The alleged killer next door: Neighbors lived with suspicions, fear of suspect

The caller ID listed a local church. Evelyn McGuire answered the phone, unaware that the man she believed killed her husband was on the other end.

"The hair stood up on my body," recalled McGuire, whose husband, Dennis, was shot twice while in the couple's backyard on Nov. 10, 2007. Earlier this month, William Howard Davis, 67, was charged with killing McGuire and another neighbor, Warren Williams Jr. Davis is also suspected in the murders of two other southwest Atlanta men.

Three of the four victims -- all middle-aged African-Americans -- were killed by gunshots to the eye and chest. All four lived within three doors of the split-level ranch at 294 Cativo Drive where Davis and his lover, Nellie Sims, resided. Each had argued with Davis, and their killer (or killers) appeared motivated by personal animus.

Davis was not yet an official suspect when he called Evelyn McGuire, though Atlanta police were watching him. McGuire, 57, was already convinced, but she did not want Davis to know, fearing that it might interfere with the investigation.

"I played that game for over a year," she said. McGuire had seen Davis, who lived three doors down, in passing but this was their first extended conversation.

"The Lord told me it was about over," Davis told McGuire. He went on to tell her he was about to die, that he had left the hospital where he was under care. She told him he should go back to the hospital, and then found an excuse to get off the phone.

"I really feel like he thought he'd outsmarted everyone," McGuire said. "I think he was just trying to play me."

Davis had reason to feel confident. The underemployed handyman had evaded arrest since Aug. 1998, when police believe he killed neighbor Alfred Glass, a self-employed contractor.

"I was in my backyard when I heard the shots," said Miriam McCrary, 77, who's lived in the Chalet/Peyton Woods community since the mid-1960s. "I heard [Glass] say ‘Oh man.' I ran inside because I was scared."

A witness saw someone running from Davis' house before the murder. Glass' wife and grandson were watching television inside when the fatal shots were fired.

Two bullets passed through Glass' body but were never found, leaving no ballistic evidence, said Atlanta Police Lt. Keith Meadows. Davis was questioned, however, after police learned he had fought previously with Glass. But the evidence against him was largely circumstantial, and no charges were brought.

Nine years would pass.

"He was extremely meticulous," recalled Evelyn McGuire of  Davis, whom she had hired a few months before her husband's death to help out with some yard work. "He used tools like no man I've ever seen. I remember thinking, ‘He sure is strong for his age.'"

Though there were some squabbles about payment, the McGuires continued to employ Davis for odd jobs around their house. But then he started showing up unannounced, doing work without being asked.

On Nov. 10, 2007, Evelyn McGuire was backing out of her driveway when she saw Davis approach. "Then I didn't see him," she said. "It was strange."

Her husband had just gotten home from work. The next time she saw him, about two hours later, Dennis McGuire was face down in the backyard near their German Shepherd's food bowl.

"He was a heavy smoker, so I thought he had a stroke," she said. "I didn't see the blood at first."

McGuire had been shot twice, in the left eye and the chest. The next day, Davis stopped by to ask what had happened.

"I felt Bill must know something because I had seen him as I was leaving the house," McGuire said. But she didn't suspect Davis was the killer until talking to a neighbor who heard the shots that killed her husband.

"The neighbor said our dog wasn't barking," McGuire said. "If a stranger comes over, we know it."

Davis was no stranger. "The dog knew the killer, he had to," she said. "That's when I knew."

Police were also closing in.

Meadows, now commander of the homicide division, remembered the Glass case while discussing McGuire's murder with a colleague. "It sounded strikingly familiar," Meadows said. Davis was brought in for questioning.

"At first we weren't completely convinced he was involved," Meadows said. There were no witnesses, or direct evidence, linking Davis to the crime.

Then, less than a year after McGuire's murder, another neighbor, Warren Williams Jr., turned up dead, shot in the eye and chest. Though he lived directly behind Davis' Cativo Drive residence, police found his body about a mile away.

"We had connected the murders," Meadows  said, though they lacked the evidence to charge Davis. "He had been pretty cool up to then, but when we started questioning him about Warren Williams he started showing signs of uneasiness."

He was now under almost-constant surveillance, though only a few of his neighbors were aware.

"I knew Bill was always a prime suspect," said Stasia Broadwater, 40, who lives two doors down from Davis' house. She learned about the suspicion surrounding Davis after getting to know Evelyn McGuire.

"I just kept my distance," Broadwater said. "It was very weird."

So was Davis' relationship with his longtime boarder, Nellie Sims, 32 years his senior.

"It's my understanding that they shared a bed until her death [in March]," Meadows said. Sims was 99.

"You'd never guess she was that old," Broadwater said. "She was very spry,  very coherent. It seemed like [Davis] took good care of her."

Their relationship spanned some 25 years, when Davis moved into the Cativo Drive split-level. It was interrupted by a five-year stint in prison after Davis was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Sims' foster son, Joseph Ellis, 23.

Davis claimed Ellis was stealing money from him. The fatal shots came after Ellis drew a knife, Davis claimed.

"I remember after it happened he waited on the stoop until the police came," said neighbor Roy Rumph, 92. Davis was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He was released early, thanks in part to Sims' lobbying.

"She went to see him every week," Rumph said. "She was instrumental in getting him out."

In the years following Rumph said he considered Davis a good neighbor.

"[Davis] would cut my grass, do a lot of little things," Rumph said. " If I needed someone to drive me, he'd do it. He's a fine fellow."

Sims had been his fiercest advocate, even when he was charged in the slaying of her foster son.  And it wasn't until after her death that police -- armed with a series of search warrants -- were able to locate direct evidence against Davis.

Detectives found the gun, which had been stolen from a Fulton County deputy,  buried under Sims' house, where Davis continued to live after her death. Meadows said they don't know how Davis got a hold of it.

"The barrel was badly rusted, so it took us awhile," he said. Eventually ballistics testing proved that the gun had been used to kill McGuire and Williams. On Nov. 14, police headed to Cativo Drive to make an arrest two years in the making. They found Davis home alone, spraying bleach on the driveway.

He continues to claim his innocence. Davis waived his initial court appearance on Nov. 14, and his next court date won't take until a formal indictment is filed.

Davis is also suspected in the 2007 stabbing death of former neighbor Joseph Williamson, though Meadows said that's the weakest of the four cases.

"Williamson's wife is  convinced [Davis] was involved," he said. Williamson had argued with Davis before his death, neighbors say.

For Evelyn McGuire, Davis' arrest brought considerable relief. She spent two years convinced the man who lived three doors down murdered her husband, but she couldn't say or do anything.

Now she looks forward to facing Davis in court.

"I wanted to see those handcuffs slapped on him," she said. "But I'm not satisfied by any means. I want him to know what he did to my life.

"I'm very bitter, very angry, very hurt."

McGuire said she never considered moving away, even with an alleged killer in the neighborhood.

"I married my husband in this living room," she said. "It was bittersweet, but I felt like I needed to stay here and protect this place we shared together."

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