Death Row Granny

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

Jamie lived with his mother until he was 12, then moved in with his dad, who in 1967 had married a robust, cheerful woman named Suzy. But as Jamie grew into a young adult, father and son frequently fought. Jimmy Don didn't like his son's hair, his recreational drug use, or Jamie's refusal to keep a job and be responsible for his own wife and two small children.

When Jamie was arrested for possession of THC while a teenager, his dad bailed him out--though only after making him sit in jail for five days. Later, Jimmy Don made sure his son's family didn't go hungry when Jamie couldn't get a job as a carpenter. But no matter how hard they tried, the two just couldn't seem to get along.

In the early '80s, it appeared to Jamie that his father was frightened, scared of growing old alone. Jimmy Don and his second wife Suzy had divorced, then remarried, then divorced again in 1981. Jimmy Don next married a woman he'd known only a few weeks; that marriage lasted less than a year.

Then, in the summer of 1982 at The Cedar Club in the lake town of Seven Points, Jimmy Don met the woman who would become his fourth wife: Bettie Lou Barker.

Bettie, a slim, attractive woman in her mid-40s, tended bar. They quickly became inseparable.

In the rough-and-tumble world of the private clubs and bars around the lake, Bettie seemed out of place. Friendly, soft-spoken, always conservatively dressed, she was not the prototypical barmaid. A hard worker, she dreamed of buying her own club one day.

The suddenness of the relationship surprised Jimmy Don's ex-wife Suzy. The two had begun dating each other again when Jimmy Don abruptly turned up with Bettie. Still, when Suzy saw them around town, always together, it seemed that Jimmy Don and Bettie were very much in love. Says Suzy: "I think she really cared for him, and he did for her."

On a weekend during the summer of 1982, Jimmy Don brought Bettie to meet his son.

He told Jamie the big news: they were planning to get married. Though Jamie didn't know it at the time, Jimmy Don would be Bettie's seventh marriage--and fifth husband.

Jamie instantly disliked Bettie. There was something about her that seemed manipulative--and hard. When they were alone, with characteristic bluntness, Jamie, then 24, told his father just what he thought.

Jimmy Don was furious. "I love her," he declared.
Not long after that exchange, on August 19, 1982, they were married at the courthouse in Kaufman County. Bettie Lou Barker became Bettie Beets.

Jimmy Don owned a three-bedroom lake house in a subdivision called Glen Oaks. By doubling up on the payments, he owned the house free and clear. It was his own little piece of heaven--the place where he planned to retire.

But even before the wedding, Jimmy Don already had moved into Bettie's place, a two-bedroom mobile home tucked away in a grove of cedar trees about 50 feet from the water in Cherokee Shores. Bettie had added a redwood deck and surrounded the place with flowers. Jimmy Don docked his boat in the rear of the lot, on an inlet to the lake.

Not long after their marriage, Jimmy Don asked Jamie to come over. His new wife thought that, to make Jamie grow up, he had to cut off the generous support he had given him over the years. Jamie and his family could live in Jimmy Don's lake house, but "the only thing I want to do with you is to see my grandchildren," he told his son.

For the rest of the year, Jamie saw little of his father. For Christmas, he took his wife and their two small children to her mother's home in Celina. Four days later, a neighbor child called them there to report that his dad's lake house, filled with all their possessions, had burned down. Jimmy Don had been on duty in Dallas when it happened.

With everything destroyed, Jamie and his wife moved in with her mother. In early 1983, Jamie met at Bettie's house with his father, who gave him $850 of the insurance settlement to replace the possessions they had lost in the fire. He was rebuilding the house with the rest. "I'd give you more, but Bettie says I need to take out everything you owe me from the past," his father told Jamie. Jamie owed him $3,000; Jimmy Don considered that debt paid.

Jamie tried to hug his father. "I love you," he told Jimmy Don. But his father pushed him away. "All I care about," he told his son, "is seeing my grandchildren."

By August 1983, Jamie and his wife had gotten back on their feet. Jamie was working in the air conditioning and heating business during the day and as a bartender at night; he'd bought a new mobile home and a new car.

He dreamed that his show of responsibility would help him to mend fences with his dad.

But he never got the chance.
Through the glass par-tition in the visitors' room of the state prison in Gatesville, Bettie Lou Beets offers an easy, slightly nervous smile.

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