The Disturbing Story Of Zachary Davis, The 15-Year-Old Who Bludgeoned His Mother And Tried To Burn His Brother Alive

Published January 29, 2024
Updated March 13, 2024

Zachary Davis had a history of mental disturbance, but no one could have predicted that the Tennessee teen would beat his mother to death one night in August 2012.

Zachary Davis

Public Domain Zachary Davis beat his mother Melanie to death inside their Tennessee home in August 2012.

On Aug. 10, 2012, the lives of everyone in one seemingly normal family in Tennessee changed forever. That day, 15-year-old Zachary Davis murdered his mother with a sledgehammer and attempted to burn his house down while his older brother was still inside.

Soon, the courts debated as to whether the young man was deeply disturbed or simply pure evil. But to this day, much about the story of Zachary Davis and his murder of his mother Melanie remains shrouded in dark mystery.

Zachary Davis’ Descent Into Mental Illness

Zachary Davis was a quiet boy who clearly had a history of mental illness. When his father, Chris, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2007, then nine-year-old Davis went into a tailspin.

According to Gail Cron, Davis’ paternal grandmother, the boy was taken to see a Dr. Bradley Freeman at Vanderbilt University Medical Center shortly after his father’s passing. The psychiatrist noted that the boy certainly did suffer from some kind of mental defect.

Zachary Davis claimed to hear voices and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depressive disorder. Although Davis was normally quiet, he was becoming even more withdrawn.

In one of his four sessions with Dr. Freeman, Zachary Davis told claimed to hear the voice of his father.

Melanie Davis

Screenshot/YouTube Melanie Davis, the proud mom of two boys.

Psychologists recognize that experiencing a deep depression like the one Davis had descended into after the death of a loved one, particularly at such a young age, is normal.

While Davis did go through the first two phases common in the bereavement process, including numbness and depression, he did not make it to the third: recovery. This is in part because perhaps his mother pulled him out of therapy shortly after he had begun.

Indeed, even his grandmother would remark at his trial that had Zachary Davis received the proper medical attention he required, “this would not have happened.”

The family instead moved to Sumner County, Tenn. to move on with their lives — or so they thought.

Zachary Davis’ Brutal Murder Of His Mother Melanie

Melanie worked hard as a paralegal and trained hard as a triathlete. She did her best to get past Chris’s death and to keep her boys happy. Unbeknownst to her, her youngest son Zachary Davis was beyond her grasp.

The 15-year-old was an outcast amongst his peers. He often spoke in a monotonous whisper and would wear the same hoodie every day. He had an app on his phone about serial killers and another that listed torture devices. His notebooks where writhe with such disturbing anecdotes as “you can’t spell slaughter without laughter.” He read the Stephen King novel Misery and played violent video games.

It was not evident that he was outwardly violent, however, until that night on Aug. 10, 2012.

Davis, his mother, and 16-year-old brother Josh went to a movie together. When they returned, packed several items into a backpack and satchel, including clothing, notebooks, a toothbrush, gloves, a ski mask, and a claw hammer. On the outside, it could have seemed as though Davis was going to run away from home, but on the inside, something far more sinister was at play.

Melanie went to bed at 9 P.M. When she was asleep, Zachary Davis retrieved the sledgehammer from the basement and entered his mother’s room. He bludgeoned her to death and struck her nearly 20 times.

Then, drenched in her blood, Zachary Davis closed her door, went to the family game room, and drenched that in whiskey and gasoline before setting it aflame. He shut the door and fled the house.

He had intended to kill his brother Josh in the fire but because he closed the door to the game room, the fire did not spread immediately and the older brother was consequently awoken by a fire alarm. When he went to retrieve his mother, he found her a bloodied mess.

Zachary Davis Crime Scene

Crime Scene Photo/Public Domain A blood stain on the floor of Melanie Davis’s bedroom. It’s about the size of a sledgehammer’s head.

Josh escaped the fire to a neighbor’s house. Zachary Davis was found by authorities nearly 10 miles from his home. He told authorities that “I didn’t feel anything when I killed her.”

Davis’ Arrest And Trial

In a videotaped confession presented as evidence to the court, Zachary Davis chillingly explained how the disembodied voice of his father told him to kill his mother. When asked by a detective in his confession if he could go back in time, would he still carry out the attack, Davis said that “I would probably kill Josh with a sledgehammer too.”

Defense attorney Randy Lucas, asked during the trial, “Did he tell you to do anything specific to your mother?”

Davis said no and he showed no remorse when investigators presented him with pictures of his mother’s blood-soaked body. In fact, he never showed any remorse at all.

He said he chose a sledgehammer as the murder weapon because “I was worried that I’d miss,” and that this tool adding gave him the “highest chance of killing her.”

At the trial, the jury was also presented with Zachary Davis’ interview with television personality, Dr. Phil McGraw.

McGraw asked, “Why did you kill her?” and Davis said that “She wasn’t taking care of my family.”

He laughed when he described how large and heavy the murder weapon was. He also laughed when he described the sound the sledgehammer made when connecting with his mother’s head, “It was a wet thumping sound.”

Zachary Davis' Sledgehammer

Crime scene photo/Public domain The bloody sledgehammer Zachary Davis used to kill his mother.

When asked why Zachary Davis hit his mother multiple times, the teen replied, “I wanted to make sure she was dead.”

At one point in his trial, Davis tried to blame the murder on his brother. The claim surprised even his defense attorney, who admitted openly in court that Zachary Davis killed his mother. The defense was merely trying to get a more lenient sentence for Davis and trying to pin the crime on his brother didn’t help his case.

Judge Dee David Gay said, “You became evil, Mr. Davis; you went to the dark side. It’s that plain and simple.”

Was Zachary Davis A Lost Child Or Pure Evil?

The justice system and the 12-member jury grappled with the notion that while Zachary Davis had clearly premeditated his mother’s murder, it was also apparent that he was deeply unwell.

Dr. McGraw tried to show compassion towards the teenager, “When I look in your eyes, I don’t see evil, I see lost.”

Davis’ paternal grandmother appealed to his severe mental illness and the lack of help he received. “Every teacher, every guidance counselor should have to stand trial with Zach,” Cron said. “Zach is not a monster. He’s a child who made a horrible mistake.”

She believes Melanie failed to get Zachary Davis the help he needed and that Melanie paid for the mistake with her life.

Dr. Freeman, the psychiatrist who first diagnosed him, also testified in court that Davis’ “judgment was driven by his psychosis,” and that because of his mental illness, could not have possibly premeditated the murders.

The jury and judge did not feel the same, however, and Zachary Davis was sentenced to life in prison after a jury deliberated just three hours to reach a guilty verdict.

A life sentence in Tennessee is a minimum of 60 years with the possibility of parole after 51 years. Zachary Davis will be in his mid-60s by the time he could get out of prison.

Whether the murder was cold-blooded or brought on by psychosis, it is regardless a tragic story of a family destroyed.

Take a look at the story of Jasmine Richardson, the teenage girl who butchered her family yet walks free, or read about serial killer Charlie Brandt, who, at age 13, killed his mother and was free to kill again as an adult 30 years later. Then, read about Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the teen who conspired to murder her abusive mom.

William DeLong
A graduate of Missouri State University with a degree in English and creative writing, William DeLong is a freelance wordsmith who has written approximately 40,000 articles since 2009.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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DeLong, William. "The Disturbing Story Of Zachary Davis, The 15-Year-Old Who Bludgeoned His Mother And Tried To Burn His Brother Alive.", January 29, 2024, Accessed June 19, 2024.