Note: This article is the result of more than a year of research — interviews conducted with principal and secondary sources, as well as information gleaned from numerous public records. Some people involved in the story have since died, could not be located, do not remember much or declined to comment.
Several Texas Public Information Act requests filed by The Banner-Press are currently pending. What follows is part one of the first story that seeks to address a 26-year-old mystery; here’s what we know about the oldest cold case in Washington County.
Sometimes, the wheels of justice don’t just turn slowly. Sometimes, the car is stalled completely, gathering dust; each speck is a lead that settles, dwindling as the years, then decades pass.
The technical status of the investigation is “suspended” — an apt term for the devastating patience that ebbs and flows with every lingering, belabored question.
Surely, there is solace in hope for closure. Surely, someone knows something.
What happened to Jayne Davis 26 years ago?
There are no tidy answers.
Born on July 26, 1968, Jayne was adopted by John and Judy Winship when she was 8 years old. Unfortunately much of Jayne’s history could not be confirmed prior to her time in Brenham (John and Judy Winship declined requests to be interviewed for this story).
The murky details of her background are fitting for the central character who is, at times, absent both physically and from the minds and memories of the supporting cast.
The timeline is marked with brushstrokes of turbulent trials and tempests, including a divorce, chaotic custody battle and suspicious deaths; each event is like a puzzle piece that can’t quite be placed in the bigger picture.
However, interviews and available open records help to shed light on the tumultuous years leading up to and following her disappearance.
Jayne moved to Brenham in the late 1980s and settled into an apartment leased by Amy Davis, who also owned the former Brenham Bindery here.
“She came to me because I had apartments to rent,” Amy told The Banner-Press. “She seemed like a nice kid. I thought she’d be a good tenant. She had a dog and it was a big point of contention. I let her move to another property I owned, but when I came to collect the rent the next month, she had moved out and left the dog to live with a man she’d met.”
However, she soon met the youngest son of the Davis family, Steven Clay.
“It happened rather quickly that she and Steven ended up together,” former Brenham Bindery office manager Charlotte Wright said. “Jayne was a sweet girl. She came from a good, religious family. They were just nice people. They didn’t care for Steven, but it was not their choice.”
Amy expressed similar feelings toward Jayne based on the prior incident.
“She was a highly intelligent girl and like a lot of intelligent people, she was also quite manipulative and very good at it,” she said. “I told him in private later about her moving out and leaving the dog and kind of warned him, but boys never pay much attention to what their mothers say about girls.”
According to Washington County records, Jayne was 21 years old when she and Steven, 27, were married on Feb. 1, 1990.
“As far as I could tell, they were really happy together for awhile,” Amy said.
The newlyweds lived here before their son Johnny Clay was born in Houston on Oct. 5.
Several Brenham Bindery contractors and other local residents befriended the young mother in this relatively short time.
They describe Jayne as nice, friendly, kind-spirited, trusting and a little naive, considering the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.
Less than a year after their son was born, Steven and Jayne separated on Sept. 12, 1991, according to a divorce petition filed in the Washington County 335th District Court.
“Jayne decided it was not the life she wanted,” Wright said.
According to Amy, her daughter-in-law left Steven for another man.
“She moved in with another boy so (Steven) filed for divorce, but he still wanted to get her back if he could,” she said. “He still loved her.”
After a hearing on Oct. 24, a judge awarded Jayne temporary sole custody of Johnny Clay, while his father was granted visitation rights and ordered to pay child support.
With the divorce pending, Steven traveled to Jayne’s Houston residence on Oct. 31 and raped her at gunpoint, Jayne told police.
According to Harris County records, Steven was charged with felony sexual assault on Nov. 5 and was arrested by the Houston Police Department. He was later released on a $25,000 bond.
He was taken into custody again in 1992 following a second-degree enhanced felony charge of delivery of marijuana in Washington County.
Standing before the 21st Judicial District Court, he pleaded guilty to the drug charge and no contest to felony sexual assault.
The judge sentenced Steven to 10 years in state prison.
By the time Steven was admitted to the Hightower Unit in Dayton on March 16, 1993, Jayne had taken steps to move on with her life in Houston and filed a motion to sign a decree of divorce.
In those early months, she was living with a new boyfriend while still coordinating visits between the 2-year-old Johnny Clay and his grandmother Amy and his uncle John Alan at their home in the Washington community.
Several witnesses say that despite a strained relationship and the alleged potential for retaliation against Jayne for pursuing the sexual assault charge, it was important for her son to have a relationship with the Davises because she herself was adopted and placed great emphasis on family.
“She felt that she needed to let Johnny Clay know his other family,” Wright said, highlighting the young mother’s kind and naive nature. “(Jayne) was afraid; it was a feeling that there was the possibility something could happen to her. I still don’t understand why she put herself in that position. She could have cut off all ties.”
Amy interpreted Jayne’s motivations in a different light.
“I tried to keep in touch with her and she kept in touch with me because she wanted a babysitter,” she said. “She was manipulative. She wanted things her way.
“She wanted to get as much as she could. She wanted time for herself. I was just a free babysitter.”
According to Wright, on Friday, April 30, 1993, at approximately 3 p.m., Jayne called the Brenham Bindery.
Wright claimed Jayne told her she had no money and needed to relay a message to John Alan that she was ready to be picked up in Houston.
“It was a pre-arranged visit and John was expecting the call,” she said. Jayne did not have access to a working vehicle at the time and was relying on others to make the trips.
Jayne was scheduled to return with Johnny Clay in Houston on May 3.
Little did she know, Wright was possibly the last one to talk to Jayne.
In fact, April 30, 1993 may have been the last day any known person saw or spoke to her in more than 26 years. Jayne Davis simply disappeared.
Over the next two decades, various investigators from several law enforcement agencies, loved ones, friends, acquaintances and communities would struggle to find answers.
John Winship filed a missing persons report with the Houston Police Department on May 8.
Upon learning about Jayne’s plans, HPD contacted the Brenham Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Law Enforcement Division to conduct their own investigations as well.
Conflicting accounts soon emerged regarding Jayne’s plans and whereabouts that Friday. Rumors permeated throughout the small community.
Witnesses were subpoenaed to testify before a Washington County Grand Jury on two occasions. No indictments were ever issued. No charges were pressed, no arrests made.
From a legal standpoint, it’s unclear if Jayne ever left Houston, or, if she did, where she was headed.
A few days prior to her disappearance during a visit with Johnny Clay here at Jackson Street Park, Amy claims that Jayne announced her plans to work as a prostitute in Las Vegas and wanted to bring Johnny Clay with her.
“I told her this was a very bad idea. She gave me no explanation for why she wanted to move,” Amy said. “I don’t know if it was totally made up to upset me or whether it was actually something she was thinking about doing.”
Amy asserts that the last time she spoke with her was on that fateful Friday, when she called and asked to be picked up by Amy and not John Alan, as Wright claimed.
“She wanted me to come get her. I told her I couldn’t because I was working that day. She asked to send John and I said he has to go to Austin, which is in the opposite direction. He can’t come get you,” Amy said. “There were never any plans for John to go pick up Jayne.”
John Alan categorically denies any involvement in her disappearance and also refutes Wright’s and others’ statements regarding the pre-arranged plans to pick up his sister-in-law in Houston that day.
“I don’t know who invented this story or where it came from,” John Alan told The Banner-Press. “She would not get in a car with me ever. She hated me. She hates our whole family.”
Further, he claims that he was out of town running an errand for the bindery business on April 30, 1993.
“The day she disappeared in Houston, I was 200 miles away in Austin. I don’t know where she is, where she went or who she’s with. I don’t know if she’s dead or not,” he said, recalling the last alleged interaction he had with Jayne was in December of 1992, approximately five months before her disappearance. “I was leaving the office and she was arriving. We just nodded to each other. I don’t know anything about where she went. I didn’t have any contact with her.”
Former Texas Ranger and current Washington County Sheriff Otto Hanak, who was assigned to the case from 1997-2009, interviewed Steven years later at the Hightower Unit on Feb. 10, 1999.
Steven said he was certain Jayne was working as a “whore” in Las Vegas and had simply abandoned her child and family.
According to Hanak, the inmate’s attitude was disdainful and irreverent; he criticized Jayne and displayed anger toward his ex-wife, laughing and attempting humor when questioned further.
Steven denied having knowledge of her disappearance and stated that even if he did, he would not provide any information to investigators regarding her whereabouts that may jeopardize his future release from prison.
Despite contradicting accounts of what happened 26 years ago, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest foul play.
Did Jayne simply leave her son and loved ones behind without a word? Or does her untimely disappearance indicate something more sinister?
For more than two decades, law enforcement officials and loved ones alike have been on a long road bereft of closure, searching for answers to the question: What happened to Jayne Elizabeth Winship Davis on April 30, 1993?
There are conflicting accounts about the circumstances leading up to and surrounding that fateful Friday when she seemingly vanished, leaving behind a two-year-old son, countless friends and loved ones, and investigators, who are determined to piece together a 26-year-old puzzle.
Not only did Jayne discuss her plans to travel to Brenham with former Brenham Bindery office manager Charlotte Wright, she also told her mother, Judy Winship, and at least one other witness, who is now deceased, that Jayne would return to Houston with Johnny Clay on May 3.
Because her car had broken down and she had no money, Judy handed Jayne a check for $200 before she left the apartment that day.
It was never cashed and she never saw her daughter again.
Further, many individuals who were close to Jayne and the situation believe she would never leave her son behind.
“Amy (Davis) told everyone that Jayne had told her she would probably abandon her child since her mother had abandoned her as a child. This is a lie. Jayne told her friends how much she loved Johnny Clay and that he was the most important thing in her life,” Wright said. “We’d never heard anything about Jayne taking off. It was not in her character.”
Amy also told The Banner-Press that she did not believe Jayne would ever leave without Johnny Clay.
“She never gave any indication that she wanted to abandon him,” she said. “She was his mother and he was her son.”
Due to privacy laws, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department cannot release records that could confirm or refute claims that Jayne ever resided in Las Vegas.
No records or information could be located to indicate her current welfare or whereabouts.
In fact, the criminal investigation would later show that the last time Jayne utilized her social security number was in February of 1993 — a month before she was reportedly last seen.
Throughout the years, the investigations would continue to simmer in the background as leads trickled in with fewer and fewer answers. Among those still questioning what happened to Jayne is the former Texas Ranger once charged with handling her case.
“As with any unsolved disappearance of this nature, authorities know there is someone out there that can provide information necessary to assist in solving this crime,” said Otto Hanak, that former Ranger and now Washington County sheriff.
Hanak maintains the young woman “met her fate at the hands of a person known to her and that her untimely disappearance was not a random act of violence.”
As time passes, these cases become increasingly elusive, not only due to their age, but also because there is little evidence to act on.
“They are so difficult to solve, especially when close acquaintances are unwilling to speak to investigators. Even though law enforcement working the cases may know who is responsible, it still takes evidence to convict,” Hanak added.
“Before I end my career, I would like to put this case to rest as it well should be. But without the cooperation of her extended family, we may never know the answers.”
For the past two decades, witnesses would continue to be interviewed. Anonymous tips would continue to be pursued. But investigators would find only smoke and no fire.
In October 1997, BPD Detective Mike Davis and Hanak met with Amy at her office on Peabody Street, requesting her written consent to search both the Brenham Bindery and Doe Run Creek Lane property in the Washington community.
She complied, but her signature meant nothing.
Approximately 49 days prior to that meeting, Amy transferred the deed to John Alan and Steven Davis as trustees for Johnny Clay.
Amy explains this as a simple misunderstanding; she was not aware she could not legally consent to a search.
The next day, Hanak organized a team only to discover his efforts were quelled.
“Amy told me to get permission from John Alan and Steven Clay (trustees for Johnny Clay) after I learned she transferred ownership,” he said. “One of the parties was a person of interest and the other party involved had been convicted of an assaultive offense of our perceived victim.
“Knowing the family dynamics and the history of uncooperativeness, we postponed the pursuit of attempting a consensual search of the property until other matters were resolved.”
John Alan argues that he has fully cooperated with law enforcement over the years, providing both an informal interview and grand jury testimony.
However, when Hanak approached him on March 12, 1998, asking if he’d be willing to submit to a polygraph examination, John Alan refused.
“Three attorneys advised me not to take a lie detector test because they’re faulty and inadmissible in court. I didn’t go to law school, so when they tell you not to do something, you don’t do it,” John Alan said. “I’ve been cooperative every single time they talk to me. I have no motive to kill anybody. Why would I do this? I have an alibi. The police already tried to (corroborate) it and called me a liar.”
Jayne’s son also met with investigators twice regarding his mother’s disappearance in 1998 and in 2009.
In both interviews, Johnny Clay told the Texas Rangers that Jayne “needed a break” when he was 3 years old and he was abandoned after his father went to prison for “doing something to his mother.” Amy said that Jayne had lied about the sexual assault as well.
He believed everything his grandmother told him.
In the October 2009 interview, Texas Ranger Steven Rayburn collected an oral swab from Johnny Clay, which was sent to the National Missing Persons Program for DNA processing and entry into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) — a national database created and maintained by the FBI.
Rayburn then asked Johnny Clay if he’d ever seen a photograph of his mother. Would he like to?
The young man refused.
Now 28 years old and living in Tennessee, Johnny Clay is beginning to doubt the narrative, finding what he has known to be true is a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit.
He, too, now questions what happened to his mother 25 years ago (Johnny Clay’s own account will be featured in an upcoming edition of The Banner-Press).
Just as there are no tidy answers, there is no tidy ending to the story.
Jayne Elizabeth Winship Davis would have turned 50 this year. Instead of celebrating a birthday, 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of her disappearance.
As the calendar turns to 2019 and the years turn to decades, answers become unreachable. As leads are lost and witnesses stay silent, justice is stagnant.
Prior to 2009 when a DNA swab was collected from Johnny Clay, officials received four or five notifications each year regarding an unidentified body. None have ever been Jayne.
Now, with her information in the national database to compare samples, Texas Ranger Jeff Wolf said it’s been a long time since he’s been contacted about a possible match.
However, there are still scarce moments that stoke the small embers of hope, fueling the prospect of piecing together the elusive puzzle.
Shortly before The Banner-Press began its investigation into Jayne’s story, an anonymous tip came in from the Washington County Crime Stoppers line.
The caller claimed to have information related to the disappearance — proof that someone still knows something.
“The tip line calls have been investigated and have not yielded information or evidence needed to support an indictment. There is someone out there that can solve this case if they’re willing to cooperate. If not, they, as others have, will take this burden and overwhelming guilt to their own grave,” Hanak said. “For those out there that can provide the answers law enforcement needs to finally close this case, do the right thing for the right reasons and provide Jayne’s family with a bit of closure. One phone call is all we need.”
As of this publication, Jayne is classified as an “endangered” missing person and the criminal investigation is suspended under the care of Wolf.
The case also remains open with the Houston Police Department and Brenham Police Department, with assistance from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
At the time of her disappearance, Jayne was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed approximately 130 pounds, with brown hair and hazel eyes. She has a scar on the bridge of her nose between her eyes and birthmarks on her hip and right calf.
Anyone with information regarding the case is asked to call Washington County CrimeStoppers at 836-TIPS (8477), Houston CrimeStoppers at (713) 222-TIPS (8477) or the Missing Persons Clearinghouse at (800) 346-3243.
All callers’ identities are confidential; special code numbers are given to protect anonymity.
Information could lead to a cash reward and, perhaps, finally bring answers to the desperate question: What happened to Jayne Winship Davis?