David Roland Waters (March 24th, 1947 - January 27th, 2003) was an American career criminal known for his role in the kidnapping, robbery and murder of the famed atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son Jon Garth and granddaughter Robyn in 1995.
Waters was born on March 24, 1947, the eldest child of a prostitute. He had an extremely difficult childhood due to the environment he was raised in and became involved in criminal schemes whilst only a teenager. In 1964, when only seventeen, Waters and several other men beat a man to death with a fence post after he refused to grant the group access to his car.
In 1977, Waters beat his mother with a broomstick, through her down the stairs and urinated on her, which almost killed her.
The Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair
In 1993, Waters began working as a member of the famed atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair's organization, American Atheists which was based in Austin, Texas. Waters was described by many within the organization to be a charming, hard-working and intelligent man. His efficiency was noticed by O'Hair herself as she upgraded him to office manager. Initially, upon his hiring O'Hair was unaware of Waters' criminal history, but later would discover his past, and pardoned Waters, telling him he had "paid his debt to society."
However, O'Hair later came to find that Waters had stole $50,000 from her organization and fired him as a result. In 1995, Waters plead guilty to the charges of stealing the money and paid it back, however, Madalyn O'Hair was infuriated by law enforcement's decision not to imprison him for his actions, and subsequently humiliated him by publishing his history of disturbing behavior in an edition of her American Atheists magazine. When Waters read the article, he was infuriated and sought revenge against O'Hair for publishing his criminal history.
On August 27th, 1995, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her son Jon Garth and Granddaughter Robyn mysteriously vanished. Texas law enforcement were initially skeptical to call for an investigation into the case for several reasons:
- Texas, a highly religious state, viewed atheists as immoral.
- They assumed that it was a publicity stunt by Madalyn O'Hair and as such, were hesitant to take any legal action.
- The O'Hair's had for several years been contemplating a move to New Zealand, and law enforcement and some within the American Atheists organization presumed the family may have fled.
However, it came to be discovered that Waters, along with fellow career criminals, Gary Karr and Danny Fry had kidnapped the O'Hairs and forced them to withdraw their funds they had planned to use to pursue a life in New Zealand, and ordered $600,000 worth of gold coins with it, they obtained the money for this by forcing Jon Garth to withdraw it from the American Atheists' bank account. Madalyn's granddaughter, Robyn, was the first to be killed, by Waters, Karr and a much reluctant Fry by strangulation. They then proceeded to murder Jon Garth by the same method, however Murray thought back and it was only by Waters succeeding in banging his head of the edge of a desk that he was successfully murdered. After Madalyn O'Hair's granddaughter and son were slained, Waters strangled Madalyn.
Subsequently, their bodies were mutilated and buried in a shallow grave well over 100 miles from the headquarters of American Atheists. Waters and Gary Karr agreed to murder Danny Fry. Fry, who unlike his associates was only a petty criminal, had bonded with the O'Hairs during the month they were held captive at the hands of Waters.
Discovery of Waters' involvement
Waters was initially not considered to have any connection with the disappearance and potential murder of the O'Hairs. He was questioned by several journalists and law officials regarding any potential involvement in the case, but denied having any such involvement, stating that the O'Hairs had fled to New Zealand with the stolen money and he was who they intended to blame for the disappearance.
Waters being identified as the chief architect of the murder was only discovered after his girlfriend, Paddy Jo Stephans reported him to the FBI, she stated that during the month of September 1995 Waters had not been present at their residence, but would leave through the day and only returned several times throughout the month. Waters was physically abusive to his girlfriend, often beating her with the gun. Stephans was also on record of noting that Waters often talked about torturing Madalyn Murray O'Hair in gruesome ways, such as cutting off her toes with a plier.
Another key factor in connecting Waters to the murder, was Bob Fry, the brother of the late Danny Fry who contacted the FBI in June 1998 to report his brother missing. He stated that his brother was last seen with David Waters and Gary Karr in September 1995, and he had spoke to Waters regarding his brother's whereabouts, Waters told Fry that if he spoke to anyone about this he would kill his family.
Waters was later arrested and charged with the robbery, abduction and murder of the O'Hairs. When law enforcement investigated his home, they found several saws and other tools that were later confirmed to be used to mutilate the remains of the O'Hairs, as well as many books Waters had stolen from the O'Hairs' personal library. Gary Karr was arrested, and although not charged with the murder, he was charged with conspiring to kidnap. Waters was charged with conspiring to kidnap, robbery and the murder of the O'Hairs.
He was initially charged with 60 years in prison, but in 2001, he informed law enforcement that the O'Hairs were buried on a Texas ranch and agreed to lead them to the bodies. This added an extra 28 years to his prison sentence. Waters had agreed to inform law enforcement as to where the O'Hairs were buried as a way to avoid a potential death penalty sentence, and to ensure he would spend his sentence in a federal prison rather than state.
Waters died at the Federal Medical Centre from Lung Cancer on January 27th, 2003 aged 55 with his mother by his side. Waters, who had many homosexual relationships while serving his numerous prison sentences, was initially diagnosed with Hepatitis due to not using any form of contraceptive. However, it was later discovered this was a misdiagnosis and it was in fact Lung Cancer.
- He was portrayed by Josh Lucas in the fictionalized version of Madalyn Murray O'Hair's life and death, The Most Hated Woman in America, in 2017.
- Waters gave several interviews regarding his role in the murder of the O'Hair's. His personal experience in abducting and killing the O'Hairs was a major factor in publishing the book America's Most Hated Woman: The Life and Gruesome Death of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, in 2005 by Ann Rowe Seaman.
- Waters also had a sexual interest in male youths, he was known to create accounts on online websites, posing as attractive women and engage in sexual talk with young men.