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The Dallas Observer
By Glenna Whitley
Thursday, May 18, 2006
“Stop that!” Carolyn Thomas snapped. Her best friend Dena Schlosser was driving with her eyes closed, hissing like a snake.
“Open your eyes and look at the road!” Thomas said. “Put your mind on Jesus.”
The weird behavior had started as soon as Schlosser and her three girls had gotten in the car with Thomas after an evening service at Water of Life church in Plano. Schlosser was chanting something under her breath–“I’m stupid, I’m evil…” Thomas had told her friend over and over: Talk to me when those crazy ideas start rattling around in your head. And girl, stay on your medication!
“Dena, in this car I feel a heaviness,” Thomas said. She sensed a foul spirit in the air, a demon of depression.
“Yeah,” Schlosser said.
Thomas started praying out loud, and her friend joined in.
Schlosser calmed down for a moment. “Do you know,” she asked, “if people, demons, can come in and disrupt your house?”
“Sure,” Thomas said. “That’s what we’re taught. Spirits can get into people and use them for wrong. Spirits can get into your baby, husbands, relatives…”
They stopped at a grocery store, and when Thomas returned to the car, Schlosser seemed her normal self. Thomas put the strange incident behind her.
A week later, Dena Schlosser’s grotesque actions would grab headlines around the country. Schlosser, immersed in a world of demons and doom, would kill her youngest child by sawing off her arms as she lay in her crib. She was convinced that evil spirits had invaded her home.
Thomas was talking to a Plano police detective when she suddenly remembered her conversation in the car with Schlosser. “Spirits can get into your baby…” On a videotape of the interview with police, Thomas gasps. Her expression turns to horror.
“Surely there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife incited him.” 1 Kings 21:25
Carolyn Thomas just happened to have walked to the front desk when the phone rang at about 11:50 a.m. on November 22, 2004. She answered and heard the voice of Dena Schlosser’s husband John, a self-employed software designer. He was calling from his car near Fort Worth.
“Carolyn, I’m amazed I got you,” John said in a calm tone. “Dena said she hurt the baby.”
“What do you mean, ‘hurt the baby’?” Thomas said. Dena was a fantastic mom. No way she’d hurt her kids.
The two women had worked together at the day-care center for a year before Schlosser’s third daughter, Maggie, was born. Plump, middle-aged and black, Thomas had witnessed Dena give birth to Maggie at home. Their apartments were across the yard from each other in Plano. Though they were very different, the two women had a sort of mother-daughter relationship, with the older, feistier Thomas giving Dena, a meek 36-year-old white woman, encouragement and advice.
They attended the same church, Water of Life, twice on Sundays and six nights a week, for as many as 16 hours of services a week. The women adored the preacher, Doyle Davidson, a former veterinarian who peppered his sermons with lessons he’d learned doctoring animals.
Davidson was different from other televangelists–unpolished, voice as gravelly as a cement mixer, wisdom gleaned not from seminary but from his event-filled life. He preached that behind misfortune–bad weather, disease, job loss–were various demons, especially the spirit of Jezebel, named after the wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament. Wicked, seductive and supremely manipulative, Jezebel manifested herself in wives who refused to submit to their husbands and lodged in women’s reproductive organs, causing problems with childbirth.
John and Dena Schlosser had moved from Illinois to Fort Worth in 2000. They’d discovered Davidson through a neighbor and found his theology appealing. It explained their problems, such as John losing jobs. For months, the Schlossers drove 120 miles round trip several days a week to attend Water of Life. When they lost their home to foreclosure, the Schlossers moved to a Plano apartment near the church.
It was a toss-up between John and Dena as to who was more obsessed with Davidson’s teachings. Carolyn Thomas thought John took that head-of-the-household, submissive-wife stuff to the extreme, trying to keep Dena in “a little box.” She tried to get Dena to stand up for herself, but Dena feared that the Jezebel spirit was living in her. In the last decade, she’d been through three miscarriages and two live births; after each she’d slipped into post-partum depression. Treatment with Zoloft had helped, but Dena would stop taking it when she felt better.
From the tone of John’s voice that day, Thomas assumed Dena had had yet another breakdown. Six days after Maggie’s birth Dena had run down the street screaming that an evil spirit was in the apartment as her 5-year-old daughter frantically pedaled after her on a bike. Police found Dena standing at the corner of Independence and West Park, shrieking, her body rigid.
Thomas had even confronted John, insisting that he had to buy the drugs prescribed for Dena by several psychiatrists. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt for John to get off that computer and look after the kids for a while even if the baby’s crying got on his nerves. “God is good” and all that, but he gives you common sense.
“Can you get over there as fast as you can?” John asked.
“I’ll try,” Thomas said. She hung up and dialed Dena’s number.
“Oh, hi,” Dena answered. Her friend sounded calm, collected. Thomas heard gospel music tapes from their church playing in the background.
“What have you done to the baby?” Thomas asked.
“I killed her.”
“What did you say? You killed her? What did you do?”
Dena was taking a long time to answer.
“I cut her arms off.”
“I cut her arms off.”
“Dena, back up. Where is the baby?” Thomas demanded.
“In the crib…she’s dead…I cut her arms off.”
Thomas didn’t believe her, but she knew this was serious–a new level of mental breakdown. Thomas hung up, dialed John and repeated the conversation. The day-care workers who’d gathered at the desk started crying. Everyone knew Dena; she’d worked there a year before Maggie’s birth. One woman dialed 911.
An hour or so later, Thomas’ son picked her up and carried her to the police station. Telling the story to a police detective while a video camera rolled, Thomas finally had to ask. Yes, the detective said, Dena had been telling the truth. Police had raced to the apartment and found Maggie’s dismembered body in her blood-soaked crib.
The police video shows that the news hit Thomas like a wave. She closes her eyes, shakes her head and moans.
The capital murder charge against Dena Schlosser would bring nationwide attention to the teachings of Doyle Davidson and his small church on 18th Street in Plano. Water of Life services are broadcast in Dallas every night at 9 p.m. on cable and satellite TV and around the country on various channels. Many blamed his obsession with the demonic and use of violent images for Schlosser’s mental illness. That isn’t fair, though; the seeds of Dena’s insanity were sown early in her childhood, and a long string of failures by others–including her husband, psychiatrists and Child Protective Services–preceded Maggie’s horrific death.
But Davidson’s garbled gospel–and his insistence that all mental illness is caused by demons and cannot be cured by medication–gave Dena’s descent into madness shape and form. John and Dena Schlosser bought into his attitude toward psychotropic drugs. Why and the way she chose to kill Maggie were all mixed up in his unorthodox teachings.