Long before Dena Schlosser took a blade to her baby’s arms and years before she ever showed signs of mental illness, her parents had begun to worry.
They never suspected violence, but in the years after she moved to Texas with her husband and children, their gentle, somewhat dependent daughter had become increasingly isolated from them. And, according to her stepfather, she was dangerously consumed by a self-described prophet and his suburban Dallas church.
Dena’s stepfather Mick Macaulay told The Associated Press that although he blames mental illness for Schlosser’s actions, he and his wife believe the teachings of Doyle Davidson were part of a confluence of factors that drove their daughter to kill.
“I don’t think there’s any question that what we saw happen here is postpartum psychosis,” said Macaulay, who also spoke on behalf of his wife of 15 years, Connie, who is terminally ill with Parkinson’s Disease. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t dynamics in force to push the person toward the psychotic break.”
Schlosser was charged with capital murder after she told a 911 operator on Nov. 22 that she severed the arms of 10-month-old Margaret. Police found the 35-year-old mother covered in blood in her living room, still holding a knife.
Texas’ Child Protective Services had investigated Schlosser for neglect in January after she left the newborn alone and her 5-year-old daughter was seen chasing her mother down the street on a bicycle. CPS closed the investigation in August after Schlosser received psychiatric treatment for postpartum depression and the agency determined she was stable.
CPS took temporary custody of Schlosser’s two older girls, ages 6 and 9, after the baby was killed, pending an investigation.
Macaulay said Schlosser had been emotionally dependent on her mother since childhood, when she had several surgeries to remove an abnormal amount of fluid from her brain. He said after the surgeries, it was somewhat difficult for Schlosser to multi-task, but otherwise her brain functions seemed normal. She went on to college in Illinois, married her husband John and became a mother.
John’s job with a computer company brought the family to Texas about five years ago, but he soon lost his job and began working for himself as a consultant. Tight finances meant the family had to trade their spacious house for a small apartment, Macaulay said.
The Schlossers had no health insurance when Margaret was born, Macaulay said, and a midwife delivered the baby at the family’s home. The stresses of money, a new baby and a dependence on a mother who was dying were only intensified by Schlosser’s association with Davidson’s church, Macaulay said.
He said Davidson used violent imagery and told women they possessed a rebellious “Jezebel” spirit, and that they should submit to their husbands, Macaulay said.
“I’m not saying that anybody suggested ‘go cut your baby’s arms off,'” said Macaulay, a mental health counselor who lives with Schlosser’s mother in Canada. “This diminishing of women, this diminishing of women’s powers, women’s importance, referring to women as jezebels, I think, further undermines an already fragile ego state that Dena’s experiencing. I think it presses her to subordinate herself and forego her own judgment.
“I look at Doyle as being one of the major influences in this whole thing,” Macaulay said.
That’s absurd, the 72-year-old minister said.
“I’m an apostle and I’m a prophet,” Davidson said. “I only teach what’s in the Bible and that’s what makes them mad.”
The former veterinarian said God told him to start Water of Life Ministries in the early 1980s. His sermons, based on literal interpretations of the Bible, are broadcast on his Web site and TV and radio in several states, including California, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma, he said.
Davidson said he does not use violent imagery, but he does teach that women are weaker and should submit to their husbands.
He said that since the Schlossers began attending his roughly 200-member church in 2002, he’s had little interaction with Dena and that when she asked questions, he only answered with scripture.
But Macaulay said Schlosser, who spoke to her mother almost daily by phone, talked incessantly about Davidson, urging her mother and stepfather to listen to sermons on Davidson’s Web site. He estimates they listened to about 60 hours of sermons, which only fed their concern.
Macaulay said Schlosser started using prayer instead of antibiotics when her children were sick and was convinced Davidson could cure her mother of Parkinson’s. About two years ago when Schlosser’s mother visited her in Texas, Macaulay said, Schlosser had Davidson “lay hands on” her mother to drive out the evil spirits and disease.
“Dena was so confident that Connie was cured that they threw out her medicine,” Macaulay said.
Schlosser’s husband, John, supported the minister as well. His personal Web site contains several Bible passages and a link to Davidson’s Web site. He has declined media interviews.
Davidson doesn’t deny his teachings are unconventional, by mainstream religion standards. He said he isn’t well liked by much of the religious community, and he was removed from the Daystar Television Network, a major Christian broadcaster, after his sermons offended top officials.
He refers to Methodist, Catholic and Baptist denominations as cults and believes the Ten Commandments only apply to the disobedient, not the righteous.
In September, Davidson was arrested for public intoxication after a couple, longtime members of his church, called 911, alleging the minister attacked them at their home. Davidson said he was only trying to cast the devil out of the wife, who had become rebellious and rejected his teachings. He said he entered the home with the permission of her husband.
The couple told police Davidson smothered and choked her until she couldn’t breathe. They later declined to press assault charges and several calls by the AP to their home went unanswered.
Davidson said he believes the incident was a “setup of Satan himself to try and destroy my ministry.”
The minister’s loyalists say his teachings are truly inspired by God, supported by scripture and have changed their lives.
“My family has said the same thing that Dena’s family said,” said Debbie Edge, 52, who joined Davidson’s ministry when she married his nephew more than 30 years ago.
Edge said she was a rebellious young woman who partied, wore short skirts and clashed so sharply with her husband that she was ready to divorce him within months. But she said Davidson cast out the evil spirit one day while eating a bowl of ice cream.
“He told the rebellion to come out. I began weeping,” she said. “Within a couple of minutes, it was gone. My heart had changed.”
Ole Anthony, heads the Trinity Foundation, a watchdog for religious fraud, said he hasn’t received any major complaints about Davidson, who he described as a gruff person who speaks with a gravely voice.
“For someone who was in (Schlosser’s) condition, there’s no telling what went on in her mind, but it’s nothing that he did or said, I’m sure,” Anthony said.
But Macaulay said that as he and his wife grieve and struggle to understand their daughter’s unthinkable crime, the church and its minister are ever-present on their minds.
Connie “looked at me somewhat plaintively after she had a good cry the other day and said, ‘I hope Dena won’t go back to that church.'”
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