Murder On Grapevine Lake
Oct. 22, 2005
CBS News Murder On Grapevine Lake October 22,
David Nixon was in the prime of his life when he
was murdered in 2002. A successful businessman
with a son from a previous marriage, Nixon loved
living the good life in the town of Grapevine,
After his murder, police charged his live-in
girlfriend despite what the defense said was a lack
of physical evidence.
Who killed David Nixon and what was the motive? Was
he murdered for living on the edge?
Correspondent Troy Roberts reports.
It was the middle of the night when forensic death
investigator John Briggs got the call to report to
the scene of a homicide and he remembers smelling a
burning odor as he got out of his vehicle.
A body had been wrapped in several items that had
burned but were not totally consumed, including a
plastic camping tarp and rope.
“I could not even tell if it was a male or a female.
But based upon the face, I knew it was a Caucasian
person,” recalls Briggs.
When police first arrived at the crime scene in
Grand Prairie, Texas, in April 2002, the intense
heat from the fire had damaged the body to such a
degree that crime scene investigators had to spend
hours delicately recovering the remains.
Police found tire tracks and some fiber materials
but little other evidence. The medical examiner
would determine that the victim was a man in his 40s
killed by a single gunshot wound to the heart but
his identity was a mystery.
Dental records later confirmed the body’s identity
as 40-year-old David Nixon, a successful realtor
from nearby Grapevine, Texas.
The victim’s son, Nicholas, was devastated by the
news. “I knew the second he never called me back… .
I knew something had happened.”
Nicholas, 14, idolized his father, a bear of man at
6 feet 4 inches and 240 pounds. “Trustworthy,
dependable, protective. Anybody who knew him knew
that he would do just about anything for anybody.”
Nicholas’ mother, Donna Lella, is David Nixon’s
first wife and still has fond memories 15 years
later. “Charming, vivacious and full of life. And
you never knew what you were going to get. Loved
The couple married in 1990 and their son was born
the following year.
David soon found success selling real estate,
becoming a top agent, and eventually brokering
million-dollar deals on high-end properties in the
affluent suburbs north of Dallas.
Their marriage ended in 1995 after David had an
affair with flight attendant Lisa Hill. They married
and divorced within two years.
But David wasn’t single for long. Before his divorce
to Hill was final, he met another woman, an
attractive 27-year-old accountant named Tracey
“He was nice, very charming, easy to get along
with," says Tracey. "Very smooth. I wasn’t
interested in dating right then. But he was pretty
David and Tracey soon started living together in
Grapevine and she says David had a taste for the
finer things in life and lived beyond his means.
The pair were fixtures in the social scene of
“That lake was a Peyton Place. I’m telling you right
now. It was amazing to see who woke up with who in
the mornings,” says Jerry Vowell, who knows that
scene very well.
While Tracey only had eyes for David, Jerry
remembers that the relationship was volatile at
times. “Most of the time they were fun to be around.
But, boy, when they argued you just wanted to get
away from them."
The loudest and longest arguments were over finances
and David’s gambling debts.
Tracey says David was spending more and more money
and that the arguments got worse. At times things
could get rough with shoving matches.
By the spring of 2002, after almost four years, the
relationship was over.
But going their separate ways would be complicated.
David reportedly owed more than $100,000 in back
taxes to the IRS and transferred the house to Tracey
to protect his property.
Tracey wanted to retain ownership of the house and
arguments escalated on April 9 when David called
police. He was livid that Tracey had changed the
locks to the house.
The police helped settle that argument.
“So, after that domestic disturbance on April 9,
things were civil between the two of you?”
“I wouldn't say civil. It was business,” says
Tracey. "I wasn’t going to leave him high and dry."
Almost two weeks later David Nixon was dead.
Tracey says she was stunned by the news,
wondering who murdered David. “There was a
lot of things going through my mind. I just
couldn't believe it.”
But David’s first wife, Donna Lella, could
believe it. “When I went to the police
department, those were my first words that
Sunday night I went there: ‘Tracey Frame did
it. David told me I had to tell you this.’"
Donna also says David knew the person who
would kill him. “He was going to be murdered
by Tracey. He used the word ‘murder.’ That
Tracey was going to kill him."
David never contacted police.
Donna went to the police and reported David
missing after he didn’t return phone messages
from their son Nicholas. She also says she
confronted Tracey over the phone, asking what
had happened to him.
But Tracey wasn’t worried about David’s
disappearance. “At that point it was not
uncommon for him to do what he wanted, to go out
with the guys or go stay at a hotel. And I
didn’t beg him to come home or whatever.
She says David sometimes snuck off to Las Vegas
for a weekend of gambling and thinks he was
involved with prostitutes and call girls.
Despite their differences, Tracey and David were
still living together at the house in Grapevine.
But David had found another place to live, and
was making arrangements to move just days before
Tracey says they discussed plans for his move
and that he asked her to rent a moving van. She
did rent a Penske moving van and furniture dolly
but David never returned.
“Since David and Tracey lived together she was
our key witness. She was the one we wanted to
talk to the most,” says Grapevine Police
Detective Larry Hallmark, who was assigned to
the murder investigation.
“Once we met her, her demeanor was completely
not what I expected, not what would be normal
under those circumstances,” Det. Hallmark says.
“We told her that David had been murdered. … The
first thing she asked was, ‘How did they
identify him?’ Which I thought was an extremely
Tracey insist she never asked that question.
Frame told detectives that she was home alone
the night David disappeared and agreed to be
questioned on videotape (video) at the
Tracey told investigators that she and David
were having problems in the months leading to
his murder. “We just aren't getting along and I
just lost a baby,” she tearfully told police.
Tracey says she learned of her pregnancy the
previous fall, just as her relationship with
David was crumbling. She now says health
complications forced her to terminate the
pregnancy but, at the time, she blamed David.
The loss of her unborn baby and David’s reaction
left Tracey bitter. She claims he was
unapologetic. “He could be cruel. He could be
very vicious with his tongue.”
But was she angry enough to commit murder?
Hallmark and another detective, Matt Gudgel,
start pressing Tracey for answers.
“She could never tell the truth during that
entire interview. She was evasive. And sometimes
she just out and out lied,” says Hallmark.
Tracey maintains she had no involvement in
Nixon’s murder and knew nothing about the
circumstances surrounding the killing.
While Hallmark had his suspicions about Tracey
Frame, he had little to go on with no blood
evidence and no murder weapon or bullets.
An exhaustive search of the crime scene and a
storm drain yielded few clues, as firefighters
had already washed down the area.
The police did find a set of tire tracks at the
scene, providing Hallmark with an important
clue. “The tire tracks that backed up to this
body were the same configuration, same make,
model and size as the tires that were on the
Penske truck that Tracey had rented,”. Hallmark
And he soon caught another break. Security
cameras at a Tom Thumb supermarket near David
and Tracey’s house captured
fleeting images (video) over that weekend,
blurry at best, but recorded at very precise
The videotape shows a Penske moving van that
looks similar to the one Tracey rented driving
through the parking lot. Also on tape, someone
abandons David’s white Lexus in the lot, three
days after his murder.
The cameras show a woman walking outside the
store. Inside, she’s seen buying several items,
and then leaving.
Is that woman Tracey frame? While Hallmark says
the woman in the video looks like Frame, she is
adamant it is not her and that she was at her
parents’ home in Arlington.
Hallmark’s theory is that Tracey shot David in
his sleep and then moved his body in the truck.
He also thinks that she managed to move his body
by using a furniture dolly and strapping him
Hallmark also says Tracey tried but failed to
shove Nixon’s body down a storm drain.
“You believe that she dumped the body and then
two days later returned to set it afire, to get
rid of the evidence?” Roberts asked.
“Right. And she could just sweep him into that
storm drain and he would just disappear
forever,” Hallmark replied.
That alleged plan fell apart after a passerby
spotted the fire.
But the question remained: Why would Tracey want
David’s ex-wife Donna thinks money and greed
were the motive, but Tracey says “there was
nothing to gain. Nothing.”
The day after Tracey Frame met with police
detectives, she was arrested and charged with
the murder of David Nixon.
Tracey was released on bond and fitted with an
electronic monitoring device to be worn until
But Tracey has her defenders and none is more
loyal than dentist Roland Taylor, a native of
Great Britain, who settled in Texas.
“Everybody goes 'What a bitch she is.' And she’s
totally the opposite,” says Roland.
Who would want David Nixon dead? “Probably the
people that he owed money to. And he owed a
lot,” Roland says. “You know what? It would
behoove her to keep him alive because he owed
her a ton of money.”
Roland and Tracey were long-time friends from
Grapevine Lake and, after her arrest, a romance
developed. They are now engaged to be married.
“I will never, ever, ever stop loving her,"
Roland says. "I’ll never leave. I’m there.”
“As the state said, this is purely a
circumstantial case,” says Donald Feare,
Tracey’s defense attorney.
Feare had worked on only three murder cases in
his career but is confident he can quickly win
an acquittal for Frame.
“She was arrested in the first 36 hours of a
homicide case. And that’s just unheard of unless
it happens to be standing there with a smoking
gun, screaming ‘I did it! I killed him!’” says
Feare, who also thinks that Det. Hallmark was
over-ambitious and got it all wrong from the
Feare says the case against his client doesn’t
add up, pointing out that no incriminating
evidence was found at the house or in the moving
And he says the
videotaped interview (video) with detectives
was designed to trap his client. “You saw
interrogation questions aimed at trying to make
her look bad and trip her up.”
Feare and Tracey also dismiss the
videotape evidence (video) allegedly showing
Tracey abandoning the white Lexus, parking the
Penske truck and shopping at the Tom Thumb
Store records show that whomever the person in
the store surveillance tape is used Tracey’s
store discount card at the checkout, saving 19
Tracey admits the discount card is difficult to
explain. “So, I don't have an answer for it, but
I don't think that I would use a discount card
if I was trying to sneak around town.”
Frame and her attorney throw out several
theories about who may have killed David Nixon.
They suggest Nixon could have been murdered
during a robbery or that it was payback over
And they point an accusing finger at someone who
knew both David Nixon and Tracey Frame very
“Jerry Vowell. A friend at the lake. Used to be
a friend. He’s into businesses of helping
people, you know, if they need to borrow money
or whatever,” Tracey says.
“In the business of helping people who want to
borrow money?” Roberts asked.
“OK, hold on. Can I answer that?” she asked,
consulting her lawyer. Feare stopped Tracey from
finishing her sentence.
Jerry admits he is an easy target. “I sell used
cars. At one time, David loaned me money and
right after Christmas I paid him back.”
Jerry and David had a plan to meet on the night
he disappeared. Tracey and her lawyer insist the
meeting was to discuss David’s interest in a new
“He had $25,000 cash on him that he took from
the bank to buy the boat,” Feare said. But Jerry
insists David didn’t carry large sums of money
and didn’t have outstanding debts.
Jerry says he was going to meet David for a
drink but that it got too late and that he only
talked to him by phone. He says it was the last
time he spoke with his friend.
Feare raises questions about yet another
possible suspect, David’s ex-wife Donna.
Two months before he died, David Nixon took out
a life insurance policy for half a million
dollars and Feare says Donna was named a
beneficiary. “She’s secondary beneficiary, but
in all reality, as her son is the primary
beneficiary, she got the money. Tracey frame got
nothing,” says Feare.
Donna says she got very little from David’s
estate, less than $10,000.
David’s son, Nicholas, says he wasn’t surprised
when Frame was arrested. “It had to be her.
Everybody else I knew that knew him liked him.
She was the only one who had anything against
Meanwhile, Feare is confident that prosecutors
have no real case or proof and that police never
investigated other suspects.
More than three years after David Nixon’s
murder, Tracey Frame is about to stand trial
and she is confident she will be acquitted.
“It’s pretty apparent that they don’t have
as much as they would lead you to believe
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney
Sean Colston is prosecuting the case and
says there’s no doubt in his mind that Frame
killed David Nixon. “I think if you look at
Tracey Frame, she’s just an unpredictable
type person. And she’s the type of person
who could kill without a motive.”
Tracey’s fiancée, Roland Taylor, says
prosecutors are trying the wrong woman.
While Roland says he is absolutely sure Tracey is
not the woman in the store surveillance tape,
prosecutor Colston is convinced Frame was at the
store and used her discount card.
With little forensic evidence, no eyewitnesses and
the washed down crime scene, the defense believes
the prosecution simply cannot make a case for
And Tracey says she thinks David’s killer will never
be found. “Because they never looked very far once
they accused me.”
In the courtroom, Tracey’s defense was to go on the
offense, arguing that the prosecution failed to
offer proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that there
was no real evidence linking Tracey to the crime,
that no blood was found at the house, nothing was
found at the storm drain, that the tire tracks could
have come from any number of other trucks. They also
planned to argue that the woman in the surveillance
tape is not Tracey Frame.
And along with no apparent motive, there’s no murder
weapon, no gun.
Or was there? Nicholas says his father kept a gun in
his safe, in the bedroom of the house he shared with
Police never found a gun and Tracey insists David
never kept a weapon in the safe of the house.
Police did find two key witnesses to bolster their
circumstantial case against Tracey.
John Wright and Mike Headen remember the day Tracey
Frame came into their janitorial supply company
shopping for cleaning products that would remove
odor and blood.
It was one day after David disappeared, and the
salesmen say Tracey asked if there was a fool-proof
way to remove blood stains. They say they told her
about muriatic acid, which they didn’t sell.
The next day, the shadowy figure, who prosecutors
say is Tracey Frame, was at the Tom Thumb store,
buying muriatic acid.
“Every item purchased by that woman was found in the
home when we searched it,” says Det. Hallmark. For
the prosecution, all the pieces of the puzzle fit.
And as for the defense suggestion that Donna may
have had more to gain from David’s death than
Tracey, Hallmark says there was nothing to it.
“There was never anything suspicious about Donna's
behavior. Everything that she did, all of her cell
phone records, all of her alibis, you know, people
that she was with, everything checked out. ... Every
trail led to Tracey.”
On the eve of the verdict, Tracey Frame, who did not
take the stand, seemed subdued and uncertain. “I
don’t believe in justice very much right now. And I
don’t know how I’ll feel after it.”
After a two-week long trial, it was judgment day for
Tracey Frame, who, if convicted, could face a
possible sentence of life in prison.
The day, March 9, 2005, would also have been David
Nixon’s 43rd birthday.
Whatever the outcome, for Donna and Nicholas, some
questions may never be answered.
“What was it that Tracey Frame had on David Nixon?
Why couldn't she let him go? How did it get so out
of control that she wanted to kill him? I don't know
those answers,” says Donna.
Finally, Judge Mike Thomas read the verdict. Jurors
had found Tracey Frame guilty of the offense of
murder as charged in the indictment.
Jurors took less than four hours to find Tracey
guilty, with a 40-year sentence.
David’s family was elated but, later that night, the
mood became thoughtful.
“I’m just glad it’s finally over. It has gone on
long enough,” says Nicholas.
Donna wishes that, somehow, she had done more. “I’m
mad that I can’t change anything,” she said,
tearfully. “I can’t bring him back.”
And Jerry Vowell is sure jurors got it right. “I
know in my mind Tracey killed David.”
Det. Hallmark thinks money was the motive. “And I
think it was a sense of entitlement.” He says
entitlement to her fair share of the house.
But Roland Taylor remains loyal to his fiancée.
“Tracey Frame was the person that ultimately has
paid the price for this crime, not the person who
Tracey Frame spoke to 48 Hours just after her
conviction and thinks she has strong ground for an
appeal. Asked if she had any regrets, Tracey said,
“Yeah, in the justice system.”
“I don’t really get the whole thing, you know? It’s
weird,” says David’s son, Nicholas.
“Do you think when you get older you’ll be able to
understand it any better?” Roberts asked.
“You can’t understand that kind of person,” Nicholas