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4 Theories On Kansas City Woman's Murder

Peggy Lowe

  Who murdered Paula Beverly Davis?

This week, KCUR looked at a case that began as a missing person in 1987, only to be discovered 22 years later as a homicide.

Davis’ two sisters, Stephanie Clack and Alice Beverly, found her as an identified person, Englewood Jane Doe, in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, in 2009.  We told that story on Tuesday. (The story is here.)

On Wednesday, we recounted how the disappearance of Davis deeply affected her family, leading her mother to a nervous breakdown. (That story is here.)

Left unanswered is how Davis came to be found on Aug. 11, 1987, dropped down a hill on an on-ramp to Interstate 70 near Dayton, Ohio. She had been strangled.

After her sisters solved missing person case in 2009, Englewood (Ohio) Police Detective Alan Meade interviewed Davis’ Kansas City roommate, Cathy Wood. Meade surprised her at her apartment in Melbourne, Fla., where she had moved after Davis’ death. 

Wood told Meade that she and Davis were drug addicts and prostitutes, “hanging out at the Oak Grove Truck Stop all night,” according to police records.

Apparently, Davis and Wood were close – Wood told Meade that they had known each other since they were 4-years-old and they were like sisters. The interview grew emotional and Wood began to cry when Meade showed her the coroner’s photo of Davis. Wood kissed the photograph.

“In between tears, Wood told me a day does not go by without thinking about Davis and that she has never had a best friend since,” Meade wrote in his report.

On Aug. 8, 1987, Wood reported that she, Davis and an unknown blonde girl went to the truck stop. There were a large number of police officers there, Wood said she grew scared of getting caught, so she stayed in the truck they had been sitting in.

“When Davis and the blonde girl left the semi for the next truck, Wood said it was the last time she saw Davis,” Meade wrote in his report.

The next morning, on Aug. 9, 1987, Wood left the truck and couldn’t find Davis. Despite searching for her and getting on a CB to call out to her, Davis couldn’t find her so she returned to their apartment on 6228 Truman Road.  Later that day, the blonde girl came back, only to leave and never be heard from again, according to Wood.

“Wood steadfastly denied having any knowledge or anything to do with Davis’ death,” Meade wrote.

Several calls to Wood, who is still in Florida, were not returned.

The theories include:

Killed in Kansas City -- Davis’ sisters believe she was killed in Kansas City, driven east on I-70 and thrown from a vehicle at the entrance ramp to I-70. Mostly, they don’t believe Woods’ story. They believe either Woods or Davis’ husband, Michael, know much more than reported to authorities.

They say Davis had recently reformed, gone into recovery and was ready to turn her life around. The sisters say Davis hitchhiked around the country to attend concerts and they have the scrapbook full of tickets to prove it.

The Montgomery County (Ohio) Coroner’s office confirmed that there were no drugs in Davis’ system and no evidence of sexual assault.

Clack and Alice Beverly believe Davis was headed back to her apartment in Kansas City – and there were reports of Davis either walking or riding in a semi-truck on westbound I-70. And they believe the timeframe fits that theory: Davis’ body was found in Ohio at 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 10, 1987. The coroner believed she was dead for several hours. It takes roughly 10 hours to travel from Kansas City to Englewood, Ohio.

The drug dealer did it -- Several of Davis’ friends told the family that a Kansas City drug dealer was looking for Davis because she and Wood had recently stolen some drugs from him. Davis knew the dealer through her husband.

Clack told Meade, “a rumor was found around ‘something bad was going to happen to Paula if she didn’t return the drugs.’” Clack, who looked very similar to her sister, was also reportedly told by someone to “stay off the street or they would mistake her as Paula,” according to the report.

The blonde girl was involved – This is a marginal theory and one the sisters believe Woods cooked up to cover her own involvement.

The wrong guy – Meade, who has been investigating the case since he inherited it in 2003, believes Davis’ risky lifestyle led to her death.

“She climbed into the wrong truck with the wrong guy,” he said. “Who knows what happened between the truck stop in Missouri and here.”  

A serial killer -- Meade looked into whether Davis could have been the victim of a serial killer. In 1991, the state of Ohio created a task force after the murders of ten women, of which Englewood Jane Doe was considered one of the victims.

But a serial killer who later confessed to some of those murders didn’t include Davis in his confession, Meade said.

Still, Meade believes she could have been the victim of a serial killer.

“I’ve been a detective for 17 years,” he said. “In the area where she was found, the way she was dressed, the way she was left, I just think it’s consistent with someone who is a serial killer.”

The case is considered inactive but not closed.

“Someone out there did this,” Mead said. “Whether it was a serial killer or a random person, they know what they did. I would love to catch that person and bring them to justice.”


For more on missing person cases and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, catch KCUR’s new investigative show, “Reveal” from the Center for Investigative Reporting. It airs Sunday at 7 p.m., or go to revealnews.org to read the story, view evidence and photos or search a database of missing and unidentified persons.

Up To Date
I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.