Shortly after Michael Leslie Severance disappeared on Jan. 15, as Michael’s father was angrily pushing Texas police to treat the matter as more than just a missing persons case, Special Agent Greg McCormick made a promise.
“He told me, ‘I will find your son,'” Leslie Severance, 47, of Lee, Maine, recalled.
“He meant it, and anytime I had notions of where Mike might have been, I could call him and he would realistically consider them,” Les added. “He always listened. The San Angelo police did not.”
Without the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigation agent, Michael Severance still might be weighted down in 9 feet of water in a San Angelo pond, the father said.
McCormick, 41, is an ex-Abilene police officer who has served the Air Force for 13 years. The Severance case was his first for OSI. The agency office is on Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, where Michael worked for six years.
Les and his attorney credit McCormick with crucial early legwork that proved Michael, a staff sergeant at the air base, was no deserter.
“Greg McCormick and the Air Force broke the case,” attorney Thomas Goff of San Angelo said.
It was McCormick’s surveillance of Severance’s wife, murder suspect Wendi Mae Davidson, 27, that led police to the West Texas pond on Feb. 27, according to search warrant affidavits filed by Texas Ranger Shawn Palmer and San Angelo police Detective Dennis McGuire.
On March 4, McCormick told police that in early February, Wendi, a veterinarian, used the Internet to research how bodies decompose in water. Police later seized the computer and verified the Web search, an affidavit states.
Wendi was charged on March 5 with two counts of tampering with evidence for getting rid of Michael’s body after her brother told police that she said she dumped the corpse because she feared someone in her family had killed Michael. Police found the corpse the next day.
A grand jury later indicted Wendi Davidson on a murder charge. She remains free on $50,000 bail. Her trial is expected to begin in spring 2006.
The special agent said he was assigned the case on Jan. 18 or 19 and, in keeping with U.S. Air Force protocol, Michael Severance was declared AWOL for failing to return from leave by Jan. 25. Michael had been on leave to go to Maine with Wendi and the children to visit his family. A desertion charge followed a month later. It was rescinded when Michael’s body was found.
Randy Pelfrey, a retired Air Force staff sergeant, was among the Severance friends whom McCormick interviewed on Jan. 18, three days after Michael disappeared, at Dyess. He was interviewed again on Jan. 19 at Wendi’s veterinary clinic in San Angelo.
“He was looking at everything,” Pelfrey said of McCormick, “but there was not a lot he could do because Mike hadn’t come off leave yet. He was very good.”
McCormick couldn’t begin a full investigation unless Severance was missing or AWOL, Pelfrey explained.
McCormick was especially interested when Pelfrey reported that Wendi’s brother, Marshall Davidson, and his mother, Judi Davidson, were saying Michael had told them repeatedly that he was going to flee to Canada because he didn’t want to deploy overseas. Neither McCormick nor Pelfrey believed the Davidsons, Pelfrey said.
Les, his son Frank Severance, and attorney Goff met McCormick at the Dyess OSI offices for about two hours during their Texas trip in June. McCormick introduced them to six to eight OSI staff who had worked the Severance case, Les said.
McCormick said he never saw any sign of desertion in Michael. The 24-year-old Maine man, McCormick said, was “a dedicated airman who loved his job.”
“He was well-liked among his co-workers and friends,” the special agent said. “He worked hard and demonstrated a professional attitude in whatever he was involved in.”
Wendi Davidson claimed that Michael took $221 from her veterinary clinic, but Michael never accessed his bank accounts after his disappearance. He never used his pickup truck, a rental car or an airplane ticket reserved for his Jan. 16 trip to Maine, McCormick said.
“I talked to a lot of his friends and his family, and I was pretty sure that they were not hiding him,” McCormick said. “If someone is going to go AWOL, someone close to them is going to know.”
Detective McGuire credited McCormick for his work, but sources close to the investigation say McCormick alienated San Angelo police and Texas Ranger Palmer, whose bosses wrote a 21/2-page letter to McCormick’s supervisors.
They claim McCormick too quickly decided Michael was a victim of foul play and made the Severance family difficult to deal with.
Air Force officials say McCormick acted properly.
Les Severance said McCormick dug for the truth when others didn’t.
“He found Michael when I felt the San Angelo police had given up,” the father said.
“I think the world of the Air Force OSI and of Greg McCormick. He came to my son’s funeral, and I never even got a phone call from anybody else,” Les added. “He was nothing but cordial or concerned. He was just a real nice guy.”