Death Row Granny

Bettie Beets killed two husbands. Now she's likely to become the first woman the state of Texas has ever executed

But no one was aboard. It appeared the passenger had been working on the engine, suffered a heart attack, and in the frenzy of trying to swallow the medication, had fallen over the side and drowned.

The fishermen towed the boat to the Redwood Marina near Seven Points. On board, they found a fishing license in the name of Jimmy Don Beets, a 45-year-old Dallas fire department captain who lived at the lake on the days he wasn't commanding the No. 9 station in southeast Dallas.

Beets had lived for years on Cedar Creek Lake, site of expensive lake homes as well as more middle-class subdivisions, making it a popular getaway for Dallasites. It's where his parents had bought a mobile home when his father retired.

Jimmy Don spent his off hours puttering around the house, helping his neighbors, and hunting and fishing. Jimmy Don was aiming for retirement in 1987. That meant a comfortable pension, and the day when he could do anything he wanted with his time.

The owner of the marina, Lil Smith, called Beets' home several times. Finally, about 9 p.m., she reached a woman who identified herself as Bettie, Captain Beets' wife.

Bettie said she had been shopping in Dallas all day. When she got home, she had started working in her yard planting flowers, so she hadn't heard the phone.

Friends drove Bettie to the marina about 10 p.m. She was wearing clean jeans, and her face was carefully made up. She told Smith that her husband had gone out fishing the night before and hadn't returned home. She had notified the Henderson County Sheriff's Department at 8 that morning, she said, and filed a missing-person report.

Bettie seemed upset that her husband of one year was missing. But to Smith, whose own husband had drowned a few years before, it seemed she was holding up unusually well. There were no tears.

By then, the sun had dropped and the wind began to whip across the lake. No search for the missing Beets could be mounted until morning.

Daylight brought hundreds of volunteers, many from the fire stations of Dallas, to look for Beets' body. A fire department deputy chief set up a command post and drew a grid map of the lake. Under the coordination of the Coast Guard, people piled into boats to search the area where Jimmie Don's boat was found. The media from North Texas descended with camera crews and satellite trucks.

Jamie Beets woke up that dawn at his home in Balch Springs to find his aunt, Bettie Henderson, leaning over him. "Get up and get dressed," she said. "They think your dad has drowned."

Jamie thought it was a joke. His father--strong, fit, an outdoorsman--drown? Impossible.

Jimmy Don Beets was a brawny man. At 5-foot-11, he weighed about 235 pounds. Beets had thick black hair and arms as big as his grown son's thighs.

The fire captain was well-known and liked in the Cedar Creek area. But it had been months since Jamie, 25, had seen his dad. In fact, they hadn't spoken to each other in almost six months.

Jamie raced to Cedar Creek, arriving at the public boat ramp on Chamber Isle about 8 a.m. There were more than 100 boats on the lake. A few helicopters and small planes had joined in. A bass fishing tournament was going on; the participants had been enlisted to help. Though only a few hours into the search, the Red Cross had set up a recreational vehicle to feed the hundreds of volunteers.

The game warden and a deputy sheriff took Jamie to his father's boat and asked him to look it over. Did anything seem strange or out of place?

In shock, Jamie studied the Glastron, his father's pride and joy. Jimmy Don had traded for the 19-foot inboard-outboard. Though used, it was in perfect condition. During the good times, Jamie often had gone fishing with his father; he knew his fastidious habits. Jamie took in the scattered pills, the missing propeller, and knew something was very wrong.

His father was extremely safety-conscious. He'd taught Jamie that the first item to put in the boat before taking it out was the CB radio. But it wasn't there.

After the CB, his dad drilled him to put his billfold in the boat, so he'd have identification if necessary. There was no billfold. The wrong pair of glasses. No checkbook.

And the propeller--how could it be gone? His father needed a tool to take the propeller off, and it was still in the bottom of the tool box. Could he have had a heart attack while taking off the propeller, put the tool back, then fallen overboard?

The final straw was the nitroglycerin pills scattered on the bottom of the boat. Jimmy Don had indeed had a heart attack about five years before while pouring a concrete sidewalk for a blind neighbor. But after a year's leave of absence from the fire department, he'd been cleared to return to active duty, and hadn't taken the medication in at least two years.

Jamie was convinced that his father had not been in the boat. "Bettie knows something about this," he insisted to several firemen assisting in the search.

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