Fort Worth

Gus ‘Bubba’ Gavrel Jr., shot in the Cullen Davis mansion shootings in 1976, has died

Cullen Davis on learning to forgive

Acquitted of murder, Cullen Davis says the Lord told him to forgive everybody he had something against -- every day for a year.
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Acquitted of murder, Cullen Davis says the Lord told him to forgive everybody he had something against -- every day for a year.

Gus “Bubba” Gavrel Jr., who was shot and paralyzed in the infamous 1976 shootings at Cullen Davis’ mansion in Fort Worth, has died.

Gavrel, 64, died Thursday after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. Funeral services are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Greenwood Chapel in Fort Worth.

Gavrel’s life dramatically changed the night of Aug. 2, 1976, when he drove his girlfriend and future wife, Beverly Bass, to the Cullen Davis mansion where she planned to sleep over.

“He was just driving her over to the house and when they got there they heard some voices,” said former Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, who was one of the prosecutors in Davis’ capital murder trial in Amarillo. “I think he was just going to walk her to the door.”

It was simply a case of showing up at exactly the wrong time, said former Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Jack Strickland, a prosecutor in the last two of Davis’ four trials. (Two were for the killings and in two others he was accused of hiring a hit man to kill his former wife and the divorce judge.)

“If he had been 10 minutes earlier or five minutes later, none of this probably would have happened to him,” Strickland said.

Davis’ first trial in Fort Worth end in juror misconduct. The second trial was moved to Amarillo and ended in an acquittal, while a third in Houston ended in a hung jury and the fourth in Fort Worth also ended in an acquittal.

The shooting left Gavrel paralyzed, and Davis, a multimillionaire, later settled out of court with him for his injuries.

Two days after the shooting, Shannon and another prosecutor interviewed Gavrel at John Peter Smith Hospital and he didn’t hesitate when asked who shot him.

“He said, ‘It was Cullen,’” Shannon said Monday.

At the time, Cullen Davis was one of the richest men in the United States.

He was charged with killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter Andrea Wilborn, 12, Stan Farr, the 30-year-old boyfriend of his estranged wife, Priscilla, who was also wounded, and Gavrel, who was 22 at the time.

The Aug. 2, 1976, shootings have been recounted in at least four books, a TV miniseries and an A&E channel special.

Gavrel testified in the Amarillo trial that he was driving his girlfriend, Beverly Bass, to the Davis mansion off Hulen Street to spend the night with Dee Davis, the daughter of Priscilla Davis.

Cullen Davis and Priscilla Davis were separated at the time, and Priscilla lived at the mansion.

Both Gavrel and Bass heard noises and encountered a man in black carrying a garbage bag outside the house.

When Beverly Bass saw the man’s face in the light, she said, “’Bubba that’s Cullen’ and that’s when he turned and shot me,” Gavrel testified.

Gavrel said he played dead when the man in black returned.

“He looked at me and said something like “’Oh my God’ or something like that,” Gavrel testified.

Bass was pursued by the gunman but sprinted to Hulen Street where she flagged down a passing driver and went to a nearby convenience store where a security guard called police, Shannon said. A wounded Priscilla Davis also fled to a nearby home.

“Their arrival at that moment is what saved Priscilla’s life because suddenly that man in black had too many people on his hands,” said Marvin Collins, who was also a prosecutor in the Amarillo trial.

Both Priscilla Davis and Bass testified at the time that Cullen was the shooter but an Amarillo jury eventually acquitted Davis in a four-month trial in which Priscilla Davis’ character repeatedly came under attack.

“The bottom line was Priscilla didn’t always tell the truth about her lifestyle and the judge let a whole lot in that we objected to such as wild parties after she and Cullen separated,” Shannon said. “It didn’t have anything to do with the homicide and it occurred 15 months before the shooting.”

In his obituary, Gavrel was remembered as an avid outdoorsman who “loved the thrill of the hunt from Texas big game to arrowheads along with the camaraderie of best friends around the roaring campfire on his trips to Indian Creek, Pine Lake, Coleman, Lake Fork, Marble Falls, and Balmorhea.”

Strickland praised Gavrel’s courage for building a life after the tragic shootings.

“He wanted to live his life and be left alone with dignity and privacy,” Strickland said.

This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

Now 82, Davis says he was at a movie on the night of Aug. 2, 1976 when two were murdered at his Fort Worth mansion. Davis, who was acquitted, says several people conspired to accuse him.

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Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.
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