Molly and Clay Daniels: Some Body They Didn’t Use to Know

Sobering crime behind a laughable scheme
(“Grave Danger,” Forensic Files)

Anyone who watches the “Grave Danger” episode of Forensic Files can’t help but be taken aback by the ridiculousness of Molly and Clayton Daniels’ crime.

Molly Daniels
Molly Daniels

Molly, an office receptionist, and Clay, an unemployed mechanic, robbed the grave of Charlotte Davis — who had died at the age of 81 in 2003 — then placed her body in a Chevrolet Cavalier along with some of Clay’s belongings. They pushed the vehicle off the road and set it on fire on June 18, 2004, in the hopes of collecting $110,000 in life insurance money upon Clay’s “death.”

OMG, it’s working. Things went as planned at first for the Leander, Texas, couple. Family members identified items from the burned car as having belonged to Clay. Molly used her new status as a widow with two children to coax aid from sympathetic community members. Clay hid himself from public view.

Clayton Daniels
Clay Daniels

But Molly, 21, and Clay, 24, had always intended to remain together. Instead of moving someplace far away where no one knew them, they stayed in the same area. Clay dyed his hair black, and Molly began introducing him as her new boyfriend, Jake Gregg.

That didn’t work out so well. The authorities caught on pronto. A DNA test proved the charred remains in the car belonged to someone other than Clay Daniels.

Worldwide ‘what?!’ The insurance company got justice at the subsequent trial, as did the late Charlotte Davis, when her former caretaker testified.

The macabre element of Clay and Molly’s scheme may have made members of the general public shudder and grimace, but they still wanted to hear all the details. Prosecutor Jane Starnes wrote in an article* in “The Texas Prosecutor” newsletter:

My sister-in-law in Hawaii called to say she read about me in the Hilo paper. Molly’s dirty deeds were reported in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. A producer from CNN called. [A] People magazine reporter kept calling. A reporter from Tokyo called, asking insightful questions such as, “What color [was] Clayton Daniels’ hair before he dye[d] it black?” We got a call from a reporter in London from The Sunday Magazine.

Clay Daniels ended up receiving 30 years in prison for offenses including insurance fraud, arson, and desecration of a cemetery.  Molly Daniels got 20 years for insurance fraud and hindering her husband’s apprehension. Molly’s family members took custody of the two small children the couple shared.

The redeeming part of this whole mess seemed to be that at least it didn’t cause bodily harm to any living person.

A live victim. But the motivation for the outlandish string of events had its roots in a real, devastating crime committed by Clay when he was 16 years old.

He raped a 7-year-old cousin of his circa 1996, although the assault came to light only years later. Clay pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault on a child and, under a deferred adjudication deal, had to serve 30 days in jail, to start on June 21, 2004, and then 10 years probation. His name would appear on the Registered Sex Offenders list.

Molly said on Dateline NBC that she believed the legal system had railroaded Clay and that a “good man” like him could have never molested a child. She wanted him to continue as a stay-at-home-dad without any limitations on where they could live, and that’s why they hatched the insurance fraud plan, she explained.

Leniency…in Texas? Arson investigator Janine Mather, however, told Forensic Files that she believed Clay’s motivation was a reluctance to go to jail and be memorialized on the RSO list.

Molly Daniels in prison
Molly Daniels in prison

But here’s the question that remains: Why did Clay initially get only 30 days in jail for rape? One third of the 30-year sentence he ultimately received was in connection to a “probation violation” for the aggravated sexual assault to his cousin — but that wasn’t handed down until after the burned-car caper.

I did a little nosing around online for information about Texas sexual assault laws and found that aggravated sexual assault on a child younger than 14 years of age, under certain circumstances, means a minimum sentence of 25 years. It’s automatically a minimum of 25 years if the child is under 6 years of age. But Clay’s little cousin was already 7 when the attack occurred.

The most recent U.S. Sentencing Commission fact sheet listed average sentences for sexual abuse offenders as 139 months to 235 months.

So had Clay Daniels done something to redeem himself in the years between the sexual assault he committed at 16 and his initial sentencing for that crime at age 24? It didn’t sound that way. “Grave Danger” mentions that, even during the eulogy at Clay’s funeral (held, of course, before he was discovered alive and raven-haired), his best buddy felt compelled to acknowledge that Clay was a seriously flawed character.

Minor on minor crime. The only, meager explanation I could find for the light sentence Clay received is suggested by a University of New Hampshire study commissioned by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which suggests that the age of an offender can affect sentencing favorably.

Clay Daniels with colored hair
Clay Daniels, dye job

The research revealed that “juveniles account for more than one-third (35.6 percent) of those known to police to have committed sex offenses against minors” — but that “a large majority (about 85–95 percent) of sex-offending youth have no arrests or reports for future sex crimes.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that these folks stay on the right side of the law: According to the UNH research, “[Of the youths who do] have future arrests, they are far more likely to be for nonsexual crimes such as property offenses.”

There’s one area in which Clay, with Molly’s help, exceeded everyone’s expectations.RR

* To read Jane Starnes’ entire article in “The Texas Prosecutor” newsletter, scroll down to page 22 of the pdf document. It includes some B&W photos from the crime scene.

18 thoughts on “Molly and Clay Daniels: Some Body They Didn’t Use to Know”

  1. What a pair of degenerates! I doubt their jail time will reform their characters either. Hope the police will keep an eye on them wherever they go when they’re released.

  2. It is an interesting mystery. I like the way you checked Texas law to ground the show in reality. The story is very interesting. Kudos.

  3. Karma is a bitch (and well-deserved!) Great job on all the research…you can be the new Jessica Fletcher (“Murder She Wrote”) !

  4. Odd that they would pick an elderly female corpse to spell a “dead” 24-year-old male, fire notwithstanding. How horrific for the family of Charlotte Davis. Fascinating what people think they can get away with. Thanks.

  5. Sounds like a Columbo episode where there is always a ‘fatal’ flaw in the planning or the aftermath. You have to wonder if they would have been caught had they not decided to live in proximity. Even if they had eluded detection in this case, how far does $110,000 go? It’s not like the guy was supremely employable. What would they do for money except commit more crimes?

    1. The forensic science proved the the few remains that were found were not that of Clay Daniel…so yes they would have gotten caught either way.

    1. Yes, thank you for writing in! You must mean Rodney Alcala. If remember correctly, he raped someone and was either punished lightly or not punished — and then went on to commit horrible crimes (way worse than Clay and Molly’s). I found a clip of Alcala’s appearance on the Dating Game:

      Also some photos of Alcala’s victims in a 2014 article:

  6. I guess they watch TV crimes shows such as Law and Order and CSI, and from there got the idea to dig out a corpse from a cemetery. Clayton and Molly Daniel were just dumber than Beavis and Butt-Head. At least they didn’t kill a person to complete such bravado. The two main elements were insurance fraud and avoiding serving just 30 days in jail. And were also dumb enough to remain in the area in the naked public eye. Watching those shows, they probably didn’t watch the end where the villains get caught at the end of the show. This is the case of the imperfect crime.

  7. Justice across the U.S. involving prison sentences for juveniles is out of control. (Forensic Files: Key Evidence) Roy Beck shot and killed a poor homeless man on the street when Roy was a juvenile. He was sentenced to juvenile detention for the rest of his youth. (Room with a View) Patrick Denney — a 15-year-old paperboy — raped a woman in her home and killed her with 97 stabbings. He was convicted for his crimes and sentenced to life without parole. (Breaking News) Shermaine Johnson, 16, also raped a woman and stabbed her numerous times. By the time he was convicted, he was an adult. But despite being a juvenile when he committed the crimes, he was sentenced to death. A sentence that was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and the government banned the death penalty for criminals who committed their crimes as a juvenile. Although it is fact this death sentence had been banned for criminals who committed their crimes as a juvenile, it’s still a fact they tried and completed the verdict of ‘death penalty’ on a criminal who committed their crimes as a juvenile.

  8. The “corpse” used to be someone’s daughter, maybe someone’s mother or wife. The fact that they would dig her body out of what was supposed to be its final resting place is unconscionable.

  9. Why was Clay “resentenced” for the assault with 20 years? He was given 30 days, initialy….it seems like double jepoardy…he didn’t re-commit the crime. Maybe it was a probation violation when he did the latter crimes?

    1. Not 100 percent sure, but I think that by avoiding the initial jail sentence and registering as a sex offender — by pretending to be dead – he tripped another legal wire related to the sex assault. It’s one crazy case.

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