Death Row Granny

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

Calm down, they told him. "Don't let your imagination run away with you."
Someone drove Jamie to his grandparents' house a few miles away to give him time to compose himself. He returned to the dock about 5 p.m. It was muggy and hot--at least 100 degrees. Jamie watched as boats crisscrossed the area. He turned and saw his father's red and white Silverado pickup truck bouncing across the bridge. He felt a flood of relief.

But it was short-lived. The pickup stopped, and Bettie stepped out.
"Have you found anything?" Bettie asked several officials. To Jamie, she seemed nonchalant.

A friend in the Coast Guard saw Jamie's anger and hustled him into a boat to help the searchers find his dad's favorite fishing holes.

On August 8--just two days after Jimmy Don's disappearance--Jamie heard that Bettie had gone to the fire department to pick up his paycheck. Jamie visited Bill Manning, an attorney in Gun Barrel City. Manning had used his personal airplane to help search for Jimmy Don.

Jamie was adamant that his father couldn't have drowned--that Bettie had something to do with his disappearance. He asked Manning to tie up his father's assets to keep Bettie from getting them--at least until they knew what had happened.

"I thought it was a fantasy of a grieving son," the lawyer recalls. "He seemed motivated by his dislike of Bettie." Manning knew something of Jamie's troubled past--his problems with drinking, drugs, and his disputes with his father. "Don't you think your emotions are running away with you?" Manning asked.

Bill Bandy, the Henderson County district attorney, was also skeptical. He had no probable cause for a search warrant, no evidence of foul play. That seemed to agitate Jamie even more. No one--his aunt, his wife, his friends, the police, even his own attorney--took his suspicions seriously.

Bettie seemed resigned to the fact that her husband had drowned. Though his body had not been found, two days after he disappeared, Bettie went to a Seagoville funeral home, where she picked out a casket and burial plot.

"I need to touch you," the psychic told Jamie.
They were riding in a Coast Guard boat as it slowly cruised the shoreline of Cedar Creek lake. Reluctantly, Jamie extended his hand.

The short matronly woman with coal black hair closed her eyes and began gently rocking back and forth.

Jamie was edgy and skeptical, but willing to try anything. Back at the Red Cross mobile home, the grandmotherly psychic from Georgia, after stroking a framed picture of his father, had experienced a vision. "Your daddy is buried somewhere near a castle," she said softly. "He has sand on his face."

The massive search for Beets' body had been going on for more than a week, making front-page news across the state. Dallas psychic John Catchings had been brought in after the boats, planes, and helicopters failed to turn up anything. Catchings told authorities he "saw" Beets clutching his shoulder and falling into the water after a heart attack. But his powers failed to lead searchers to a body.

The Henderson County Sheriff's Depart-ment then brought in the second psychic. After she had her vision, a Coast Guard officer asked Jamie and the psychic to get in a boat to look for any structure along the shoreline resembling a castle. Evening was coming on; the hot August day was cooling off. As the boat cruised slowly, the psychic turned to Jamie.

"I need to touch you to get a better vision of your daddy," she said. "Just let me hold your hand."

Reluctantly, he complied. The psychic closed her eyes and began talking about Jamie being thrown from a horse when he was small, growing up torn between two parents, about his volatile relationship with his father.

It was all true.
Jamie felt panicked. Take him back to the shore, he demanded--"or I'm jumping out." They found no "castle" that day.

The official search was called off after 13 days. But Jamie remained convinced that something terrible had happened to his father--something that meant he would never have a chance to make his peace with Jimmy Don.

To Charlene Pullen, Jimmy Don Beets' first wife, it seemed like the fire station was his real home--and the other firefighters his real family. "He was more true to them," she says, "than he was to us."

After joining the Dallas Fire Department in 1957, Beets toiled his way from first driver to captain. One of the only times Jimmy Don ever missed his shift was on Christmas Eve in 1957, when Charlene went into labor, and he took her to the hospital. Jamie was born an hour after they arrived.

In the years after Jamie's birth, another son was born but lived only five hours; a few years after that, a daughter was stillborn, leaving Charlene deeply depressed.

Jimmy Don began drinking heavily after work. Over the years, the arguments over his drinking escalated, and one day, he simply didn't come home. The couple divorced in 1968, when Jamie was nine. "Jamie took the divorce hard," says Charlene. "He felt it was his fault."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help