the house and fled to their hideout—the basement of Rick Chavis, a 41-year-old family friend who routinely molested Alex and often hosted the boys when they needed to escape their allegedly abusive father. He had encouraged them to run away from home.
A sympathetic judge determined that Chavis’s role in the killing plot exempted the boys from the life sentence called for by a charge of murder in the first degree. Alex and Derek pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and arson and were sentenced to prison terms of seven and eight years, respectively.
Dailey, a widowed retiree who was living in Minneapolis at the time, noticed the media firestorm surrounding the trial. On a whim, Dailey sent $100 to the brothers’ defense attorney and a box of books to the imprisoned boys. Eventually, he and Derek began exchanging letters.
As their relationship progressed, Dailey, whose son Henry had recently left home to start his adult life, began to feel like a father figure to Derek. “I had great parents,” Dailey explained. “They never hurt me in any way. The thought of any parent abusing or abandoning their child just seemed outrageous to me. I came to the conclusion that these kids needed a good parent.”
In the King brothers and others like them, Dailey saw children who had made desperate attempts to free themselves from abusive households. “The fact is that these juvenile parricides have for the most part eliminated their problems when they kill their parents,” he told me. “It’s actually, in my opinion, the best and the brightest that strike back. The best and the brightest are those who defend themselves and don’t take the bullshit.” (The research on juvenile parricides isn’t quite so cut and dry: Many parricides are afflicted with major mental disorders, while others are “prosocial individuals who feared for their lives.”)
When the justice system gets its hands on these kids, Dailey believes it deprives them of their freedom—and their childhoods—a second time. “I mean, they’ve lived their whole life in prison. That’s like living on a worse desert than I live in. That’s worse than death.”
When he was released at age 20, Alex said he was “completely overwhelmed.” He worked a number of construction odd jobs, but he found himself bouncing around, unable to secure steady employment or a lease due to his record. “I ended up in a pretty bad situation, and that’s how I came to Estrella Vista,” Alex told me. “Dan was always in my corner. He always answered the phone.”
Dailey had his own regrets to overcome: Dailey’s parents divorced when he was young, and by the time his father passed away in 1988, he hadn’t spoken to the man in years. Overwhelmed by remorse, Dailey spearheaded a park expansion project as a tribute to his late father, ultimately annexing about 80 acres to the Minneapolis park system.
Over the years, however, Dailey grew increasingly unhappy in Minneapolis. A former managing partner at a business consulting company, he was living alone under a mountain of debt, and his health was failing. “I woke up one morning, and I thought to myself, I hate this life,” he told me. The city had begun to encroach on his park, and watching it decay was like experiencing his father’s death all over again.
So he loaded up his BMW and moved to Marathon, Texas, in search of a peaceful bit of desert. He was ready to go off the grid, and he’d realized that with a little land, he could create a retreat for kids like Alex and Derek. Dailey would be their surrogate father.
Soon after, in West Texas, Dailey saw his chance. He heard about large swaths of land, way out in the desert, selling for practically nothing. He packed his things in Marathon and signed a mortgage on 80 acres of dust. Derek promised to move into the ranch after his release, writing to Dailey about becoming an adventure guide, and maybe even starting a wilderness outfitter business.
Dailey would call his piece of desert Estrella Vista. There, he’d finally live on his own terms, while giving parricides a chance to live on theirs—for many, their first real chance. It’s the Western frontier taken to its logical extreme: literally the land of no parents, where the earth and sky seem brand new. A place where a person is just a person, not the sum of his associations, and certainly not his history. Estrella Vista is the only context.
By then, Dailey had started an advocacy organization called the Redemption Project, which hires lawyers to defend parricides in court and provides financial assistance and mentorship to help them from prison back into society. From his organization, he named three trustees for Estrella Vista: his biological son, Henry, and two parricides, Nathan Ybanez, and Lone Heron. Ybanez, 18, was sentenced to life in prison without parole after he strangled his mother; Heron, a female parricide, plans to move to Estrella Villa permanently in the near future. Right now, only Dailey lives at the retreat.
Although it isn’t yet the full-blown sanctuary that he envisions, Dailey has big plans for Estrella Vista’s future. If any of the 13 or 14 other parricides Dailey advocates for gets released, they’ll be partial inheritors of the property. Anyone who wants to visit will be welcomed with what he calls “spiritual hospitality.”
But the living’s not easy. If they want to see a barber, doctor, or dentist, they must drive 60 miles to Alpine, Texas; even the mailbox is six and a half miles downhill. Flies swarm during the day, moths at night. “We shit in buckets, shower once a week, and use about seventeen gallons of water per week per person,” Dailey said. Derek King, Alex’s brother, moved to Estrella Vista just days after his release, and he spent his first three nights there wide awake, shivering in the fetal position. He called his mother every day, until a storm killed the phones. Lonely, he left after six months.
Alex and Dailey don’t mind the isolation and the harsh conditions. “We are a bit removed from society,” said Alex. “To me, that’s of no consequence one way or another.”
At this strange oasis that might one day be a home for the world’s renegades, runaways, outcasts, and orphans, Alex is finally free to make his own future. These days, he’s building a frame for solar panels and learning how to make adobe bricks, so he can add another structure to the property.
“Nothing appeals to me so much as having a true purpose and a true goal somewhere,” Alex said. “Something that I can do to help people. Truly help them.” He and Dailey are working to create a spiritual sanctuary for any wandering spirit who happens to drift their way—”a place to rest, a place to sit and think, and a place to heal a little bit, to reflect.” The possibilities are endless.
Emma Collins is a senior at the University of Chicago and will be graduating this June. She plans to visit Estrella Vista after her graduation.
This west Texas ranch serves as a safe haven for abused kids who have killed their parents
by William Axford, Houston Chronicle
May 2, 2016
When 33-year-old David McCullough has his scheduled parole hearing August 8 at the Clemens Unit in Brazoria some 41 miles south of Houston, Dan Dailey is hoping he’ll come stay with him on his 60-acre ranch in Estrella Vista.
Dailey may be the only person in all of Texas who wants McCullough to come stay with him: The 19-year inmate was sentenced for capital murder. Dailey said the former Dallas county resident was sent to the prison farm for murdering his mother.
“I’ve never met him. I don’t know what he looks like, but I have reason to believe he’s a good person,” said Dailey, who has exchanged letters with McCullough. “He likes nature and working on cars. I have agreed to take him on and provide a place for him to live.”
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice records show that McCullough’s maximum sentence date is October 28, 2036.
Dailey said he’s written a letter to McCullough’s parole board about the possible arrangement, waiting to be mailed out.
Most would be alarmed to welcome someone who murdered their mother or father, but for the 68-year-old, this has become his life’s work.
He runs Redemption for Kids, an organization that helps kids who are convicted of parricide, the act of killing your mother, father or both.
He says that he “backed into” it, after being contacted by Lisa Drew-Alton, an architect from Springfield, Missouri, in 2005.
Dailey said Drew-Alton at the time oversaw a trust for Alex and Derek King, brothers who pleaded guilty in 2002 to killing their father with an aluminum baseball bat and burning down their Cantonment, Florida home. Alex was 13 and Derek was 14 when they killed their father.
The two had allegedly suffered abuse from their father, Terry King, pushing them to murder him. They pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Alex served seven years and Derek served eight years respectively at different facilities around Florida.
Life for the brothers was difficult before they murdered their father. Alex testified in 2003 that convicted child molester Ricky Chavis, then 41, had sex with him days before the murder. He also alleged Chavis had oral sex with him multiple times months before the murder.
Alex was 20 when he was released in April 2008 and stayed with Dailey for a short time in Estrella Vista. Dailey said Alex, now 27, plans on leaving in May.
Derek, now 28, spent six months on the ranch after he was released March 2009.
Despite murdering their father, Dailey has great empathy for the brothers, which would eventually spread to others who have been convicted of killing their parents.
“Killing one’s parents, we’re hardwired against doing that,” Dailey said. “But there are pretty remarkable circumstances that lead people to killing. They’re reacting to the abuse they’ve gotten from their parents. For some, the abuse has been going on their whole lives.
“For some of these kids, my only contact has been through prison. They kill their parents because they were abused mentally, physically and emotionally.”
As for living in Estrella Vista, Dailey said he’s surrounded by the Christmas Mountains and near Big Bend National Park. Estrella Vista is 12 miles north of Terlingua, close to the Mexican border. He settled there after spending a few years in Marathon, Texas, after “his wife died some 20 something years ago” and he left Minneapolis.
He spends his time blogging about the different people he’s worked with who have been convicted of killing their mother or father.
“There is a tremendous amount of visual variety out here. It’s incredibly beautiful, this a portion of Texas that many non-Texans do not know exists,” Dailey said. “It’s very rocky and has a proliferation of all kinds of life. It’s truly a desirable place to be.”
He said a 47-year-old woman from Georgia who goes by the pen name “Lone Heron” may take over the ranch after he passes. She killed her mother almost 30 years ago, according to her blog.
The King brothers and 12 other people who have also killed their mother or father will inherit the land through a trust after Dailey passes. He said that any of the kids are welcomed to the ranch.
“It’s part of the deal. It’s up to them to decide what they want to do with it,” Dailey said.
William Axford is a reporter for the Houston Chronicle.
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