Murder in the Cathedral

Carol Bledsoe's alleged killer had a long criminal record and deep psychological problems. Church volunteers didn't know how big a threat he posed.

Everyone at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral knew that Michael Davis was strange.

A looming, solitary figure, Davis roamed the hallways and sanctuary of the downtown church for years, mumbling about the end of the world and the Mark of the Beast, preoccupied with his own personal visions of the Apocalypse.

Davis rarely stayed at any of the homeless shelters downtown; he slept on the streets, and after breakfast and coffee at the church he usually stayed there until late afternoon.

He talked to himself, sometimes loudly, and was obsessed with the Book of Revelation. He stood in front of the altar and prayed out loud to the statue of the crucified Christ hanging on the wall. Other homeless men who frequented the church gave him the nickname "Preacher." He often stood behind a glass door for long minutes at a time and stared out into the church hallway, a habit the church staff found unnerving.

Despite his physical presence -- Davis is more than six feet tall and weighs between 200 and 250 pounds -- he was often teased by other homeless men. He was reprimanded almost daily for sleeping on church pews or smoking inside the building. He had once taken his shoes off and put them on the altar. Staff members suspected that he urinated in church wastebaskets.

Even among the dozens of other homeless men who frequent the cathedral, many with mental problems of their own, Davis's eccentricities were noticeable, say those who knew him best. He was never considered a serious physical threat, but he was a persistent-enough nuisance that he was asked to leave more than once. Each time, he always drifted back after a month or two away.

In December, however, after consistently breaking minor rules, some members of the church staff were ready to ban the 48-year-old Davis for good. The church secretary, Carol Bledsoe, and building manager, Jim McGahey, resisted those efforts.

"Carol and I fought to keep him here," McGahey says. "He really had no place to go. Even though there are other agencies around here, he never took advantage of them.... We're the only place he tended to hang out. Carol and I said, 'If he doesn't hang here, he'll be out in the cold.' We kind of asked them to put up with him."

Despite his outrageous behavior, they were convinced that Davis wasn't a threat. They didn't think he was capable of violence.

They were dead wrong.

What neither Bledsoe nor McGahey knew was that Michael Davis had a lengthy and violent criminal record. That record stretched back at least as early as 1985, when Davis was arrested for stealing two purses from the downtown Famous-Barr. Davis, who was homeless at the time of his arrest and listed the New Life Evangelical Center as his address, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and ordered to pay a $26 fine and court costs.

Three months later, Davis was arrested again, this time for third-degree sexual abuse, another misdemeanor. According to court records, Davis had "sexual contact" with a woman who lived in the same apartment building he did, on North Ninth Street. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

In November 1985, Davis, again back on the street, was charged with stealing for taking silverware from Dillard's. Again he pleaded guilty; again he got 60 days.

In 1988, Davis's record caught up with him after he snatched several women's scarves from Famous-Barr and punched a security guard. After pleading guilty to felony theft and misdemeanor assault, with his two previous theft convictions, he was sentenced to three years in prison. In 1991, as soon as he was back out, Davis was charged with stealing five cartons of cigarettes from a downtown 7-Eleven and a deep-fryer from Dillard's. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Between 1979 and 1993, he was also treated at least three times for depression, alcohol abuse and an antisocial-personality disorder. He told doctors in 1993 that he drank every day and smoked crack. In 1988, during court proceedings for the stealing charges that would land Davis a three-year prison sentence, his public defender, Lisa K. Clover, sought a psychological examination for her client. Judge Evelyn Baker denied the request. Baker says now that she can't remember the case or why she refused to allow a mental-health evaluation for Davis.

By the end of the 1990s, Davis, like many homeless men, was still getting arrested on a regular basis. But his offenses were becoming more and more violent. In 1998, while standing in line at lunchtime at a restaurant on Washington Avenue, Davis yelled at a cashier. When another customer told Davis to stop calling the cashier obscene names, Davis punched the man in the nose and kicked him. Davis pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and was sentenced to 40 days in jail. On Valentine's Day 2000, Davis approached a woman in line at the Chinese Wok on Locust Street and asked her to perform oral sex on him. When she refused, he punched her in the mouth. He was again charged with third-degree assault and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

On June 29, 2001, Davis approached a male (records don't indicate his age) in the downtown public library. According to police records, Davis asked him to come behind a bookshelf and asked him whether he believed in love. When he didn't respond, Davis asked him to touch his "private part." The victim reported the incident to an off-duty police officer who was working security at the library. Davis, who was still in the library, was arrested, charged with third-degree sexual misconduct and sentenced to a suspended fifteen-day jail term and a year of probation. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender, banned from libraries and required to attend a counseling service for sexual offenders. His probation was suspended when he failed to show up for counseling, and Davis served his fifteen days in September 2001.

Today Michael Davis is back in jail, this time facing a first-degree murder charge for the December 19 stabbing death of Carol Bledsoe.

Bledsoe, a 64-year-old grandmother who had fought to keep the church doors open to Davis, was stabbed in the hallway just outside her office on the bottom floor of the church at 1:20 p.m.

Davis was picked up by police a few blocks away on the same afternoon, allegedly in possession of a bloody pocketknife.

"Obviously we made the wrong decision," McGahey says.

Carol Bledsoe started working at Christ Church Cathedral, located at the corner of 13th and Locust streets, as a secretary in 1998. She began doing secretarial work when her four children grew up and left home. A St. Louis native, Bledsoe wasn't a member of Christ Church Cathedral. She and her husband, Jack, lived in St. Louis County and attended Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves.

At Christ Church, her desk was just inside the red Dutch door to the main office on the ground floor. The top half of the door was usually open, and homeless men began lining up in the hallway to use the telephone or ask for referrals to other agencies. They called her "Miss Carol." Eventually Bledsoe convinced a local doughnut shop to donate day-old pastries, and she and McGahey, with the help of the church's custodial staff, started serving a free breakfast every morning. At times, Bledsoe's work with the homeless kept her from her work as the church's secretary.

"She had other work to do," says the Reverend Michael Randolph, who served as interim dean at Christ Church Cathedral from 2000 until 2002. "Sometimes it would back up and there would be tension in the office. I had to understand that she was doing other things." Randolph said he considered changing Bledsoe's job description, hiring another secretary and allowing her to run an outreach program for the homeless, before he was forced by health problems to resign last spring.

"It reached a point when the staff here were putting in a total of 40 hours a week -- between Carol and the maintenance staff -- dealing with this group here," says Tom Burnham, shelter-services director at Peter and Paul Community Services. Burnham runs the church's Club Cathedral program, which feeds 50 to 100 homeless men and women every morning. "We realized we had to find a better way to manage it. All the folks in that office have a job description and responsibilities, and it's taken time from their regular responsibilities to deal with this."

Bledsoe's family declined comment, but people who knew her at the church remember her tough but maternal treatment of the men and women who crowded outside her office. Even after Peter and Paul officially started coordinating Club Cathedral in October, Bledsoe was still willing to do whatever she could to help any of them. Last June, when a man came into the church from Illinois, holding a flier with a picture of his father on it and asking whether anyone there knew him, Bledsoe said she recognized him. The man on the flier had just started coming in, she told him. Eventually, after gentle, patient prodding from Bledsoe, the man agreed in December to go home with his son. It happened less than two weeks before Bledsoe was murdered.

McGahey says her willingness to throw herself into the middle of other people's problems may have put her at greater risk than anyone realized.

"She didn't do it because it was her job," McGahey says. "It wasn't. She did it because she was a wonderful lady. She was like a mother to a lot of these guys. She could be bossy, too. I'm afraid that's what happened with Mike. I'm afraid she also had a habit of getting in their faces if she had to. I was always afraid when she did that."

Davis was a regular patron of the Club Cathedral program. He had been homeless since the early 1980s, when he had cut ties with his family because of what relatives say was a pattern of increasingly bizarre behavior and inability to hold a steady job. People who knew him -- church employees, social-service workers and other homeless men -- say Davis' mental problems were obvious. He kept to himself; he was familiar to church staff, volunteers and other homeless people, but none of them knew him well.

"The Post-Dispatch described Michael as a drifter," Burnham says. "If he was a drifter, he drifted around this building for years."

Davis was born in North St. Louis in 1954 to a large family with six brothers and sisters. He dropped out of high school in 1971 and joined the Job Corps, completing a carpentry apprenticeship in Nebraska in 1972. After a year in the U.S. Navy, he returned to St. Louis in 1973 and moved into his mother's apartment in the Cochran Gardens housing project. He completed another apprenticeship with a mechanical-workers' union, but family members say he had a hard time holding a job and his behavior became odd and erratic.

In 1979, after a breakup with a live-in girlfriend, Davis visited the emergency room at Malcolm Bliss Mental Health Center. He was prescribed Valium for mild depression and referred to a psychiatrist for further treatment.

Family members say the spiral that eventually landed Davis on the streets began with the shooting death of his older brother Jerome Davis on December 23, 1983.

That night, Jerome went to the North St. Louis apartment of a woman named Annie Jones and her 21-year-old son Eddie. According to newspaper reports, Jerome, armed with a handgun and accompanied by an unidentified man, intended to settle some "long-standing interfamily dispute." During an argument, Jerome Davis hit the woman with the gun and shot her twice, in the left arm and in the side. Eddie Jones reportedly took the gun and shot Jerome three times in the chest and abdomen. The unidentified man stabbed Jones three times in the back and fled. Jerome Davis died at the scene. Both Eddie Jones and his mother survived.

Police records on the shooting remain sealed because no charges were filed on the shooting or on the stabbing of Eddie Jones.

Davis' family, in a prepared statement read at the office of Davis' attorney, Justin Meehan, initially said Davis was traumatized by seeing his brother shot to death and having to flee for his life, implying that Davis may have been the unidentified man in the newspaper stories. Michael's older brother Art Davis, a retired high-school teacher and football coach, later denied through Meehan that Michael was involved, saying that he was outside the apartment building during the incident. Art Davis said the newspaper accounts were inaccurate.

Meehan turned down a request to interview his client, but Michael Davis' relatives say he drifted away after his brother's death. He refused their repeated efforts to bring him in off the streets but occasionally took money when it was offered. In 1987, security guards at Famous-Barr called police to remove Davis, who would not leave the store. According to the affidavit filed by the responding officer, Davis said he was God and Jimmy Hoffa and told police he wanted to die. Hospital staff reported that Davis was hostile, manipulative, aggressive and irritable. A diagnosis of acute alcohol intoxication and antisocial-personality disorder was made, but Davis was not admitted.

In 1993, while Davis was staying at his mother's apartment, his mother and sister had him admitted at Malcolm Bliss again for a 96-hour evaluation. According to medical records, Davis had been paranoid, saying his family members were not his real family, walking around the apartment without any clothes and claiming to own the apartment building where his mother lived. Despite a physical assault on his mother -- according to the reports, he hit her on the head with a teakettle, punched her and threatened to throw her out a sixth-story window -- staff members noted that his family seemed caring and supportive. On admission to the hospital, he was evasive, hostile and probably drunk; he repeatedly made the sign of the cross. After two days, staff at the hospital restrained him when he threatened a nurse and refused his medication. He was prescribed medication for his agitation and transferred to the Veterans Administration hospital, but records for his stay there are unavailable.

Randolph, who knew Davis as well as anyone when he served as interim dean at Christ Church Cathedral, says he asked Davis once whether he was taking any medication. Davis told him he wasn't, Randolph says, but then changed his mind and gave him the name of a caseworker at the VA hospital. Randolph couldn't find any trace of the caseworker. "Either the name was wrong or that person doesn't exist," Randolph says. "I tend to think he probably was [on medication]."

The day Bledsoe was murdered, McGahey was at his desk, in an interior office behind Bledsoe's desk in the main church office. He had heard a disturbance in the hallway just a few seconds before and assumed that Bledsoe would go see what was happening.

Sharon Bocklage, manager of the church bookstore, heard the disturbance, too. She recalls two voices -- one loud and "ranting," the other softer, trying to calm the first. Bocklage says she was with a customer and couldn't see what was happening, but she's certain she heard two people outside. The first person was so loud that she called 911.

"Someone was ranting and raving, and there was someone else trying to calm him down," Bocklage says. "I have no idea who the other person was."

After she hung up the telephone, she stepped outside. No one was in the hallway, but evidence of what had happened covered the floor and walls. "I saw Carol's blood all over the place," Bocklage says.

A few seconds after the first noise in the hall, McGahey heard a second disturbance at the outer door of the main church office. When he got up, he saw Bledsoe walking down the hall to the senior pastor's office, just 30 feet away, apparently looking for help from Margaret Mantia, assistant to the Very Reverend Ronald Clingenpeel, dean of the cathedral. A volunteer in the office, Roland Klein, called 911 a second time.

"I heard hollering and got up," McGahey says. "She had turned her back and was headed toward Margaret's door. I didn't know yet what had happened, but I knew it was bad. I got in the hall and saw blood everywhere. I grabbed her by the shoulder as she got to Margaret's door. Margaret was buzzing the door to open it; I put my hips against it and pushed it open, then helped Carol into a chair. I just stayed with her. I knew almost immediately it couldn't be stopped. It was awful because there was so much blood coming out."

McGahey and Mantia stayed with Bledsoe for the next few minutes. Mantia had just walked back from the breakroom, where she was heating up her lunch. She had heard the disturbance in the hallway but had tried to ignore it. She also knew that Bledsoe would probably handle it.

"Something inside me said, 'Don't go out there, Carol,'" Mantia says. "When I came back, the noise in the hall wasn't there anymore. I figured whoever had been making it had left. By the time I walked in and sat down, Carol was at the door. She was trying to use her key to get in the door. She was bleeding. I figured that some goofball had smacked her in the head with something. There was blood all over. I knew she was injured, but it was much worse than I thought."

McGahey found the wound on Bledsoe's neck and put pressure on it, trying to stanch the flow of blood. Bledsoe tried to speak but couldn't. "I could immediately tell that this wasn't something she was going to get through easily, if at all," he says. "I started telling her how much everyone loved her, how much I loved her, because I wanted her to feel loved as she was going unconscious. Then I started praying: 'Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.' I started asking the Lord to take her into his arms. There was almost no pulse."

Police arrived first, then paramedics, who transported Bledsoe to St. Louis University Hospital. McGahey followed in his car. Doctors there told him as soon as he arrived that Bledsoe was dead.

"It was a nightmare here that day," says Burnham, who arrived at the church just a few minutes after Bledsoe was stabbed. "Within half an hour, or less, the media was here. For those of us inside, there was a terrible mess to be cleaned up, and people were trying to call her family and members of the church and staff who weren't here. This is really a family of people here in this congregation, and the incessant rapping on the door by reporters who wanted a statement is a sound that will always ring in my ears."

Within a few minutes of the attack, police arrested Davis near the church. According to court documents, Davis had a pocketknife with a three-inch blade, covered in blood; another homeless man had reported seeing a man he believed to be Davis run from the church after the unseen disturbance.

Church volunteers say they didn't know about Davis's criminal history, including his three sex-related convictions. Had they known, some say, they might have moved more quickly to hire security guards and adopt stricter rules.

"We try to be careful about sexual threats," McGahey said. "Had we known he might do that, it would have made a big difference. Carol herself would have been most indignant."

But knowing that Davis posed a threat wouldn't necessarily have meant closing the cathedral's doors to him.

"It would have been one more factor to consider," says Burnham. "We didn't see behavior like that here. The fact is, we see a lot of guys who are in and out of jail, mostly for misdemeanors, stuff related to homelessness -- various vagrancy statutes, urinating in alleys, public drinking.... A lot of the folks we see with mental-health issues run up against the law. A lot of doors close to a person with a criminal background."

Clingenpeel, the cathedral's dean, is even more adamant that the church continue serving society's "most vulnerable." He says there was no way for church staff to know of Davis' criminal record, and he bristles at the suggestion of background checks on the homeless. Clingenpeel insists the church can't be blamed for creating a safe harbor for someone as potentially dangerous as Michael Davis.

"I was shocked to learn at a luncheon sponsored by the chief of police that Michael Davis had been arrested more than 80 times," Clingenpeel says. "That's amazing. How can somebody be arrested that many times? Eighty times. Where's the justice system? How can the system not do something to help that person?"

Under state law, a person can be involuntarily admitted to a mental-health facility for a 96-hour evaluation if he or she is regarded as an immediate threat to himself or herself or to others. Admission requires a signed affidavit, approved in court; the patient can check himself out after four days if doctors no longer consider him an immediate threat.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce refused to comment on the case, except to confirm that Davis has been charged with first-degree murder and to speculate that Davis' mental health would become a significant issue before trial. Don Tyson, the assistant circuit attorney who is handling the case, also declined comment.

Davis is being held in the St. Louis jail without bond. His next court appearance will be determined after a psychological evaluation.

Last month, members of Michael Davis' family, including his brother Art, met with the staff at Christ Church Cathedral to offer their sympathy. And on January 26, a Sunday when millions were glued to the Super Bowl, the church remembered Carol Bledsoe.

Several hundred people attended the memorial service, a musical Evensong service to commemorate the third Sunday of the Epiphany season. The Reverend Gary Hamp of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Carol and Jack Bledsoe's home church, presided along with Clingenpeel and the Right Reverend George Wayne Smith, bishop of the Diocese of Missouri. The Christ Church Cathedral Choir and the congregation sang a new hymn, "How True Christians Live." The church's choirmaster, William Partridge, set words by F. Pratt Green, about the Christian obligation to serve the needy, to a tune he composed for the occasion.

A handful of Club Cathedral patrons were in the congregation, sitting next to church members who had driven in from the suburbs.

Near the end of the service, Jim McGahey walked down the aisle and stood near the altar where Michael Davis had once put his shoes, beneath the same towering statues to which Davis had prayed often.

McGahey read from Paul's letter to the Romans:

"What then are we to say about these things? ... As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.'"

Scroll to read more St. Louis Metro News articles

Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.