Denise Davidson: A Jamaican Queen Falls

The Murder of Louis Davidson, M.D.
(“House Call,” Forensic Files)

The presence of a beauty queen, even if it’s Miss Southern Delaware Bartlett Pear of 1991, gives a true-crime story the allure of a fairy tale gone awry.

Denise Ann Davidson

The Forensic Files episode “House Call” is especially hard to resist because it centers on a genuine heavy hitter — a former Miss Jamaica pageant finalist.

Pretty face, awful crime. Denise Davidson probably thought police would never implicate someone like her when her estranged husband turned up dead.

But her poise and fluffy hair didn’t help when it really counted, and she ended up in prison. So for this week, I poked around to find out whether she’s still incarcerated — and if so, whether she’s enjoying madcap Orange Is the New Black-like adventures or it’s just plain dismal living behind razor wire.

But first, here’s a recap of “House Call” with additional information from internet research:

In 1982, Louis Davidson, M.D., married onetime swimsuit model Denise Davis, and they moved into a large house in Carrollwood, Florida, a few years later. Both of them originally came from Jamaica.

Messy divorce. The doctor was described as kind and generous and “so smart he was almost scary” by Kathy Molino, R.N., a former colleague who appeared on Forensic Files.

But it turned out that the Bayfront Medical Center’s head of emergency pediatric medicine hadn’t made a wise choice for a wife.

The marriage soured, and Denise filed for divorce in 1989. The doctor reportedly believed she was cheating on him. She alleged there was violence in the relationship, according to a Jamaican Gleaner story.

Louis Davidson, M.D.

The couple reconciled, but at some point Denise acquired Miami night club owner Leo Cisneros as a boyfriend. He had suspected ties to Jamaican drug trafficking.

By 1994, Denise and Louis Davidson were headed for divorce court again and a custody fight over their 8-year-old daughter, Natalie. Denise reportedly wanted to take her back to Jamaica to live.

The doctor had found a girlfriend, a paramedic named Patricia Deninno, and the two were engaged. Denise and Cisneros, 32, were expecting a baby together and also planned to get married.

Outsourced killers. But Denise and her new man wanted to avoid a dispute over Natalie and collect a life insurance payout  of more than $400,000  by taking the doctor out of the picture permanently.

Denise Davidson at the time of her arrest

The first hitman they engaged was himself gunned down  in Jamaica in 1993, before he could carry out the murder, according to what Denise’s sister, Ava Davis, told police, the St. Petersburg Times reported in a story by Craig Pittman.

The couple then arranged for two more hitmen, Robert Gordon, 32, and Meryl Stanley “Tony” McDonald, 47, to kill the pediatrician.

Pretending to be prospective tenants, the contract killers visited the rental office of Thunderbay Apartments, where the doctor lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, and obtained layouts of the entire complex and a two-bedroom unit.

On January 25, 1994, the doctor, 38, answered his door to find at least one of the killers on the other side. Court papers allege that one of the men had somehow chatted up the doctor in the parking lot, and they walked into the apartment together.

Whatever the case, once inside his home, the men roughed up Louis Davidson and drowned him in his bathtub, then left town pronto.

‘The Wire.’ Dennino found the doctor in the tub with his knees tied with a vacuum cleaner cord and a gag over his mouth.

The victim’s watch, camera, and money clip were missing, according to court papers. But thousands of dollars in cash and other valuables were left undisturbed, leading police to believe that murder was the real motivation.

Leo Cisneros

By this time, Cisneros had fled to Jamaica.

Denise Davidson stayed in Florida, and authorities put her under surveillance.

She made the investigation easy.

Detectives followed her into a Western Union office, where they witnessed her wiring $1,200 to Robert Gordon and noticed that she signed the paperwork with an alias, Pauline White.

They eventually gathered enough evidence to prove that she had given Gordon and McDonald a total of $14,000 to $15,000 via a series of transfers.

Phone records revealed that she made numerous calls to Gordon the day of the murder.

Idle threat. Detectives found the local Days Inn room where Gordon had stayed and discovered a pair of Voit sneakers and a man’s sweatshirt that had Louis’s blood on them. And a sneaker tread matched a footprint at the crime scene.

Meanwhile, once Denise realized the police considered her a serious suspect, she disguised her voice and left a threatening message (“You’ll be sorry, Denise…”) on her own answering machine in hopes of throwing off investigators.

No luck with that ploy, because detectives traced the call to Dooley Groves, the citrus fruit store where Denise worked as a manager. They saw her enter the business just before the time of the phone call and exit soon after.

The ultimate penalty. Police arrested Denise, then 34, at Tampa International Airport as she was waiting to board a flight to Kingston, Jamaica. She was held without bail.

Florida investigators tracked down the assassins and put them as well as Denise on trial in 1995.

Daughters Natalie and Selena (foreground) ended up in Jamaica with Denise Davidson’s father, Peter Davis (right), and one of her sisters

By this time, she had given birth in jail to Selena, her daughter with Cisneros. According to an account in the St. Petersburg Times, Denise’s face lit up when the baby made an appearance in court, which prosecutors complained was an attempt to win the jury’s favor.

At the trial, Davidson testified that Cisneros had masterminded the murder plot without her cooperation.

The jury convicted her of solicitation for murder, and she got a life sentence.

At the hitmen’s trial, the jury voted in favor of the electric chair.

“Your honor,” McDonald read from a prepared statement, “God Most High told me to tell that you that you should override the jury’s 9 to 3 recommendation.”

Circuit Court Judge Susan F. Schaeffer, known as “Ms. Death” for her harsh sentencing, was unimpressed and gave Gordon and McDonald the death penalty for first degree murder.

Susan Carole Shore, an accomplice who served as a driver for the hired killers, testified for the prosecution and received probation.

Slippery boyfriend. Pittman, who appeared on Forensic Files, remarked that Leo Cisneros was too cowardly to kill the doctor himself. That seemed a little strange. Reluctance to slaughter an innocent man with one’s own hands sounds more like evidence of a bit of humanity.

Regardless, no one ever got to hear Cisneros’ side of the story at the trials.

He had vanished and was still missing when Forensic Files first aired “House Call” in 2002. In 2008, America’s Most Wanted sought help in finding him, without success.

Cisneros remains at large.

Filing away. It should be mentioned that “Leo Cisneros” is a relatively common name, and the internet has stories about at least two felons by that name, but neither of them is Denise Davidson’s former boyfriend, whose full name is Leonardo Anselmo Cisneros.

Robert Gordon

The two hitmen clearly had no idea where Cisneros was hiding out. Otherwise, they would have used the information to win themselves plea deals.

They both made efforts to get new trials, however.

Gordon filed an unsuccessful 1997 appeal claiming that having an all-white jury didn’t count as a jury of his peers and that the court had neglected to hold Denise Davidson accountable to the same standards that had factored into his punishment.

Meryl McDonald

He didn’t get anywhere with a writ of habeas corpus with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in 2004, either.

Meryl McDonald filed a motion for rehearing , which was denied in 2007. (The Murderpedia page for each of the men provides links to the court papers.)

As of today, neither man has been executed. They’re prisoners in the maximum-security section of Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida.

No deprivation camp. Regarding Denise Davidson, she is inmate #153691 at the Homestead Correctional Institution in Dade County, Florida.

It’s a prison with a minimum-security area that sounds a lot like the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary of Orange Is the New Black fame.

Davidson’s current custody status is “close,” which means limitations on off-premises activities. In other words, for OITNB fans, no van-driving gig like the one Lorna Morello and Tiffany Doggett scored.

Denise Davidson circa 2017

But Homestead offers plenty of other diversions, including four softball teams and classes in art, creative writing, music, aerobics, yoga, and anger management.

Inmates also have the opportunity to study PC support services and automotive service technology.

On the down side, Davidson looks somber in recent photographs.

She no doubt regrets ending her marriage by soliciting two hitmen instead of one divorce lawyer.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, cheers. RR

8 thoughts on “Denise Davidson: A Jamaican Queen Falls”

  1. Thanks, RR – I recall this ep. Yet another murder for insurance, replete with basic mistakes such as leaving valuables at the ‘theft’ scene. As you suggest, what on earth prompts someone to murder rather than just divorce given just how difficult likely success is (to wit, prisons full of those with the same idea) — and that terrible price of failure? The answer: greed seems to shroud all rationality (and morality), perhaps with hatred/revenge (for what?) in the mix.

    The aspect that strikes me is her getting off relatively lightly (not that a life sentence is light). Courts often target the ‘mastermind’ for the harsher punishment over the ‘muscle,’ but the reverse happened here. This sort of anomaly is one of the most taxing for loved ones (and the wider citizenry): how should we treat those who solicit for murder as opposed to the perpetrator(s)? Are they equally blameworthy; is the ‘customer’ more culpable, or those who ‘wield the knife’? There seems little or no consistency in how courts address this dilemma. I guess most of us would answer ‘equally’ — then the complexities of persons turning state’s evidence for a lighter sentence enter the picture.

  2. Given the heinous stupidity of the crime, it does indeed seem like Denise got off easy. I’m sure that prison is prison regardless, but Homestead sounds like a pretty sweet gig as correctional facilities go. All they need is a well-written brochure and they could market themselves as a retreat. “Find Yourself at Homestead.”

  3. For the sheer frequency of these sorts of crime, maybe sentences should be reduced. The perps only endanger their spouses, so society is fine as long is it doesn’t marry Ms. Davidson. Maybe five years in a bad bed and breakfast facility would be enough. Or else, the US should initiate a guaranteed standard of living and outlaw life insurance. It seems to pose a hazard.

  4. Any husbands says to me “Take out some life insurance on yourself, baby, case something, you know, happens,” I will say, “Baby, if I go, you will just have to find yourself someone new. Someone with cash.”

  5. That’s only one trifling homicide by female to a passel of men did the same thing. Soon as women unite, we won’t have to marry men and do awful things like that. Once we all together, this stuff don’t happen no more. Men ain’t no good. Thank you, RR, helping us all.

  6. That’s right, sister, men are no good ! But criminal behavior is dietary. People of all genders are eating meat. As soon as all men, women and children, transgender individuals especially, go total vegan we will all see a down turn in the homicide rate. You see a T-bone steak, vegans see a Las Vegas shooter. And how do I know men are no good? I used to be one. In the words of Iggy Pop, ‘No Walls.’

  7. My uncle was a minor cult leader back in the hippy days. He always said ‘it takes a village to get rich through polygamy.’ Behind the times in some ways, Uncle Bjorne was far ahead in others. Now he’s comfortably retired. Uncle Bjorne attributes his success to clean communal living. He was a much nicer and truly more innocuous cult leader than a few I could name. But that’s not why I’m posting. Maybe concerned citizens should re-evaluate the work of Karl Marx. Then maybe people would quit hiring hit persons kill their spouse. There are other arrangements besides marriage with which to bumble through through chaos.

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