On May 15th, 2006, a fisherman walking in a wooded area near Bates City, Missouri, found a freshly dug hole, filled with loose dirt. Instinct told him something wasn’t quite right, so he tried digging a little with his hands. Soon, the horrified fisherman found a woman’s arm protruding from the grave. He notified the police who then uncovered freshly buried body. The body belonged to forty-one-year-old Marsha Spicer, and it was obvious that Marsha had been the victim of a brutal murder.
At the crime scene, detectives noticed several things about the case. First, there was no blood at the scene, indicating that Marsha had not been murdered there. She had been strangled and found naked, indicating a sexual assault. She appeared to have been beaten, maybe even tortured. There were also traces of bleach on the body, indicating that the killer had attempted to clean-up and avoid leaving DNA evidence. She was identified via her fingerprints from a previous arrest.
Marsha Spicer was reported missing just one day before her body was found, on May 14th, 2006. Her daughter had been trying to reach her but was unable. Her daughter told detectives that Marsha was struggling in her life and using methamphetamines. She had been living in the Kansas City area with a boyfriend. Her daughter said that her mother’s boyfriend had called her to ask if she had seen Marsha, and this was something very unusual as he had never called her before.
Detectives went to Marsha’s boyfriend’s house to investigate. They learned that the man had several women who were struggling with drug issues staying with him. Her boyfriend told detectives he had not seen Marsha for a few days, after she left in a vehicle with a man and woman. Other roommates said that Marsha told them about her and her boyfriend’s plans to go fishing near the same creek where her body had been found. A shovel was found up against the house, covered in dirt. It seemed that perhaps Marsha had been a victim of domestic violence gone terribly wrong.
However, another roommate came forward. She said that she did not believe Marsha’s boyfriend was the suspect they were looking for. The woman, who had a drug addiction in common with Marsha, told detectives about a man she had met recently. It was not uncommon for women with drug addictions to turn to prostitution to support their habit, which both the witness and Marsha allegedly did. One man told the witness about wanting to have a threesome with her and another woman, but he was more sadistic than that. He wanted her to strangle the other woman during sex. Something about the man seemed sinister, maybe even evil. The witness declined to move forward with the arrangement, but she believed she saw Marsha leave with the man a few days before her death.
The witness told detectives to investigate a man named Richard Davis. Richard Davis was born in the 1964 in the Kansas City, Missouri area. He was one of four children and allegedly suffered abuse throughout his childhood. When he was six years old, Richard fired a rifle shooting his own father. His father survived, but the incident deeply impacted the young Richard. Throughout childhood, he was truant and engaged in delinquent behavior. He was often sent to juvenile detention for various offenses including theft.
At age eighteen, Richard was set free from juvenile custody. Richard had difficulty adjusting to adulthood, working a series of short-lived jobs. He left most jobs after a short amount of time for various reasons including not liking the hours, too long of a commute, or disputes with supervisors. He eventually returned to crime and was arrested for burglary in 1984. Davis was convicted and sent to prison for three years. During his incarceration, Davis had given authorities information on a friend and become known as a “snitch”. He was placed in solitary confinement for his own protection.
By 1987, Richard Davis was free again. As was the pattern of his life, his freedom did not last long. Richard raped and sodomized a woman at knifepoint at the home of his mother in Lexington, Missouri. David initially denied knowing the woman, but later admitted to what he called consensual sex. Despite his denials of wrongdoing, Richard Davis was convicted and sentenced to prison, where he would spend the next eighteen years before getting paroled once again.
In 2005, Richard Davis was released from prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri. He moved back to the Kansas City area and started working at a factory. It was at the factory that he met a co-worker named Dena Riley. Dena was a few years younger than Richard. She had grown up in the Kansas City area as well, but she was from a loving and supportive family. Despite a seemingly normal upbringing, Dena had always had low self-esteem and desperately wanted to feel loved. This led her to make some bad choices in her life.
Right out of high school, Dena married her high school sweetheart. She felt she had finally found someone to love her. The couple soon had three daughters. However, Dena never really grew out of her teenage immaturity. She started running around with friends and using drugs, including methamphetamines. Her in-laws provided her husband and children support and assistance while her husband worked, and Dena partied. By 1990, her husband reached his breaking point and filed for divorce. Not only did Dena lose her marriage, but her ex-husband received custody of their three children.
Dena had another child soon after with a boyfriend, but the relationship also fizzled. The father of her fourth child launched a bitter custody battle that drove Dena further into depression. She coped with her life by utilizing increasingly more drugs. She worked a series of minimum wage jobs to support herself and her habit. Court records show her forth child was finally given to her father after Dena used drugs in front of the child. She was arrested for minor infractions such as writing bad checks and failure to pay child support.
In 2005, Dena was working at a factory when she met Richard Davis. Richard, just recently paroled from prison, swept Dena off her feet. She felt the love she had always sought out. Despite knowing of his violent past, Dena believed that Richard was the love of her life. Dena’s history of drug abuse and prostitution made her feel more comfortable with Richard’s sexual desires as well. Richard liked violent sex, and Dena was willing to do anything for her new man.
After they received the tip from Marsha’s roommate and friend, police went to the home of Richard Davis. They encountered Richard and Dena in the home. Both denied knowing Marsha Spicer or having knowledge of what happened to her. However, the police felt Richard was behaving oddly and they noticed other weird things. There was a camera pointed at the bed in their bedroom and several videotapes. One had the name Marsha on it. They also found a journal sitting out with disturbing and violent messages. Police suspected they were on the right track, but they couldn’t continue the search without a warrant.
As police called to obtain a search warrant, Richard and Dena left the apartment. They were not under arrest, so police could not hold them. As they further searched the home, they found many items linking Richard Davis to the murder of Marsha Spicer. The videotape with her name on it showed disturbing footage of Richard, Dena, and Marsha engaging in a threesome. As the video played on, the sex became more and more violent. Richard and Dena were both actively inflicting pain on Marsha. They beat her, sodomized her, raped her, as Marsha cried and tried to fight for her life.
On The Killer Speaks, Dena Riley states that she was not rough with Marsha and doesn’t believe Marsha was tortured. She said she is a good person and couldn’t hurt people. However, the tapes demonstrate that Dena actively participated in the sexual assault and torture of Richard. As Richard told her to do more and more violent things, Dena complied. Eventually, Dena strangled the woman as Richard held her down. When Marsha stopped moving, the couple kissed. The tape suggests that the couple enjoyed the act, and psychologists believe that Richard is a sexual sadist.
Detectives were not able to take the couple into custody, however, because they never returned to their apartment and were now on the run. The urgency to find the couple increased when another video was found and depicted another violent rape and murder. The woman in this video was identified as a woman who had been missing for a few months prior to Marsha Spicer, Michelle Marie Huff-Ricci. Police were now looking for a suspected serial killer couple.
A five-year-old girl was then reported missing. The frantic mother explained that the girl’s uncle and his girlfriend were staying with them and disappeared with the little girl. She was very upset, telling police the man was a registered sex offender name Richard Davis. Detectives knew they had to find the fugitives before they could harm an innocent five-year-old child.
A few days after being on the run, Dena Riley called 911 in Pittsburg, Kansas. The couple had been in a car accident and Dena said they planned on hurting themselves. Police arrived and took the two to the emergency room under police custody. Inside their vehicle was Davis’s five-year-old niece. Medical examinations determined the girl had been sexually assaulted. Aside from her trauma, the girl was unharmed. According to Dena, she wanted to make sure the girl got back to her parents, which is why she called 911, as she and Richard planned to commit suicide.
Under interrogation with detectives, Dena Riley confessed to the murders of Marsha Spicer and Michelle Huff-Ricci. Dena painted herself in the light of a victim, claiming she was just going along with what Richard wanted. Videotapes of the murders did not support this claim, however, as Dena had actively participated in the torture and murders of the two women. Dena led the police to the body of Michelle Huff-Ricci.
Dena explained that although Richard did not partake in drug use, he used drugs to lure women and control them, including herself. In The Killer Speaks, she recounts the crimes. She minimizes her role, saying “it was just sex”, not acknowledging the reality of what she and her boyfriend did. She claims it was his idea to kill both women and she assisted him in disposing of their bodies. She said that she would then go about her life like nothing happened, believing that if she didn’t think about it, it wasn’t real.
In the summer of 2008, Richard Davis was found guilty of 25 of 26 criminal counts against him including first-degree murder, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, and assault in the murders of Marsha Spicer and Michelle Huff-Ricci. The State of Missouri planned to seek the death penalty against Richard Davis. The sentencing portion of the trial included testimony about the abuse Richard allegedly suffered as a child. Despite these mitigation factors, Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Marsha Spicer. Dena Riley accepted a plea deal to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to multiple life sentences, including a federal life sentence for the kidnapping and sexual assault of the five-year-old child.
Richard Davis appealed his death sentence and convictions, but to no avail. His last appeal was denied in 2016. In December of 2020, Richard Davis died of covid while he was imprisoned at Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri. His death brings little solace to the families of Marsha Spicer and Michelle Huff-Ricci. Dena Riley continues to minimize her role in the heinous crimes, not fully accepting responsibility for the gruesome crimes she committed. She will never be eligible for parole and will die behind bars. Marsha and Michelle may have had their struggles, but no one deserves to die the way that they did.
Morris, M. (2006). Couple’s turbulent paths met in infamy. The Kansas City Star. 28 May 2006
Hollingsworth, H. (2006). Couple accused in videotaped killing turn themselves in to authorities on Thursday. The Daily Journal. 26 May 2006
Hoffman, K. (2008) Davis trial delves into childhood abuse. The Kansas City Star. 05 Aug 2008
Krajicek, D. (n.d.) Ricky and Dena. Body Turns Up — Ricky Davis & Dena Riley got their kicks making real snuff movies the Crime Library — Crime Library