SANTIAGO, CHILE — The anonymous death in a Santiago nursing home of a former U.S. Navy officer wanted for trial in the 1973 killing of two Americans in a case that inspired the Oscar-winning film “Missing” is generating frustration and questions in Chile and the United States.
Courts in Chile have long sought former Capt. Ray E. Davis, believing he was living in Florida. Last October, Chile’s Supreme Court approved an extradition request for Davis to face trial for the deaths of American journalist Charles Horman and U.S. student Frank Teruggi, who were killed in the early days of the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
But Davis was secretly living in the Chilean capital all along. A Chilean death certificate says he died at age 88 of “multisystemic failure” at a nursing home in an affluent Santiago neighborhood on April 30.
“They were working to get Davis extradited and he was literally less than a couple of miles down the road,” said Peter Kornbluh, author of “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.”
“You’d think that the foreign ministry has records of who enters the country and when, and that those documents get shared with official authorities,” Kornbluh said.
The surprising discovery that Davis lived and died in Santiago not only thwarted Chilean justice, but also has left Horman’s widow, Joyce, deeply frustrated and questioning of the news.
“I just don’t like what I hear and would like to have additional proof from the U.S.,” Joyce Horman told The Associated Press. “After 40 years, this is extraordinarily frustrating.”
Mrs. Horman wants the U.S. government to demonstrate that Davis’ pension was suspended to confirm he is dead.
“I need to get real verification from the United States that this man is either dead or alive,” she said. “And I don’t see that happening because the U.S. Embassy is accepting the death certificate from the Chileans, which sort of absolves the U.S. about having to say anything about this man. And that’s wrong.”
Judge Jorge Zepeda, who requested Davis’ extradition, also seems not to be convinced of the death and has asked the U.S. government to confirm the information. Documents obtained by the AP show Zepeda told Chile’s Supreme Court in June that “there is no record that can help conclude without a doubt that the death certificate … belongs to the person wanted internationally as there are five U.S. citizens named Ray Davis” in Chile.
The U.S. Embassy in Santiago said it found out about Davis’ death on May 10 and added that “the U.S. government was not aware that Davis had been living in Chile.”
Citing “privacy concerns,” the embassy would not provide details on when Davis left the U.S. and entered Chile. It declined to comment on Davis’ pension or whether the U.S. would provide any further proof of his death.
After Davis was charged with murder in 2011, the AP contacted his wife, Patricia Davis, at her home in Niceville, Florida. She said her husband previously denied any involvement in killings. She also said he no longer talked because of Alzheimer’s disease and was in a nursing home that she declined to identify.
Records obtained by the AP say Davis was cremated at Santiago’s Parque del Recuerdo cemetery.
Davis commanded the U.S. military mission in Chile at the time of the Sept. 11, 1973, coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Marxist President Salvador Allende. Davis was investigating Americans as part of a series of covert intelligence operations by the U.S. Embassy targeting those considered subversives or radicals, said lawyer Sergio Corvalan, who represents Horman’s widow.
Horman, a freelance journalist and filmmaker, was arrested Sept. 17, 1973, just days after the coup and taken to Santiago’s main soccer stadium, which had been turned into a detention camp. He was 31.
A national truth commission formed after the dictatorship ended said Horman was executed the next day while in the custody of Chilean state security agents.
The commission said Teruggi, then a 24-year-old university student, was executed Sept. 22.
The search for Horman by his wife and his father was the topic of the 1982 movie “Missing,” which starred Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon. The film won a best screenplay Oscar.
The film suggested U.S. complicity in Horman’s death and at the time drew strong objections from U.S. State Department officials.
The case remained practically ignored in Chile until 2000, when Mrs. Horman came and filed a lawsuit against Pinochet. She said she was acting on behalf of all victims of the dictatorship.
The government estimates 3,095 people were killed during Pinochet’s rule, including about 1,200 who were forcibly disappeared.