In a tragic and horrifying case of a woman who was burned alive in an upscale Austin suburb this fall. The victim, Melissa Davis, 33, was discovered in flames on the side of Mesa Drive near Cat Mountain Drive on September 29, following a 911 call reporting a grassfire near a resident’s fence. The severity of the fire was so extreme that initial responders couldn’t determine her sex or race at the scene; her identity had to be established through her fingerprints.
On October 25, the police arrested Andrew Alexander Cole, a 45-year-old man, charging him with one felony count of tampering with physical evidence with intent to impair, alleging that he set Davis on fire.
This arrest culminated a weeks-long investigation into the perplexing death of Davis, a University of North Texas graduate. Investigators connected Cole to the gruesome crime using cellphone data and surveillance footage, although the nature of their relationship remains unclear. Security footage showed them together at the La Quinta Inn in South Austin.
On September 28, at approximately 7 p.m., Davis was observed following Cole’s white Kia in her blue Toyota 4Runner. Both vehicles entered the motel’s parking lot at 1603 E. Oltorf St. Subsequently, Davis exited her SUV and met with Cole and an unidentified man before they all entered the motel. This marked the last time Davis was captured on surveillance footage. Later that night, Cole was observed leaving the motel multiple times in Davis’s Toyota.
In the early hours of the following morning, at 4:03 a.m., Cole was seen at the back of the La Quinta Inn, placing “an item of some weight” into the trunk. Home surveillance footage showed Davis’s Toyota travelling south on Mesa Drive at 4:54 a.m., near the location where she was later discovered on the side of the road in the Northwest Hills neighbourhood. Shortly after, Cole’s phone pinged in the same area, and six minutes later, a homeowner’s surveillance video showed flames. Firefighters found Davis’s body engulfed in flames, and they discovered a lighter on the ground along with a strong odour of accelerant. Additionally, a police K-9 discovered a butcher knife with a melted handle near Davis’s scorched remains.
Although the official cause of Davis’s death is pending toxicology results, investigators believe she was alive when she was set on fire, as revealed in a search warrant for her cellphone obtained by KXAN.
Andrew Alexander Cole is currently held on a $100,000 bond in the Travis County Correctional Complex and faces unrelated charges of misdemeanour contempt for alleged failure to pay child support. He is scheduled to appear in court on November 17. The Austin Police Department has not yet provided any comment on the case. Davis’s family is grappling with this devastating loss, with her stepmother, Mary Anne Castles, expressing the profound difficulty of coming to terms with the tragedy.