Murder and Fire: A Dark Night


My dad walked into the house on the evening of January 10, 1983. The week before, I turned seven years old. I don’t recall what I did on my birthday, only that I had cake and ice cream while watching the Rose Bowl. It was a yearly tradition for me.

Dad came through the garage into the kitchen with a stunned look on his face. Mom was in the kitchen prepping dinner. She noticed his face. She asked him what was going on.

“I can’t believe it. Al Davidson was shot and killed a half-hour ago,”  Dad said.

I was watching television in the spacious living room in our house on the corner of Logan Avenue (U.S. Highway 63) and Arlington Street. Overhearing the dad’s announcement, I flipped the channel from Iowa Public Television to KWWL. Live cameras were at the scene in front of the Russell Lamson Hotel Building off of W. 5th Street. The popular Brown Bottle restaurant was on the first floor and apartments and offices were on the 2nd floor and above.

Map diagram drawing of the location of the slaying of Alvin Davidson (Waterloo Courier)

An olive colored tarp covered what it looked a body in front of the main entrance into the Russell Lamson. Crutches were to the left of the tarp.

Thirty-five years ago tonight, the body of Black Hawk County Public Defender Alvin Davidson lie on the cold concrete ground as a crowd gathered around the block, bewildered of what they were seeing.

Alvin Davidson was an assistant public defender for Black Hawk County. Davidson was best known as the man who defended James Michael “T-Bone” Taylor in the trial, he was convicted in, for the double slaying of two Waterloo police officers in July 1981.

Noted as a calm and knowledgeable public defender, he was well-regarded in the courtroom by county attorneys, judges, and other within the local legal circle.

While his execution-style slaying stunned the Cedar Valley and Iowa, the circumstances that led to his death could have been ripped from a Hollywood movie script.

Months earlier, his brother-in-law, Jay Hollins attempted to run over his ex-wife, Sears Lockett. Davidson was at the scene when Hollins arrived. Both exchanged gunfire during the incident. Hollins was scheduled to go on trial in February 1983. Davidson was not only slated to testify, but he was also facing charges in connection with the shootout with Hollins. Davidson was carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. What made things more sticky was that Davidson and his wife, Virginia, had separated.

Virginia was also a public defender for Black Hawk County…and was Jay Hollins’ sister.

Hollins’ brother, Jan, was in jail facing charges of attempted murder. He shot Davidson in the foot on October 4, 1982, hence the crutches on the ground next to Davidson’s body in the picture above.

Davidson TBone
Al Davidson (right) with Dean Olson, walking from the federal courthouse in Council Bluffs, Iowa in October 1981 during the James “T-Bone” Taylor trial. Taylor was convicted of the slayings of Waterloo police officers Michael Hoing and Wayne Rice. (Waterloo Courier archive file photo)

A tangled web was unfolding.

On January 3, 1982, Jay called up Ronald “Joe” Brown to come to Waterloo. Brown met with Hollins and Ennis Montgomery. The meeting was to plan on finishing what Jan Hollins tried to accomplish…kill Alvin Davidson. After days of monitoring Davidson’s routine and schedule, Hollins, Brown, and Montgomery were set.

On Monday, January 10th, Davidson left the courthouse and drove towards the Russell Lamson Hotel, where he was temporarily living after separating from Virginia. Earlier in the day, the three suspects did a dry run practice of how to go with their plans.

The suspects pulled up in a van in the alley between Central Battery & Electric and the hotel. Davidson walked up to the main entrance, when Brown, dressed in an Army coat, blue jeans, and a ski mask, pulled out a shotgun, aimed it at the side of Davidson’s face and fired at point-blank.

After Davidson collapsed and died instantly, the suspects fled in the van. Brown took a bus to Des Moines and fled to Arizona. After an investigation and search, Hollins, Montgomery, and Brown were arrested and put on trial. Montgomery took a plea deal and testified against Hollins and Brown. Hollins and Brown were convicted of first degree murder.

Slaying pic
A blanket covers the body of Alvin Davidson, assistant Black Hawk County public defender in front of the Russell Lamson Building, January 10, 1983. (Waterloo Courier archive/Mike Weber)

The T-Bone Taylor police slaying and manhunt captivated many, including me, however the Davidson slaying was so unreal and jaw-dropping, and a bit sordid, it took me years to understand the events that led to the slaying and the aftermath. Frankly put, it was a murder-for-hire amid a very messy family situation, that made this story fascinating and tragic.

The surrealism of having two publicized slayings within an 18-month period in your hometown sounds inconceivable.

Then again, anything bad can happen.

(Note: credit to be given to the website “The Dark Side of America”/“The Dark Side of Iowa” for the details of the case, and to the Waterloo Courier. It always helps when you keep newspaper archives in your possession to reference to when you need it.) 

Hours later, in the early morning hours of January 11th, the Cedar Falls Fire Department received a phone call. A building was on fire. Not just any building. The popular Simpson’s Furniture store on Main Street was ablaze.

Snow flurries fell as the Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Waverly fire departments battled in the cold brisk wind to end the fire. It was largest fire in Cedar Falls history since old Gilchrist Hall at UNI burned down in May 1972. What made the Simpson’s fire unique was that it was a Cedar Falls institution. The original Simpson’s was a total loss, but they rebuilt and continued to be in business until 2016 when the store closed and reopened as a national retailer under a different company.

Two events, 12 hours apart. A cold night.

A cold dark night.


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